Catholic Schools’ Test Scores Soar for Fourth Year in a Row

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Continuing a trend that Catholic schools students’ state test scores in the archdiocese eclipse those of New York State, New York City and most charter school averages, student scores on state exams at Catholic schools in the archdiocese have grown over last year in both mathematics and English language arts (ELA).

Recently released scores for 2018 from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for grades three through eight reflect 50 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency standards in math, and 55 percent in ELA, according to the superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. The levels represent a rise from 2017 of 7.1 and 6.3 percentage points in the respective disciplines.

The tests were taken this past spring.

“This fourth consecutive year of improved test scores, surpassing the gains of city and state schools, speaks volumes about our students’, principals’ and teachers’ determination to succeed,” said Dr. Timothy McNiff, archdiocesan superintendent of schools.

“I am proud of our schools’ accomplishments and gratified to see their hard work translate into tangible success.”

Recent enhancements to data-driven instruction, highly focused professional development and a strong team of academic support staff continue to push the school system forward, he said.

Catholic schools in the archdiocese have maintained the level of excellence through the support and leadership of Cardinal Dolan, in conjunction with talented and dedicated principals and teachers in every school building, the superintendent added.

In an interview with CNY Oct. 22, Dr. McNiff said, “We try to be mindful, it’s one test, one day out of the year. We have a great story to tell on the test scores this year, but we’re trying to be measured” about it, he added, “for the simple reason it’s one test, one day.”

Referencing the percentile increases of 7.1 in math and 6.3 in ELA, “for a system our size, that’s significant growth,” Dr. McNiff said. “When you look over the last couple of years, you’re seeing steady and consistent growth.”

To have a more authentic conversation with teachers about how students are being helped, it is his opinion, Dr. McNiff said that, “you look at the trends of growth more than you do a raw score. So when you can look at the teacher and her class or individual student and say, they were when we got them (at this particular marker) and look at how they’ve progressed over the last three or four years, or as long as they’ve been in the school. That tells me good instruction is happening in the classroom for these kids.”

In the archdiocese, technological tools such as MAP (Measurement of Academic Progress) testing give teachers feedback on how well students are doing in math and ELA. But it is not a traditional test that is used to determine report card grades.

The MAP test is administered three times a year during a class period via computer; the results are tabulated instantaneously. Software packages the results to assess a class’ strengths and areas in need of improvement.

“We assess what has been taught over the last eight weeks,” Dr. McNiff said. “It has nothing to do with the report card—nothing. But because it’s online, the principals automatically can get an assessment of not only a class, but each individual, how well they’ve learned the material taught for the past eight weeks.

“This assessment is perfectly aligned to our curriculum and it’s perfectly aligned to the state curriculum, which is how tests are constructed.”

A teacher, Dr. McNiff explained, “doesn’t have to wait until the end of the year, cross his or her fingers to see how the kids do.” Instead, “they’re getting a glimpse three times a year how kids are tracking.”

The data coming from the computer, after the students complete the assessment each time, Dr. McNiff continued, “is terrific data because it breaks it down to the child, and it even breaks it down to what skill set—and there might be seven skill sets that were taught over the last eight weeks—did Harry or Sally falter on.”

This way, he said, a teacher can best determine how to help get each child get back up to speed as they continue through the course of the school year.

“The software is all great but, at the end of the day, it’s all about the teacher,” Dr. McNiff said. “Is the teacher going to take the time to look at that data and differentiate his or her instruction based on what the data is saying, so you can customize the teaching as much as possible? There’s a lot of effort and work that goes into that.”

Based on the growth of scores, Dr. McNiff concludes faculty “are truly embracing the MAP tool,” he said, “and, as a result, kids are benefiting.”

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