SCHENECTADY -- A huge share of Schenectady students remains far from meeting grade-level reading and math targets, according to data presented to the city school board Wednesday night.
At the district’s 11 elementary schools, between one-quarter and one-half of students in kindergarten through second grade are in need of “urgent intervention” in early literacy, based on how they scored on district measures of student progress.
The range for students in third through fifth grade was wider: 20 percent of Howe students scored at “urgent” levels while nearly 50 percent of Yates students did so. Around one-third of the district’s middle and high school students need urgent intervention, according to test results presented in the first quarterly report of the school year.
The reading struggles are not new as district officials and school board members have long grappled with low test scores in math and reading. Recent state test scores showed slight progress but still deep challenges in getting Schenectady students to match the scores of students in districts across the region.
But district officials also said they are limited in their ability to provide the urgent intervention so many students need.
“A third of our kids need urgent intervention, do we have the resources for that?” board member Ann Reilly asked after officials finished the presentation.
“No,” Superintendent Larry Spring answered.
Spring highlighted the challenges that students in Schenectady face due to poverty and home and neighborhood conditions. He said the district needs to increase a wide variety of services to better meet student needs. He pointed to a state funding formula that estimates Schenectady should receive an additional $40 million in state aid, but but does not receive. Spring said the district doesn’t have the resources it needs to do the job.
“To some degree, these are symptoms of other things,” Spring said of the academic data.
Data from student math screenings painted a similar picture: 17 percent of Zoller Elementary third- through fifth-grade students scored at a level that requires urgent attention, while over half of the students at Hamilton Elementary indicated urgent needs in math. While no elementary school had more than half of its students meet grade-level targets, a somewhat larger share of students were on track in math than in reading.
During the quarterly report presentations, which include a breakdown of academic, attendance and behavioral data from the first 10 weeks of the school year, administrators described regular planning sessions to analyze the student data, identify areas of weakness and develop plans to address those weaknesses.
“We’re getting better at getting better,” said Oneida Middle School Principal Tony Farina.
Despite the discouraging report, officials noted that fewer students this school year are receiving failing grades in their classes. Overall student course failures fell in all of the district’s schools, though there was a slight uptick in the number of students failing just one course at Mont Pleasant Middle School.
At Schenectady High School at the end of the first quarter last year, 777 students were failing three or more courses; that figure fell to under 550 this school year.
Farina told school board members that a new effort to help students better organize themselves and keep up with assignments helped halve the number of failing students at Oneida.
The district, however, started counting students not attending enough classes to demonstrate a grade of any kind in their own category, lowering the number of overall course failures compared to last year.
District officials also pointed to behavioral data as showing positive signs. Nine of 11 elementary schools saw a decrease in the number of students involved in incidents considered a violation of the student code of conduct. While there was a decline in the number of behavioral incidents at the high school, a handful of incidents resulted in enough student suspensions to lift the number of days students missed due to suspension over last year.