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Regents exams

In an exclusive conversation, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich discusses the futures of Jefferson Plaza in Port Jeff Station and Cablevision townwide. Then, the Three Village Central School District keeps Regents exam scores in students’ grades. Plus, a light-hearted chat about a recent afternoon filled with talk of love.

Dive into this week’s news on The Pressroom Afterhour: Keeping it Local with TBR. Visit tbrnewsmedia.com to read these stories and more. Follow us on:

Some parents had advocated to make the pandemic-era reprieve permanent

Public domain photo

Regents exam scores will account for 10% of student grades this year in Three Village Central School District, despite calls to extend a COVID-19 pandemic-era policy that only includes the scores when they improve student course grades.

The decision, which came after robust discussion and disagreement among board members at their Nov. 29 meeting, goes along with the recommendation of a district committee to include the scores at 10% of the final grade — down from the 12% that was policy before the pandemic reprieve.

Freshman board members Karen Roughley and David McKinnon spoke openly against including scores in all student grades, particularly because New York State does not mandate doing so for all districts, and they said it could disadvantage Three Village students who struggle with test anxiety, have special needs or experience a personal catastrophe before the test date.

“Using the Regents scores would decrease a student’s GPA and put them at a disadvantage against all the other students in the state who do not have it included, in applying for colleges and scholarships,” Roughley said.

The State Education Department’s website states it “does not require nor recommend the inclusion of Regents exam scores in the computation of final course averages,” and rather leaves it up to each district to decide.

McKinnon called this approach a failure of leadership. “The state doesn’t stand behind their test,” he said. “The state makes the test, they pass it out, they grade it, but then they have no effective policy on what we should do with that test.”

After parents — especially those of children with special needs — spoke out last spring, the previous board voted to extend the so-called Do No Harm policy through the end of the 2022-2023 school year with the caveat that a permanent decision should come this fall.

In recommending inclusion of Regents scores at 10%, the committee suggested students may not take the exams as seriously if the scores don’t count toward a course grade.

Trustee Vincent Vizzo, a former teacher and administrator who has a long affiliation with Three Village and said he was part of writing Regents exams in the past, admitted he was not a fan of the state tests and understands they can hurt students who do not do well. “I have very mixed opinions right now,” he said. “But if a committee of educators are saying that they want to keep the percentage, then I don’t think the board should micromanage and decide against what the committee is saying.”

Board president Susan Rosenzweig also expressed mixed feelings, saying she believes Do No Harm makes philosophical sense, but that there can be valuable information garnered from all students “meaningfully engaging in the assessments.”

When the remaining board members echoed Vizzo’s desire to defer to the committee of professional educators, Rosenzweig attempted to broker a compromise by suggesting the board include the scores at 5% instead of 10%, which she said was her “comfort level,” but only trustee Jeffrey Kerman expressed interest in changing the percentage, saying he would vote for either 5% or 10%.

Seeing no appetite for middle ground, Rosensweig cast the deciding vote with an audible sigh. “Because I guess it’s not going to go any other way,” she said.

Three Village school board discusses cell phones, including Regents exams in course grades

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District parents should not expect more information about the surprise reassignment and investigation of Ward Melville High School’s principal, according to Three Village Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon.

Due to federal and state privacy laws, district representatives can’t discuss personnel matters  — and they won’t be able to even after the issue is resolved.

The board had an emergency meeting Wednesday, Nov. 8, after announcing the personnel change, with a public portion that lasted only a couple of minutes, time enough for the board to confirm the interim principal — Paul Gold, previously an assistant principal — and his compensation, as well as to vote to engage the services of Investigative Management Group.

District parent Qin Wu at the Nov. 15 board meeting spoke out in support of former principal William Bernhard and indicated parents were concerned for high school seniors.

“As a parent, I hope the investigation will be fair and transparent, and maybe even as soon as possible to resolve the issue and have everything come back to normal,” Wu said.

Scanlon told TBR News Media after the meeting that even though such transparency is not possible, Wu and other parents have nothing to worry about regarding their children’s education or the district’s reputation.

“I think the school is in good hands, and the acting administration is doing a wonderful job,” he said. “The educational system is still intact. Classes will remain, students will still go to college. No one’s going to be harmed that way,” adding, “If that is the fear that is being propagated, that’s wrong.”

Board president Susan Rosenzweig, a district parent herself, also spoke against percolating speculation and hearsay on social media. “Don’t buy in,” she advised. “Let due process take its place. It’s tough, I know.”

Regents exams as part of final grade

During the meeting, the board tabled any decision regarding the so-called “Do No Harm” rule, the policy of including Regents scores as part of a student’s final grade only if that score improves the grade.

The policy, which proponents say supports students who don’t test well, was instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic and temporarily extended last year after a group of parents petitioned the district.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Biscari shared the consensus recommendation that came after “tremendous discourse” by the district’s grading committee to include the exams at 10% — down from the 12% that has been the policy outside the reprieve of the last few years.

Biscari also took issue with the label “Do No Harm” since it implies acting in any other way will inflict harm on students, when part of the concern was that students may not take exams seriously if they don’t count toward final grades.

“It was a very student-centered conversation,” he said. “Never was the conversation about what the district is going to look like or how we’re going to present data. It was all in relation to students.”

But for freshman board member Karen Roughley, a long-time supporter of the policy, a 2% decrease is not enough. “There are many different ways to gauge a child’s understanding of the concepts than just sitting for one single test that means so much,” she said.

Biscari noted that some form of testing is required by the state, and removing any pressure from the Regents exam could backfire for students who need to take licensure exams or other higher-stakes tests in the future.

“We, as a district, would want to arm kids in how to address that anxiety and deal with it so they can effectively take tests, rather than eliminating that stress,” he said. “It’s almost an avoidance in some cases that we’re not teaching kids these skills that they are going to need in their lives.”

The board opted to wait on voting about the issue until it could hear forthcoming data from the state to see whether exam scores changed when students knew low scores would not be included in their final grade, and to learn more about how comparable Long Island districts are using Regents scores for classroom grades.

Cell phone policy

Scanlon also updated the board on the ongoing cell phone policy committee’s work, laying out the current thinking for parameters around student cell phone use in schools.

Currently the committee is ironing out how to best enforce the proposed new policy, though Scanlon emphasized that any consequences will be decided by building principals or the district, and will not be a one-size-fits-all consequence determined by a planning committee.

The board engaged the committee to look into changes after it became apparent that issues of use during instructional time, inconsistent enforcement across classes and cyberbullying were popping up at the secondary schools.

“It’s fully recognized by the teaching staff and the administration that cell phones are an issue, and then we heard loud and clear from the student representatives on the committee that yes, they agree, cell phones are an issue,” Scanlon said. “Everyone seemed to agree: We’ve got a problem.”

He said the final committee recommendations should be available for the Nov. 29 board meeting.

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Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, delivered good news about Three Village students tests scores at a 2018 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.”