The Farmingdale School District is in the process of analyzing the results of the new, state-wide 4th grade language arts test that local youngsters took this winter, after the district scored above the state average but slightly below the Long Island average.
The assessment, which challenged youngsters to combine reading, writing, speaking and listening skills, was the first of many new ones that districts throughout the state will see as part of the New York Department of Education's plan to raise learning standards. The State Education Department has reported that over half (54 percent) of Farmingdale School District's 4th graders meet the state's reading standards and are on their way to passing the Regents exam when they reach high school (indicated as Level 3). However, about 5 percent have serious academic deficiencies (Level 1), and still 37 percent will need some extra help to pass the Regents (Level 2). Three and a half percent of the district's 4th graders showed superior knowledge (Level 4).
We looked at our results on a comparative basis with other districts, and certainly see room for improvement. We scored above the state average, but slightly below the Long Island average," said Gerard W. Dempsey, Jr., superintendent of Farmingdale Schools.
The new fourth grade assessment replaced the former state language arts examinations known as the PEP tests. Under that system, students were tested in reading in 3rd grade, and weren't tested in writing until 5th grade. Reading was tested again in 6th grade.
The new assessment was also more rigorous than those tests, requiring, for example, the interpretation of more sophisticated passages and more analysis. Another difference is that the PEP tests were not timed, while the new assessment was timed. During the three-day assessment, the 4th graders were given 45 minutes for the first part of the test, and 60 minutes for each of the next two sessions. In addition to challenging students to put on their thinking caps, because of its never seen before format, the new assessment has challenged teachers and school administrators who have the task of tracking student progress.
With a brand new test, we really don't know...I just finished reading a lengthy report on the test. We're looking at every individual student result, and we're going to analyze based on their classroom grades, their PEP test in the past, and any other evidence we have to try to understand why student performance was where it was," said Dempsey, noting that previously, past years' tests were used for comparisons. Even the teachers who prepared students for the assessment had only seen sample questions, not the actual test, before it was administered.
Therefore, according to Dempsey, in order to best utilize the test results, the district will analyze the questions on the test and provide the appropriate instruction to help students answer them. "We're going to work at that in two ways. Students at Level 1, which is the lowest performing group, definitely need remediation. Virtually every one of those students, of ours, is already receiving remediation. Students at Level 2 will need some extra help. And, one of the things we're doing, child by child, is seeing if there are any in that group 2 who are not getting some form of extra help," Dempsey said, noting these youngsters will be assigned to various types of extra help offered by the district, ranging from day and after-school programs, to elementary summer school. "We would certainly want to increase our student participation in Level 4, which is the highest group. So, we're not just concerned about students not meeting the minimum standard. We are concerned about the students reaching the highest level possible."
To that end, the district is hiring additional teachers for its elementary summer school, and assigning additional teachers to its after-school program.