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LI schools question state's ratings system

School districts on Long Island singled out by the state for poor academic performance for at least some of their students are taking issue with the manner in which they were rated, though they pledge to continue with reforms.

Central Islip, Hempstead, Huntington, Manhasset, Roosevelt, South Country and Wyandanch were designated as "focus" districts. An older system labeled districts and schools as "in need of improvement," among other categorizations.

Focus districts were deemed by the state to have both low performance and lack of progress in English language arts and math, or low graduation rates for certain student groups.

Within focus districts, some schools may be designated as "priority" schools, as occurred in the Central Islip, Hempstead, Roosevelt and Wyandanch districts. Those schools are among the lowest 5 percent in the state in terms of combined English language arts and mathematics scores that also are not making progress or have graduation rates below 60 percent for several years.

Districts also could earn the focus designation for having one or more priority schools.

The new ratings system was introduced late last month, and the classifications were based on student data from 2009-10 and 2010-11, state officials said.

James Polansky, superintendent of the Huntington school district, said the state used old data for the designations and his district already had been judged using those scores.

"We want to present a true picture of what is being accomplished in the Huntington school district, and we don't believe this identification does that," he said. "It means our students have made progress that is not being recognized at this point."

Polansky said that it's important not to place too much emphasis on one form of evaluation, and that his students are making strides in areas unmeasured by the state.

For example, he said, more students than ever in the district are taking Advanced Placement courses -- the number rose from 197 in 2008 to 273 last school year -- and they're scoring higher on the related end-of-year tests, he said.

Howard Koenig, interim superintendent for the South Country schools, said his district already is taking steps to improve but that it will take years for the progress to be reflected in the ratings.

"It can be fully fixed in 2012-2013 but not appear fully fixed, because there is old data included in the calculations," he said.

Two South Country schools -- Bellport Middle School and Frank P. Long Intermediate -- have been removed from the old list and are now considered in good standing.

Craig Carr, head of the Central Islip schools, said the district "is instituting academic initiatives aimed at improving student achievement."

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the New York State Education Department, said it did reuse the data, but "in new ways" to reflect college and career readiness standards, student growth and districtwide performance.

The old state system was abandoned, as required by the state's waiver request from the mandates established by the federal No Child Left Behind education policy. Burman said the new system is better aligned with the state Board of Regents' reform agenda.

"Using 2011-12 data would have required delaying implementation of the waiver for an additional year," he said.

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