Local school districts showed big gains on state math tests, reflecting the state trend, but education officials say more improvement is needed.
A total of 86.4 percent of pupils in grades three through eight statewide achieved the math standards compared with 80.7 percent last year.
Locally, 72.8 percent of the Schenectady City School District’s pupils in grade three through eight met the standards, compared with 59.3 percent last year and 49 percent in 2007.
This news pleased Schenectady school officials.
“We’re happy but never satisfied,” said Superintendent Eric Ely. “We certainly believe it shows what we’re doing is working. It’s still a long way to go. It’s nice to see the progress.”
The district sent out a press release stating that all but one of the district’s elementary schools increased its percentage of students who are meeting or exceeding the standards.
The tests are rated on a scale of one to four with a score of three considered proficient. Seven elementary schools and all three middle schools showed a double-digit percentage increase in the number of students moving to level three or four.
Mont Pleasant Middle School alone showed a 25 percent increase in those students.
Ely attributed the success to a variety of factors, including the extended school day, smaller class sizes, the elementary school’s math curriculum and additional remedial instruction.
“Our teachers are doing a great job. We’ve added remedial staff for those students who are below proficiency from the year before,” he said.
Ely added that the district’s focus on literacy is also a factor.
“You’re teaching kids to read and communicate effectively; they become better in every subject,” he said.
Ely believes the test scores for students with disabilities and those with limited English speaking skills also improved, although he has yet to see the specific numbers. The district has had fewer students scoring a 1 on the tests, so he said that is an indication the district is doing better with its most challenging students.
The news comes on the heels of improved scores on the English language arts exams, which the State Education Department released a few weeks ago. The Schenectady City School District saw an increase of 15 percent, with 62 percent of students meeting proficiency.
The Greater Amsterdam School District also saw improvement, with 72.9 percent of students meeting math standards this year compared with 64.4 percent last year.
Superintendent Thomas Perillo said the district revamped its middle school schedule to allow for more instruction for students who receive academic intervention services. Now, students who receive those services work with their regular math teacher instead of another instructor. Perillo said he also believes the quality of instruction has improved.
“The teachers and the administration have done a wonderful job in all of the buildings. They know what their focus is. They know what needs to be done,” he said.
Scores throughout the Capital Region were in the upper 80 percent or 90 percent range. Wheelerville topped the local districts with 98 percent of students being proficient.
Saratoga Springs Superintendent Janice White attributed her district’s 94 percent rate to having a set curriculum.
“You’re teaching the designated curriculum at the appointed grade level, and another very important indicator is the highly skilled instructional staff,” he said.
Education Commissioner Richard Mills called the performance gains statewide “small to moderate.” He said an encouraging sign is that younger pupils are doing much better on the tests and added that they may need to increase standards. Middle school student performance is also improving, he said. However, one-fifth of students are still not meeting standards.
“Twenty percent of the students will be going into ninth grade not ready to do high school work,” he said.
Mills attributed the gains to increased funds spent on public education, expansion of pre-kindergarten programs across the state, adoption in 2006 of a curriculum that specifies what material should be taught in what grade and more professional development opportunities for teachers.
In addition, there has been improvement in the academic performance of students with disabilities. For example, in 2009 only 5.2 percent scored at level one on the test.
Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch pointed to the improved performance of minority students and said the Board of Regents has “focused like a laser” on this issue. This year, 75 percent of African-American pupils in grades three through eight met the standards, compared with 65.9 percent last year. Also, the percentage of Hispanic students meeting the standards increased from 71.1 percent last year to 79.5 percent this year.