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Greenport, Riverhead identified as ‘target districts’

Schools in two North Fork districts have been labeled as needing academic improvement under new accountability designations released last week by the State Education Department.

The standards were created to ensure New York’s compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to hold public schools accountable for students’ achievement. 

The new system places schools in one of three categories: In Good Standing, Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) or Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI). 

The state said the new designations are based on more than just test scores. The new accountability designations were developed with the input of “thousands of people statewide” through 13 public hearings, regional meetings, webinars and surveys, according to the education department. 

“With these new school accountability determinations, a community engagement process is started to develop and implement evidence-based strategies to increase student achievement in our neediest schools so all students in New York State have access to a high-quality education,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said in a news release.

Schools receive the CSI designation based on analysis of specific factors. For middle and elementary schools, the evaluation process considers academic achievement in ELA, mathematics and science; student growth in ELA and mathematics; English Language Learners’ progress toward English proficiency; academic progress in ELA and mathematics; and chronic absenteeism. High school standards consider all of the above, along with college preparedness, a four-year graduation rate of less than 67 percent and do not have a five or six-year graduation rate of at least 67 percent.

A school receives the TSI designation if one or more of its student subgroups, based on ethnicity, perform at the lowest level on a combination of the CSI indicators. A school previously designated as In Good Standing must have two consecutive years of low performance before it can be identified as a TSI school. 

In the Riverhead Central School District, the middle school and Roanoke Avenue Elementary School were labeled CSI, meaning they were ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide in student performance. Greenport High School and elementary school also received the CSI designation.

Pulaski Street Elementary School in Riverhead received the TSI designation, meaning one or more of its student subgroups performed at the lowest level on the new indicators. A school is identified as TSI after at least two years of low performance, according to the education department. 

Some local school officials were critical of the new designations and defended current academic performance levels.

Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg said in an interview that he feels the new accountability designations cannot accurately evaluate school performance. 

“Some of the most successful school systems that result in student achievement and a well-rounded citizen rely on a far more comprehensive and authentic way to evaluate the teaching and learning process,” he said.

Under the former state evaluation system, underperforming schools were labeled as “focus” or “priority.” For the 2018-19 school year, Riverhead received the “focus district” designation for the third consecutive year. Riverhead High School and Phillips and Riley Avenue elementary schools were removed from “focus” status in December 2018, before the new designations were implemented. Greenport and Riverhead are now both labeled target districts.

Target school districts are identified in two ways. When all schools in a given school district receive CSI or TSI designation, that district becomes a target district. The second method applies only to districts that were already in “focus” status during the 2017-18 school year. If any schools in those districts were identified as CSI for all students or had a subgroup, such as Hispanics or whites, that met the TSI criteria, the target district label would also be applied. 

The target district and TSI school determinations will be made annually; CSI designations for individual schools will be updated every three years.

For the 2018-19 school year, Riverhead received the “focus district” designation for the third consecutive year. Riverhead High School and Phillips and Riley Avenue elementary schools were removed from “focus” status in December 2018, before the new designations were implemented.

In a statement Tuesday, Riverhead Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez said that although the district has made “small improvements” in English Language Arts and math proficiency in most grades and schools last year, there’s room for improvement.

“Our focus will continue to be increased academic achievement balanced by social-emotional support,” she said.

Mr. Gamberg said the Greenport district is concerned that the CSI designation “disproportionately relies” on an extremely small number of test takers, because it doesn’t consider the opt-out rate for standardized testing. He said this has “skewed the results” for Greenport, where, as of last year, more than 83 percent of students did not participate in state ELA and math testing. 

“It does not capture the hard work and dedication of our Greenport staff members and the larger learning community, not least of which our diverse, talented and well-rounded student body,” Mr. Gamberg wrote. 

Dr. Henriquez said the testing opt-out rate among students in Riverhead is approximately 30 to 35 percent. She added that district students continue to impress the administration despite the adversity that many of them face.

“They are strong and brave and we must always support them in any way we can,” she said.

All 370 New York State schools with CSI and TSI designations are required to complete a needs assessment and develop and implement an evidence-based plan to improve student outcomes. Under NYS Receivership Law, schools that are persistently among the lowest performing schools are placed into receivership, meaning they can receive supplementary state aid.

The Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold, Shoreham-Wading River and New Suffolk school districts were all designated as In Good Standing. 

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Photo caption: Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg expressed concern about the new accountability standards released by the state Department of Education. (Kate Nalepinski photo)

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