Report card: City students still not making the grade

Schenectady’s students are struggling in English and math with barely more than 20 percent of eighth

Schenectady’s students are struggling in English and math with barely more than 20 percent of eighth-graders passing the state math and English tests, according to state Education Department data released Monday.

Only 37 percent of third-graders and 22 percent of eighth-graders achieved proficiency in English. For math, 42 percent of third-graders and 23 percent of eighth-graders passed.

School district officials attributed the poor English scores to the fact that the state made the test more difficult this year and required more essay questions.

“It’s not clearly an apple-and-apple comparison,” said School Superintendent John Yagielski.

Yagielski stressed that the district is focusing on early intervention.

“I’m a firm believer that we have to start as early as possible and get students right. Don’t wait too long,” he said.

The district is revamping its remedial program this fall because of the elimination of 16 remedial teachers. Those that were retained are either becoming teacher leaders or early intervention specialists.

The early intervention team has been meeting this summer, including two days this week to determine how to work with students in need, according to Yagielski.

In addition, Yagielski said, the district must improve students’ ability to read, which he believes helps their academic achievement across the board.

“The key to all learning comes through your ability to manage the language,” he said.

Statewide, inner-city districts fared poorly on the tests and suburban students only achieved average results. In suburban districts, 50 to 70 percent of the students passed the tests, which are graded on a scale of one to four with a three or four being deemed proficient.

Shenendehowa Central School District — where about 70 percent of eighth-graders passed the English test and about 80 percent passed the math exam — is focusing on literacy, according to Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson. “We see that as one of the key components for success of our students in terms of college and career readiness.”

The district is revising its own curriculum and tests in preparation for the new Common Core standards the state has adopted. New York is part of a group of states that have signed onto a set of expectations of what students should know by the time they complete high school.

Robinson agreed that the increasing difficulty of the state tests makes it difficult to make comparisons from previous years.

“We can sit and complain that the rules of the game are being changed as we’re playing it or we can say ‘Hey, these are the realities of the times’ and we’re embracing it,” he said.

Robinson also cautioned that tests are not the sole measure of academic success.

Statewide, student performance on English standardized tests dropped slightly from last year while math test scores were up. Some 52.8 percent of students in grades three through eight got a 3 or better on the English language arts exams, which is a drop from 53.2 percent last year. Those meeting the math standard increased from 61 percent to 63.3 percent.

State officials are still concerned that the performance of minority students remains below their peers. Only 35 percent of black students statewide and 37.2 percent of Hispanic students passed the English test. Forty-four percent of black students and 50 percent of Hispanics students met the math standards.

Last year, the state raised the passing score because of concern that the bar was set too low and students were not truly ready for high school and college level work.

The state has increased the difficulty level of the exams. More multiple choice questions have been added to both the math and English exams, which increased the length of the test. All students must write at least one full essay.

Also, the state has retained a consultant — Daniel Koretz, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education — who will study whether grades are being inflated on the tests in response to a series of high-profile incidents in other states where students were given answers.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said the exams have been redesigned to be more difficult and better prepare students in the future. Flat student achievement reinforces the need for further changes in schools, he said.

“We’re also moving forward in our efforts to ensure better training and better support for the teachers and principals in our schools; to provide more transparent and useful data; and to help our lowest performing schools take the necessary steps to turn around their performance or replace them with innovative alternatives,” he said in a statement.

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply