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When Better is not Good Enough

On August 8th the New York State Education Department released the results of the Math and English Language Arts (ELA) testing taken last May by students in grades 3 through 8. Given the overwhelming influence that English Language Arts has on students' future success in school, it is absolutely essential that students perform at least at the "proficient" level on the English Language Arts (ELA) exams.
Across the state, 52.8 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded the proficiency standard. For students with disabilities the results were far more distressing with only 14.5 percent of these students meeting or exceeding the proficiency standard. In New York City, only 43.9 percent of all students and 14.2 percent of students with disabilities in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded the standard. 
Responding to these results, Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch stated, "These results underscore the urgent need for New York to continue to aggressively move forward with the implementation of the Regents' reform agenda." Echoing the Chancellor's concerns, New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said, "Student outcomes have been stubbornly flat over time. The Regents' reform agenda is designed to change that, by driving long-term gains in student performance."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg focused his comments on the gains that the New York City public schools made. This year 43.9 percent of students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the English proficiency standard compared to 42.4 percent last year.  "All of our students, teachers and principals should be very proud of their progress and the fact that we continue to raise achievement levels and outpace the rest of the state," said Mayor Bloomberg. "But as much progress as we have made, we know we have much more work to do. We are fully committed to ensuring that all of our students are prepared for a successful future."
Mayor Bloomberg appropriately offered encouragement to pupils, teachers and principals for the gains that have been achieved. The results for New York City students are, however, nothing short of alarming: over 56 percent of city students do not have the skills to be considered merely proficient and over 85 percent of the students with disabilities do not possess the language arts skills necessary for future school success. These students do not have the luxury of waiting for the Mayor's promise of being "...fully committed to ensuring that all of our students are prepared for a successful future" to become a reality. Nor can the students of New York State wait for the Regents' reform agenda to produce the promised "...long-term gains in student performance."  Based on the predictive power of the English Language Arts exams, if you are currently a student in New York State, your chances for future success in school are a little better than 50/50 and if you are student with a disability your prospects for school success are virtually non-existent.  
It does not have to be this way. First, educational leaders need to admit the truth about these results - they are unacceptable. Second, as Chancellor Tisch admonished, there must be a sense of urgency in increasing the number of students who are proficient in English Language Arts. Third, schools can provide students with direct instruction in research-based reading and writing programs that have proven records of success. Finally, dedicated teachers and principals must have the professional development and resources necessary to deliver these programs.

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