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Two Queens high schools on low-performing register

Two Queens high schools have been added to the list of low-performing state schools, but a once trouble elementary school has been taken off the list by state Education Commissioner Richard Mills.

Mills announced last Thursday that The Humanities and Arts Magnet High School in Cambria Heights and Franklin K. Lane High School in Woodhaven, both in Queens High School District 77, were added to the program that puts failing schools under registration review. SURR schools, as they are more commonly called, are targeted for reasons ranging from high dropout rates to low scores on state standardized tests.

Mills removed one Queens school from the list, PS 40 in Jamaica, which is in the specialty Chancellor's District 85. The school had improved its standardized test scores and was taken off the list.

"These are schools whose performances are at the bottom, so if they don't turn around, they're going to be shut," said Tom Dunn, spokesman for the New York State Education Department. "But this is a successful program because [schools] do improve."

The Humanities and Arts Magnet High School was cited for its low math test scores, while Franklin K. Lane High School had both poor math and English language results, the DOE said. No test results were available on the DOE web site for the two schools.

Former Borough President Claire Shulman had recommended the closure of PS 40 in June 2000 during the school year, citing its chronic disciplinary problems and low student performance. It remained open, however, under the administration of the Chancellor's District officials.

The school's English Language and math test score improvements made it a candidate to be removed from the SURR list. The number of students not proficient in English Language dropped from 42.9 percent in 2001 to 30.7 percent in 2002, while those not proficient in math fell from 53.3 percent to 38.2 percent.

Citywide, 18 New York City public schools were removed from the SURR list and six were added, the state DOE said. There are 58 schools on the SURR list for the 2002-2003 academic school year, compared with 77 schools from the 2001-2002 school year.

The state SURR list is separate from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George Bush in September, which set academic standards and issued mandates on curriculum for all schools in the country. The state, however, has different standards and thus may not have the same schools on its list as those listed under the federal law, Dunn said.

"This is a much more dramatic call to action," Dunn said of the state SURR list, which began six years ago. "By and large, we evaluate [the schools] based on student performance."

According to the state DOE, a failing school is one where less than 90 percent of its students who take standardized tests score at or above the performance benchmark. A failing school also has more than 5 percent of its students drop out, according to the state.

The DOE analyzes the test scores for each school to identify schools furthest from meeting the state's minimum standards; it then puts those in most need of improvement under registration review.

This is the lowest number of city schools citywide under state review since the program started in 1997, according to state Department of Education figures.

The number of SURR schools has steadily decreased over the years, with an initial 104 schools targeted by the state during the 1997-1998 academic year. That figure dropped to 98 in the 1999-2000 year, ending up with this year's number of 58.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein used the opportunity in announcing the decline in the number of SURR schools to promote his new, unified high school curriculum that he said would make for more effective teaching of math throughout the city.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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