Bar is raised on state tests

The New York State Department of Education has raised standards for grading student achievement tests, which has meant lower scores across the state and locally. The change is an attempt to give educators a better perspective on how ready the state’s students are for college, according to officials.

New test results released last week indicate that, statewide, 61 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 received passing grades in math, compared with 86 percent last year, even though they answered about the same number of questions correctly. Also, 53 percent of New York’s students passed the English tests, down from 77 percent last year, even though they did no worse in answering questions.

Locally, the new results were somewhat mixed but superintendents said in interviews that they all showed a lower percentage of students meeting state standards. Actual breakdowns for last year’s results by grade were not available because they have been consolidated on the Board of Education website.

Oysterponds seemed to fare the change in grading standards well, with 93.8 percent of third-graders and 77.8 percent of sixth-graders scoring at or above standards on the math exam.

In Southold and Greenport, math scores were all over the map, with 53.3 percent of third-graders, 79.7 percent of sixth-graders and 77.6 percent of eighth-graders meeting or exceeding standards in Southold and 61.6 percent of third-graders, 92.3 percent of sixth-graders and 52.4 percent of eighth-graders meeting or exceeding state standards in Greenport.

Administrators cautioned that small class sizes could easily skew the numbers, since individual students with special needs are included in the overall results. In Mattituck-Cutchogue, 73.3 percent of third-graders, 76.3 percent of sixth-graders and 74.8 percent of eighth-graders exceeded state standards in math.

In Oysterponds, 87.6 percent of third-graders and 72.2 percent of sixth-graders met or exceeded state standards in English. In Southold, English scores were nearly as inconsistent as the math scores, with 58.3 percent of third-graders, 83.6 percent of sixth-graders and 65.8 percent of eighth-graders working at or above the new standards.

Greenport’s English scores were more consistent from grade to grade than the district’s math scores, with 53.9 percent of third-graders, 64.1 percent of sixth-graders and 52.4 percent of eighth-graders working at or above state standards.

English scores in Mattituck-Cutchogue were somewhat lower than math scores, with 59.1 percent of third-graders, 73.7 percent of sixth-graders and 61.8 percent of eighth-graders working at or above standards. No scores were listed for New Suffolk, because fewer than five children in each grade took the test.

Some school administrators said they did not object to the new standards.

“Anything that we can do to improve student achievement is a good thing,” said Mattituck Superintendent Jim McKenna, who added that the state also had provided the district with results based on the old grading standards, which showed that district students were performing “right in line with where they’ve always been.”

Mr. McKenna noted that the district is very thorough in its academic intervention services, which will now be mandated by the state. He added that the district’s Regents scores, for which standards have not been changed and which he said were a better indicator of college preparedness, have always been high.

“Obviously, our kids graduate high school and do well,” he said. “We’re not just teaching to a 3-8 assessment.”

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg was philosophical about the results.

“We must be careful not to narrow our focus too much to the exclusion of how well students are taught in other subject areas such as science, history, and the arts,” he said. “Ultimately, we must also be cognizant of the type of learning experience that affords our students the ability to be successful in many different ways involving teamwork, creativity and having the skills to compete in the 21st century economy. Clearly, literacy and numeracy are a part of that, but so are other forms of literacy which are not necessarily measured on these exams.”

Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda could not be reached for comment before presstime.

“We don’t have a problem with the state raising the bar. We think all students can progress, even though they can’t all progress at the same rate,” said Dr. Stuart Rachlin, superintendent of the Oysterponds School, which overall performed much better under the new guidelines than other districts in town.

Dr. Rachlin said that he had first learned about the scoring changes in a meeting with state education department representatives three weeks ago.

“We do have systems in place for academic intervention services to provide remedial assistance,” he said, adding that even though the state is setting the bar higher, it isn’t offering any more financial assistance to help students make the grade.

“We are lucky that our class sizes aren’t very big and we can assess the needs and performance of each student,” Dr. Rachlin said.

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