BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says several factors are to blame for the flat trajectory of student performance on state tests over the last three years. The state tests have become more difficult, he said at a press conference this afternoon, but Rochester students are not getting the extra instruction time they need to help them do better.
“Rochester students receive less instruction time than students in any other district in Monroe County,” Vargas said.
New York City students are reaping the benefits of longer school days, he said, which helps explain why they have made the most performance gains.
Vargas said he is working with the Rochester Teachers Association on extended hours of instruction in at least 10 schools in the coming school year. And the district has to do a better job of tracking student performance, especially at the central office level, he said.
But there was no avoiding the most difficult problem the district has faced for years: a sobering lack of support for learning at home and in the community. As one example, Vargas cited being in a library earlier today where he saw few children reading or taking out books.
“If our students are not reading to grade level by third grade, we are going to see more test results like this,” he said.
Almost 70 percent of the students at School 23 met or exceeded proficiency in math, and more than 50 percent met or exceeded proficiency in English. But School 23 is the exception. Some schools saw less than 10 percent of their students meet state standards.
Vargas has spoken candidly about the need for the larger community’s help in engaging city students academically, as well as in extracurricular activities. But he said the support hasn’t come as quickly as he hoped.
“I don’t see the evidence of it, yet,” Vargas said.
Student performance on state exams in grades 3 to 8 in the Rochester school district has fallen. Only 20.7 percent, barely one-fifth of students met or exceeded English proficiency standards, down from 24.4 percent a year ago.
And only 27.3 percent met or exceeded math proficiency standards, down from 29.4 percent a year ago.
Rochester students showed the lowest performance among the state’s Big 5 districts, with Syracuse, Yonkers, and New York City students showing progress, according to a report released today by the New York State Education Department.
Exam scores in New York City schools, for example, improved from 43.9 percent a year ago to 46.9 percent in English, and 60 percent met or exceeded math standards.