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Queens third-grade reading failure rate highest in SD 29

Children with failing scores may be held back this year under a new policy enacted by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to end social promotion. Parents should be notified by the end of the week if their child is included in that group.

Of 2,731 students who took the exams in the district, 404, or 14.8 percent, scored in the failing Level 1 category on the math test, the English test or both. SD 29 covers Queens Village, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, part of Jamaica and part of Fresh Meadows.

"No one's happy with the scores," said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), a member of the Council's Education Committee. Though the councilman had not gotten a chance to thoroughly examine the results as of Monday, he said they were due in part to a lack of funding and inadequate facilities for the students.

"They're resolved to work harder to make sure the children get more resources," Comrie said of district administrators.

On the tests, 47.3 percent of District 29 third-graders scored in Levels 3 and 4, the highest categories, while 52.7 percent fell into Levels 1 and 2. Those in Level 2 pass third grade, but those in Level 1 might be held back. Of the district's third-graders, 14.8 percent scored in the Level 1 group, compared with 13.6 percent in the Rockaways' District 27.

Third-grade scores were sent to administrators at individual district schools on June 3, the same day results for the fourth- and eighth-grade state tests were released to the public. It then took a week for parents of third-graders to receive the city scores from the administrators, during which time each failing child's portfolio was assembled.

Under the plan to end social promotion, failing children are automatically put into an appeals process to determine if they can move on to fourth grade. If the children's school work from the year is judged sufficient, their principal can pass them. If not, they are encouraged, but not required, to take summer school.

Students can retake the exams in August, with summer school work taken into consideration for those who have failed.

Notices about the initial portfolio decision went out Monday, and parents should know whether or not their child is in the appeals process by the end of the week.

"We'll start getting those calls this week probably," Comrie said of concerned constituents. The councilman added that the appeals process was thorough, although he did not agree with the way the social promotion policy was implemented.

"I see the need for earlier intervention and lower class size," Comrie said.

At PS 33 in Queens Village, parents recently discussed the exams as they picked up their children.

"The test helps them see what they need help with," said Patrick Rahamatulla, whose daughter earned a Level 4. If she had failed, "then we'd know she needed a little more tutoring. This is just a small obstacle. It's not something to bring the child down."

According to the statistics, only 14 students failed at PS 33. But even there, parents said they had been nervous all year and their children had been filled with anxiety about the looming exams.

"I'm so afraid," said one second-grader's mother who did not give her name. "I hope she does well next year."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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