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District Reports Significant Increase in Students’ ELA Proficiency Test Scores, Rising 12 Percentage Points in Five Years

District Overall Proficiency in ELA Grades 3-8 graphic

The Mount Vernon City School District continues to report record achievement in students’ academic success, as denoted by student test scores from New York State Education Department (NYSED) 2019-2020 Assessment exams.

The most recent NYSED English language arts (ELA) proficiency scores for students in Grades 3-8 had increased 2 percentage points year-over-year. Furthermore, the District has reported a 12-percentage point increase in students’ proficiency rating since 2014 when Superintendent Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton assumed his current position and set the course for the District’s success.

Each year, students partake in the NYSED Assessment exams in ELA proficiency as well as mathematics. In 2014, students in the District reported a 12 percent proficiency, compared to the New York State average of 31 percent. Since then, the District has improved its scores year after year, with the most recent 2019-2020 test scores showing a 36 proficiency in ELA, compared to the state average of 45 percent. Over the course of just five years, the District has closed the gap with the state average from 19 percentage points in 2014 to just 9 points last year.

“These are results we should be proud of,” said Superintendent Dr. Hamilton. “It’s easy to look at the data and say, ‘If 36 percent of our students are proficient in ELA, that means 64 percent are not.’ While that is true, when you compare the data from years passed, you can see the progress that has been made by students, many of whom are in the single digits. Programs such as our balanced literacy initiative and implementation of a universal Pre-K program are part of a strategic approach to continuing closing the gap between our own students’ academic levels and those reported by the state.”

Curriculum and Instruction 1

One of the first changes carried out by Dr. Hamilton when he became superintendent was the development and implementation of an efficacy study, assessing the needs of the District’s students, which led to the adoption of new programs across content areas such as ELA, among others. Since 2014, the District has conducted benchmark assessments at the beginning and mid-point of the school year, which tracks students’ progress. Students who demonstrate regressions are selected to participate in District-led Response Intervention Systems, including after school programs such as Academic Power Hour, summer academies, as well as routine invention in the form of an enrichment programs held as an academic period during the school day.

Progress in students’ ELA proficiency scores is also attributed to curriculum and instructional changes made by the District. Those include the adoption of new programs including Balanced Literacy in all of the District’s 16 schools. Balanced Literacy is a district-wide program that assists schools in developing increased reading and writing opportunities for students.

Curriculum and Instruction 2

The impact of the balanced literacy program was significant, moving Edward Williams School from a New York State designated ‘Priority’ school in 2017 directly to a ‘School in Good Standing’ over the course of one academic year. Edward Williams School skipped the label of ‘Focus’ school, the intermediate designation between its former and current standing, thanks, in part, to the balanced literacy program’s contributions to both student achievement and English language learners.  It has maintained a designation as a ‘School in Good Standing’ since 2018.

The New York State school designations were created to measure school performance. The designations take into account student academic achievement, student growth and school progress, progress of English language learners, chronic absenteeism, and, for high schools, graduation rates and students’ readiness for college, career, and civic engagement. 

The Mount Vernon City School District also adopted Journeys, a comprehensive K-6 ELA program that provides an instructional system for reading both literature and informational texts, acquiring foundational skills, and developing mastery of speaking, listening, and writing. Journeys meets standards set by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal law for K-12 schools that includes provisions that help ensure success for all students and schools. The program includes student text to promote deep reading, offers a wide range of texts to meet all students at their level, and includes simple, flexible instruction that allows individual teachers to shine.

Additional programs implemented by the District to improve students’ literacy skills include the Mount Vernon Basics program. Launched in 2018, the Basics focuses on the youngest learners, those ages 0-36 months, by providing parents with tools and resources to support their childrens’ education by boosting their cognitive and social emotional development through simple everyday tasks. The Basics program seeks to increase a child’s exposure to reading and literacy even before they become school aged.

Under Dr. Hamilton’s leadership, the District also launched a universal Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) program in 2015 which offers a well-implemented, evidence-based curriculum taught by highly-qualified Pre-K teachers and specially trained teaching assistants. During the Feb. 2 Board of Education meeting, Dr. Gayle White-Wallace, Director of Pre-K and Special Projects, and formerly the Standards Administrator for ELA/Literacy, Reading, and Social Studies, shared data that found students who participate in the District’s Universal Pre-K program outperform their peers in academic assessments.

While a large focus has been on providing academic support through new programs and initiatives, the District has also focused its attention and resources on providing all schools with equitable distribution of grant funds to strategize interventions and programs that lead to an increase in students’ academic success. Coupled with professional development for teachers and staff, partnerships with community-based organizations, and family and community engagement opportunities, the District is continuing to pursue every avenue of opportunity to nurture its students’ academic and lifelong success.

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