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Many math scores improve Pupils doing better in grades 4 and 8

Pupil math scores improved substantially this year, both locally and across the state, indicating that schools are successfully tackling tougher math standards adopted just last school year.

In New York, the percentage of fourth-graders scoring at proficiency or above on state assessment tests increased to 79.9 percent from 77.9 percent.

In eighth grade, the proficiency rate jumped to 58.8 percent from 53.9 percent.

"These are impressive results," State Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills said at an Albany news conference. "This is very promising."

The latest batch of test scores takes on added significance because it has been less than two years since the establishment of new math standards that require pupils to do more difficult work in earlier grades.

In Buffalo -- where improved student achievement is a near-crusade -- fourth-grade scores fell a bit, but eighth-grade performance was up substantially. And across grades 3-8, Buffalo's proficiency rate increased to 35.9 percent from 28.6 percent, an improvement that Mills described as "impressive." But he said Buffalo's results are still far too low.

Overall fourth-grade proficiency rates were 76.5 percent in Erie County and 85.3 percent in Niagara County. Twenty-three school districts posted increases in those two counties, and 15 showed declines.

The overall eighth-grade proficiency rate was 63.4 percent in Erie County and 64.2 percent in Niagara. Twenty-one districts registered gains, and 17 saw scores fall.

A Buffalo News analysis focused on fourth grade and eighth grade, which have been viewed as benchmarks since New York launched its current testing program in 1999.

However, statewide gains were also recorded in the math proficiency rates in grades three, five, six and seven, where federally mandated assessment tests are also given.

"Students, parents, teachers and school leaders deserve thanks and congratulations from all of New York," said Regents Chancellor Robert M. Bennett. "We cannot be satisfied, though, until we have raised achievement and closed the gap everywhere. We have to press on to make sure all children succeed."

The strongest local eighth-grade results were in Williamsville, which had the three top performing schools in Erie Niagara. The proficiency rate was 93.7 percent at Transit Middle School, 93.4 percent at Casey Middle School and 93 percent at Mill Middle School.

At 92.4 percent, Williamsville also had the highest districtwide rating.

Petronilla Amantia, Williamsville's instructional specialist for math and technical education, attributed those results to extensive parent involvement, a strong curriculum that stresses problem-solving, extensive use of data for assessment purposes, professional development for teachers, extra help for struggling students and an excellent teaching staff.

The only other local school to top the 90 percent mark in eighth grade was Buffalo's City Honors School, at 90.5 percent.

In fourth grade, Niagara Falls' 66th Street Elementary School, which has a student poverty rate approaching 70 percent, is one of just two local schools where all fourth-graders scored at the proficiency level or above.

Six years ago, less than 40 percent of the fourth-graders at 66th Street were proficient in math.

The school's reform effort began when teachers took the state math exams so they could fully understand what their pupils were up against, said Larry Martinez, the principal.

The school also increased instructional time in math, reading and writing, improved assessment measures, instructed parents on how to help their children, sent the school counselor to homes to work with struggling pupils and their parents and increased the use of classroom technology.

South Davis Elementary School in Orchard Park also had a 100 percent fourth-grade proficiency rate. Ledgeview Elementary School in Clarence was next with 99 percent.

In Buffalo, the eighth-grade proficiency rate increased to 25.8 percent from 17 percent. However, the fourth-grade rate fell to 44.4 percent from 47.4 percent.

In grades 3-8, the city's overall proficiency rate rose to 35.9 percent from 28.6 percent. That 35.9 percent figure is the lowest of the state's "Big Five Schools" -- slightly behind Rochester and Syracuse but far behind Yonkers and New York City.

Mills said Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse "still have far to go" but described their one-year gains as "impressive."

"I'd describe my one-year gains as 'impressive,' too," said Buffalo Superintendent James A. Williams, adding that the district saw improvement in every grade except fourth.

He said the district implemented its three-year improvement plan in January 2006 and is already seeing progress after the first year.

"I just want to applaud the teachers, administrators and support staff who are moving our students forward. The credit goes to them," Williams said.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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