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Only 78 third-graders fail tests in School District 25

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In Queens, only District 26 fared better, with a mere 14 students failing the third-grade reading comprehension test the city is using as a barometer for advancing students to the fourth grade. These poorly performing students, as well as the 78 who failed in District 25, will now be eligible for the automatic appeals process and summer school.

District 25 School Board President Arlene Fleishman said she was not surprised to learn how well her students did, seeing as the district normally performs above average.

"We've always been a district that scores very high," she said, of the district that is based in Flushing and covers Whitestone, College Point, one school in Bay Terrace and part of Fresh Meadows. "We'd like to reach these 78 children."

As of Thursday, Fleishman's position was to be dissolved to make way for the parent councils that are replacing community school boards.

To Fleishman, the end of the school board could mean an end to the smaller class sizes that she has lobbied for over the past 25 years.

"I've seen our registers climb this past year since our school board has not had the jurisdiction they once had," she said. "I've seen our class sizes going up and that's disappointing because we know that smaller is better."

She said the third-grade testing and attention that has surrounded the mayor's push to end social promotion has created undue stress for third-graders.

"There's nothing wrong with the testing," she said. "What's wrong is that you're determining the future of a child based on one test. There are some children who freeze. There are so many reasons why a child might not perform well on a test."

She also acknowledged the tension that has enveloped children and their families because of the test.

"There's so much publicity so children walk into it knowing - they feel their life depends on this test," Fleishman said. "The only positive improvement you can have in helping children in need is to have smaller class sizes and good support services."

Borough President Helen Marshall also said the onus the mayor was putting on the city's third-grade testing was unfair.

"You don't wait until the last section of the term to say these kids are going to be held back," she said in an interview last week with the TimesLedger Newspapers.

"This is the clumsiness of people who don't understand education," said Marshall, a former educator herself. "It's really rough that kids have to spend their entire third- and fourth-grade term worried about taking a test."

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) said he voted in an Education Committee meeting Monday for a resolution denouncing the third-grade retention policy, which the mayor hopes will end social promotion.

"Instead of spending a lot of resources for the remediation process for the third-graders who failed this extremely high-stakes exam, we should be using those resources to build a stronger foundation for education at even easier levels," he said. "Simply choosing the third grade is completely arbitrary and capricious."

He was pleased to learn how well District 25 scored and said it came as no surprise to him.

"I think there's never ever been any question that our schools in northeast Queens are among the highest performing schools in terms of test results," he said. "That's a product of the high level of involvement by parents and the unparalleled commitment of the teachers and school staff in our area."

State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said the low number of students failing in District 25 was not an aberration from the norm. However, she hopes the district takes a closer look at the number of students who were not considered "proficient" in reading and math.

"There are too many children who are not proficient and the time to catch it is in kindergarten and first grade when the child can receive extra help," she said.

Fleishman, whose last meeting as president of community School Board 25 was Wednesday, said she hopes the district's improvements do not get lost in the reorganization and formation of the new parent councils.

"I hope that those who are here and the parent councils will have a voice," she said. "That's their role."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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