44 schools in need of improvement in Buffalo-Niagara

November 16, 2011

By Mary B. Pasciak

NEWS STAFF REPORTER

Published:November 10, 2011, 9:49 PM

Sixteen Buffalo schools, five charter schools and 14 suburban schools in Erie County have made the state's most recent list of schools in need of improvement, Albany officials announced Thursday.

Four Niagara Falls schools and five suburban Niagara County schools also got the unwanted designation.

And three local school districts -- Lackawanna, Lockport and North Tonawanda -- have been dubbed in need of improvement.

If that seems like a lot of schools and districts making the state's watch list, it is, and it's happening statewide.

The number of schools and districts newly identified this year as needing improvement is unprecedented, according to state Education Department officials.

Statewide, eight times as many schools, 847, made the list this year compared with last year. This year, 89 districts -- more than one in 10 -- made the list versus just four last year.

Locally, 44 schools were cited in Erie and Niagara counties this year compared with five last year.

"This is just further evidence -- as if we needed any -- that we must move forward to reform our schools and change what is happening in our classrooms," Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said.

A school or district is deemed in need of improvement if it fails to make adequate yearly progress in a particular area two years in a row. If a particular group of students -- for instance, students with disabilities -- does not make adequate yearly progress, the entire school is cited. Administrators have long complained that challenges with a small group of students can land a school on the list.

In the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, four schools were designated in need of improvement this year. Those schools generally had problems with results on English assessments, particularly among students with disabilities, Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro said. "[English language arts] has been, overall, in our district, behind our math achievement," he said. "So when cut scores were raised two years ago, that brought this to a head even more."

He noted that the state has eliminated a "safety net" adjustment on assessments for students with disabilities.

"In one of our schools, four kids made the difference," he said. "I'm not making excuses -- that's just the way this accountability program works."

State Education Department officials cited several factors contributing to the huge increase in schools being cited:

* Moving math and English assessment dates for grades 3 through 8 later in the year. This requires students to show that more learning has occurred.

* Changes to those assessments that made the questions on them less predictable.

* A change in the way scores on those assessments are calculated, making it harder to make adjustments that overcompensate for years when more difficult tests are given.

* The end of an adjustment for the scores of students with disabilities that now makes it harder for those students to make adequate yearly progress.

* Changes to high school graduation goals, which require a higher percentage of students graduating to make adequate yearly progress.

Most of the schools and districts that are identified as in need of improvement are required to offer extra tutoring to low-income students. A smaller number must offer school choice, meaning parents must be given the option to enroll their student in a higher-performing school.

The "schools in need of improvement," or SINI, designation arises out of the federal No Child Left Behind accountability requirements. This list is separate from the list of "persistently lowest achieving," or PLA, schools that the state releases each year.

If a school is consistently deemed in need of improvement, it could get the PLA designation, which is the most severe a school can get. The state will release a new list of PLA schools in the coming weeks.

The vast majority of local schools that made the state's watch list this week were cited for their students' performance on English assessments. A few were cited for their math scores or graduation rates.

More than one out of four schools in Buffalo were newly designated this week as in need of improvement. Overall, that means that nearly three out of four public schools in the city are on the state's watch list.

In a written statement, district spokeswoman Elena Cala said that a few years ago, the district was on its way to having all schools make adequate yearly progress, but then the state recalibrated its scoring.

"As is clear from the unprecedented number of schools across New York State that are newly identified on this year's list, there is much to do on local, state and federal levels," she wrote. "Education everywhere is facing significant changes. We pledge to work harder so that we can deliver a better-educated student to college and the workplace as defined by the new standards."

The Buffalo schools newly identified this week are Bennett Park Montessori, BUILD Academy, Dr. George Blackman Early Childhood Center, Dr. Lydia T. Wright School of Excellence, D'Youville Porter Campus School, Harriett Ross Tubman Academy, Highgate Heights, International Prep, Lorraine Elementary, McKinley High School, Native American Magnet, Occupational Training Center, North Park Academy, Hamlin Park Elementary, School 82 and Makowski Early Childhood Center.

The local charter schools on the list are Buffalo United, Enterprise, Global Concepts, Pinnacle and Westminster.

Other schools in Erie County that received the designation are Akron Elementary, Cheektowaga Middle, Maryvale Middle, Cleveland Hill Middle, Depew Middle, Iroquois Middle, Holmes Elementary, Kenmore East High, Kenmore Middle, Roosevelt Elementary, Lackawanna Middle and High, Griffith Institute Middle and Sweet Home Middle.

In Niagara County: Emmett Belknap Middle and North Park Middle, Lockport; Gaskill Prep, Hyde Park, Niagara Falls High and Niagara Street School in the Falls; and North Tonawanda High, North Tonawanda Middle and Ohio Elementary.

Meanwhile, Buffalo's School 84, which serves students with extreme health issues, was taken off the state's watch list.

Please do not send me your cover letter or resume. I do not work for any of these schools, I just post jobs.

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