By Tessa Raebeck
While board meetings at the start of the school year can often be tense, the mood was light and cheerful Monday, September 8, as Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves updated the Board of Education on the district’s results on state assessments.
At the educational workshop, Ms. Graves, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone compiled an extensive presentation of history, graphs and raw data on Sag Harbor students’ test performances.
“I always caution everybody that it’s only one piece of what we’re looking at,” Ms. Graves said of the data. “We take our data and we bring it to our teachers and our teachers take us that next part of the way.”
Sag Harbor fared well out of the 64 districts in Eastern Suffolk BOCES that took standardized tests in 2014.
Out of those districts for ELA, Sag Harbor’s fourth grade ranked 11th, the fifth grade ranked fourth, the seventh grade ranked third, and the eighth grade ranked fifth.
Mr. Nichols said the sciences at the high school level are all strong.
“Much like at the middle school,” he said, “we far exceed the New York State average in every discipline with the exception of mathematics, which you’ll see we’re still on par with New York State, but certainly not performing at the level as you see in other disciplines.”
He added that after two years with the Common Core, “We’re seeing some patterns in the assessment results and we’re able to allocate resources accordingly to where we’re focusing.”
In an effort to raise math achievement, the district has added math specialists at the middle school and elementary school, as well as teaching assistants who are trained in specific areas to add to “key instructional times,” Mr. Malone said.
Instructional time in math for the sixth grade has been doubled and math exposure is increasing for all middle school students, Mr. Nichols said.
Standardized testing of New York State students dates back to 1865, when Regents exams were first administered as high school entrance exams. Younger students began being tested in reading and mathematics in 1966, in writing in 1983 and in science in 1989.
The required tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and math that students take in fourth and eighth grade began in 1999. After President George W. Bush signed the “No Child Left Behind” Act in 2003, which expanded the federal government’s role in student testing by requiring states to develop assessments in order to receive federal school funding, all states were mandated to administer ELA and mathematics tests for all students in grades three through eight and science tests twice, once during grades three and five and another time during grades six through nine. New York State chooses to administer the science exams in grades four and eight.
At present, Sag Harbor students are given the following state-mandated tests: the New York State Alternate Assessment (only for students with severe cognitive disabilities); one speaking test and one listening, reading and writing test for English as a Second Language students; ELA tests for students in grades three through eight; mathematics tests for students in grades three through eight; a science performance test for grade four; a science performance test for grade eight; a written science test for grade four; and a written science test for grade eight.
High school students are also required to take the following Regents exams, which are in the process of being aligned with the new Common Core curriculum: Grade 11 ELA; either integrated algebra or geometry or algebra II/trigonometry; grade 10 global history and geography; grade 11 U.S. history and government; and a choice of earth science, living environment, chemistry or physics.
Testing this year starts September 29 with the alternate assessment and runs through June 24 with the last Regents exam.
Implementation of new exams is usually done slowly, but New York’s recent switch to Common Core raised protests from administrators, parents, teachers and students across the board last year due to its fast implementation.
“It was a blindside to the educational community who were used to things being implemented in a fairly strategic fashion… Most teachers and most educators didn’t have a problem with the Common Core, they had a problem with the implementation and how that felt,” Ms. Graves said.
The first administration of the Common Core Geometry Assessment will be this year. In 2017, this year’s 10th graders will be the first grade required to pass the Common Core Regents Exams with a 65 percent passing grade in order to graduate and in 2022, this year’s fifth grade students will be the first required to pass the Common Core Regents exams at “aspirational performance levels” of 75 to 80 percent.
The administrators’ presentation on the data is available online.