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State designates Brooklyn Avenue for improvement

Opt-outs a major factor in rating, officials say

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The New York State Education Department says that Brooklyn Avenue Elementary School needs to improve academically, according to new federal guidelines, while school officials say the school’s high number of test opt-outs is painting a skewed picture of its actual academic progress. 

NYSED placed Brooklyn Avenue in the Targeted Support and Improvement, or TSI, category, assigned to schools that have not met academic standards for a specific sub-group of students. It differs from the more serious Comprehensive Support and Improvement designation handed out last year, in which a school’s entire student body fails meet state academic standards.

Both labels are part of the department’s new academic assessment systems adopted in January 2018 under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Brooklyn Avenue was among 30 schools on Long Island to receive the TSI designation.

The state assessments are based on a number of factors, the most heavily weighted of which is student performance on state standardized tests. In Brooklyn Avenue’s case, NYSED identified its “disabled” student sub-group as underperforming. State Education Law Section 4401 defines a student with a disability as a child “who because of mental, physical or emotional reasons can only receive appropriate educational opportunities from a program of special education.”

District 24 Schools Superintendent Dr. Don Sturz attributed the low test scores to the high number of students in the special education sub-group declining to take state tests relative to its already small population in the school. The labels are based on results from the 2018-19 school year.

“We in Valley Stream have a very high opt-out rate, between 50 and 60 percent. So that’s part of the equation,” Sturz said. “It only represents students with disabilities that took the state assessment, and that’s a very small number for us.”

According to NYSED records, there were 22 students with disabilities enrolled in Brooklyn Avenue for the 2018-19 school year, five of whom took the state English Language Arts and math tests. Of those five, all tested below state standards in ELA and one tested above the standards in math.

“Would we like more students to take the state tests?” Sturz said. “Yes, because it would show that many of our students with disabilities make great progress.”

The TSI designation has consequences for the district, Sturz said, and his staff is taking it seriously.

“We’ve jumped on this immediately. We started meeting with our staff who service all of our students with disabilities, and looking at all of our instructional processes with a focus on making best use of our integrated co-teaching model,” he said, referring to the district’s collaborative teacher training program.   

Additionally, he said, the district must send representatives to Albany to take part in a series of workshops, and Brooklyn Avenue must undergo a third-party “climate” survey, which involves a questionnaire distributed to parents, teachers, non-instructional staff, and fifth- and sixth-grade students.

The survey alone, he said, would cost around $1,500. According to NYSED guidelines, in order for Brooklyn Avenue to lose its TSI designation, it will need to show improvement over time for the sub-group.

To help schools and districts develop plans to improve student performance, NYSED will award $25,000 in Title I School Improvement Grant funding to each newly identified TSI district and school. In addition to paying for the survey and teacher workshop, the grant is intended to fund a review process and develop an improvement plan for the 2020-21 school year.

While there is little control over whether students take state tests, Sturz said the special education students who have will receive added support.

“We’re taking it seriously, and looking at students who did take those assessments, and supporting them,” he said, “so they make sufficient grown and progress.”