“Do we need to get better? You better believe it,” said Charles Soriano, assistant superintendent of the East Hampton School District, at Tuesday’s school board meeting, where he gave a presentation on elementary school test scores.
The scores, Dr. Soriano was quick to point out, are measured from one test only, the New York State Testing Program. There are many other tests that take place over the course of the school year, and many other ways that teachers and administrators can track a grade’s progress. “However,” according to one slide in his presentation “Grade 3 results are unusually and disappointingly low in English language arts and math.”
Forty-nine percent of last year’s third grade at John M. Marshall Elementary School did not pass the state’s English language arts test, and 46 percent failed the math section as well, numbers that were markedly different from those with which they were compared.
The scores were shown in a bevy of different configurations — compared to schools statewide, schools in eastern and western Suffolk, and to six other school districts on the East End: Amagansett, Springs, Montauk, Sag Harbor, Southampton, and Tuckahoe.
The scores are evaluated on a scale from level 1 (“not meeting learning standards”) to level 4 (“meeting learning standards with distinction”). Children at level 2 are “partially meeting learning standards,” while those at level 3 are “meeting learning standards.”
Gina Kraus, the principal-elect of the elementary school, also spoke about the scores, pointing out that many of the children who received level 2 English scores — 39 percent of the third grade — were within one or two questions of a level 3 rating. In other words, the lower scores were “top-heavy” with kids — 40 percent of the level 2 scorers — who were almost at a proficient level.
Looking at the last year’s other third grades, 77 percent of Amagansett passed, 51 percent in East Hampton, 65 percent in Montauk, 67 percent in Sag Harbor, 39 percent in Southampton, 66 percent in Springs, and 39 percent in Tuckahoe.
In math, 54 percent of East Hampton’s third grade passed, 82 percent in Amagansett, 83 percent in Montauk, 73 percent in Sag Harbor, 79 percent in Southampton, 55 percent in Springs, and 54 percent in Tuckahoe.
Dr. Soriano cautioned the board, and the public, to “take care in drawing sweeping conclusions.”
“Testing is illustrative, not definitive,” he said. “We can look at this in a different way.” He noted that many “limited English-proficient” students — those who are learning to speak English — “were a level zero in E.L.A. at the beginning of the year, and then 39 percent of them score a level 2 by the time of the test. That could be considered a success story.”
“It’s important to separate the myth from the truth,” said Dr. Soriano. “The scores are not weak over all, but something was definitely going on with the third grade last year.”
He also said that the scores “do not define the kids or their performance,” and that the school looks forward to seeing a marked improvement in how last year’s third grade does this year on the fourth-grade tests.
In fourth-grade E.L.A., 80 percent of Amagansett passed, 67 percent in East Hampton (tied with Montauk), 84 percent in Sag Harbor, 63 percent in Southampton, 57 percent in Springs, and 33 percent in Tuckahoe. Dr. Soriano remarked on the size of those classes, which can sway a test score: 15 students in Amagansett, 106 in East Hampton, 39 in Montauk, 75 in Sag Harbor, 87 in Southampton, 68 in Springs, and 49 in Tuckahoe.
Fourth-grade math scores were even more in line with the surrounding districts: 75 percent passed in East Hampton, along with 87 percent in Amagansett, 76 percent in Montauk, 79 percent in Sag Harbor, 73 percent in Springs, 68 percent in Southampton, and 41 percent in Tuckahoe.
John Marshall’s fifth-grade E.L.A. students fared even better. Seventy-five percent passed, compared to Amagansett’s 95 percent, Montauk’s 82 percent, Sag Harbor’s 68 percent, Southampton’s 46 percent, Springs’s 67 percent, and Tuckahoe’s 49 percent.
Fifth-grade math scores were the highest presented on Tuesday night. Ninety-one percent of the test-takers passed, compared with 100 percent of Amagansett, 85 percent of Montauk, 87 percent of Sag Harbor, 66 percent of Southampton, 76 percent of Springs, and 60 percent of Tuckahoe.
“We need to face reality,” Dr. Soriano said. “We live in a place that is quite diverse, but it’s not ‘them.’ These are just kids, trying to learn English.” Of the 81 students who started kindergarten this year, “39 are [limited English-proficient] — that’s almost half.”
Patricia Hope, a board member, lauded Dr. Soriano on his “totally comprehensive” presentation.
“I don’t want to give the impression that we only do this for a board meeting,” he said. “This is what we do. We’re doing it all the time, behind the scenes.”
“This is what should occur, or part of what should occur, in a public meeting,” he added.
Jacqueline Lowey, another board member, saw the importance of “setting some real objectives on getting kids to levels 3 and 4. But there’s not much for kids already at the upper end of the spectrum.” She said she understood the reasoning, that more of the school’s resources needed to go with the majority of the students, but hoped that it would become a real objective of the administration to get as many kids as possible to level 4.
“We can say we expect 100 percent of our students to achieve level 4,” Dr. Soriano said. “But it’s more longitudinal. What can we expect from year to year? We need to focus on development over time,” he concluded.