May 12, 2010


More city students passing courses

But school superintendent says dropout rate remains stubbornly high

Staff Reporter

Cortland students have improved dramatically in some academic areas and remain a puzzle in others, with signs that an academic program called “Move 2” is paying off but a high dropout rate is continuing to vex educators.
Those were some findings Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring presented Tuesday to the city Board of Education in his third-quarter academic report.
The meeting began with a moment of silence for two staff members who died recently, Janice Catalano and Kathryn Ferris.
Ferris, a high school math teacher, died Tuesday morning after a long battle with breast cancer. Catalano, 55, who worked in the district information technology department, died April 30.
“They served our district well and will be sorely missed,” said board President Lisa Hoeschele.
Students wore pink at the high school today in Ferris’ honor.
The percentage of seventh-graders failing at least one course improved, and the percentage of ninth-graders has gone from half of them failing in 2004-05 to one-third now.
Eighth-graders’ performance in science has steadily risen from 79 percent passing in 2005-06 to 98 percent this year, “as much progress as we could hope for,” Spring said.
“That’s a lot of really high quality work those teachers are doing,” Spring said.
But ninth-graders remain around 80 percent passing in science. Spring said there might be some disconnect between teaching strategies in the two grades.
Hoeschele asked if ninth grade was too packed with tough courses, at a time when students struggle due to being 13 or 14, and if senior year was too light.
Spring said senior year should be a time to prepare for college or the workplace, with internships and other connections to life after high school. He said the district is planning new courses in green energy, linked to its technology courses.
Spring and other district officials recently visited Brockton High School in Massachusetts, a school that dramatically turned around academic performance and found ways to connect school to life after school.
“That school had 50 more students than our entire district but it felt smaller than our high school,” Spring said. “Those students seemed very focused.”
The city district’s dropout rate remains high, with 29 students dropped out as of the third quarter compared to 22 last year.
The state Education Department dropout policy counts students who have left school and returned, and students who have moved elsewhere and not enrolled in a new district. But Spring said the high rate still means there will be a large number of older students in the system, students who become frustrated with school as their friends graduate.
The district’s “Move 2” initiative is the reason for some of the improvements, Spring said, as teachers identify two students in every section who are struggling or failing, then work more with them.
High school social studies results showed 88 percent of ninth-graders passing, up from 85 percent last year; 86 percent of 10th graders passing, 51 percent with mastery; and 80 percent of 11th graders passing, down from 88 percent a year ago but with 11 percent carrying incompletes because they had not finished final projects.
In ELA, 11th graders showed 91 percent passing, although only 37 percent were passing with mastery.
Elementary students performed higher in English language arts this quarter. The percentage of kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders who can recognize a word by sight improved to 80 percent, from 50 or 60 percent in previous quarters.


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