When news came back that her class ranked second among Long Island schools in English Language Arts test scores, Pierson eighth grade English teacher Christine Farrell said she was absolutely happy.
“I’m definitely very proud of the students,” Farrell said. “It was a great way to end the year.”
Pierson ranked number two, behind the Fisher Island school district, with 92.3 percent of the students either meeting or exceeding state standards.
“I was surprised,” said Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols. “I knew we had done very well, but I was surprised to see we were number two.”
Compared to other East End schools, Pierson did extremely well. Westhampton Beach was the closest East End school at number 43, followed by Montauk at 53 and East Hampton at 55.
Nichols and Farrell both however know that the numbers don’t always tell the whole story. While they credit the students for their hard work, Nichols said due to the size of Sag Harbor, if only three students had scored a two on the test instead of three, then Sag Harbor might have fallen out of the top 100. Also, because Fisher Island is so small, with just over 50 students in the entire district, if one more student there had scored a two instead of a three, Pierson might have ended up with the number one ranking.
Farrell and Nichols still see the high scores as an indication of the hard work the students have put in. Nichols also thanked the parents. Farrell remembered when she taught in the William Floyd school district and said her scores never looked the way they look now. She said Pierson students come into her class prepared with the vocabulary and the skills that are so vital to success both on the ELA test and in their future endeavors.
“They’re so teachable,” she said.
There is another story behind the tests that both Nichols and Farrell acknowledged, one with political undertones.
“It’s bittersweet with the political spin on the tests,” said Farrell.
New York State instituted the eighth grade ELA exam in 2000 as a predictor of how well students would do on the English Regents test in high school.
These tests are supposed to be measures of success moving forward,” said Nichols.
He continued by saying that so far there has been no correlation of data showing a student who fails the ELA will necessarily fail the Regents Exam.
“The big picture out there is that with No Child Left Behind, each state is forced to come up with mechanisms to meet the mandate,” he said. “And the mechanisms are the state assessments.”
“If you do a thorough analysis of the data, you will find that individual states will show tremendous progress on exams,” he continued. “But when you look at measures that don’t change over time, like the National Assessment of Reading or the Trends In Math and Science, the US internationally is losing ground versus other industrialized nations.”
Farrell also mentioned that the ELA tests have changed significantly over the years, possibly because the state uses it to manipulate NCLB mandates. And Farrell also expressed discontent with how the tests are handled.
Administered at the end of the year, the students never see the results. The grading of the ELA exam is done in house and then the tests are sent away. In the end, the students are never afforded the opportunity to see how they did on the particular aspects of the exam, thus are never allowed to see where they need to improve.
“Who’s feeling the aftermath? The kids? No,” said Farrell. “It’s not allowing direct feedback in the classrooms.”
The students actually do not even see their scores until the next year. This year during the eighth grade moving up ceremony, Nichols announced that the scores were excellent, but could go no further in describing how well the students performed.
“When Jeff [Nichols] announced that,” said Farrell, “the kids were taken aback. They were so proud of themselves.”