First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Catholic School Students’ Test Scores Outpace State, City Public Schools
By CHRISTIE L. CHICOINE
Photo by Maria R. Bastone ©
HIGH ACHIEVERS—Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, leads a Pathways to Excellence II kickoff meeting Sept. 21 in Dillon Hall at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan, charting a course for the next phase of strategic planning for Catholic education in the archdiocese. Dr. McNiff has also recently shared a report that shows Catholic school students in the archdiocese are outpacing pupils in state and public schools.

The academic year is off to a successful start for Catholic schools in the archdiocese, results of New York State assessment tests attest.

Catholic school students are outpacing their New York State and New York City public school counterparts in percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency standards in both mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA).

The New York State Education Department’s recently released 2017 New York State assessment test results for grades three through eight shows 42.5 percent and 49.3 percent of the archdiocese’s students meet or exceed 2017 proficiency standards for math and ELA, respectively. The comparative figures for students in New York State are 40.2 percent and 39.8 percent, and in New York City, 37.8 percent and 40.6 percent, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Schools for the archdiocese.

“What’s more telling in education with tests,” said Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools, “is, what’s the growth, from one year to the next? That to me says a lot of good teaching is going on in the classroom.”

Throughout the last three schools years, the Archdiocese of New York has outperformed New York State and city schools in expanding proficiency, with performance of students who meet or exceed proficiency standards rising by 5.1 percent in math and 15.3 percent in ELA from 2015 to 2017.

“Not only were we pleased with where we are with our scores, relatively speaking, but the growth that occurred.

“It’s hard to move the needle in a large school system—very hard,” Dr. McNiff said. That’s exactly what makes the soaring marks so significant, he added.

At the same time, “we all—everybody in the country—could do better with scores,” he said. “And we’ve got a lot of room for improvement, so I need to recognize that,” Dr. McNiff said. “But that certainly is happening.”

The educators themselves have embraced a number of new initiatives in recent years, he said. “I think the tests are bearing the results of that effort.”

The teachers were asked to transition to a new math program called Eureka and, on the technology front, blended learning continues to roll out in the schools.

“What’s made math more challenging with the national standards that we follow is that it’s intentional to bring more literacy into math,” Dr. McNiff said. “The Eureka math program is built on that entire premise; we better train kids before going into a state test at the end of the year.”

Blended learning is generally applied to the practice of using both online/digital and in person learning experiences when teaching students. It is a formal education program in which some student learning content and instruction are delivered online with some element of student control over time, place, path and pace. Such activities are coordinated by a teacher in a traditional classroom setting.

The archdiocese’s high schools continue to excel in graduation rates. Last school year, 99 percent of seniors graduated—outpacing the national average of 83 percent—and the overwhelming majority of those graduates went on to college or post-secondary education, according to the superintendent’s office.

Although actual figures will not be available until October, Dr. McNiff said enrollment is beginning to stabilize. “All of the efforts that we’re doing with marketing, recruiting, the scholarship program we’ve put it place,” he said, are “starting to bear fruit.”

Since the new school year started, the superintendent’s office has also been in communication with schools and families about ongoing efforts by New York City to test the water in the schools for lead; that testing began last year.

“To the credit of the city, they said we’ll test even the private schools at the city’s expense,” Dr. McNiff said. “That process took place” last school year. “I think everybody was relatively pleased to learn the vast majority of the fixtures that were tested passed.” Those that didn’t, he continued, were remediated.

A new testing protocol has since been put in place. Upon the completion of a second round of tests in the public schools, the city will again test the private schools at the city’s expense, according to Dr. McNiff. He anticipates that will happen in October. “We feel we owe it to our kids to make sure we do that.”

The archdiocese, he said, “felt we really, as an abundance of precaution, should do all of our schools, i.e., in the counties” as well, he said. “Even though most of those schools are not as old as our city schools, we did that; we used the same protocol as in the city, and the results were the same—just about every (school) passed.”

After the second round of testing is completed in the city’s schools, the county schools will again be tested, the superintendent said.

“When we heard stories of Flint, Mich., it gives you pause,” Dr. McNiff said of the contaminated water crisis there. “As an administrator,” he said, “you have to (ask) what implications does that have on our schools and our kids?

“We owe it to them to do that study.”

“And I credit the city,” Dr. McNiff said. “They’re the ones that took the lead on this.”

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