All schools in Chautauqua County are not created equal.
On Tuesday, results from the state's third through eighth grade math and English Language Arts tests indicated that as a whole, the area scored under the state average on the proficiency exams. However, some schools fared better than others.
Judged against the average of state students meeting state standards, Bemus Point, Clymer, Randolph, Fredonia and Sherman were among the highest scoring, while Salamanca, Pine Valley, Dunkirk, Ripley and Jamestown's scores were less than the state averages.
Bemus Point was the only school district to have more students meeting state standards than the state average in all six grades in both the ELA and math exams. Jacqueline Latshaw, superintendent of Bemus Point, attributed the school's success to the hard work of its students, teachers and parents as well as changes to this year's curriculum.
"This year we made several changes to provide more supports to teachers in hopes that it would lead to more success with students," she said.
Editor's Note: For the purposes of this analysis and the accompanying charts, the percentage of students falling into Levels 3 and 4 - and thus deemed as meeting state
standards - on the English Language Arts and math exams are compared with the percentage of students statewide whose scores fell into Levels 3 and 4. The comparison is meant to show the differences between achievement in area schools compared to the state average.
According to Latshaw, Bemus Point's elementary schedules were rearranged so that teachers had blocks of uninterrupted instruction for ELA and math, and remedial teachers provided more "push-in services" than "pull-out services." Teachers were also supported through frequent grade level, data and instructional support team meetings.
Clymer also had six out of six grades surpassing state levels in the math Regents. It fared slightly worse in the ELA, with four out of six grades having more students than the state average surpassing state standards. Sherman's numbers stood in a similar place, with six out of six grades surpassing state standards more than the state average in ELA and five out of six in the math Regents.
Thomas Schmidt, superintendent of Sherman Central School District, said that the school's curriculum is always a work in progress, and that he looks at the test results as an opportunity to pinpoint what is working and what needs improvement.
"Our teachers work hard to teach what needs to be taught," he said. "We are in a state of constant evaluation of what we do, assessing our strengths and weaknesses and adjusting our practices accordingly."
Southwestern had five out of six grade levels exceeding state results on both tests. Chautauqua Lake and Fredonia both had four out of six grades finish above state levels on the ELA and five out of six do so on the math test.
Forestville and Frewsburg both had four out of six grade levels outperform state results on the math test. While Forestville maintained the same record for the ELA, Frewsburg's went down to three out of six in the math exams. Four out of six of Westfield's grade levels exceeded state levels on the ELA, while only three out of six did so on the math Regents.
Near the lower end of the spectrum, Brocton, Cassadaga Valley, Falconer, Pine Valley and Ripley all only had two out of six grade levels rise to proficiency standards on the math test. In Brocton, Ripley and Pine Valley, no grade levels met state standards on the ELA. The numbers were two of six in Falconer and one of six in Cassadaga Valley.
Silver Creek and Panama had one grade level surpass state levels on the math test, and Dunkirk had none. Dunkirk also did not have a single grade above the standard level for the ELA, while Silver Creek and Panama both had four out of six.
An examination of the test results by grade level shows fewer fifth-graders in Chautauqua County meeting state standards than the state average - except for Clymer, Silver Creek, Bemus Point, Fredonia and Sherman. Seventh grade also did not fare well, with only six out of 18 having more students meeting state standards than the state averages - with Southwestern, Clymer, Bemus Point, Fredonia, Sherman and Westfield exceeding the state average.
Half of the third and fourth grades achieved a higher proficiency compared to the state; 11 out of 18 eighth grades exceeded state averages of students meeting state standards and 12 out of 18 sixth grades exceeded the state average of students meeting state standards.
The county did better overall on the math Regents, with 10 out of 18 third, fourth and sixth grades exceeding state averages of students meeting standards. Fifth graders struggled again, with only four out of 18 districts showing more students meeting state standards than the state average.
Individual data was provided for each elementary and middle school in Jamestown. The recently closed Rogers Elementary topped the list, with both of its third and fourth grades surpassing state results on the math test, and its third grade doing so on the ELA. The remaining elementary schools - Ring, Bush, Fletcher and Love - did not measure up to their state counterparts in either grade on both tests. Lincoln's fourth grade beat state averages on the ELA exam, but neither grade did so on the math test.
As for the middle schools, Persell came out on top of the pack, with half of its grade levels showing more students at meeting state standards than the state average and one of four grades doing so on the math Regents. Jefferson and Washington middle schools both failed to exceed the state averages in either test.
Jesse Joy, curriculum director for the Jamestown school districts, said curriculums do not provide the final word in a school's performance, as all Jamestown schools share a core reading and math program.
"Of course, any curriculum or textbook is just a starting point," she said. "We continue to work as a district to see that teachers collaborate with their colleagues - within and across buildings - to be sure that the 'intended' curriculum and the 'learned' curriculum are one and the same. By comparing their results, teachers can identify which strategies are working and which ones are not, and can make needed changes to help their students to achieve at higher levels."
A BROADER SCOPE
The average scale score on both tests was slightly higher than the 2011 tests, according to state Education Department officials. This means students had to score slightly higher to meet state standards. There was a small increase in the percentage of students meeting standards statewide.
The increase in standards is not temporary, however. John B. King Jr., state education commissioner, said the 2013 tests will be even tougher for students as they reflect new standards effected by the Common Core State Standards, which are being phased into the educational system. The program involves several states in creating a shared curriculum. Its aim is to increase educational standards while preparing students more effectively for college and entrance into the workforce.
Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, a key component of the common core program, is expected to launch in the 2014-15 school year. The program will mark students' progress toward the goal of being college and career ready by the end of high school beginning in the third grade. Coupled with the teacher and principal evaluation system, or APPR, these changes are designed to raise the bar for performance on state tests.
The APPR system follows through on New York's commitment to establish teacher evaluations as a condition of the $700 million granted through the federal Race to the Top program. The new legislation provides mandates to local school districts for the implementation of teacher and principal evaluations based on multiple measures of performance, including student achievement and classroom observations.
This represents a shift in the evaluation of schools in the direction of being even more test-based. If students at a school do not consistently score at Level 3 or Level 4 on standardized tests, the school may be considered in need of improvement. The state's accountability system is still being refined, and as such, school officials are unsure of what possibly being designated as not meeting state standards will mean for their schools.
"We are still learning about these changes, and what they will mean for our school improvement status," Joy said. "Whether or not we are identified by the state accountability system, we recognize that many of our students are not meeting state standards. We hold ourselves accountable for improved learning for our students, and will continue with our district improvement plan."