As students return to class next week, their academic progress has already helped Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York score high marks on an important test.
Overall results of the 2019 New York state standardized math and English exams for third- to eighth-graders were released last week, and for the fifth consecutive year archdiocesan schools have shown significant improvement.
English scores increased by 1.4 percent, and math scores leaped 4.1 percent compared with last year’s results.
As a group, 53.7 percent of students in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools met or exceeded proficiency standards in mathematics, as well as 56.7 percent in English.
Tracking the numbers for the past two years shows a dramatic increase of 11.2 percent in math scores for students in the archdiocese’s schools.
The archdiocese’s scores on this year’s state exams outpaced those of New York state, New York City and most charter school averages, according to the archdiocese. Comparatively, 46 percent of New York City’s public school students met or exceeded standards on the math exam, and 47 percent did the same on the English test.
“I am absolutely delighted our scores were as high as they were. The statistics speak for themselves,” said Michael Deegan, the interim superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, in an interview with CNY this week.
Deegan said the improved students scores were the result of a “team effort” that brought together professionals in the archdiocesan education office with principals and teachers, and parents and students.
Such collaboration makes improved scores possible at a cost that is only one-third that of government schools, the superintendent said. “It’s a testimony to the partnership that we have with our parents.”
A further breakdown of state test scores shows that in 2015, archdiocesan scores were 0.5 percent below the state average in math, and 3.7 percent higher than average in English. Today, the numbers tell a much different story, with students in archdiocesan schools 7 percent ahead in math, and 11.3 percent higher in English.
To achieve such results, Deegan pointed to the “effective planning” of the Catholic schools’ academic program, an initiative involving “dozens of staff members and principals and teachers,” as well as a significant amount of professional development and training.
Far from a one-size-fits-all approach to academic planning and intervention, the archdiocese takes various measures, from system-wide all the way to classroom-based.
Deegan said, “We get right down to the individual children in the classroom and the individual teacher standing in front of the children in that classroom. In the end, it’s all about the individual child.”
Dr. Susan Miller, associate superintendent of curriculum and staff development in the archdiocese, called the change in test scores over the past two years “quite extraordinary.”
In an interview, she gave CNY examples of the type of data collection and diagnosis the archdiocese is now using to survey student achievement and measure student growth and to proactively deal with any gaps in their performance.
The archdiocese uses an assessment system which can evaluate student performance between testing and identify any deficiencies.
“The data tells me specifically for (an individual student) what the gap is and how to fix it,” said Dr. Miller, who credited the teachers in the archdiocese’s schools for “backing up what we’re trying to accomplish.”
“We can make great changes for kids. It’s really happening.”
Using data with “intentionality” is one reason why students in the archdiocese are faring well on state tests, Dr. Miller said.
“We don’t just give the test—we actually use the data we get from the test to inform what happens next in the classroom. Teachers dig into the data to find gaps. They then use a variety of methods to close the gaps.”
Dr. Miller said proficiency matters because each student in a Catholic school matters.
“It’s not because we want a certain number on a test, or the accolades in the newspaper. It’s because we teach children—children of God—children who matter and who deserve our very best.
“We want proficiency because they are worthy of our time and effort. We want proficiency so that they can become the people God wants them to be.”
Deegan called passing on the faith to next generation of children the overriding purpose of Catholic schools.
“And a school can’t truly be Catholic unless it is academically excellent,” he said. “It is through the atmosphere, and the culture and ethos of our Catholic identity, that we’re able to accomplish what we’ve been able to do academically.”