Three Riverhead schools flagged for failing grades

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12/21/2014 8:00 AM |

Three Riverhead schools recently flagged by the state for failing test scores are responding with plans to increase teacher collaboration and communication with parents, according to self-review reports recently released by the district.

Aquebogue and Phillips Avenue elementary schools, which educate prekindergarten through fourth-grade students, and Riverhead High School were mandated by the state to submit a “Local Assistance Plan” since certain groups of students did poorly on the 2013-14 state assessments and the high school’s graduation rate is below state standards.

The Riverhead school board unanimously approved the reports Nov. 18.

Aquebogue Elementary School received the designation because most of its students from low-income families failed last school year’s state math and English language arts (ELA) exams. Nearly 36 percent of the school’s 460 students receive free lunch, according to the report.

The majority of students at Phillips Avenue Elementary School from three different categories — low-income, black and/or disabled — failed the state assessments. Of the school’s 589 students, 76 percent receive free lunch, 18 percent are black and 10 percent are disabled, the report states.

The high school was added to the state’s watch list for low Hispanic graduation rates. About 28 percent of the high school’s nearly 1,500 students are Hispanic, according to fi gures listed in the report.

The state Education Department required the district’s administration to evaluate the noted issues in the three schools using a pre-made checklist that included four ratings: “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective.”

Of the 20 categories — among them teacher collaboration, community partnership and the school’s communication with parents — listed on the evaluation form, the elementary schools each received four “developing” ratings; the high school had two “developing” marks. All other sections received either “highly effective” or “effective” marks.

Parent Yolanda Thompson has addressed the school board about the Local Assistance Plan requirements in the past and has questioned the effectiveness of the self-review process. She has also called on the state to take a bigger role in reviewing schools’ policies and to offer schools more guidance as to what they should be doing, exactly, to close achievement gaps.

“I believe the issue of true objectivity arises when schools are allowed to review themselves,” Ms. Thompson later told the News-Review. “What school leader wants to publicly admit we’re failing our kids; we’re leaving certain groups of children behind?”

When asked why schools on the state’s watch list gave themselves high marks, Gary Karlson, a vice president of the teachers’ union, said he believes it’s more of a reflection of each school prioritizing its needs as opposed to fearing repercussion from the state.

“If they really did think there are 15 out of 20 things they needed to address, picking 15 out of 20 means you’re going to address 0 out of 20,” he said. “But if you picked that handful and said to your staff, ‘This is where we need to move,’ then you might have a better chance.

“It’s kind of like saying ‘I want to be skinny’ when it’s better if you say ‘I want to consume 2,000 calories a day,’ ” he continued. “It’s better to break it down and say what you want to do in to more manageable steps.”

Mr. Karlson, who teaches third grade at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, said he’s experienced with the process, since the school he works at was on the watch list last year.

While Roanoke’s test scores improved the following year and the school no longer requires the state mandated self-review report, Mr. Karlson said he believes the school’s success wasn’t a result of the Local Assistance Plan process, which he described as “a formalized way to really all put your heads together and talk about what’s necessary in a building.”

“It basically gave us a half a day to shoot the breeze and be honest as far as evaluating what are we doing well in, and take some time to talk about what we might be able to do better in,” he said. “It was more of just a formality than anything. We’re happy to be off it because nobody wants that. The less state influence the better.”

In August, David Wicks, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and Riverhead High School principal Charles Regan unveiled a program to improve graduation rates and help prevent students from falling behind on their studies.

The district has been cited for failing to meet graduation rates the state has set, he said, specifically because only 51 percent of Hispanic students and 66 percent of economically disadvantage students graduated in 2012, the most recent data used in the annual report card.

Mr. Regan has said the school is identifying at-risk seniors and putting together a plan that “incorporates the guidance counselors, teachers, parents and other support personnel and see what that student needs to graduate.”

Also starting this school year, 2014-15, is a “credit recovery” program to help students who cannot attend summer school catch up.

“We constantly need to be looking for ways to improve the methods that we instruct our students,” Mr. Regan wrote in an email. “Even before completing [the LAP process], we had identified areas that we are currently addressing at the high school. These efforts will help to increase the graduation rate for our Hispanic students as well as all students.”

Superintendent Nancy Carney said she believes “state assessments are, at times, a flawed vehicle for student evaluation because they do not necessarily reflect the growth and learning that occurs on a daily basis.”

Ms. Carney said she’s been working with colleagues in other districts to advocate for changes to current state requirements and assessments that do not meet the needs of all students. Those efforts include changes to the graduation requirements for students who enter the country as non-English speakers when they are juniors or seniors, as well as changes in the rules that currently require administering the same state assessments to all students regardless of their developmental level or language acquisition skills.

“They are only a small piece of all that we are doing or all that we plan to do as we remain dedicated to the success of every student,” she said.

Click on the tab below to read Riverhead’s Local Assistance Plan reports.