This weekend, the New York Times published a profile of PS 172 in Sunset Park. Serving a low-income, immigrant community, PS 172 regularly outperforms other schools in student achievement. For example, in 2008-2009, 97.4 percent of students achieved a passing grade in English Language Arts and 99.6 percent passed in Mathematics, far bypassing other neighborhood public schools and placing PS 172 among the top 12 schools in New York City. The secret behind the success? “Teach, assess, teach, assess.”
To ace the state standardized tests, which begin on Monday, Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, finds money for coaches in writing, reading and math. Teachers keep detailed notes on each child, writing down weaknesses and encouraging them to repeat tasks. There is after-school help and Saturday school.
But at the start of this school year, seven or eight students were still falling behind. So the school hired a speech therapist who could analyze why they and other students stumbled in language. A psychologist produced detailed assessments and recommendations. A dental clinic staffed by Lutheran Medical Center opened an office just off the fourth-grade classrooms, diagnosing toothaches, a possible source of distraction, and providing free cleanings.
Perfection may seem a quixotic goal in New York City, where children enter school from every imaginable background and ability level. But on the tests, P.S. 172, also called the Beacon School of Excellence, is coming close — even though 80 percent of its students are poor enough to qualify for free lunch, nearly a quarter receive special education services, and many among its predominately Hispanic population do not speak English at home.