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Regents exams

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Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, delivered good news about Three Village students tests scores at the Oct. 17 school board meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school district’s 2017–18 report card indicates that Three Village students continue to excel. That’s happening even as the state continues to update standards and tests.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, gave the report at the district’s Oct. 17 school board meeting. He said Three Village students received among the highest Regents scores in the state and provided statistics on the class of 2018.

Three Village students passed English and two social studies Regents exams at rates of 94 to 97 percent, with a majority of students achieving a score of mastery — 85 percent and above — on those exams, Scanlon said. A handful of students — 10 percent — took the old version of the Global History and Geography exam with a 42 percent pass rate.

The rate of passing on the math Regents was equally as impressive, with 92 percent of students passing Algebra, 93 percent passing Geometry and 99 percent passing Algebra II. The mastery rates were 42, 38 and 49 percent, respectively.

Science Regents results showed more than 90 percent of Three Village students passing the exams with rates ranging from 91 to 95 percent and more than half of students achieving mastery in Earth Science, Living Environment and Physics.

Scanlon also reported that 94 percent of the class of 2018 went on to college, while 3 percent went into the workforce. One percent of graduates joined the military, he said.

In other good news, just under half of the class was recognized as Advanced Placement scholars, students who, according to the Advanced Placement website, “have demonstrated outstanding college-level achievement through their performance on AP exams.”

Scanlon also gave an update about the spring 2018 state assessments, administered to students in grades 3 through 8. The assessments tested students on the 2017 Next Generation Standards for English language arts and math. He said the standards have been revised since the rollout of the 2011 Common Core Learning Standards.

Last spring’s testing decreased from three to two days, Scanlon said, adding that since 65 percent of Three Village students opted out of the ELA assessments and 67 percent opted out of math, the scores reflect only about a third of Three Village students in the grades tested.

When compared to nearby districts — Commack, Half Hollow Hills, Harborfields, Hauppauge, Northport, Port Jefferson and Smithtown — Three Village’s fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students had the highest rates of proficiency on the math assessments, Scanlon said.

The rates of proficiency for grades 3 through 7 in Three Village ranged between 76 and 78 percent and were well above those for Suffolk County and New York State, the assistant superintendent said. Lower levels of proficiency on the eighth-grade math assessments are due to the fact that the majority of the district’s eighth-graders take the algebra Regents instead of the state tests,
he said.

The pass rates for the ELA — 62 to 77 percent proficiency — also exceeded the state averages of 45 percent proficiency.

As of Oct 12, the district had an enrollment of 5,884 students, a slight decline from last year’s 6,131, Scanlon said.

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2018 Regents exam results for Comsewogue students in problem-based learning classes versus traditional ones. Click to enlarge. Graphic by TBR News Media

“Teaching to the test” is a concept that no longer computes in Comsewogue School District.

Administration and faculty in Comsewogue, for the last two school years, have experimented with a problem-based learning curriculum for small groups of interested ninth- and 10th-graders, an alternative to the traditional educational strategy of focusing assignments and assessments toward the goal of performing well on state-mandated standardized tests at the end of the year. Now, Superintendent Joe Rella has data to back up his notorious aversion to one-size-fits-all education and assessment.

In all subjects, Comsewogue students in PBL classes passed 2018 Regents exams, scoring 65 or better, at a higher rate than those in traditional classrooms, according to data released by the district. On chemistry, geometry, algebra II, global history and English 11 exams, PBL students achieved mastery level, scoring 85 or better, at significantly higher rates than their non-PBL classmates.

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs.”

— Joe Rella

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs,” Rella said of how he interpreted the data, meaning students taught by alternative methods still displayed an aptitude on the state’s required tests.

Though Rella and the district have taken steps to try to have PBL assessments replace Regents exams, no avenue to do so has been greenlighted by the New York State Department of Education to this point for Comsewogue. Emails requesting comment on the significance of Comsewogue’s test results sent to the education department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) press office were not returned.

During the 2017-18 school year, about half of Comsewogue’s ninth- and 10th-graders, roughly 300 students, took part voluntarily in PBL classes, which emphasize hands-on learning and real-world application of concepts as assessments — similar to a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation — as opposed to the traditional “Regents model.” The students were still required by the state to take the Regents exams as all students are, and their performance has inspired the district in year three of the pilot to expand its PBL curriculum offerings on a voluntary basis for 2018-19 to its entire student body — kindergarten through 12th grade.

The superintendent said the impetus for the district to experiment with PBL started three years ago, when he and about 20 Comsewogue teachers spent a day at the New York Performance Standards Consortium in Manhattan. The organization was founded on the belief that there was a better way to assess student learning than dependence upon standardized testing, according to its website.

“In traditional settings, the teacher did most of the work, we listened, we copied notes and then we were tested on it,” Rella said. “The way the structure was, you spent a year learning stuff. At the end of the year, you took a test to see what you knew.”

In PBL classrooms, regardless of subject, Rella explained that a problem is initially presented, and students learn skills that are meant to help them practically find an answer to the problem. One group of PBL students during the 2017-18 school year decided to approach opioid addiction as a subject matter. Rella said chemistry students and English students worked on parallel tracks addressing that problem, with the science classes researching and presenting on the science behind addiction and the brain, and the English classes creating a public service announcement on the topic. The students presented and defended their findings and approach to the Suffolk County Legislature, with two students eventually being asked to join the county’s commission on substance addiction, according to Rella.

“It’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

— Joe Rella

“You have to acquire knowledge in order to solve the problem, so there is traditional teaching going on,” he said. “But right from the beginning, it’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

Rella credited District Administrator for Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Polychronakos as the driving force behind professional development and empowering district faculty to embrace the district’s new approach.

“We’ve so far created about 20 units of study districtwide that are ready to go for next year and we’ve piloted some of them and worked out some of the kinks,” Polychronakos said. “We’re going to continue to really just take the standards that we have from the state and make them into more of a project-based, or problem-based, learning type of experience for the kids.”