OP-ED: The Level 1 Crisis — Families Need Path Out Of Failing Schools

 One third of all kids taking state tests in NYC are scoring at Level 1

As a parent in New York City, I know that some schools here are failing. I’ve seen it first hand. But I also look at test scores to keep track of how our schools are doing. I had no idea the situation was so bad. Last week, a new report was released showing that 130,000 New York City students are getting the lowest possible score on state exams, and that after scoring so low, they almost never improve because their schools are failing them over and over again. That’s a full third of New York students who take the tests!

Reading about this, all I could think of was my oldest daughter. Her failing school had set her on this path, too. She’s not alone. Across New York City, there are thousands of kids whose schools are abandoning them to failure. We all know these schools. They don’t prepare their students for anything but failing grades. One third of all kids taking state tests in New York City are scoring at Level 1, the lowest score possible. Scoring at Level 1 means that you can’t understand a simple sentence or do basic math. It means the school has failed to teach you almost anything at all. And this isn’t just about one test. Scoring at Level 1 has long term consequences, because the data shows that once you score at Level 1 in any grade, you almost never do better as you move on to other grades. This makes sense, and I bet you’ve seen it. When a young child doesn’t get a real education, it’s almost impossible for them to succeed later in life if their situation doesn’t change.

My daughter’s experience was exactly like this. Three years ago, my oldest daughter (who was a first grader at the time) was attending a traditional public school. We hadn’t realized this was a failing school until we found out that my daughter was reading so far below grade level that she was in danger of not being able to pass onto the second grade. I called the teacher to understand what the problem was, but she paid so little attention to her students that she didn’t even know if my daughter had been in class that day. She barely knew who my daughter was!

This was devastating for my wife and me. We didn’t know what to do if the teachers didn’t care. It’s no surprise that the students were scoring so badly on state tests. They were setting my daughter and her classmates up for failure. We could only teach her so much from home.

Thankfully there is a way out of these failing schools, and that’s exactly how we saved my daughter. We knew that charter schools had been able to help all students succeed academically, and that charter school students score much better than students from failing schools like my daughter’s. So my wife and I submitted applications for our daughters to attend Girls Prep Bronx Elementary School. We were extraordinarily lucky, and both of them were given seats at this charter school. Now my oldest daughter is in the fourth grade, and everything has changed. Not only is she doing well in the classroom, she’s also earning top scores on state exams. I feel like I hit the jackpot.

It’s been such an amazing experience to see my daughters get the attention they deserve and to see them excel. The study released this week shows that this was not a fluke. Students at public charter schools are nine times more likely to achieve at the most advanced level. You’ve probably seen this at the charter schools in your community. Black and Hispanic students in New York City charter schools score twice as well in Math and 50% better in English Language Arts than Black and Hispanic students in traditional public schools. New Yorkers should be very proud that their public charter schools serve all students and prepare all of them for success.

My wife and I know that we got lucky when we won the lottery to get our daughters into a charter school. But families shouldn’t have to depend on luck. More than 40,000 other New York City families are stuck on waiting lists to escape their failing schools. They deserve the opportunity to allow their children to succeed. All families need to be given the ability to leave a failing school, before one more child is put on a path to failure.

Atahualpa Castillo is a New York City public charter school parent. 
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