But the grades were handed out by the New York City Department of Education (DOE), and it was the school being graded, not the students. The numbers back up the anecdotal evidence that PS/IS 217, the Roosevelt Island School, is ably competing with its more heralded neighbors at the other end of the Tramway.
The DOE uses a 1 to 4 scoring system for determining the percentage of students who show proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. In the grading scheme, students who score a 3 or 4 on standardized tests are considered “proficient.” In 2015, the Island school has seen significant gains overall, and very positive signs within specific demographic segments.
At the elementary school level (grades K-5), students are tested in grades 3, 4, and 5. PS 217 ‘s math proficiency percentage increased by four points over 2014, with a six-point jump among boys. But the real gold star goes to the school for increasing its proficiency rate on the ELA test by seven points, where the Island’s boys had an amazing 13-point gain (see table, page 14).
These scores push PS 217 within a rounding error of the District 2 averages. Perhaps even more impressive is how our school stacks up against some District schools that have long held excellent academic reputations.
Outscoring Our Peers
On the ELA tests, Island elementary students outscored their peers at PS 11 by 3 points, Chelsea Prep (PS 33) by 4 points, and now trail East Side Elementary by only 1 point.
In math, PS 217’s kids really shine, scoring at a level that is neck-and-neck with East Side Elementary, Chelsea Prep, PS 11, and PS 183.
These numbers lend credence to what Island parents have been sensing for a few years: PS 217 is more than a convenient option for our kids; it is a choice that does not require a compromise between staying local and attending a top academic school.
Island parent Nirit Porecki has two children at PS 217, one in Pre-K and the other in first grade. Despite scoring into the Gifted & Talented Program (G&T) , Porecki’s son was not offered a G&T spot in the school. She sent him to PS 217 anyway, and he is in a general-education first-grade class. Of her decision to send her boys to PS 217, Porecki says, “All our Israeli friends send their kids to schools outside the Island because they say that there [are] not enough enrichment classes in this school. I don’t feel that way. I also think the beauty of this school is the variety of cultures that you meet, and I think this is important for life. Living in a ‘bubble’ is not good. I think the children learn a lot from each other.”
Who We Are
Digging deeper into the numbers, Islanders can be even more proud that these gains are being made by a student population that is far more diverse – both racially and economically – than these select Manhattan District 2 schools. In fact, it is among African-American and Hispanic students, as well as children defined as “economically disadvantaged,” where PS 217 realized the most impressive gains.
The Island’s African-American 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-graders – a group that makes up nearly one-quarter of test-takers – saw their ELA proficiency increase by a robust 17 points, with scores that far exceed their cross-river peers.
Similarly, students identified as economically disadvantaged – roughly 40% of students tested – achieved a nine-point jump in ELA proficiency, a gain that none of those wealthier Manhattan schools can match.
The Quality Review
In addition, the DOE performs a Quality Review for city schools and, again, PS 217 shone in 2015, earning “Well Developed” status across all metrics. Parents do not place as much emphasis on the Quality Review, either because it is not a quantitative assessment of the school or because it is not as widely trumpeted as test scores. But they should.
The Quality Review is arguably even more important because it measures the underlying structures upon which student success is built. Additionally, as other schools’ results are released, our school’s all-categories “well-developed” rating, the highest given, was not earned by other schools.
According to the DOE, a “well-developed” rating is the highest District honor. PS 217 Principal, Mandana Beckman says, “The amazing work in our school by our students, staff and families has been recognized by the Department of Education and we are proud of our ‘Well-Developed’ rating, the highest rating you can get on the quality review matrix.” A perusal of our peer schools demonstrates that they did not receive exclusive “well-developed” ratings. East Side Elementary, for example, scored almost all “proficient” ratings, a lower score than ours.
While elementary school parents would be happy to hang this DOE report card on the refrigerator, the news is not as good for grades 6-8, which lag badly behind the elementary school, lending credence to the anecdotal belief among parents that the school is a good choice for their kids through fifth grade, but that off-Island options must be considered beyond that. That being said, the DOE’s Quality Review rating does apply to the school as a whole, and not simply the elementary school.
Nevertheless, the elementary school’s gains are impressive; and with the increase in community involvement in the school (and the slow but steady push to have Cornell Tech live up to its pledge to “adopt” PS/IS 217), improvements in the upper grades may not be that far off.