Many LI parents still waiting for state test results
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Thousands of Long Island parents have spent weeks waiting for notices of how their children scored on the state's challenging new tests, largely because of what education officials describe as glitches in Albany's computerized reporting system.
Frustrated parents say the delays in printing and mailing the state's score reports have made it difficult for them to make timely judgments on whether children need tutoring or other special help.
"It's mind-boggling to me that we don't have our scores yet," said Nicole Marino, the mother of a fifth-grader in the Half Hollow Hills district.
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Regional and local school officials said last week that many families will not get scores in the mail until the coming week or later -- more than a month after the state's predicted delivery date. Score reports in years past often have been provided during the first week of school or soon after.
The state's computer software has not been the only cause of the holdup. School officials at regional and local levels say parent notifications were further slowed by the need to use the same test data in evaluating teachers' job performance.
In the case of Half Hollow Hills, a district official said scores would be mailed to parents though a service run by Eastern Suffolk BOCES.
Concern over results of tests administered in April is ratcheted up because students in elementary and middle schools took more rigorous exams based on Common Core academic standards, and performance plummeted.
The Education Department released data Aug. 7 showing that about 126,000 students in grades 3-8 throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties -- more than 60 percent of the total -- scored below proficiency on the tests, a failure rate nearly double that of the previous year.
Concerns over testing
National and state education leaders predict the phase-in of Common Core standards will enhance quality of classroom lessons by encouraging deeper analysis. But many parents and students say the state's increased emphasis on testing has resulted in more classroom time devoted to filling in bubble sheets and other test drills.
"I'm a tough one -- I want the kids to learn the stuff," said Maureen Vrona, a PTA leader in the Long Beach school district. "The thing that concerns me is the amount of time spent preparing for tests."
Long Beach officials acknowledged that the district stepped up test preparations last year, both in response to stiffer state requirements and to make up class time lost to superstorm Sandy. Superintendent David Weiss stressed that the extra prepping was temporary, adding, "I would hope that we are moving away from that approach."
The district recently mailed its reports to parents.
The federal "No Child Left Behind" law, enacted in 2001, requires states to inform parents of children's test results each year "as soon as is practicably possible."
Each of the Island's 124 school districts have the final say over whether score reports are mailed home or delivered to parents in a different way -- for example, via electronic "portals" on district websites. A spot check by Newsday found variations in approach.
Some districts -- among them, Bayport-Blue Point, Plainview-Old Bethpage and Three Village -- have used website portals to get test-score information to parents quickly. The majority of districts, however, appeared to be relying on traditional mailings.
Originally, computerized reports from the state Education Department were to be delivered by Aug. 30 to regional BOCES centers, then be distributed to local school districts and, ultimately, to parents.
But the state pushed back its timetable to Sept. 9 after technicians reported a problem with computer files that impeded efforts to print out parental notifications in bulk.
Then, regional and local officials said, more time was required to download computerized data from state files, have private contractors print out score reports, and, in many cases, mail them to parents.
School administrators said the entire effort was further complicated by the need to use the same score data in calculating job-performance ratings for thousands of classroom teachers.
"It is a massive change from the way things have been done in the past," said Julie Lutz, a deputy superintendent at Eastern Suffolk's Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, said her district sent out email messages a week before classes began to let parents know that test scores could be viewed through a portal on the district's website.
"Everybody else knows their [students'] scores, so why shouldn't they know it?" said Lewis, referring to the fact that school staffers already had access to students' test results.
Extra-help policy change
State rules require that students who fail state tests get extra help known as Academic Intervention Services, or AIS. This year, the Education Department is temporarily limiting this mandate to essentially cover only students who would have been eligible under the easier testing standards used in the 2011-12 school year.
The policy change is intended to prevent schools from being overwhelmed by demands for remedial tutoring, and also to encourage improved instruction within regular classrooms.
A recent Nassau BOCES study found, nonetheless, that more than 2,000 additional students countywide are eligible for AIS services in math, and 2,200 in English. And many districts are opting to provide more extra help than is legally required.
The Port Washington district decided to offer extra help to any student scoring below this year's more rigorous proficiency level. Officials there said the intent is to "put students' needs first." Even some students rated as academically gifted found themselves assigned to AIS sessions the first day of classes.
Diane Venezia Livingston, an attorney with three children enrolled in local schools, credited Port Washington's efforts, though she questioned the state's system of rating students.
"How can a kid simultaneously be considered gifted, but not proficient in the eyes of the state?" she said.