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Cambria Hgts. school scores improve, taking it off fail list

Last week Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the school has been taken off the state's Schools Under Registration Review list. The 500-student arts school had been on the list since January 2003 because of the poor performance of 10th-graders on state math tests the previous three years, but it was taken off after 55 percent passed in the 2003-04 school year, according to Principal Mercedes Qualls.Qualls became the principal in July 2003 and said she immediately went to work on removing the school from the list."That was very high on the list of priorities," said Qualls in a telephone interview last week. Qualls said the school hired an assistant principal in math as well as a math coach to support instruction."We have a very strong team," said Qualls. Qualls said the team worked together and made several adjustments, including working with teachers to "harness instructional practices that are effective," sending out regular progress reports to parents and meeting with parents. The team also met with teachers in lower grade levels to ease the transition from junior high school and to identify which students were in need of extra help."It was the collective work of the school community who worked tirelessly to change the culture at the school," said Qualls. Norman Francis, a 12th-grader at the school, said he failed the math test the first time he took it, but got a 90 percent the second time after receiving extra help. "I had a lot more tutoring," said Francis as to why his score improved. He went on to say math teachers at the school offer extra help after school and during lunch periods. "They give up their time to tutor students."Sandhya Thomas, a guidance counselor at the school, said more students are focusing on math and seeking extra help in and out of school."Our school has come a long way," said Thomas. One of the major changes at the school was ending all performances, such as plays and musical shows, after the first week in May so that the students could spend more time preparing for the test. She said the students were concerned about the canceling of performances but understood the need for a balanced education."We spoke to (the students), it was not a mandate that was handed down," said Qualls. She said the school, which is known for its arts programs, still had art classes, but after school performances and rehearsals were canceled to prepare for the math exams."They understood," said Qualls.Qualls also said more time was devoted to math instruction and students had the same teacher for the extended periods. She said this helped because the teacher could see where each student needed extra help and work with them to improve their skills. The school, which shares one building with three other schools that were all part of Andrew Jackson High School in 1994, was the only one of the four to be put on the list. Qualls said it was a major achievement to be removed from the list, especially because it was the only school in the building with that label."It releases us from the stigma of being the only school on the SURR list," said Qualls. Qualls said she hopes to keep improving the scores in all subjects, not just math, in the future."We're encouraged by gains we've made so far," said Qualls, adding that their goal is to have every student meet the state standards.Reach reporter Peter A. Sutters Jr. by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 173.

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