Harrison schools weather new ELAs

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Of the five Harrison schools that administered the new state English Language Arts and Mathematics exams last April, students enrolled in Harrison Avenue Elementary School, pictured here, had the highest percentage of students achieve at, or above, proficiency. File photo

By DANIEL OFFNER
The results are in and students enrolled in the Harrison Central School District—like most students in New York State—saw test scores plummet when faced with the newly implemented state English Language Arts and Mathematics exams.

Based on the results, the average grades for Harrison school district students taking the exam in 2013 were substantially lower than the English Language Arts and Mathematics exams taken the year before. Of the more than 3,000 Harrison students given the exam this year, students in each of the six tested grade groups, averaged in the low-300 point range out of 425 achievable points.

Part of the state’s Common Core learning standards, which were first adopted by the Board of Regents in 2010, the results of the new ELA and Mathematics exams are intended to assess students, grades three through eight, on the knowledge and skills they must achieve within each grade to better prepare themselves for college and careers.

“The world has changed, the economy has changed, and what our students need to know has changed,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

The standardized tests also follow a new grading system, which was created by a panel of 95 teachers, principals and other educators around the state to determine a student’s proficiency level on a scale of 1 through 4.

In Harrison, students taking the new exam received primarily scores of 2 or 3 with very few students scoring above proficiency—in the 4 range.

Harrison Superintendent Louis Wool said that the results are preliminary and are indicative of the change in the state Education Department curriculum and are not necessarily indicative of student or teacher efforts.

“Unfortunately, many school districts, including ours, found [the exams] more difficult than others,” Wool said.

Wool added that, because this is the pilot run of the new state assessments, the results are not necessarily reflective in determining who is a sufficient learner and who is in need of additional academic support.

“We are studying the results in earnest,” Wool said, “and we are looking to compare them against other value added assessments to see where they correlate.”

Out of the tests, administered statewide in April, roughly 31 percent of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded either the ELA or Mathematics proficiency standard.

According to New York State Education Commissioner John King, the drop-off in test results statewide was to be expected of the standardized test’s pilot run, which he said would, in effect, create a new baseline for students learning in New York.

“I understand these scores are sobering for parents, teachers and principals. It’s frustrating to see our children struggle. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by frustration; we must be energized by this opportunity,” King said. “The results we’ve announced are not a critique of past efforts, they’re a new starting point on a roadmap to future success.”

The Common Core standards have been adopted in 45 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories and are the current standard used by the Department of Defense Education Activity, a federal program that provides education overseas in Europe and the Pacific regions as well as domestically.

King added that the scores will not negatively impact district, school, principal or teacher accountability and that no new districts will be identified as “focus districts” or “priority schools” based on the results.

However, Wool said that, while the results are not currently being used to determine a teacher’s effectiveness, he is concerned that, eventually, the results will be used to assess teacher’s efforts.

Calls to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Michael Greenfield were not returned as of press time.
email: dan@hometwn.com

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About Daniel Offner

Daniel Offner joined Hometown Media Group as a staff reporter in 2012 after working as a freelancer and has since covered the Town/Village of Harrison and the villages of Bronxville and Larchmont. Offner holds a B.A. in journalism from SUNY Stony Brook and has previous experience as an intern for WSHU, an NPR affiliate in Fairfield, Conn. He is also an avid photographer, occasional blogger, and an amateur web designer who aspires to one day write for a national publication. Reach Dan at 914-653-1000 x26 or dan@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @harrisonreport.