P.S. 89 scores drop for third grade too

By Elizabeth O’Brien

The P.S. 89 principal’s expectations for her third grade students were not realized in the latest standardized tests released in June.

In May, fourth grade test results for the state English Language Arts, or E.L.A., exam revealed a significant drop in reading scores for P.S. 89, from 96.7 percent of students testing at or above grade level in 2002 to 73.7 this year. Principal Ronnie Najjar said the results of the third and fifth grade tests would be a better reflection of the school’s success.

She sent a letter home to parents of fourth graders, saying that the fourth grade experienced a particularly large turnover after Sept. 11, 2001. This year’s new students were at a disadvantage in taking the test after only several months at P.S. 89, where the instruction often engages students in the same way as the exam, Najjar said.

“I expect that the third and fifth grade scores will be a more accurate and balanced indicator when they come out this summer, and they will reflect the instruction, the in-class test preparation and the after school test work that your children receive each year,” Najjar wrote in her May 23 letter.

The third grade results for the standardized city math exam showed a drop almost identical to that of the fourth-grade English results, with 96 percent of students scoring at or above grade level in 2002, compared with 73 percent this year. While it represents a big dip for P.S. 89, the scores are still much higher than the citywide third-grade math average of 51.8 percent meeting or exceeding standards.

Third grade scores on the citywide English exam dropped from 88 percent reading at or above grade level last year to 69 percent this year.

“I’m never fully encouraged with how kids do” in the third grade, since that is the first year students take the standardized test, Najjar said in a telephone interview.

Najjar also said, “I don’t really look at the numbers. I look at who’s attached to these scores and whether there are grave surprises.”

In the fifth grade, reading scores dropped from 97 percent to 91 percent of students reading at or above grade level, still a very high percentage. Fifth grade math scores increased, from 63 percent of students at or above grade level in 2002 to 74 percent this year.

As of last Friday, Najjar said the school had not received the detailed breakdown of each child’s individual test results. The school usually puts the citywide exam scores in the same envelope as the student’s report card at the end of the year, Najjar said. Parents of fourth graders received their children’s scores on the statewide test last month.

The state E.L.A. test is administered over three days in late January or February. The scores are one element of the middle school application process, with higher scoring students generally having more options for intermediate education.

In addition, the scores are used to rank schools: test marks were a big factor in the mayor’s selection of 328 elite schools to be exempt from part or all of the standardized curriculum that will be implemented this fall across the city. Both P.S. 234 and P.S. 89 received a coveted two –year exemption from the uniform curriculum.

P.S. 234 also posted a drop in city exam results this year. Last year, 87 percent of third graders scored at or above grade level in math, a number that fell to 74 percent this year. The English scores for third graders dipped from 92 to 83 percent.

Fifth grade English scores dropped from 97 percent last year to 89 percent at or above grade level this year, while fifth grade math slipped from 84 percent last year to 69 percent this year.

“It’s the normal fluctuation of things,” said P.S. 234 principal Anna Switzer. “There are always drops and gains and you can’t measure a school” by a single test, she added.

Even so, parents at both schools voiced concern that the standardized test results could compromise their schools’ top standings, regardless of how well the scores reflect the quality of education their children are receiving.

“It’s quite a disappointment,” said Tom Goodkind, parent of a daughter at P.S. 89.

P.S. 150, on the other hand, enjoyed gains across the board in both English and math. Third graders’ meeting or exceeding standards in English rose from 82 percent last year to 92 percent last year, while in math they rose more dramatically from 57 percent to 76 percent. In the fifth grade, students scoring at or above grade level in English edged up from 88 percent in 2002 to 91 percent this year, while in math they rose from 56 percent to 70 percent.

The small school, also known as Tribeca Learning Center, did not fare as well on the fourth-grade English tests, with a decline from 86.4 percent of students at or above grade level last year to 70.8 percent last year.


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