Taking a closer look at Regents results across the Harlem Valley
HARLEM VALLEY — According to the results of the state Regents exams that were recently released by the Webutuck, Pine Plains and Millbrook central school districts, the area schools are relatively equal in their test performances, with Millbrook edging out front in both the percentage of passing grades and the percentage of mastery level grades.Webutuck had the lowest percent passing rate, but its percent of mastery level grades matched that of Pine Plains.To receive a passing grade on the Regents exams, students must receive at least 65 percent of all possible exam points. To reach the mastery level, students must receive at least 85 percent of all possible exam points.Predictably, all three school districts had high numbers of students taking exams that are required for high school graduation. These exams included global history, English and earth science.The lowest numbers of tests were in optional subjects, like foreign languages and physics.Students from all three school districts had the highests rates of passing and mastery in language arts, social studies and foreign language tests. The lowest passing rates came in mathematics and sciences.Webutuck had a distinct anomaly to those generalizations. The district attained very high passing rates in geometry, for which both Millbrook and Pine Plains had comparatively low passing rates.Millbrook Central School District, which had 384 students enrolled in ninth through 12th grade during the 2010-11 school year, gave 848 exams in 12 subjects. Of those exams, 743, or 88 percent, received passing grades and 294, or 35 percent, reached the mastery level.Pine Plains Central School District, which had 393 students enrolled in ninth through 12th grade during the 2010-11 school year, gave 827 exams in 12 subjects. Of those exams, 692, or 84 percent, received passing grades and 227, or 27 percent, reached the mastery level.Webutuck Central School District, which had 257 students enrolled in ninth through 12th grade during the 2010-11 school year, gave 530 exams in 12 subjects. One of those subjects was not offered by the school; the student taking the physics exam was self-taught. Of the exams taken, 420, or 79 percent, received passing grades and 144, or 27 percent, reached the mastery level.Pine Plains Superintendent Linda Kaumeyer, Webutuck Interim Superintendent David Paciencia and Webutuck High School Principal Ken Sauer weighed in on their district’s results. The Millbrook superintendent and high school principal were unavailable for comment.The Pine Plains and Webutuck administrators stressed that the size of the school district and the number of students taking each exam had the greatest impact on how each school fared.Paciencia said that of all the factors that affect the district’s test results, the enrollment is one factor that the district has very little control over.Since all three school districts are relatively small and a low number of students took each exam, each test score has the potential to greatly impact the percentage of passing grades. In the most extreme example of this, only one student took the physics exam in the Webutuck School District, so that single student’s results determined the whole passing rate for the district.Because of the weight that each individual exam result holds, the percent passing rate can fluctuate by a large number from year to year and will fluctuate much more than the percent passing rate at a larger school district.Kaumeyer said that the area school districts do not compete against one another for the best test results; they compete against themselves to push themselves to do the best they can in maximizing the success of their students.She said that the districts share ideas to help each other in the common goal of preparing students for success after high school.Kaumeyer also noted that even in subjects with a low overall passing rate, there are always students who excel on those exams.She commended the students who chose to take some of the more challenging optional exams.“I’m less interested in the scores than in what the students get out of the course,” she said.She also said that she is less interested in the district’s percentage rates than she is in the students’ plans for the future, which are a better measure of success, but noted that the Regents results let her know that the district is “on the right track.”Sauer agreed that preparing students for the future is more important than only looking at the percentage of passing rates.Still, he said he was disappointed in the district’s numbers and he believes that the students, parents, school staff and community are also disappointed.“We’re in a low point right now in this district and we need to turn it around. We’re at the bottom of the barrel again, but we don’t need to be. This is a great little school,” he said. “We’ve got great teachers. We’ve got the best teacher-student ratio [in the county].”Sauer and Paciencia both believe that one of the biggest factors in the district’s results were the lack of staffing consistency in the teachers, high school principal and district superintendent.“There’s been a lot of turnover in this district. That’s the heart of the slip,” said Sauer, noting that Pine Plains and Millbrook have enjoyed more consistency in their staff.Sauer said that inconsistency in staff also translates to inconsistency in performance, goals and expectations.Sauer, who will be returning this fall as the high school principal — the first one to return for a second year since Sauer held the position three years ago — said that instead of focusing on last year’s performance, the school needs to look to next year to see what they can do better in the future.“Our goal is to be the highest performing school in the county, and I have every bit of confidence that we’ll be able to do that. That’s our goal because it has to be our goal,” he said. “That should be every school’s goal.”Paciencia said Webutuck is in the process of instating new changes in hopes of increasing the district’s performance. The Board of Education is interviewing new candidates for open teaching and administrative positions. The board plans to utilize in-depth data to find early indicators of poor performance in students so intervention can be staged when problems first arise. Paciencia said that the new change in the intermediate school’s format was designed to help teachers and administrators find those early indicators.