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Low test scores at Phillips, Roanoke could mean transfers to Aquebogue

Aqebogue Elementary School

Parents of students at Phillips and Roanoke elementary schools now have the option of sending their children to Aquebogue Elementary School next month, because the state has declared both Riverhead schools “underperforming” based on low student test scores from last year.

Superintendent Nancy Carney said in an email Tuesday that the state evaluated test results from April 2015 by analyzing performance in specific student demographic groups, including Hispanic, African American, economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities and limited English proficient students. The analysis determined that some subgroups within those schools failed to meet proficiency standards in English Language Arts and math for students in grades 3-8.

[Related: NYS releases student test scores; superintendents challenge results]

Ms. Carney said in order for the state to examine a specific demographic category, a school must have at least 30 students in each grade within that subgroup.

The state has now designated Phillips and Roanoke Title I Focus Schools because they either failed to reach certain cut-off point scores or scored in the lowest 10 percent of schools statewide, according to a letter posted last week on the district’s website.

“As a district, we are very frustrated with this designation,” Ms. Carney said. “We are also frustrated that the state is not responding to our continuous advocacy on providing flexibility for our English Language Learners and students with disabilities, as well as using multiple forms of assessments to gauge student learning.”

She added that low test scores across the district were also caused by many students refusing to take the exams, a movement known as “opting out,” since only some of the district’s students were tested and analyzed as opposed to the entire population.

This year, about 39 percent of Riverhead students opted out of assessments. The state’s report for Riverhead shows that 21 percent of 1,533 students were deemed proficient in ELA. Proficiency in math was achieved by 24 percent of 1,414 students.

The district’s other elementary schools — Riley Avenue and Pulaski Street — were also deemed focus schools.

Although the district announced the focus school designation in March, it didn’t reveal that parents could transfer their children to Aquebogue until very close to the state-mandated notification deadline of 14 days before the start of school.

The federal government has designated Phillips and Roanoke as “Title I” schools since they have a high percentage of low-income families. Because Riley isn’t considered a Title I school, those students don’t have the option to transfer, the superintendent said.

Aquebogue was the only elementary school in the district that didn’t receive the focus school designation, Ms. Carney said.

The deadline for parents to enroll their children at Aquebogue is tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 26. As of Tuesday, the district had “only received a handful of requests,” she said.

Angela Ohlbaum, president of the Aquebogue Parent Teacher Organization, said parents in her school are very concerned about larger class sizes.

“What happens if all these class sizes are full and these children need additional services?” she asked. “Where do you put everybody?”

Ms. Ohlbaum said many classes were already at or near capacity last year. If many students decided to transfer into Aquebogue, she said, she fears existing students will lose art and music rooms to accommodate the influx.

She’s also worried that teachers from Phillips and Roanoke will be cut from the budget if enrollment at those schools decreases.

“I just feel it’s very overwhelming,” she said. “That’s how a lot of the parents feel.”

Nearly 50 people attended Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting to express concerns about the focus school designations and transfer opportunities. Many Aquebogue parents were in attendance and shared concerns similar to Ms. Ohlbaum’s.

A few Roanoke parents also expressed frustration with the process.

“I do fear that the transferring of students will negatively affect both schools,” Allison Dick, co-president of the Roanoke PTA, said after the meeting. “On one hand, you’ll have classrooms with multiple empty seats and, on the other hand, you’ll have over crowded classrooms.

“I think the bigger picture is that the issue is districtwide and we need to all work together to make a change,” Ms. Dick said.

Patricia Messina, whose child attended Aquebogue last year and just recently moved into the Roanoke neighborhood, said she’s concerned about how Aquebogue will be able to accommodate transfer students and handle teacher reassignments related to fluctuating enrollment.

While Ms. Carney declined to say how many students plan to transfer to Aquebogue, she said she doubts the numbers will be high enough to relocate teachers. Should those numbers increase significantly by Friday’s deadline, the district would most likely hire a new teacher, she added, stressing that no decisions can be made until they have a final count.

Ms. Carney said this is the first time the district has been required to give parents transfer options.

Riley and Aquebogue schools are the district’s least diverse: Riley’s student population is 67 percent white and Aquebogue’s is 49 percent white, according to the state education department website. Meanwhile, state figures show, the majority of students at Phillips and Roanoke are Hispanic.

None of the English Language Learner students at Phillips or Roanoke was rated proficient in ELA this year, according to the state report.

After learning of the focus designation, the district submitted a Comprehensive Improvement Plan to the state, Ms. Carney said. Once approved, she added, that plan will be presented to the school board and posted on the district’s website.

Removal of the designation requires each school to have a 95 percent participation rate in state assessments, Ms. Carney said.

Parents with questions may call Christine Tona, district assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, at 631-369-6714.

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Photo: Aquebogue Elementary School on Main Road. (Credit: Krysten Massa / Aug. 23, 2016)

Editor’s note: An initial version of this article published Tuesday night was replaced Wednesday morning with an updated story, which will also appear in Thursday’s edition of the Riverhead News-Review newspaper.