ITHACA, NY – Saying that only half of Ithaca City School District students in grades 3-8 are “proficient” in English Language Arts sounds bad on its face. In reality, it’s substantially above average for New York State.

The seemingly low rate of proficiency may be more reflective of the relative difficulty of the Common Core assessment tests that have become a hot-button issue in recent years. Then again, past data shows this isn’t really new. Looking back more than ten years, well before the new Common Core standards were implemented, numbers in both Ithaca and statewide looked similarly low.

Regardless of how actually reflective these tests are of our educational systems, Ithaca is outperforming state and regional averages, in some cases by a substantial margin.

Students who take the ELA assessment are sorted into four levels: with levels one and two representing “well below proficient” and “partially proficient” respectively. Level three is considered “proficient” and four is “excelling.”

According to the New York State Department of Education reports, during the 2015 – 2016 school year, 51 percent of Ithaca students scored “proficient” or better — up from 47 percent last year. The statewide average was 38 percent, up from 31 percent in 2016. Regionally, Ithaca is ahead of Horseheads (44 percent), Corning-Painted Post (35), Elmira (19) and Binghamton (13).

Tompkins overall also trends above average, though much closer: 42 percent this year, up from 37 last year.


There are substantial disparities that also bear mention, however.

Lansing (50 percent) and Trumansburg (45) are also near the top of the list in the region, but several other school districts fall below state average: Newfield (27 percent), Dryden (24) and Groton (24). These districts also see substantially fewer students testing as “excelling” than Ithaca: five or six percent in those three schools versus 15-16 percent in Lansing and Ithaca.

There’s also a notable disparity in Ithaca and almost every other school in the county: proficiency numbers for Black and economically disadvantaged students are lower — often substantially so — than those for students who aren’t economically disadvantaged.

This reflects a situation similar to one brought up during an ICSD school board meeting earlier this week, where the board discussed the impact of implicit bias toward economically disadvantaged and Black students.

In Ithaca, 54 percent of White students (612 out of 1,126 tested) scored proficient or better, versus 22 percent (29 of 131 tested) of Black students. 65 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students were proficient, versus only 26 percent of economically disadvantaged students.

The average across Tompkins was: 42 percent of White students and 55 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students were proficient; 21 percent of Black and 21 percent of economically disadvantaged students were proficient.

Of course, this trend isn’t limited to Tompkins. Statewide, the numbers are similar: economically disadvantaged students are about half as likely to score “proficient” than other students.


(Featured image from ICSD Accountability Report)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.