Fewer students in the Riverhead Central School District achieved proficiency in 2016-17 state assessments while scores improved slightly for the Riverhead Charter School and Shoreham-Wading School District, according to figures released Aug. 22 by the state Department of Education.
While scores rose overall across New York, state educators say they don’t believe the scores accurately reflect students’ abilities because the trend of students refusing to take the state-mandated exams, known as “opting out,” has continued to increase every year.
In the Riverhead district, 24 percent of the 1,557 students who took the exams were scored proficient, which represents a 1 percent decrease from the previous school year. Nearly 19 percent of 1,521 students who sat for the English Language Arts exams were deemed proficient, a drop of 2 percent.
For the past two years, Riverhead has received a focus district designation as a result of low test scores — either failing to reach certain cut-off scores or scoring in the lowest 10 percent of schools statewide.
To have that designation lifted, the district needs 95 percent of its eligible students to take the annual math and ELA exams. In 2016-17, however, 32 percent of eligible third- to eighth-graders opted out of the math exams and 33 percent chose not to take the ELA exams.
“As a district, we will consider the data from the state assessments, but we will also look at a variety of alternative ways to assess student performance,” Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez, who began her new position Aug. 31, said in an email. “Our ultimate goal is to create a future of hope and limitless potential for the students of Riverhead. I will work closely with our team of administrators and teachers to foster a love for teaching and learning.”
In the Shoreham-Wading River district, ELA scores for 2016-17 held steady, with 49 percent of tested students scoring proficient on both exams. Math scores rose by 10 percent, with 62 percent of 202 students achieving proficiency.
However, SWR also has one of the highest opt-out rates on Long Island, with 80.1 percent of eligible students refusing the ELA test and 77.4 percent sitting out the math exam.
Superintendent Gerard Poole said the district is focused on challenging students academically while also focusing on their emotional and social development, adding that teachers will to do their best to help students succeed in all areas as state curriculum standards continue to change.
“Every year, a thorough analysis of all measures of student achievement is conducted and utilized to make any enhancements to our instructional program that we feel would further prepare our students to meet today’s educational standards,” he said in an email. “The district will once again be conducting this review and will use the data recently released as one indicator.”
At the Riverhead Charter School, 43 percent of students tested scored proficient in ELA for 2016-17, an increase of 9 percent. Similarly, 38 percent of students scored proficient in math, compared to 33 percent the previous year.
Opt-out rates for the charter school were about 40 percent of 180 eligible students for the math exam and 34 percent for ELA.
“My reaction is similar to the reaction of our teachers — the test was hard but fair,” principal Raymond Ankrum said in an email. “The state has done an excellent job with releasing materials and anticipatory supports to allow teachers, students and families to prepare for the test — without the test having to take over the curriculum.”
Mr. Ankrum did express concern about the delayed release of assessment scores, as they are used to approach the strengths and weaknesses in the school’s educational program.
Statewide, 40 percent of tested students were determined proficient in both ELA and math during the 2016-17 school year. This is a slight increase from the previous school year, when 38 percent of students met ELA standards and 39 percent did so in math.
In December 2015, the state Board of Regents, which drafts education guidelines for New York public schools, imposed a four-year moratorium on using student scores to evaluate teachers and principals. This was a response to high-stakes testing concerns voiced by parents and school officials across the state.
Mr. Ankrum noted that there are still flaws, and some bad questions on the exams, but said overall he has noticed an improvement in the tests in recent years.
“We left feeling better about the improvements that the state has made … unlimited time, and a shorter test overall, helped to relieve some of the concern exhibited by students and families,” he said.