Friday, October 11, 2013


Written by Gary Stern, The Journal News/White Plains, NY |

Oct. 10, 2013   |  Most school districts are trying to come to terms with disappointing results on the new, harder state tests for grades 3 to 8.

But districts with large numbers of Spanish-speaking students got absolutely blasted on the new tests and now have to figure out how to move forward.

“We have children come to us in seventh, eighth, ninth grade with no English skills and little education,” said Robin Brennan, president of the North Rockland Teachers’ Association. “The whole idea of judging these kids, without different criteria for their different needs, is absurd.”

The test results for these districts were stark. In North Rockland schools, 82 percent of seventh-graders failed to hit targets for math. In Port Chester, 85 percent of fourth-graders missed English language arts targets. In Ossining, 84 percent of eighth-graders came up short in math. In Peekskill, 92 percent of fifth-graders missed state goals for English language arts.

These districts are used to relatively low test results, as many students from poor, Spanish-speaking homes don’t develop rich language skills before reaching school age. But the new tests results have set them back further on the state’s much-debated road to college and career readiness.

“We have to dust ourselves off and do the work that needs to be done,” said Carlos Sanchez, curriculum director for the Port Chester schools.

State Education Commissioner John King visited JFK Magnet School in Port Chester on Thursday and heard teachers explain how they are trying to embrace the new Common Core learning standards despite a lack of money and the challenges posed by a student body with a wide range of English skills. King said that schools have to “leverage” students’ native languages to support their overall instruction. But he had no easy answers on how to address the test-score gap.

“We have to do a lot better as a state — and as a country — to help English-language learners acquire English skills as quickly as possible and content skills as quickly as possible,” he said.

But principals from Port Chester and Peekskill who talked about the results Thursday at Manhattanville College said students need to develop language skills at home, as well as in school, to conquer the new tests. Manhattanville’s Changing Suburbs Institute seeks to help districts with large Hispanic populations.

“We tell parents that you have to talk to your children and read to your children,” said Ivan Tolentino, principal of the Edison School in Port Chester. “The benefit of all this is that it’s forcing districts to look at our resources and what we’re doing. We can’t stay where we are.”

Mary Foster, principal of Oakside Elementary School in Peekskill, said schools need to use their own assessments to mark student progress and can’t focus only on the state tests. But she said the Common Core and the tests have created a new drive to move forward.

“You can’t be demoralized,” she said. “I believe we’ll get where we need to go. It may take a little longer.”

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