Area school leaders are feeling optimistic about achievement on upcoming state assessments for students in grades 3-8.
One year following a dramatic statewide decline in ELA and math scores due to new Common Core-aligned exams, superintendents say their students are much more prepared this time around.
"I'm expecting that the scores are going to go up," said Tim Mains, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent. "Last year, we had tests that were aligned to the Common Core, but we did not have instruction aligned to the Common Core. This year, we now have modules that we know are aligned to the Common Core, and we've begun implementing them."
Last year's assessments were the first to be based on the Common Core Learning Standards, at a time when the Common Core had not yet been fully implemented in all schools. Even before the results were released, state Education Department leaders had advised parents and students not to be alarmed by a decline in scores - which is what ultimately transpired.
Chautauqua County's ELA scores for third through eighth grades, respectively, were: 20.5 percent, 24.2 percent, 22.1 percent, 24.1 percent, 27.1 percent and 32.1 percent. The math scores for third through eighth grades, respectively, were: 25.1 percent, 31.2 percent, 20.1 percent, 20.2 percent, 19.9 percent and 18.8 percent.
The results from Cattaraugus County were largely uniform throughout, with the exception of seventh- and eighth-grade math scores. The ELA scores for third through eighth grade, respectively, were: 27.1 percent, 23.5 percent. 24 percent, 27.3 percent, 26 percent and 30.7 percent. The math scores for third through eighth grade, respectively, were: 30.5 percent, 26.3 percent, 22.8 percent, 24.8 percent, 17.5 percent and 17.6 percent.
"This year, we now have modules that we know are aligned to the Common Core, and we've begun implementing them."
Jamestown Public Schools superintendent
Now that students and teachers have had the better part of a full school year to adapt and assimilate to the new curriculum, the expectation is that this year's scores will reflect that progress.
"I think my teachers are making a very serious effort to implement (the modules) as best as they can," Mains said. "In some places it's been great, and in some places it's been a little bumpy; but by this point in the year, most folks have begun to figure out how they're structured. Just the fact that we're moving through that material, I think, will put our children in a much better position this year. I don't expect the scores will be perfect, or great, but I am expecting to see some improvement."
Charles Leichner, superintendent of Forestville Central School, shared similar expectations, saying he anticipates a slow, but steady increase in scores over the next few years.
"I think it's a very realistic possibility," Leichner said. "We're still receiving materials that support the modules. So, while I would expect our teachers and kids to be more familiar with not only the format but the content of the exam, we certainly would not be able to say that we're at 100 percent implementation. But the students are also more comfortable with the content and the process, so everyone's feeling a bit more relaxed this year than they were last year."
The comfort level of state Education Department leaders also seems to have improved this year. While the primary message Commissioner John King sent out to schools at this time last year was "don't panic," this year's message has taken more of a "stay the course" tone.
In a letter to superintendents, King said the best preparation for the assessments is "good teaching." Leichner said that, while this is not new information, it is an accurate statement.
"The commissioner's statement that the best preparation is good teaching is absolutely true," Leichner said. "What's primarily important about education is what happens when the teacher closes the door, begins teaching their kids and learning is happening. Despite all these other ancillary issues surrounding education, if good teaching is happening, we're going to see progress."
According to Kaine Kelly, superintendent of Sherman Central School, his district is going about preparing for the exams in the same way it always has: good instruction.
"We approach state assessments the same way every year," Kelly said. "We rely on good instruction all year long in order to prepare our students for these assessments. It's definitely our anticipation that scores will increase in our district. And while we recognize the assessments as important, they are not the end-all be-all to what we're doing. They are just one of the measures that we use to look at student achievements, and we use that data to make decisions to drive our instruction."
The grades 3-8 ELA exams are set to be administered from Tuesday through Thursday, while the math assessments will be administered from April 30-May 2.