Capital Region

Disparate student outcomes put Saratoga, Scotia-Glenville districts at risk of state listing

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks at a hearing in Albany in 2016.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia speaks at a hearing in Albany in 2016.

CAPITAL REGION — A handful of Capital Region schools were put on notice this month: Improve the performance of certain student groups or be listed by the state as a school in need of targeted support and improvement.

Disparate academic outcomes for students of color and those with disabilities put Saratoga Springs, Scotia-Glenville, Johnstown and other area districts at risk of being placed on the state’s list of struggling schools next year. The districts were flagged because at least one student subgroup – examples include black students, Hispanic students, white students, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students – performed poorly on state tests and other measures of student achievement.

If schools don’t improve the outcomes for those students, or if a separate student group’s performance slides, they will be classified as “targeted support and improvement” schools next year and will be required to implement an improvement plan, under the state’s new school accountability system.

More from this week: Our top stories Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2019

The preliminary status – schools in Waterford-Halfmoon, Canajoharie, Corinth and Berne-Knox-Westerlo school districts are also on that list – highlights state officials’ attempts to pinpoint schools where particular student groups are lagging their classmates and not showing improvement.

Even in districts and schools with overall strong academic performance, some students are still struggling to keep pace with peers in other subgroups. In at least one area school, for example, not one of nearly a dozen black students scored proficient on state English Language Arts tests last school year, while nearly 60 percent of all students were proficient.

“We have no interest in naming or shaming schools and districts. We know how hard educators in these schools are working,” said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia during a January conference call with reporters. “But we also know success is far from universal in these schools and there are opportunities for improvement.”

Earlier this month, the state Education Department released the first accountability scores under the state’s new system. The lowest-performing 5 percent of schools from around the state were classified as “comprehensive support and improvement” schools, while schools in which a specific subgroup was low-performing were classified as “targeted support and improvement” schools.

Since the “targeted” status relies on multiple years of data, only schools already considered struggling under the old accountability system qualified as “targeted” this year. But dozens more schools will likely be listed as “targeted” next year, including those that were warned about performance this year.

Ian Rosenblum, executive director of Education Trust-New York, an organization that advocates for education policy supportive of improving disparities among students, said the focus on student subgroups is a good way to ensure districts work to make sure particular groups of students aren’t falling behind.

“It’s an opportunity to ensure that all groups of students receive the urgency and support that is necessary to provide a quality education,” he said last week. “A particular group might get lost if you just look at the average of how a school is doing. That’s why it is so important the new system also includes a detailed look at each group of students in school.”

In districts around the region, that detailed look shows some groups of students aren’t keeping pace with their classmates. At Maple Avenue Middle School in Saratoga Springs, for instance, black students dramatically under-performed their classmates on state English and math tests last school year. Scotia-Glenville Middle School was flagged because of the outcomes of the school’s Hispanic students, 15 percent of whom scored proficient on state English tests last year, compared with 48 percent of all students at the schools.

“We monitor all students to determine their performance on both the state tests and throughout the year on their daily work,” Scotia-Glenville district spokesman Bob Hanlon said in an email statement Tuesday. “We have no program in place specifically for Hispanic students but will continue to monitor their progress – as well as all the students – through their daily work and on state tests in the spring.”

Saratoga Springs district spokeswoman Maura Manny, in a prepared statement, highlighted the district’s core mission of providing students “equity of opportunity,” providing programs that support students’ academic, behavioral, social and emotional needs. She said the district monitors and evaluates students throughout the year.

More from this week: Our top stories Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2019

“Students who have been identified with deficit areas are provided with supplemental academic instruction and have their progress monitored regularly,” Manny said.

Waterford-Halfmoon Superintendent Patrick Pomerville said the district was aware its elementary school had been flagged for possible listing next year.

He said the district works with its local BOCES to analyze and track data on student academic progress, including how particular subgroups are performing. The district also completes “data dives” into their state test results, working to identify areas of weakness in the instructional program.

He also pointed out specific supports provided to students with disabilities, including specific teachers who work closely with students with disabilities.

“I am hopeful that this work will help our students to be successful in the future,” Pomerville said.

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