By Rich Bockmann
The head of the state Education Department visited the Albert Shanker school in Astoria last week and said he is looking for students to make slow-and-steady gains this year on the state Common Core exams.
On his visit to a handful of schools in Queens and Staten Island Sept. 19, Commissioner John King said he saw students working on complex writing and math exercises reflecting the new Common Core standards the state began testing third- through eight-graders on last year.
In the lead-up to the new tests, state and city education officials made a large push to temper expectations, saying they expected grades to drop as students were evaluated on stricter standards.
“I think what you’ll see over time is incremental improvements on state tests,” he said. “Teachers and principals are focused on refining the principles.”
Located not far from the Astoria Houses, Albert Shanker is a visual and performing arts middle school where 85 percent of the student body qualifies for free lunch. About 22 percent of students are English-language learners, and 22 percent are in special education.
While almost all schools across the state, even those in the top percentiles, saw their scores drop on the new exams, Albert Shanker, at 31-51 21st St., was struggling before the new standards were implemented. The school had a proficiency rate of about 30 percent in English and 45 percent in math in 2012. Those numbers dropped to 13.8 percent in English and 11 percent in math last year.
King had been invited to visit Albert Shanker on his back-to-school tour by state Assemblywoman and Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), who said she was hoping the visit would help convince the commissioner to reinstate a grant the school recently lost.
“We’re not too happy about it,” she said of the loss of the 21st Century after-school grant. “The principal has arranged for the YMCA to come in after school, but it’s important to get a struggling school the resources it needs to be a community school.”
“The school is an A-rated school, but it is struggling with the new Common Core standards, and we wanted the commissioner to see … you know there’s nothing like getting into a building and seeing it. The school has a really great history, but we want to see it do even better,” she said.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), an alumna of Albert Shanker, said she is proof the school can turn out successful graduates, but there is certainly a need for more resources.
Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said the 2013 cycle for the 21st Century Grant program is complete, and there were fewer education dollars coming out of Washington, D.C., this time around.
“Unfortunately, there were fewer funds to distribute than in years past and the federally mandated selection criteria left many worthy programs and communities disappointed,” he said.
The grants are awarded for three-year cycles.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.