By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

English and math test scores for grades 3-8 declined or were flat in many Rome school district grades, and Superintendent Jeffrey P. Simons expressed concern about reading and writing performance especially in schools with more "economically disadvantaged" students.

Board of Education President Patricia Riedel, meanwhile, said today she is "very upset" with scores at Gansevoort Elementary School, particularly in math where just 12 percent of 3rd graders and 24 percent of 4th graders met or exceeded state standards; the 3rd grade figure dropped from 14 percent a year ago. For English, the Gansevoort totals included 30 percent in grade 3 and 29 percent in grade 4, according to results announced Tuesday afternoon.

At Bellamy Elementary School, which Riedel said along with Gansevoort has the highest proportion of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, the totals meeting state English standards were 30 percent for grade 3 and 32 percent for grade 4.

For testing overall, changes over the last two years in scoring systems and in the tests themselves coupled with further changes next year make it difficult to draw conclusions, said Simons.

However, Riedel said of the Gansevoort math results, "I want to know why those kids aren’t learning....Why can’t they do it? What’s the problem?"

Riedel said she does "not want to always say they come from low-income" families, noting "many bright kids" in those circumstances. She added, "we have to look ourselves for reasons....Then we have to fix it." She said she was referring to the board, administrators and teachers.

Simons remarked, "the finish line is farther away" for some students "who are economically disadvantaged as they enter pre-K and kindergarten behind their peers."

Districtwide, "we need to find a better way to support teacher success at helping all students read with more focus on the content of what they are reading and to higher levels of comprehension. We also need to challenge students to write to higher levels of rigor and specificity in all subjects."

That emphasis is part of upcoming state changes to "common core curriculum" standards, said Simons. Teachers and principals "are going to be provided continued professional development and support to help them achieve this expectation," he added.

Across the state, 55 percent of students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded English standards while about 65 percent did so in math, in slight increases from last year, said the state Education Department.

Districtwide, percentages of Rome students who met or exceeded English standards ranged from 41-49 percent in grades 3-5 and 7-8, plus 51 percent in grade 6. For math, a range of 53-60 percent of district students in grades 4-8 met or exceeded state standards, plus 42 percent in grade 3.

The district scores by grade declined from 2011 in five instances and were virtually the same in three others.

Improvements, meanwhile, were reflected in math for grades 4-6, plus grade 8 where over 55 percent of students met or exceeded standards compared to 39 percent a year ago.

The district in total still has "a far, far way to go," said Riedel.

Statewide results indicate "a small, positive sign of growth, but not enough of our students are climbing as steadily as they should be," said state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. Reforms for the next school year will be critical in better preparing all students for college or careers, said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

In the fall "we will begin to phase in a new, more challenging, content rich curriculum and continue to press for the implementation of a rigorous teacher evaluation system in every district across the state," she added.

Students in the state’s approximately 700 districts took English and math tests in April. Among "Big 5" districts, percentages meeting expectations in both subjects were well short of state averages, although Syracuse, New York City and Yonkers saw improvements. Buffalo students lost ground in math, while Rochester scores dropped on both tests.

"It is important for the public to understand that the state Education Department is leading schools through a transition period related to these tests....," said Simons.

Simons added "proficiency scores were changed two years ago" on tests, while last year "tests were made longer and more difficult in some cases...." Next year, tests will address "a different set of concepts and skills based on the common core curriculum," he added.