Niagara Gazette

July 29, 2013

Lew-Port Middle School administrators trying to turn around state testing results

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Life, it turns out, isn’t quite so rosy at Lewiston-Porter Middle School. At least, not for the the district’s administration.

Coming off some of the roughest years in the front office, the school’s report card suffered some distinct shortfalls as students were unable to meet certain benchmarks in both English Language Arts and mathematics testing in 2011-12.

Though current principal Dean Ramirez was a member of the Maryvale School District while students took these tests, the leader refused to shirk responsibility, saying he’s responsible for making sure the school rebounds going forward.

“We can spend hours pointing fingers and assigning blame,” Ramirez said after revealing the test scores to the district’s school board this past week. “I’d rather lead as we move forward. I think this district has tremendous teachers who are capable of teaching this information and the students are more than capable, as it shows when they get to the high school, of succeeding.”

Part of the problem stems from circumstances completely out of the control of educators. Before issuing tests in 2010-11, New York state changed the grading scale of its math and English standardized tests. In other words, the new tests were to be graded on a curve designed to lower performance, not increase it.

What happened in every district was the same, as numbers went way down in both subject areas, qualifying new students for academic intervention and making progress charts for students in each grade level plunge to new lows.

With the new curve, though, came new ways of analyzing the data to keep schools from losing their “good standing” status if they carried such a thing. Districts like Lew-Port, which typically saw scores of three or four – adequate and mastery – on these tests would have found itself in a similar situation as districts like Niagara Falls, standings-wise.

Instead, New York provided the districts with adequate yearly progress reports, which gauge how students progress as they move throughout the system. No longer looking at sixth grade students year after year, districts are graded on how well a graduating class performs every year.

This progress is charted for classes as well as subsets of the student population, ranging from race classifications to gender and economic standing at home. Unfortunately for Lew-Port Middle, some of these subsets failed in 11-12 to make the progress needed. The biggest shock, though, comes in the form of which subsets didn’t succeed: white students.

It’s all part of a situation which left Superintendent R. Christopher Roser noticeably upset Tuesday evening. He interrupted Ramirez’s presentation looking for answers on how the principal would turn the ship around. Much of the solution, Ramirez said, will hopefully come with a restructured schedule with more instruction time for students throughout the day. A new approach to teaching in the flipped classroom model may also lend itself to higher scores eventually.

Roser’s mood didn’t change after the meeting, though he did recognize Ramirez isn’t necessarily to blame for the poor showing that school year.

“Looking back over the last five years or so, we had (Vincent Dell’Oso) here, then two interim,” Roser said. “Then we had Karen (Cuddy-Miller) here for about a year. Then another interim. Now we have Dean (Ramirez) here. That’s six different principals in the last five years here. We’ve certainly had a lot of transition at the position.

“It’s a disappointment because I look at it as underachieving, when we should be at the other end of the spectrum. It’s the lack of continuity in our leadership ... because when we go to the high school, these kids will have 97 percent passing rate, a 94 percent passing rate. They didn’t get smarter all of a sudden, they’re just not succeeding in the middle school.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.