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Boro educators examine drop in 8th-grade scores

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After eight years in the public school system, students should do better on state exams, right?

Wrong.

State data shows that fourth-graders do significantly better on state English and Math exams than eighth-graders, whose passage rates plummet in comparison to their younger counterparts.

Nearly all of the borough’s seven public school districts showed double-digit declines in their passage rates on eighth-grade English and math exams, state school report cards indicate.

Math scores from fourth to eighth grade plummeted across Queens, with School District 30 in Jackson Heights showing a 40 percent drop in passage rates, the most of any Queens district.

To be fair, the fourth- and eighth-grade English and math exams now given by the state are relatively new, a portion of the tougher academic standards New York implemented several years ago.

Therefore, the eighth-graders tested last year did not take similar exams when they were in fourth grade themselves and have been subject to the state’s higher standards only since 1999.

Queens educators acknowledged the problem with the middle school passage rates but had different explanations for the eighth-grade scores.

Deputy Superintendent Anita Saunders of School District 26 in Bayside said the state’s new standards-based curriculum requires students to learn very specific educational strategies.

“They really didn’t have the same foundation” as the fourth-graders, who began learning under the improved academic standards as first-graders, Saunders said. “Eighth-graders have a lot of tests and a lot on their plates. They’re very accountable,” she noted.

Saunders said she believes the eighth-grade passage rates will improve over time as more students are exposed to the tougher curriculum for a longer period of time.

Michael Johnson, district administrator for School District 29 in Rosedale, identified the lower scores in middle school as a national issue.

“We really need to rethink the structure of it,” Johnson said, referring to middle schools. “Our middle schools are too large.”

Adolescence may also play a role, he said.

“A middle school student is going through an emotional growth change,” said Johnson, who pointed out that District 29 offers a program to help acclimate elementary school students to the different, more adult environment of middle school.

Passage rates indicate how many, or what percentage, in a certain category passed the test. Categories tracked by the state range from grade-level to racial group and English Language Learners, or students whose first language is not English.

Last month the state reissued its school report cards to include student passage rates by racial groups, such as black, white, Asian and Hispanic. The report cards, available for districts and individual schools, include a variety of data from enrollment figures to school mission statements.

When analyzed by racial group, it appears nearly all students in Queens fall into the pattern of declining eighth-grade passage rates.

The only exceptions came in three districts and on one exam: in School Districts 24 in Glendale, District 28 in Forest Hills and District 30 in Jackson Heights, Asian students maintained similar passage rates on English exams. But even in these districts there was a very slight drop in the Asian students’ performance.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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