Wheatley School students continue improvement on tests: principal

The Island Now
The East Williston School District passed their budget with consideration to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the East Williston School District)

By Rebecca Melnitsky

Wheatley School students’ test scores from the 2016-17 school year showed mostly strong results and steady improvement over past years, the principal said Monday.

The principal, Sean Feeney, presented results from the state Regents exams, SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement tests to the East Williston school board Monday night.

Some 99 percent of Wheatley School students graduated last year, and 86 percent earned an Advanced Regents Diploma, Feeney said.

On the SAT, Wheatley School students scored an average of 623 on the reading section and 649 on the math, compared with 539 and 535 nationwide.

This represents a jump from 570 and 604 from last year for district students, Feeney said, but the scores are not entirely comparable because the test changed in 2016.

Writing was made optional on the new version of the SAT. The results from 2017 include both scores from the old and new versions of the SAT, and Feeney said the district would be able to draw a more accurate conclusion from the data when more classes take the new version.

Wheatley students scored an average of 25.9 on the ACT, while the New York State and national averages are 24.2 and 21.0, respectively.

On the Regents examinations, about 90 percent of Wheatley students passed and a significant number earned mastery scores, showing steady improvement, Feeney said.

The final Regents scores for Nassau County and New York State will not be available until February or March. It is not yet known how Wheatley will compare with other districts in the area, although the past few years have seen students passing at greater rates than those in the surrounding districts, Feeney said.

Changes to the curriculum made some results different, though. The most significant change was in physics, where passing rates dropped from 91 percent in 2015-16 to 64 percent in 2016-17.

“This was probably the more puzzling and upsetting for both the faculty as well as the number of students,” Feeney said.

Feeney said a lot of 12th-graders took the exam after their graduation.

“Sometimes motivation dips a little bit when you have your cap and gown … and you have to walk into a Regents exam,” Feeney said. “But that’s not an excuse … We can do better than that.”

Algebra 2 passing rates dipped from 98 percent in 2015-16 to 85 percent in 2016-17. This was the second year of Common Core standards for the exam.

“[The] first year tends to be fairly generous both in terms of the exam as well as the score,” said Feeney. “They don’t want anyone to panic … you don’t see a huge change. Second year, they hit you pretty hard.”

Also, some students had only had one year of a two-year course for Algebra 2, due to a district change to make the course one year instead of two, Feeney said.

Results generally improved for the 281 Wheatley students who sat for 778 exams for college-level Advanced Placement courses.

Out of 775 exams scored, 567, or 73 percent, had at least a passing grade of 3. Two exam scores were canceled and the district has yet to receive the grade of another from the College Board, which administers the tests.

This passing rate is consistent with district performance over the past few years, and higher than the state average of 62.1 percent and national average of 57.5 percent, Feeney said.

This was also the first year that Wheatley offered AP Seminar, an independent study course in which students analyze and research complex subjects in topics they select.

Students create an in-depth project and presentation over several months, which counts for 60 percent of their final grade, and they take a traditional three-hour exam in May for the other 40 percent. All but two of the 30 students who took the inaugural class received a score of at least 3 for their final score.

“With the exception of AP Seminar, all these other exams — it’s a snapshot in time,” Feeney said. “Kids come in, they take an exam over three hours in May… it’s a snapshot. The pressure’s up … there’s a lot going on. We want that in context.”

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