By Michael Morton
The issue was expected to be brought up Thursday night at the monthly meeting of School Board 29, and elected officials vowed to speak with school administrators in an attempt to find the root of the problem.
“I'm not happy with the results at all,” said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who represents part of the area and sits on the Council's Education Committee. “I have to find out what the underlying reasons are.” School District 29 covers Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, part of Jamaica and part of Fresh Meadows.
Scores for the state reading tests, taken in February, were released to the public two weeks ago, when administrators at each school also received results from the city's third-grade reading and math exams, a factor in deciding which students are promoted. Scores on all the exams are categorized into four levels, with 4 the highest and 1 failing.
Teachers at schools throughout Queens spent the week putting together a portfolio on each third-grader who had failed one of the exams, another element that will be considered when deciding who is held back. Third-grade scores for each school, district and region still had not been publicly released by the city Department of Education as of Tuesday, but state exam results had already been made available.
All told, 2,782 fourth-graders were tested in the district, with 7.5 percent scoring at Level 1, while 2,651 eight-graders were tested and 10.1 percent fell into the failing category.
On those tests, all school districts in Queens recorded a drop in the number of fourth-graders scoring in Levels 3 and 4 from the previous year except District 30 in Astoria. District 29, however, was also the only district in which the number of students scoring in the Level 1 failing category increased by 1.7 percent.
Like other districts in Queens, District 29 showed fewer students scoring in Level 1 on the eighth-grade test. But only District 29 also registered less pupils gaining Levels 3 and 4, reporting a 1.9 percent drop.
Comrie said a possible factor in the district's low scores might be that it historically has had a high number of transient students because of the concentration of group homes and homeless shelters.
Nat Washington, president of School Board 29, agreed with that assessment and also pointed out that the area has a large number of non-native English speakers and large class sizes.
“I'm not making excuses,” Washington said. “We are lagging behind in Queens.”
The school board president said many students in the district seemed stuck in Level 2, and that only a question or two separated the four scoring categories, most importantly between Level 1 and Level 2.
Washington would like an individual education plan for each student but said such an endeavor is not feasible in the current environment.
“We don't have the resources to fully diagnose each child and find out what is wrong,” he said.
Comrie also pointed to a lack of funding and proper facilities for district students.
“We want to make sure our kids are getting equal access to resources,” he said. “We have to make sure every child gets a good opportunity.”
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.