Local schools remain sour on state tests
ELA scores up, math down in Placid, Tupper; both up in Saranac Lake
As their students’ scores remained low — much like the rest of the state — for the annual statewide reading and math proficiency exams for grades 3 through 8, superintendents in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake maintain they put little stock in the scores.
Statewide, students scored an average 39.8 percent proficiency in English language arts and 40.2 percent proficiency in mathematics. All three Tri-Lakes districts scored well below these marks. Students are ranked on a four-tier scale, with levels 3 and 4 representing proficiency.
The Lake Placid Central School District averaged 35.5 percent proficiency for the ELA exams, up from 29.6 percent last year, and 23.9 percent in math, down from 30.9 percent.
The Saranac Lake Central School District averaged 29 percent proficiency for ELA, up from 27 percent last year, and 26 percent in math, up from 25 percent.
The Tupper Lake Central School District averaged at 26 percent proficiency in ELA, up from 23 percent last year, and 25 percent in math, down from 29 percent.
Speaking Tuesday, Lake Placid Superintendent Roger Catania said between 27 and 29 percent of his district’s students in grades 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 were opted out of the tests by their parents. That’s similar to 2016, although in 2015 only 14 percent were opted out.
It’s these opt-outs, as well as reservations from teachers about the content and questions of the test, that leave Catania and many of his teachers believing these tests are the least valuable standardized tests Lake Placid’s students take.
“I think that says really more about our perspective on this test in general,” Catania said. “When it comes to student performance in Lake Placid, the results, [grades] 3 through 8, are probably the least useful and the most of an aberration as compared to other results we are able to use on an annual basis.
“We don’t write the tests,” he added. “We don’t score them. Then we don’t see the results for four months, and we don’t see the results in any great detail beyond that.”
Catania emphasized that he and his teachers are more focused on state Regents exam scores and graduation rates.
“For example, we had 95 percent passing the Algebra 2 Regents exam this year,” he said. “I know a lot of those kids probably got 1s and 2s on these grades-3-through-8 exams. And yet, we also know our kids are very successful down the road. I’m a little skeptical that these exams are greatly revealing about a kid’s progress.”
Saranac Lake Superintendent Diane Fox echoed Catania’s feelings, adding that due to constant change in state standards and curriculum, she feels these assessments are not valuable.
“I don’t put an awful lot of weight in them,” she said. “They are a single snapshot of a percentage of our students.”
Fox said that if the state Department of Education puts a more consistent system in place, the grades 3-through-8 tests may become useful. She emphasized that the tests have little impact on her students’ records, that the tests cannot be used to evaluate teachers and that the tests provide minimal data for the school.
“I think some of my [students] are stressed by it,” Fox said, “and I do feel badly sometimes for that, that the value of their work isn’t more useful to us.”
Fox said she is not concerned with raising Saranac Lake’s assessment scores to meet the state average. She would rather focus on raising the graduation rate. Saranac Lake’s 92 percent graduation rate in 2016 was well above the state average of 79.4 percent.
But even using the graduation rate is not completely reliable, she added. Though the rate of graduation rose at the high school from 86 percent in 2015 to 92 percent in 2016, there was no big difference in the dropouts, which changed from four students in 2015 to three in 2016.
That 6-percent change in graduation was made up by a lower number of super-seniors in 2016. Fox said they are still enrolled in the school but count against its overall graduation rate. The same goes for special-education students, who may stay at the school until they are 21 and might not leave with an official diploma, she added.
She said 22 percent of students at Bloomingdale Elementary School were opted out of ELA tests, and 21 percent were opted out of math. At Petrova Elementary, 26 percent were opted out of ELA and 28 percent from math. At Saranac Lake Middle School, 41 percent were opted out of ELA and 46 percent opted from math.
“The state says I must provide the opportunity for every student to partake in the assessment process,” Fox said. “But I’m also not the parent, and I’m very respectful of parents who make the decision not to have their students take the assessment.”
Though the state says schools have to test 95 percent of students, this year, 225,000 students of the 1.2 million students eligible for assessment were opted out — 19 percent.
This spring, elementary and middle school students took the assessment online, paving the way for a fully online assessment next year.
The number of days the tests will span will change next year, from three testing dates to two.
ELA tests will take place during the second week of April, and the mathematics exams will be during the first week of May.