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Pearl River Reacts to State Test Scores

Pearl River's scores on the 2013 New York State assessments for grades three through eight brought questions from parents at Tuesday's school board meeting.

The Pearl River School District administration continued to address scores on the 2013 New York State assessments for grades three through eight at the board of education meeting Tuesday and through a letter sent out Thursday by Superintendent Dr. John Morgano.

Students faced new tests earlier this year deigned to reflect the more challenging common core standards adopted by New York in 2010, making it difficult to make comparisons of the test scores to previous years. The relatively low numbers of students meeting or exceeding proficiency standards raised concerns.  In New York State, 31 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency in math and 31.1 percent did so in English Language Arts (ELA). Those numbers were 50.3 percent for ELA and 54.6 percent for math in Pearl River. For more on previous reaction to the test scores, see the reports on Patch at this link and this link.

While some educators have been critical of the NYSED for the implementation of the new testing, Pearl River's message has focused on putting the results in context. As he did earlier this month, Morgano's letter, which can be found through the district website here, points to the statement New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr.  that the change in the test scores from previous years does not reflect a decrease in student learning or teacher performance.

"The commissioner made it clear we should not compare this year's testing to previous years' testing," Morgano said. 

The question raised by parents Tuesday, however, was the comparison of scores at Pearl River's three elementary schools. Nearly 70 percent of the students tested at Franklin Avenue reached or exceeded proficiency while Evans Park barely beat the state averages and Lincoln Avenue between the two. That led to a group of parents of Evans Park Elementary School students asking what caused the differential.

"I have confidence in the district," said parent Noreen Smith Marzec. "(But) one elementary school had almost 70 percent of the students pass. Another had about 30 percent, so 70 percent failed That, to me, is a big gap. How do you recover from that?

School Board member Bruce Bond, whose own children went to Evans Park, insisted that all of Pearl River's students are getting a great education and that parents are too concerned with elementary school test scores.

"If a kid goes to Evans Park, Lincoln Ave or Franklin Ave., they are getting the same education," Bond said. "I can guarantee that."

Morgano pointed to other indicators that the education students receive at all three elementary schools is comparable. 

"We do know with a comparison among the schools, one building did exceptionally well," Morgano said. "The other two did ok, but we want to look at why one building did so well. When we talk to our middle school teachers, they say they can't tell the difference in where the students came from, Evans Park, Lincoln  Avenue or Franklin Avenue. That's a good sign. 

"We looked at the top 10 percent of our graduating classes and there is a relatively even representation. 

Morgano said the administration is looking into the reason for the gap as part of its analysis of the test scores, but that will take time. He said the district still has not received the scores for individual students, which will then be passed along to the parents. 

"Those are conversations we have to have with teachers," Morgano said. "We haven't had the chance to sit with the teachers yet. And the parents don't have their child's scores. We're supposed to get them at the end of August. It's the end of August."

Marzec asked if having more children with special needs and English Language Learners at Evans Park had an impact.

"I like the makeup of our school," Marzec said. "We have a real look. But I do think there are differences.

"There is more on a teacher's plate at Evans Park than at Franklin or Lincoln, but i don't know that there is more support."

Pearl River Director of Special Services Carolyn Moffa said that the students who are in special education to not present a distraction in any classroom an they are only mainstreamed with other students when they are ready."

"Only when they can handle the work in a general education classroom," Moffa said. "It is not trial and error, not when they are not ready."

Evans Park Principal Peggy Lynch suggested that this may be a one-year issue, but she and her staff are not dismissing the test scores. 

"I want to assure people this is something we take very seriously," Evans Park Principal Peggy Lynch said. "This appears to be a one-year phenomenon. We will distill the data at a district, school and student level. We are looking carefully at the data. WE have presented a plan to Dr. Morgano and w will share it with the staff. We will look for their ideas to implement strategies and figure out what every child needs to do better. That's what we do. We are concerned and we will make this better."

Eileen Kelly, President of the Pearl River High School PTA expressed  her confidence that the district will provide an explanation for the gap in scores.

"I have had three kids in the top 10 percent of their (senior) class and they all went through Evans Park," Kelly said. "I've been on testing committees. I understand how it looks now, but in all fairness, it's the first time they've given the test. It's a one-year shot and I feel bad that it happened to my Alma Mater, Evans Park. They will find an answer."

Pearl River Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Sue Wheeler said. there will be some level of academic intervention for the students who did not score at the proficiency level.

"That is not just on the state test," Wheeler said. "We look at multiple measures. We see where the score fits in with the student's profile and determine what intervention they may or may not need."

Morgano said there are plans in place for all of the district's buildings to improve the scores going forward, one which will be shared with parents at open house nights the first week of school. Classes begin Sept. 9. 

"We had meetings with all three principals as well as the middle school and high school about their testing," Morgano said. "I'm confident the plans they have going forward are going to result in a change."

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