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Students in Large Upstate Cities Performed Poorly on the Most Recent State Assessments

Historically, economically disadvantaged students have performed poorly on the State’s annual Student Assessments. That pattern continued in the 2022-2023 school year. On the State’s Grades 3-8 mathematics examination, only 30% of students in districts where 80% of students were economically disadvantaged were rated proficient, on average, compared with 70% of students in districts where 20% of students were disadvantaged. Sixty percent of the difference in school district performance was associated with the percentage of needy students.

However, there were significant differences in performance between school districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students. For example, in the Rochester City School District, where 91% of students were disadvantaged, only 12% were rated proficient. In New York City Geographic District 19, where 92% of students were disadvantaged, 35% passed.

The data shows significant differences in performance in high-disadvantage school districts. Students in Upstate cities performed poorly—even more poorly than average schools with similar percentages of disadvantaged students. Student performance in the Rochester, Syracuse, East Ramapo, Schenectady, and Binghamton School districts was the worst of those with 2000 students or more. In these districts, proficiency rates were between 12% and 20%. Compared to the average performance of schools with similar percentages of disadvantaged students, student proficiency rates in each district were at least ten percent lower. For example, if students in the Syracuse school district performed as well as the average district with a student body that was 85% disadvantaged, 26% would have passed, compared to the actual percentage, which is 14%.

The contrast between the performance of students in Upstate central cities and their more affluent suburbs is striking. Rochester’s 12% proficiency rate compares with neighboring Penfield’s 78% rate. Syracuse’s rate is 14%, compared with that of affluent Skaneateles, which is 74%. Schenectady’s 17% rate is 51% lower than Niskayuna’s 68% rate.

New York City geographic districts generally performed better than average districts with the same percentage of disadvantaged students. Although there were significant variations between districts, the rate of New York City district students with proficient scores averaged 18% higher.

The State’s student evaluation dataset includes several additional district characteristics that could be associated with student performance. Among them are ethnic and racial categories, such as “Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander,” “Black or African-American”, and “Hispanic or Latino. Additionally, other possibly relevant categories were included, such as “English Language Learner, “Homeless,” “Migrant,” “In Foster Care,” and “Students with Disabilities.”

A large number of the characteristics were present in only a few districts. However, many districts had students in ethnic categories like “Asian,” “Black,” and “Hispanic.” In addition, a relatively large number of districts had students with disabilities and English language learners. An analysis of the data showed that the only variable among these that was associated significantly with student performance was “Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.” When both the percentage of Asian students and the percentage of students who were economically disabled were included in the analysis, 78% of the variation in student performance among districts was explained, compared with 60% for economic disadvantage alone.

Outside New York City, Suppression of Data for School Districts with Small Percentages of Asian Students Results in Slightly Different Estimates of Variables between the two models.

Including “Asian” as a predictive variable reduced the difference between the actual New York City results and expected performance based on the overall trend from 18% to 9%. The measures in NYSED’s database only capture a few ways in which the City differs from other school districts. Further research could identify other factors associated with students’ performance in New York City schools.

However, most large City school districts outside New York City performed poorly using both models. The percentage of Rochester, Syracuse, Schenectady, and East Ramapo students who received proficient scores was at least 10% lower than was predicted by the percentage of students who were economically disadvantaged alone or in combination with the percentage of Asian students.


Unfortunately, student performance in school districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students continues to be significantly weaker than in more affluent neighborhoods. Although overall student performance in New York City Geographic Districts was better than elsewhere, city student performance was better in districts with higher percentages of affluent students. Controlling for both economic disadvantage and students who identified as Asians or Pacific Islanders provides only a partial answer to why the City’s disadvantaged students do better than those outside the City.

Students at large city school districts outside New York City did poorly, both absolutely and compared with other schools with the same levels of economically disadvantaged pupils. The poor performance of the students in these school districts compares dramatically with more affluent areas outside them.

It is unreasonable to attribute differences in student performance between districts entirely to differences in district effectiveness. Because New York’s school districts vary significantly in other characteristics, other factors could be in play. Although it is easy to blame teachers and administrators for the disappointing results, the difficulties are associated mainly with disadvantages faced by students in poor neighborhoods that schools cannot erase.

Among these, according to the Economic Policy Institute in “Five Social Disadvantages That Depress Student Performance, are:

  • “Parenting practices that impede children’s intellectual and behavioral development
  • single parenthood
  • parents’ irregular work schedules
  • inadequate access to primary and preventive health care
  • exposure to and absorption of lead in the blood.”

Even so, charter schools offer approaches that, in many cases, have been associated with better performance by disadvantaged students, especially in New York City. In the next post, I will examine the performance of New York’s charter schools.

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