by Susan Mikula Campbell
Niagara-Wheatfield School District officials are beaming about test scores theses days.
"Three big areas have shown very positive results," said School Superintendent Carl Militello.
The district received two commendations for superior scores on an analysis of 26 Western New York schools and the recently released state test results by Business First, he said, which showed Edward Town Middle School listed first at the eighth grade level in basic competency for English language arts and at the sixth grade level for math. State test scores also show superior performance for adequate yearly performance at the secondary level for special needs learners, he said.
"There is a correlation between our new instructional programs and an immediate increase in state achievement scores," Militello said.
The district has begun a new McDougal literacy program at the middle school and a new McGraw-Hill series in math for kindergarten to 12th grade. For special needs students, the new Ninth Grade Academy which helps all students adjust to the transition from middle school and high school, as well as the co-teaching model, which has general education and special education teachers work together, are making a difference.
Board of Education President Michele Hoerner praised the work Militello and district staff have done on setting up the programs for success. "I'm glad to see our programs that have been set in place the past two years are starting to show results," she said.
Comparing test score numbers can be a little confusing this year, according to Edward Town Middle School Principal Laura Palka, because the state raised the bar on what it considers reaching proficiency (at minimum, a passing grade) in a certain subject area. This affects all school districts in the state.
"They've made it a much harder goal to reach now," she said, warning that parents should not be shocked if it appears their particular school's scores have dropped. "It looks like we dropped, but we actually went up."
For instance, in eighth-grade English language arts, the 2009 scores showed 83 percent of the students were shown as being proficient in that area. The 2010 official scores show 78.9 percent under the new state regulations, but when compared "apples to apples" against the 2009 scores, this year's are actually 10 percent higher or 93.5 percent.
As for sixth-grade math, the 2009 scores showed 93 percent proficiency in 2009. For 2010, compared "apples to apples," it's actually a 95 percent proficiency, although the increased state expectations make it 86.1 percent, she said.
The number of N-W sixth-graders earning the top grade of 4 in math also went up 12 percent, she said.
"I'm really, really proud of the kids. They did an excellent job this year, and we really did bring in a lot of new kinds of programs," Palka said.