Sunday, August 1, 2010

Queens Schools Outperform Counterparts Across City Despite Not Doing Well Themselves by Clare Trapasso - NY Daily News

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Fewer than half of middle-schoolers in Queens passed state English tests this year - but they did better overall than their peers in the rest of the city.

The raw scores on the annual state English and math tests were roughly the same as last year - but fewer students made the grade due to tougher standards and more comprehensive tests.

This meant that about half the borough's third- through fifth-graders performed at grade level in English. And two-thirds of Queens' third- through eighth-graders were proficient in math.

Queens students sometimes outperformed their peers in other boroughs by as much as several percentage points.

"Queens has always tended to do a little bit better than the other boroughs," said Robert Tobias, the city's former testing chief, now a professor at New York University.

"Typically, Queens residents tend to have fewer students who are living in poverty," he said. Teachers "tend to have more experience."

Even though classrooms in Queens are more overcrowded and have large foreign-born populations, "the immigrant students tend to do quite well," he said.

But Tobias stressed that the numbers were only slightly higher than in the rest of the city.

Pamela Wheaton, project director of, a website that offers independent reviews and news of public schools, urged parents not to panic when they see the lower pass rates.

"Parents have known for years that these tests weren't all they were cracked up to be," Wheaton said. "The tests were not providing an adequate [picture] of how kids were actually learning and achieving."

Over the past few years, she has seen a rise in teachers focusing on test prep - often at the expense of other subjects such as foreign languages and social studies. But schools that favored a more general curriculum often did better on the tests, she said.

Public School 122, in Astoria, is proof.

Almost all of its middle-schoolers passed the exams - putting the school at the top of the class.

Principal Pamela Sabel, whose pre-K through eighth grade school houses gifted and talented programs, credits the hard work of her teachers and students.

"The children are fabulous," she said. "They really care about their learning."
Parent Teacher Association co-president Evie Hantzopoulos believes PS 122's well-rounded curriculum plays a role in the students' high scores. "When you provide a good quality education that's not only focused on test scores, children are going to do better on the tests because they can think critically," she said.
Faith Sanchez, 9, of Fresh Meadows, who will enter the fifth grade at PS 188 this fall, said the tests were harder than expected.

"You needed a lot more details," Sanchez said. "My hand was aching like crazy."
PS 188, in Bayside, is one of the borough's top schools.

Others, like PS 111, in Long Island City, had one of the lowest pass rates, with only 5% of eight-graders passing the English exam.

Principal Randy Seabrook said she'll meet with staff to see what they can do to boost performance.

"We're all about making progress for our children," Seabrook said. "We're still on the road to being the best school in District 30."