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Mayor Bloomberg Announces End Of Social Promotion In The 7th Grade

July 18, 2005

Mayor Bloomberg's prepared remarks are below. Please check against delivery:

Thank you, Joel. And I also want to thank Teachers College at Columbia University for hosting this three-day institute on our Administration's efforts to dramatically improve the city's middle schools.

Teachers College has a very proud tradition of not being an "ivory tower." For more than 100 years, it has taken a genuine "hands-on" approach to improving education for public school students in our city.

We owe the college a deep debt of gratitude for that-and for giving us Doctor Ruth Westheimer, too! Over the years, both the college and Doctor Ruth have taught New Yorkers a great deal-but I think I want to leave it at that.

Later today, Carmen will describe the priority that DOE is putting on middle school reforms. Before I discuss those reforms, let me first put them in a larger context.

When Teachers College was founded back in 1887-and for decades after that-the public schools of New York City were geared to serving a society and economy in which, for most people, an 8th grade education, or even less, was good enough.

It was good enough to perform most jobs. It was good enough to carry out most duties as a citizen.

Well, that era has long since passed. Today, we live in an increasingly complex, competitive, and knowledge-based world.

The skills required for even entry-level jobs have increased tremendously. So have the critical thinking skills needed to be a good citizen.

Our society now has a moral obligation to educate every student for the demands of the 21st century world.

I ran for mayor because I thought it was long-past time for our schools to begin meeting that responsibility. That imperative has been the basis of our Administration's entire education reform agenda. It has defined our efforts to transform both the structure and the culture of our school system.

It's why we asked for and got the authority from the Governor and State Legislature to end an educational status quo that had failed too many of our children for too long. It's why we've replaced it with a system built on clarity, accountability, and standards.

Those values underlie the unified, focused, and streamlined chain of command that we have established in the city schools. Instituting that governance structure has permitted us to realize other critical reforms.

We have, for example, for the first time, implemented a citywide reading and math curriculum. And because, as Pablo Picasso once said, "Every child is an artist," I'm delighted that when the new school year begins in September, every school will have access to a curriculum in the visual and performing arts that will encourage all our young artists to express themselves.

Even the most imaginative and well-thought-out curriculum requires the creative power of talented teachers to bring learning to life. Thankfully, we have such teachers in our schools; their selfless dedication to our students is truly inspiring.

Because we have redesigned our school system to focus on what matters most-classroom learning-we have been able to provide teachers with literacy and math coaches in the schools... increase on-going professional development... and provide our newest teachers with mentoring from a corps of their best and most experienced colleagues. 

The re-engineering of the school system also has permitted us to completely overhaul the once notoriously inefficient process of building and repairing City schools. We have now instituted new school construction procedures that are faster, simpler, and dramatically less costly, without sacrificing quality.

We're now in the second year of the largest school capital program in the city's history. It's one to which the city is contributing a record $6.5 billion. And in March, when the State failed to contribute its share to the plan, our Administration accelerated the City's contribution by $1.3 billion.

The capital plan is intended to create 97 new schools and 66,000 classroom seats. Because of our school construction reforms, we can be confident that this work will continue to be carried out effectively.

And let me point out that even before the capital plan began, our Administration had created 33,000 new classroom seats -more than one-quarter of which have gone into no-longer-needed administrative offices. Combine that with what we will achieve under the capital plan, and it adds up to nearly 100,000 new classroom seats for students in all five boroughs.

Students need classrooms-and they also need textbooks and learning materials. But we all remember school years when weeks went by before textbooks arrived in the schools. No longer; over the last two school years, we've delivered 16 million books and teaching materials to schools across the city on time for the first day of class. And we expect to add at least 4.7 million more books and teaching materials to that total in the new school year.

Because it's hard to learn on an empty stomach, we've made free school breakfasts available to every student-increased the number of breakfasts served by five million over the last two years-and developed a school lunch program that exceeds Federal nutrition standards.

With the schools now under mayoral control, we've been able to marshal the coordinated resources of both the DOE and the NYPD to dramatically reduce crime and disorder in the "Impact Schools" where lack of safety had become a serious problem.

During the last school year, we reduced total crime by 39% in the 16 original Impact Schools, and violent crime by 49%. We saw similar results in the six schools added to the Impact program in January of this year.

And because no child anywhere in our city should ever be afraid to go to school, we've applied the lessons learned in the Impact Schools systemwide. And we've made enormous headway toward creating safe learning environments for all our students.

While the focus of this three-day institute is on middle schools, keep in mind that we're also moving ahead with reforms in both the elementary and high schools. This September, for example, we'll initiate elementary school gifted and talented programs in schools and districts that have never had them before, many of them in predominately minority communities.

And at the same time, we'll be increasing the number of new, small high schools in the city... expanding high school Advanced Placement classes... and launching our "Learning to Work" vocational educational initiative.

All of our efforts have had one overarching goal: Making it easier for you and your colleagues throughout the city to help all of our 1.1 million students improve their classroom performance and realize their full potential-to prepare them today for the economic and social challenges they'll face tomorrow.

That's a process that began only three years ago, and it remains very much a work in progress. But throughout the city, and on many fronts, there is encouraging progress to report. We still have a long way to go, but we've produced real results that show that we're headed in the right direction.

Over the last three years, we've cut the number of "SURR" schools in our city-those at risk of being closed as incurable failures-by more than 50%. They're now at an all-time low.

The four-year high school graduation rate-while still too low-is the highest it has been since we started tracking it nearly 20 years ago.

This year, our 4th grade students achieved the greatest one-year gains ever on the State English Language Arts test.

And students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7 posted the highest scores and the biggest one-year gains on the citywide ELA and math tests since the City started giving these tests in 1999.

Perhaps most heartening, our African American and Hispanic students made impressive gains in closing the achievement gap in our schools, with the biggest one-year test score gains and best performance levels ever.

I'm sure it hasn't escaped the attention of those of you who are middle school principals that the percentage of 5th grade students who scored at or above grade level this spring improved by nearly 20 points in ELA and by better than 15 points in math.

That means that the students who will be starting 6th grade in September will be better prepared for middle school than any entering class in modern memory.

Now, building on what we have achieved and applying what we have learned, we need to help all our middle school students succeed.

It's no news that middle school is a challenge for everyone involved. I speak with some experience on this subject. I have two daughters who were adolescents not so long ago, and like most parents my age, I remember just how difficult those years can be.

So I recognize that you and your staffs do outstanding work under demanding conditions. Nevertheless the undeniable fact is that, as a group, our middle schools still lag in fulfilling their mission of sending every student on to the upper grades prepared to do Regents-level work and earn a Regents diploma.

While 6th and 7th grade ELA and math scores improved this year-and you should be proud of that-it's still the case that more than half of students in those grades performed below grade level. In the 8th grade, scores were truly disappointing; two-thirds of 8th graders scored below grade level on the State ELA test.

Unfortunately, that was not a one-year aberration; year after year, the academic performance of middle school students has lagged.

Maintaining that status quo is simply not an option. It doesn't do anyone any favor to send unprepared students up the line to the next grade. Those days are over. Instead, we're going to give our students the attention they need, and hold them to the standards they must meet.

Accomplishing that will require a range of both long- and short-term strategies. We will, for example, continue to create new, small schools and charter schools serving middle school students throughout the city. We think they're a promising alternative for many students.

But we also need to take immediate steps in all our middle schools.

A few minutes ago, I mentioned the wonderful academic progress made by 5th grade students during the last school year. It was also the school year that marked the end of social promotion for 5th graders. So that progress was no coincidence.

A year ago, we said that we were going to take the same bold step in 5th grade that we had taken the previous year in the 3rd grade: We were going to educate students before we promoted them, instead of the other way around.

Because we set that standard and held ourselves to it, record numbers of 5th graders who graduated in June are now prepared to do 6th grade work in your schools this September.

Now, in order to give more of our middle school students the same opportunity to succeed, I will ask our hardworking and thoughtful Panel for Educational Policy to enact at its August meeting a policy ending social promotion in the 7th grade.

We propose to accomplish this in two stages, over two school years. At the end of the new school year, promotion to 8th grade will be based on a score of Level 2 or higher on the 7th grade ELA test, or through a mandatory appeals process that evaluates student work based on standard citywide criteria.

The following school year, those standards will be applied to student math proficiency as well. We're doing this in order to gain a year of experience with the new statewide standards in math that are being introduced this fall.

We're taking this step because the reality is that 7th grade represents our last, best chance to prepare students for the demands of high school-level work-and it's our duty to grasp that opportunity.

As you well know, 7th grade is the launching pad for high school. High school admissions are largely based on 7th grade achievement. Yet year after year, between 7,500 and 11,500 7th grade students who achieve only Level 1 on their ELA tests-a score that means that they are woefully unprepared for 8th grade-have been promoted anyway. When you track those students through high school, you find that they typically fail to ever graduate.

We're not going to put any of our students on that trajectory to failure any longer. Improving students' performance in the 7th grade will strengthen their possibilities of getting into the high schools they want. And it will give them a foundation in the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math that they will need for success in 8th grade, in high school, and in life.

Ending social promotion in the 3rd and 5th grades has not been a punitive policy, nor will it be in the 7th grade. The promotion policy we are proposing for 7th graders will have reasonable exemptions and appeals similar to those we've also instituted in ending social promotion in the 3rd and 5th grades.

And just as we have gone the extra mile to help struggling 3rd and 5th graders, we will do everything in our power to help all of our 7th graders succeed, too.

The budget we proposed and that the Council approved last month commits $40 million to help turn things around in our middle schools. Let me briefly outline what we intend to do with those funds.

First we will, as we have in the 5th grade, establish a Saturday Preparatory Academy in more than 100 sites throughout the city to which at-risk 7th grade students will be invited to attend.

Classes will start this October and run through next March. A Saturday Prep Academy played a crucial role in boosting 5th grade test scores this year. The 7th grade Prep Academy will provide students the same kind of excellent additional instruction in core subjects. It will also offer them guidance in mastering time management and other personal skills crucial to succeeding in middle school.

We will also institute a Summer Success Academy next summer for students scoring at Level 1 on the 7th grade tests next spring. Last year, 3rd graders who regularly attended Summer Success Academy classes did extremely well in retesting at the end of the summer session and earning promotion to the 4th grade.

We expect the same excellent results for 3rd and 5th graders this summer, and for 7th graders next summer.

These Saturday Preparatory and Summer Success Academies will also reach out to the parents of students, and bring them in as partners in the process of helping their sons and daughters learn.

Second, we will provide targeted, supplemental funds directly to middle schools, so that their struggling students get the individual attention they need.

These funds will be used for literacy specialists, or for guidance counselors... for providing intensive, research-based interventions... or for after-school programs... or for other similar purposes.

It will be up to you, the principals, to decide how best to use this money-and it will also be up to you to produce results.

Third, we will provide extensive professional development for middle school classroom teachers, principals, guidance counselors, parent coordinators, and other staff. It will give them the tools they need to reach and teach struggling students.

In addition, as part of our separate citywide "out-of-school" reform initiative, we're also committing $3.6 million over the next two years to programs serving students in high-priority middle schools.

Ending social promotion in 7th grade is an enormous challenge. In the lower grades, struggling students may be only a little behind their peers. But by the 7th grade, the effects of their having been socially promoted in the lower grades may mean that some students now lag even further behind.

As our successes in bringing up elementary school standards take hold, this problem in the middle schools will lessen. But in the meantime, ending social promotion in 7th grade is going to require a great deal of effort, flexibility, and initiative at the school level.

It's going to be a cooperative effort among administrators, parents, teachers, and our key leaders in the middle schools-the principals.

So let me say something to the middle school principals who are here today. We know we can count on you, because you've chosen to put your talents to work teaching youngsters during some of the most turbulent and important years of their lives.

It's up to you to help them come of age. And you do. In addition to helping them master ever-more complex coursework, you also enthusiastically devote your evenings and weekends to organizing and directing dances, band practices, and sports and debate competitions.

Nothing matches what you put into our youngsters. And now, as a reward for your good work, we're asking you to do even more.

We're expecting you to help students meet high standards by embracing high standards yourselves. It's part of leading by example-and as Albert Einstein once said, "Example isn't another way to teach, it's the only way to teach."

And the result of your leadership will be nothing short of creating a new and hopeful future for our city. With your help, we can ensure that New York's best days are still to come. I think that's a challenge you're ready to help us meet. We'll be with you every step of the way. Good luck and God bless you all.

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