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State Issues List of Most Improved Schools

By Eileen Buckley

Albany, NY – More progress is being made to improve English and Math at schools across New York State. More than 1,000 schools are included on the State Education Department's "Most Improved" list.

State education leaders say the number of schools on this new list represents a "significant increase" from 2003. Improvements are based on standardized elementary and middle school Math and English test scores. Twenty-nine suburban elementary and middle schools in Erie County and ten Buffalo public schools are on the most improved schools list.

In Buffalo, the Westminster Community School 68 improved in three areas -- fourth grade Math, fourth grade English and eighth grade Math. Principal Yvonne Minor-Ragan says it has been a "slow climb" with gradual scoring improvements since 1999. But she says the school now concentrates on parental involvement and New York State standards.

"If the students know the skills and can reflect on them, then they can be successful on just about any test," Minor-Ragan said. "We focus as a staff on instructional strategies, those things that will make a difference in student improvement."

But no schools in Buffalo or Erie County showed improvements in eighth grade English. Minor-Ragan says eighth grade students are learning subjects, not reading, and believes that is an "underlying factor" for the lack of improvement.

"One of the systems or strategies that we're trying to implement at the school is to teach every teacher to be a teacher of reading," Minor-Ragan said.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said improvements in English are attributed to an increase in reading. He also said the middle school Math curriculum has been changed.

But overall at the middle school level, Mills said there has been less consensus on what should change.

"What should the curriculum look like? How should we use our time? What is the place of the academic work as well as the place of those subjects that are not part of the academic core?" Mills asked.

Mills says while the list shows "impressive gains" he believes there is still a long way to go for many other school to improve scores.