Albert Leonard Middle School Flagged by New York State Education Department Due to Low ELA Test Scores

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Albert Leonard Middle School Flagged by New York State Education Department Due to Low ELA Test Scores

November 27, 2011 - 21:44

AlbertLeonardMiddleSchoolAlbert Leonard Middle School has been identified as a school in need of improvement under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Albert Leonard was cited based on low scores in the Middle Level English Language Arts exam.

Not surprisingly, school officials around the area are not happy, calling the rating system "unfair" and "insulting":

Local school officials are highly critical of New York’s fast-growing list of schools in need of improvement, contending that the system is unfair to schools with many non-English-speaking students and students with disabilities.

“It is borderline insulting to our school district,” said Deborah Gatti, president of the North Rockland Board of Education, which has four schools tagged as needing improvement. “We do wonderful things and spend good money to help every child, especially if they’re not doing well. But this system punishes us and doesn’t serve a purpose.”

The New York State Education Department released the following statement:

A total of 1325 elementary, middle and high schools and 123 districts statewide have been identified for improvement under ESEA. Of the identified schools, 1173 will receive Title I funds in 2011-12 and are required to offer extra help to eligible low-income students; 416 of these Title I schools must also offer public school choice (as appropriate) to all enrolled students.

The number of schools and districts that were newly identified for improvement is unprecedented. Last year, 102 schools and 4 school districts were newly identified for improvement. This year the number of newly identified schools increased to 847 and the number of newly identified districts increased to 89.

"This is just further evidence – as if we needed any – that we must move forward to reform our schools and change what is happening in our classrooms," Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said. "Our goal is to ensure every student graduates from high school college- and career-ready. These numbers show that too many schools are moving in the opposite direction. The Regents have adopted strong new reforms to improve student performance and increase accountability. If student performance doesn’t improve, schools must be held accountable. We are watching."

"The Board of Regents is developing an NCLB waiver proposal to establish a better accountability formula that incorporates growth,” State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said. "But we cannot and should not accept disappointing proficiency rates at the school or sub-group level. While the 2014 NCLB deadline for proficiency for all may not be achieved, it’s the right goal and it should be our goal. Our students are not graduating with the skills they need to succeed in college and careers. That has to change, and change now."

The Regents Reform Agenda brings a sustained systemic focus on improving student achievement in New York. The Board has acted to adopt the new Common Core Learning Standards and schools are beginning to pilot the Common Core this year. State assessments have been made more rigorous and will be aligned to the Common Core beginning in 2012-13. In 2014, the first PARCC exams -- developed by a consortium of 24 states -- will help ensure that the Common Core is fully implemented. Other key elements of New York’s Race to the Top plan are underway to develop stronger teachers and school leaders. For the first time this year, teachers and school leaders with students taking ELA or math in grades 4-8 will participate in Annual Professional Performance Reviews incorporating student academic growth. And in subsequent years, these evaluations will be required for all teachers and school leaders in the State.

President Obama recently announced an ESEA regulatory flexibility initiative, which will allow the Secretary of Education to issue waivers to States. New York is currently studying options for ESEA school accountability waivers that would give New York State an opportunity to reduce or eliminate mandates that have not proven effective in promoting student achievement. The waivers would not release school districts from accountability for student subgroup performance. Rather, they would allow for accountability sanctions requiring more specific responses to student performance.

A total of 23 schools that were identified for the 2010-11 school year have been removed from the improvement list because they made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two consecutive years in all areas for which they were identified. No districts were removed from improvement status this year. An additional 16 schools that were in improvement status during the 2010-11 school year have closed or are in the process of closing. AYP is the minimum level of performance schools and districts must achieve each year and is based on student participation and performance on State assessments.

Factors contributing to the increase in schools and districts not making AYP and being identified for improvement include:

  • Sunset in 2009-10 of a statistical adjustment for the students with disabilities subgroup that has made it more difficult for this group to demonstrate AYP.
  • Change in grades 3-8 English language arts (ELA) and math testing dates, which requires students to show greater learning has occurred because tests are given later in the school year.
  • Change in the methodology for equating grades 3-8 ELA and math assessments, which eliminate a tendency to overcompensate for the comparable difficulty of tests from one year to the next.
  • Changes to the grades 3-8 ELA and math assessments, making them less predictable.
  • Increase in the high school graduation rate goal and progress targets, which have substantially raised the percentage of students who must graduate or the yearly increase in the percentage of graduates in order for a school or district to make AYP.
  • The aligning of new English language arts and mathematics proficiency standards for grades 3-8 to the college and career standards established by the Regents also contributed to the large increase in identified schools and districts this year.


This year 847 schools and 89 districts were newly identified compared to 102 schools and 4 districts for 2010-11. For 2011-12, 350 of the newly identified schools and 12 of the newly removed schools were in New York City (NYC). Nineteen of the newly identified districts were in NYC (Note: For accountability purposes NYC consists of 32 community school districts.).

Of the 123 districts identified, 31 are in New York City and 92 are in the rest of the State. Districts in Need of Improvement (DINI) must develop a Local Educational Agency (LEA) Plan within three months of being identified. The LEA plans must be submitted to the New York State Education Department for approval.


The New York State Education Department has taken steps to align the Accountability Systems under NCLB (Title I AYP), Title III (Annual Measurement Achievement Objectives [AMAOs]), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when identification of a school and/or district is a result of poor performance of the students with disabilities and/or the ELL subgroups. This action will result in greater continuity in the assessment of the needs of these schools/districts and the resulting supports and interventions.

To accomplish this, the Office of Special Education has revised its performance criteria for determination of school districts under IDEA as "Needs Assistance" or "Needs Intervention" to be based primarily on whether a school district has one or more schools not making AYP for the students with disabilities subgroup. The number of districts identified under IDEA as "Needs Assistance" is 255 and the number identified as "Needs Intervention" is 35 (including NYC counted as one district).

The State is, to the extent resources allow, assigning a Special Education School Improvement Specialist (SESIS) from the Regional Special Education Technical Assistance Support Centers (RSE-TASC) to provide technical assistance and participate as a subgroup specialist during the various differentiated accountability reviews. In addition, for districts determined to be "Needs Intervention," staff from the NYSED P-12 Office of Special Education (OSE) will participate in the Joint Intervention Team reviews. For more information regarding these changes, see:

For districts not meeting Title III AMAOs, the Office of Bilingual Education and Foreign Language Studies (OBE-FLS) will focus on those schools identified because of the performance of ELL students. The number of districts identified for Title III improvement is 40, and the number identified for Title III Corrective Action is 9 (including NYC counted as one district). The State will also direct its technical assistance resources to the schools identified for the ELL subgroup. School districts identified for not meeting their AMAOs under Title III for two consecutive years are required to submit an Improvement Plan and those failing to make AMAO for four consecutive years are required to develop a Corrective Action Plan. Additional information regarding AMAOs and required plans can be found on the OBE-FLS website:


Later in the school year, the Commissioner will identify schools that are persistently lowest-achieving and Schools Under Registration Review (PLA/SURR) for the 2011-12 school year. Schools identified as PLA/SURR are from among the lowest performing five percent of schools in New York State, based on school performance on State ELA and mathematics assessments combined. In addition, schools that have graduation rates below 60 percent for three consecutive years are also identified as PLA/SURR. Districts with PLA/SURR will be required to submit plans to the Commissioner for approval to implement one of four federally mandated intervention strategies: turnaround, restart, closure, or transformation. More information on the intervention requirements for these schools can be found at:


The complete lists of schools and districts with their accountability status can be found at: The lists are grouped by district. Lists also show newly identified schools, schools removed from Schools in Need of Improvement status, and schools in Good Standing.

There are 5 Comments

A letter I received indicated that ALMS failed to make AYP in one subgroup--students with special needs.

Based on your own analysis of the situation, this is an AYP based on a subgroup, it would seem, that many school districts would struggle to meet.

I would caution readers against making snap judgments about the quality of a long-standing institution of high quality education based solely on one highly flawed data point.

Robert Cox's picture

You wrote: "solely on one highly flawed data point".

Why is the "data point" flawed?

Also, please send along a copy of the ALMS letter so everyone can read it.

The letter came a least a month ago & I'm sure mine went into the circular file already.

But I do recall that the problem was with special education.

A few reasons:
First, my understanding is that a school's AYP status is related to scale scores on standardized exams and not raw score. If it were the latter, a school would truly be based on its achievements or failures. As it stands, schools are judged on an unpredictable sliding scale. What was acceptable last year may or may not be acceptable this year. By itself, this flaws the data point because the state can and does manipulate the data period to releasing results for the purposes of exerting greater control over local districts.

Second, as you say, last year's results a large population of students who no longer receive services but who still fall into that subgroup. A predictable eventuality, I concede, but still one that needs consideration.

Finally, the data point is a statistical outsider. Because it is the only subgroup that failed to meet the standard...and that, I understand, not by a large margin, by any means, the implication is that the building is failing. What about those subgroups that are thriving?

Ultimately, the school should be concerned if any portion of its population is struggling, but that concern should be carefully measured in light of what is, at least, a questionable issue.

Robert Cox's picture

Before I reply, please note that the way the site works is that in order to organize or "nest" comments you need to click the reply link BELOW the comment to which you wish to respond. Otherwise, things get out of order and readers cannot follow the discussion.

Now, back to your comment.

You wrote "AYP status is related to scale scores on standardized exams and not raw score."

I just want to be clear as to what you mean by "standardized exams".

According to Wikipedia...

A standardized test is a test that is administered and scored in a consistent, or "standard", manner. Standardized tests are designed in such a way that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent and are administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner. Any test in which the same test is given in the same manner to all test takers is a standardized test.

A standard score indicates how many standard deviations a data point is above or below the mean. It is a dimensionless quantity derived by subtracting the population mean from an individual raw score and then dividing the difference by the population standard deviation. This conversion process is called standardizing or normalizing.

I am going to take it that you are not proposing that students at ALMS get more or less time to complete the ELA or Math exams than students at IEYMS or other middle schools around the state, right? You do not dispute that the conditions and parameters and questions and answers should all be the same for every student in the state when taking the ELA?

If so, that would mean that you believe the data to be flawed because the SED is plotting raw scores on a distribution curve.

I wonder if you realize that the same approach is used for every Regents exam, for the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, GRE, for the psychological, educational and reading exams given to evaluate students for learning disabilities.

Based on your criteria, I cannot think of a single exam that would not be "flawed". Are you suggesting that all of these exams and those like them are flawed and should be ignored?

I would also note that the Math scores for the same cohort that failed to make AYP for the ELA showed the school did make AYP in Math. Likewise the other subgroups all made AYP. All of those test scores were scaled in the same way.

Was the data flawed for ALL of the scores for ALL of the schools that made AYP? By your logic, one could just as easily argue that we should discount any data that shows a school made AYP overall or for any particular subgroup.

Or is that you want to discredit any bad data and credit any good data?

You wrote that if only raw scores were used "a school would truly be based on its achievements or failures."

Your assumption is that New Rochelle schools are penalized by normalizing the data. Is that the case? I do not know but if it were then you would have a better case to make. Maybe you can go find out. Excepting the New York City schools, I would have to figure that New Rochelle is in the high range on ELL students and "free lunch" students" which is often offered as a proxy for children who come from homes without a strong tradition of educational achievement.

You wrote "schools are judged on an unpredictable sliding scale. What was acceptable last year may or may not be acceptable this year."

Just as one could argue that we should discount any data that shows a school made AYP overall or for any particular subgroup if we are going to discount data that shows a school or subgroup did not make AYP, it may be that previous years standards were too low (which is actually what the SED contends). So, by your logic, all the years in which ALMS made AYP may be wrong and the current results are the correct ones.

You wrote "the state can and does manipulate the data period to releasing results for the purposes of exerting greater control over local districts."

I cannot speak to the motive you attribute to the SED but if your point is that the state manipulates data then how do we know the state was not manipulating data (or the tests themselves) to inflate performance?

The ELA and Math tests are scored 1 through 4 with 2 being the minimum acceptable level and 3 and 4 are above that. In letter grade terms 2 to 4 are like D to A. In number terms a 1 is below 65 and 2-4 are above 65. In other words, 2-4 is passing and 1 is failing.

When you talk about manipulation by the SED perhaps you can address the fact that New York State has become a laughingstock around the country because 99% of the students score 2-4. When you run tests that only 1% of the kids fail and you have the drop out rates and low graduation rates we see around the State it suggests the test is not accurately measuring performance. That is what Tisch and King have been addressing.

I do not know what you mean by "a large population of students who no longer receive services but who still fall into that subgroup." It sounds like you are trying to say that Special Education students who are de-classified (typically based on their performance improving to the point that they no longer need extra help) are still being counted as classified and thus their scores are included in the Special Education subgroup. It would seem to me that de-classified students were in the higher functioning end of the spectrum. From a test-taking perspective, these are kids who do better on exams not worse. If what you are saying were true that including de-classified students in the Special Education cohort is artificially boosting test performance not dragging it down.

You wrote "the data point is a statistical outsider."

Do you mean "statistical outlier"?

You are right about one thing. That the performance of special education students at Albert Leonard on the ELA exam is a data point among all other subgroups taking both ELA and Math tests at ALMS within the context of ELA and Math Exams given to all middle school and elementary schools in the district for students grades 3-8.

It is not the case that ALMS failing to make AYP in one group in one particular year means the entire building is failing. But this is a straw man, right? The article above does not say that ALMS is failing or imply that. It simply states the fact that ALMS was flagged by SED for failing to make AYP last year.

I wrote two articles in 2009 about the district's claims about AYP

In that article, I noted that school officials, and especially board member Deidre Polow, "brandish(es) "AYP" like a jedi with a light saber, trying to convince residents that "making AYP" is some sort of significant achievement for her and her fellow Board of Education members. It is actually the exact opposite of what she claims.

Recently released data from New York State shows the full extent of the hollowness of her claims:

Schools making AYP in New York State: 89%
Schools making AYP in Westchester County: 93%
District making AYP in New York State: 95%

At the state level, making AYP means only that New Rochelle is not among the bottom 5% of school districts in New York State. At the county level making AYP translates not being in the bottom 7%. Considering that the New Rochelle school district is one of the 50 most expensive school district in the United States (25 of Westchester's 37 districts are among them top 50) this is not what most people would consider an indication for getting good "bang for the buck", one of Polow's favorite phrases.

As I pointed out back then, the district kept using the term Annual Yearly Progress and tried to claim that being certified as having made Annual Yearly Progress was like some blue ribbon handed down by the SED.

The term AYP does not stand for Annual Yearly Progress. It stands for Adequate Yearly Progress. The purpose of the law is for the SED to designate schools that are NOT MAKING Adequate Yearly Progress is not to reward non-failing schools but to provide parents a path towards getting their children out of failing schools if those schools identified as failing do not take sufficient correction action within a specified time.

Wearing "AYP" like a laurel wreath is like claiming you won a Gold Medal in the Olympics because you finished the race and did not come in dead last. Yep, you can claim that is a "victory" but no one is actually giving you a Gold Medal.

We have stopped hearing the term AYP much at school board meetings since I wrote those articles which may have something to do with the articles or that the the district was no longer making AYP across the board after those stories were published.

You ask "What about those subgroups that are thriving?"

That a subgroup did not fail to make AYP does not mean they are "thriving" it just means they are not failing.

That is not to say that ALMS is failing only that the data you want to discredit on one hand and cite as proof of success on another does not say what you want to claim it says. Three of my kids went to ALMS. My fourth will be there next year. I have often said, publicly, that ALMS is a terrific school and often credited Bill Evans with doing a great job running the school (these test scores are from his last year).

As a final thought, the line of argument you are putting forward does not hold water. There is no evidence that the data is flawed. It sounds more like you just don't want anything bad about ALMS to be made public.

I would note that it appears to you more of an afterthought that there are students who may be struggling and that the data suggests more needs to be done to support them. I suppose this is why you choose the screen name "NRRooter". I find this typical of the mindset of the North End Clique that runs New Rochelle -- if we pretend there are no problems then there are no problems.

I wonder if, when you watch NRHS play football, that you magically count all the touchdowns scored by New Rochelle and ignore all the touchdowns scored by their opponent and then go home satisfied believing the Huguenots won the game. You can believe that if you want but the game will still count as a loss no matter what you pretend happened at the game.

More importantly, it is needless to engage in such "magical thinking" since no one that I can see is claiming that ALMS is a "failing school". Quite obviously it is not. Put another way, if ALMS is failing then I shudder to think what is going on at Isaac.

What you may not know is that in the past 2 years other subgroups at other schools in the district have failed to make AYP. I recall the high school failed to make AYP for special education students and I believe there have been similar issues at Jefferson School. I do not have time know to look it up but perhaps you can check me on this.