By James DeWeese
The high-stakes third grade testing initiative aimed at identifying students who are not prepared to enter the fourth grade was implemented for the first time this year.
Students scoring in the lowest grading category in either the reading or math section may be asked to attend summer school and could be required to repeat third grade.
Meanwhile, the percentage of fourth-grade students with below average reading scores in the school district that covers Corona, Elmhurst, Ridgewood, Maspeth and portions of Jackson Heights and Woodside, remained steady from 2003 to 2004 at about 5.6 percent.
And eighth-grade failing scores dropped precipitously from a districtwide average of 9.3 percent in 2003 to 5.6 percent in 2004.
Unlike the fourth- and eighth-grade tests, which are administered statewide and have no bearing on a students' promotion, third-grade students with failing scores could be held back.
And the one-size-fits-all approach doesn't sit well with some educators and politicians.
“It's like clothes: sometimes you've got an 8, sometimes you've got a 10, sometimes you've got an 8 that doesn't fit … you have to make it fit the child,” said Linda Vila Passione, a teacher at PS 89 in Elmhurst.
“I support the policy of no social promotion, I truly do, said Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights). “However, I do think that what has happened for the implementation of it is that the procedure has turned out to have more debacles in it than should be.”
More than 2,400 third-grade students, for example, were confronted with a make-up exam on which the test booklet and answer sheet did not match.
Failing children are automatically put into an appeals process to determine if they can move on to fourth grade. If their school work from the year is judged sufficient, their principal can pass them. If not, they are encouraged, but not required, to take summer school.
“The teachers know who needs to be held back and who doesn't. We're in the trenches every day,” said Vila Passione, who is the United Federation of Teachers rep for the school. “I think they think there's a one-stop approach … 'publish a mandate and everything will work.'”
Some 33 third-graders at her school are in danger of having to repeat a year, according to Department of Education statistics.
“We did go through the whole procedure,” said Vila Passione, who indicated that she had not yet seen the full breakdown of scores. “My teachers were going crazy filling out the paperwork to keep students from being held back.”
Fourth-grade reading results at the school, however, improved dramatically over last year. The percentage of fourth-grade students with below-average reading scores dropped from 10.2 percent to 5 percent between 2003 and this year.
Vila Passione said the key to the improving scores was small-group instruction and personalized attention.
“Children will learn as long as you give them the opportunity to be in small groups,” she said. “You wouldn't need to do the after-school programs so much or the remedial programs because you'd be doing more in school.”
Sears echoed the sentiment and added that intervention with poor learners needed to be made earlier.
“It doesn't take a whole term to do that … at that point you begin to help,” said Sears, who said students with reading or math problems could be identified as early as second grade and placed in specialized programs.
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 718-229-0300. Ext. 157.