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9.7% of Queens third-graders failed tests

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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.

In sum, 1,796 students, or 9.7 percent of the borough's 18,582 third-graders, scored in the failing Level 1 category on the math test, the English test or both.

The highest percentage of students who did not pass was in southeast Queens' District 29, with 14.8 percent of its 2,731 third-grade test-takers failing, while northeast Queens' District 26 reported the lowest with less than 1 percent of its 1,620 third-graders not making the cut.

In District 29, City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), a member of that body's Education Committee, said "no one's happy with the scores."

Ozone Park's District 27 also had a high failure rate, 13.6 percent of 3,561 students, while only 3.9 of the 1,998 third-graders in Flushing's District 25 did not pass. In western Queens, 10.4 percent of the 3,507 third-graders in District 24 and 7.8 percent of the 2,674 in District 30 failed, while in Jamaica's District 28 9.8 percent of the 2,491 third-graders did not pass.

Scores on the tests are categorized into Levels 1, 2, 3 or 4, with 4 the highest and 1 the lowest. Starting with this year's results, third-graders scoring Level 1 might be held back under a plan enacted by Klein to end social promotion.

The change in policy was criticized during a public hearing held by the Council's Education Committee Tuesday, at the end of which a resolution condemning the city's third-grade test policy passed with a 6-1 vote. Both Comrie and Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) voted for the resolution against using third-grade tests to determine promotion.

"What we should be doing is concentrating more on 3 and 4-year-old children, who often exhibit quite a bit of aptitude in reading and numbers comprehension," Liu said, calling for earlier intervention.

While the tests are not the only factor in deciding who moves on to fourth grade, they are the major component of the determination and have received the most attention.

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, each failing child is automatically put into an appeals process to determine if they can move on to fourth grade. If their 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.

All students can retake the exams in August, with summer school work taken into consideration by principals for those who fail again. If a student is still not promoted, then parents can initiate their own separate appeal.

Notices about the initial portfolio decision just 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.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, agreed with Comrie's stance and said the Department of Education needed to better notify parents and educators.

"It was not well thought out and implemented," Davis said. "Everything's been done helter-skelter and last-minute, That's what's made everything so stressful." The portfolio assessment, he added, was not announced until the spring.

The testing left plenty of anecdotes about children throwing up or being too nervous to perform at their normal level. Davis said the additional paperwork and stress had left some third-grade teachers thinking about other assignments.

"They have had individuals who do not want to return to third grade," he said of the department.

The strain took its toll on students as well.

"These kids were a wreck," said a parent at Queens Village's PS 33.

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

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