On October 31, 2022, the New York State Education Department quietly released the results for the 2021-22 grades 3-8 English language arts (ELA) and math assessments. Charters continued the trend of achieving higher proficiency rates than traditional district and state counterparts, but there were decreases in performance across most subgroups. This is not surprising given the prolonged school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. As always, we note, that direct comparisons between district and charter schools as to sector efficacy are difficult to make given differences in mission, enrollment structure, and demographics. We also note that due to the lack of assessments in 2020, low number of test takers in 2021 and differences in the assessment format, we caution that the results from the 2022 assessments are not directly comparable to any other year; they better serve as a baseline for future years.
While charters continued to experience higher rates of proficiency than the state (55.3% compared to 46.5% in ELA and 46.3% compared to 39.4% in math, respectively), there were significant decreases in charter student math performance (with some notable exceptions). For example, charter decreases in math performance were down more than the district (overall math proficiency percentages dropped from 63.2% in 2019 to 46.3% in 2022, compared to NYC district proficiency percentages which dropped from 45.6% in 2019 to 37.9% in 2022).
While the drops in proficiency are sobering, particularly in math, we believe that the drops point to something we have always suspected: charter school students’ high performance is due in large part to the excellent instruction that charter school teachers are providing. While we know that charters schools tried mightily to continue to provide a high level of teaching during the pandemic (and in many cases succeeded), it would seem that what can be done in person simply can’t be fully replicated in virtual learning. This is particularly true in math, where we suspect teachers, among other things, simply could not quickly check for comprehension in the way that great teachers are able to in a classroom. In other words, the results point strongly to a highly beneficial “charter school instructional effect.” As such, there is certainly good cause for hope that the proficiency rates will, with time and great effort and thoughtfulness, rebound. It also suggests that there is much to be learned from the instruction charter schools are providing to students.
Black and Hispanic Students in NYC charter schools achieved higher rates of proficiency than their counterparts in district schools in both ELA and math. In ELA, Black and Hispanic charter school students outperformed district counterparts by 19 percentage points (55% vs. 36%), and 15 percentage points (52% vs. 37%), respectively. In math, Black and Hispanic charter school students outperformed district counterparts by 25 percentage points (46% vs. 21%), and 19 percentage points (42% vs. 23%), respectively.
More than ever this year’s test scores show that there is much work to be done. As we learn from these results and continue to grapple with the impacts of the pandemic on students’ academic performance and mental health, one thing remains clear – charter schools are well-positioned to meet the moment and continue to provide a high-quality education for NYC students. As such, there is certainly good cause for hope that the proficiency rates will, with time and great effort and thoughtfulness, rebound.