Charles Soriano, the assistant superintendent of the East Hampton Union Free School District, is clearly in his element when presenting the report cards on the different schools in the district. With comparisons over the past three years to New York State, then Suffolk County, and finally the other districts on the South Fork, Dr. Soriano has given presentations on the elementary school and middle school.
But it was the high school in the spotlight at Tuesday night’s board meeting, and the results were the least rosy of the three, although all seem to be increasing from year to year.
As per his other presentations, Dr. Soriano was quick to note at the outset that the Regents exam, on which the report card was based, “describes; it does not define.”
“These are our children,” he said. “We don’t want to enter a false world of steady increases. This is not the stock market. . . . It doesn’t work like that. Kids are not widgets.” He held up his iPhone. “This is not a child,” he said.
“We need to take care in drawing conclusions,” he continued. “Making generalizations based on a single test is not advisable. Data is more than a number; it should tell a story.”
The tale woven by the exams seems to show something that the district already knows: that the many students of limited proficiency in English, also known as English language learners, bring down the scores on the English language-arts Regents. However, on history exams, where the students are able to take the Regents exams in Spanish if need be, the scores are in line with, or even exceed, other schools and districts.
In the language of Dr. Soriano’s report, a score of 65 is passing, or proficient, and a score of 85 or higher indicates mastery in a particular subject.
Regents are required in five areas in order to earn a diploma: integrated algebra, global history and geography, United States history and government, English language arts, and science, although students can opt to take an additional five exams.
When compared to New York State scores in English Language Arts, East Hampton was just about equal, and showed an upward trend over the past three years. In algebra and geometry, East Hampton fared even better, sometimes more than 15 percent above the state averages for proficiency. The same numbers applied for global history, U.S. history, and living environment (biology), all of which were notably higher than the state averages.
The same was not the case for algebra 2/trigonometry, which was lower than the state average. Adam Fine, the school principal, explained that East Hampton has been pushing for its students to test the limits, and advancing as many students as possible into upper-division classes. “The common core learning standards will teach for deeper understanding,” Mr. Fine said.
The standards, which are being adopted by the school, teach 18 topics in greater depth rather than the current 32 topics, which, Mr. Fine said, the teachers sometimes need to race through. “We need to adapt to the common core learning standards, and that will help with greater mastery,” he said.
Patricia Hope, a school board member and a former science teacher at the school, explained also that once a Regents exam has approximately three-quarters of the students who take it gaining mastery, the State Department of Education makes the test more difficult. “Mastery is something to constantly strive toward,” Dr. Soriano agreed.
Compared to other local high schools — Hampton Bays, Pierson, and Southampton — East Hampton scored below average on the English language arts exams. “It’s not that far below,” Dr. Soriano said. “But it’s every year. That’s a cause of concern.” Mastery is increasing year to year, “but it’s still lower than the other schools,” Dr. Soriano said.
In math and science, East Hampton was on average with the other schools, and scored highest on the physics Regents last year, with a 95-percent proficiency rating. It scored noticeably lower in earth science each year.
The results led Dr. Soriano to analyze the situation and come up with some suggestions, including the institution of a four-year math requirement. “It should be four years at the high school, four years of continuous mathematics,” he said. “Obviously there are costs associated with this. Too bad. If we want our kids to succeed, we have to push them.”
The high school also needs “to get serious about pull-outs and field trips,” Dr. Soriano said.
“This is not meant as a criticism,” he said. “But there are some students that — because of sick days, pull-outs, field trips, and testing — only end up actually in class 130 out of 180 days. Adam [Fine] is definitely tightening this up, but it’s an area we need to keep a grip on. Nothing substitutes for an hour in front of the teacher.”
Mr. Fine will give a presentation at the next board meeting on June 19 about what programs have been put in place to push students to better achievement on the Regents exams.
“We need to embrace the reality of who we are,” Dr. Soriano said at the close of his presentation. “We expect every child to reach mastery. Will they? Maybe not, but teachers need to believe that it’s possible. When the teacher believes, the student does better.”
The full results are available for viewing on the school district’s Web site, ehufsd.org.