December 27, 2011
City schools want better attendance, English scores
Cortland city school district students showed some puzzling trends in academics and a growing tendency to be late for school or absent in the first quarter of 2011-12.
A high failure rate in 12th-grade English concerns district administrators, although 12th-grade social studies has shown strong performances, Superintendent of Schools Larry Spring told the Board of Education last week.
The report was Spring’s first-quarter academic summary for the district, and focused only on grades 7 through 12.
He was followed by Gregory Santoro, executive principal at Cortland Junior-Senior High School, who discussed class sizes.
Seventh-graders had high attendance rates, with 90 percent of them in school 90 percent of the time, the benchmark for solid academic performance. The senior class contrasted that with 78 percent in school 85 percent of the time or higher.
About 28 percent of seniors are failing English, compared to figures below 4 percent in the other grades.
“That’s disturbing with a gateway course, a course they need to graduate,” Spring said.
Social studies showed a low failure rate with seniors, about 1.5 percent in participation in government classes and 2 percent in economics.
Spring arranged the data to show how certain trends are tied to family income levels. He said students eligible for free or reduced lunches, due to lack of money, were less likely to enroll in Advanced Placement courses — a trend he wants to reverse — and more likely to have disciplinary cases ending in suspension or detention.
Cortland Junior-Senior High School added seven AP courses this year, bringing the number to 10 for the school year. But the students enrolled in them were mostly from higher income levels.
U.S. History was the only AP course with enrollment by low-income students, 11 percent of whom had grades of 90 to 100 in that course.
Spring said teachers and guidance staff are trying to find ways to encourage all students to take those courses, in some cases overcoming the students’ reluctance to see that such courses will benefit them.
The AP course with the highest enrollment is U.S. History with 38, followed by U.S. Government and Politics with 23 and English Literature with 22.
A new AP biology course has four students: two juniors, a senior and a German exchange student. Teacher Karen Krichbaum-Stenger told the board she hopes to increase enrollment in the course, which has college-level lab work.
The other AP courses are calculus, chemistry, music, physics, statistics and studio art.
Students eligible for free or reduced lunch accounted for 45 of 78 students with five after-school suspensions, 17 of 28 cases of five days of out-of-school suspensions, 53 of 79 lunch detentions, 36 of 52 in-school suspensions and nine of 14 Saturday detentions.
Spring said none of this is surprising.
“What are students doing to warrant this? Truancy is the biggest reason — being late to school, cutting class, leaving school grounds without permission,” Spring said.
Santoro said the school has 581 courses and they break down into 54 percent with less than 20 students enrolled per class, 38 percent with 20 to 25 students per class and 8 percent with more than 25 students per class.
The two largest social studies courses are America in the 1960s with 30 students and the Holocaust with 29.
English 10 Writing Workshop is the largest English course with 28 students per class, followed by English 11 Writing Workshop with 26.
Math 7A, in the accelerated program, is the largest math course with 29 students per class. In science, Enriched Earth Science for eighth graders has a big enrollment at 24 students per class. Regents biology has 23 students per class and honors chemistry has 22.
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