Local schools see increase in students taking state ELA tests

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The Rome school district saw a substantial upswing in the number of students who took the state English Language Arts (ELA) tests for grades 3-8 last week, compared to totals from recent years for students who opted out of taking the exams.

Higher student participation rates for the tests also were noted by other local school districts.

The Rome district’s participation rates included 81 percent of students at the elementary-grade level and 71 percent at the middle-school-grade level, Superintendent Peter C. Blake said Friday.

The totals were “great increases over previous years, and I thank the community for showing their support of our schools and teachers by having students participate,” Blake commented.

Blake had said in January that low student participation rates on state assessment tests were responsible for four elementary schools being identified by the state as needing Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI); the schools included Denti, Gansevoort, Joy and Staley. The CSI designation, accompanied by state reviews including on-site evaluations of the schools, is based on factors including students’ academic performance.

The latest participation-rate numbers “will go a long way toward preventing future schools from being identified” on the state lists, Blake observed.

For the prior 2017-18 school year, the Rome district’s rate of student “opt-outs” who did not take the state ELA test included 37 percent at the elementary level and 57 percent at the middle-school level. In 2016-17, about 50 percent of the district’s test-eligible students did not take the tests, similar to participation rates in other recent years.

Earlier this year Blake had emphasized the importance of improving state test participation in the district. Many districts statewide in recent years have seen significant numbers of students not taking the tests due to opt-out decisions by parents, involving various objections to the tests. But Blake has cited various changes and improvements in the state testing.

Among other school districts:

• In the Westmoreland district, “our opt-outs were down significantly in each of the grade levels,” Superintendent Rocco Migliori said Monday.

For grades 3-5, percentages of students who opted out were 5, 3 and 12 percent respectively, compared to 10,13 and 14 percent a year ago. For grades 6-8, opt-outs were at 17, 20 and 35 percent, down from 28, 39 and 41 percent in 2018.

“My thought is that this is no longer news,” remarked Migliori. “Those who lived through the worse of the testing are starting to age out and are nearing high school.”

The state Education Department “heard the message loud and clear and has worked hard to make the necessary revisions” to the tests, said Migliori; among changes he noted are that the new tests “are all made by New York State teachers,” plus they are shorter and scores do not contribute to teacher-evaluation results.

“Unfortunately the older kids still have a bad taste in their mouths from a few years ago, and it’s understandable why they do,” Migliori added.

• The Camden district had about 35 percent of students in grades 3-8 opt out of taking the ELA test last week, according to data from Superintendent Ravo Root.

That equated to an overall participation rate of about 65 percent, up from a year ago when the district’s participation rate for students who took the ELA test was about 65 percent at the elementary level and 40 percent at the middle-grade level.

The participation rates last week again were higher for elementary students compared to middle-grade students, based on those who opted out. For grades 3-5, the opt-out rates were in the approximately 25-percent-to-34 percent range. For grades 6-8, they ranged from about 36 percent to 46 percent.

• The Vernon-Verona-Sherrill school district “saw a reduction in opt-outs, based on our preliminary participation rates,” and is still finalizing the percentages, district Director of Student Programs and Communications Sondra Whalen said Monday.

“We believe the increase in participation has to do with the significant changes at the state level in response to parent, teacher, and student concerns,” Whalen observed. She added the district is “grateful that the...Education Department has been so responsive in the last few years. It has made a significant and positive difference and changed the entire atmosphere around state testing.”

• In the Adirondack school district, the student opt-outs for the ELA test included 26 percent in grades 3-5 and 34 percent in grades 6-8, said district clerk Michelle Freeman.

The district has seen those percentages go down slightly, Freeman noted.

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