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For third year in a row, Riverhead is named a focus district by the state

Amid a presentation on student achievement at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Riverhead school district Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez paused between PowerPoint slides.

“Our students are more than test scores,” she said.

But even as the district shifts to include social and emotional learning as part of overall academics, officials would still like to see test scores rise.

The 2018-19 school year marks the third consecutive year Riverhead has been deemed a focus district by the state education department.

According to the NYS Department of Education website, focus districts have schools with poor academic performance on standardized tests given to students in grades 3-8, such as English Language Arts and math evaluations.

Data from 2018 shows a disparity among test scores. According to Kathleen Scholand, director of STEM for the district, only approximately 25 percent of students have attained mathematics scores of 3 or 4, indicating proficiency and mastery. The other 75 percent is scoring primarily 1 and 2 on the state exam.

Ms. Scholand said there is an “urgent need” to increase student achievement through data-based planning and instruction. “In a very positive way, by the state knocking on our door, it’s brought our attention to look closely at data, to have conversations around that data and then to think about what should be our next steps,” she said.

English Language Arts director Maria Casamassa pointed out a slight increase in scores among ELA tests in 2018. She said that data drives instruction, thus four different phonics programs are currently being piloted at the K-2 level at each elementary school. “We all know that phonics is important, but the important thing about phonics is not just that kids know the sounds and they read words but they take these skills and transfer those skills into authentic reading and writing,” she said.

Ms. Casamassa also said early intervention would prove to be an important factor in future test scores. “As students get older, the gap widens,” she said.

Liz Scaduto, director of English as a New Language, said that from 2016 to 2018, there was an overall improvement among new English-speaking students who took the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) for three consecutive years.

Of those 474 students, 229 students advanced one level or more. “That’s okay,” Ms. Scaduto said, “But it’s only about half.”

Most troubling to her was the 225 students who remained at the same proficiency level over the three-year period.

“As a proficiency test, [the NYSESLAT] has gotten more rigorous, it’s gotten a little bit more challenging every year,” she said, as state models for instruction and curriculum change.

About half of the student population is Latino, the superintendent said.

As the district reflects, assistant superintendent Christine Tona outlined goals for the district this school year that include additional professional development and resources for teachers in all disciplines.

Measurable district goals also include increasing outcomes for STAR state assessments by 5 percent in K-8, maintaining a minimum of 80 percent graduation rate while increasing graduation rates of subgroups by 3 percent, and increasing student performance on the Suffolk County Community college academic placement tests by 3 percent.

Dr. Henriquez remains optimistic and concluded with an analogy to Noah’s Ark. “We’re all in the same boat. We’re all in this together. This is truly a team effort,” she said, of trying to turn things around. “That involves tough conversations and bravery in terms of leading the charge forward.”

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