PLATTSBURGH -- Local school officials, while acknowledging there were still gains to be made, were pleased with English Language Arts test scores released this week for students in grades 3 through 8.

The results stem from No Child Left Behind, which requires that, starting in third grade, students get tested yearly to measure their progress.

This year's scores showed gains across New York state, which especially pleased educators who have been struggling to improve scores of middle-school students.

"We know the middle-school years leading to ninth grade are absolutely critical in getting students ready for high-school work," Regents Chancellor Robert M. Bennett said in a release. "That's why the improvement in the middle grades this year is important."

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills -- who announced Wednesday that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer -- said the increase in scores was a result of school leaders' high expectations for all students, more focus on reading in every class, relying on proven practices and acting quickly to provide extra help to students who need it.

After years of disappointments, middle schools improved their performance in English.

Statewide, 63.4 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded the standards, compared to 61.5 percent a year ago.

For eighth-grade students, 57 percent of students read at or above grade level, resulting in the first glimmer of hope for educators since the state adopted its higher standards in 1999.

Also, fewer students in grades 3 to 8 scored at the lowest levels, and results for students with disabilities improved. And while there is still a decrease in scores after fifth grade, it was not as bad this year.

In Clinton County, 62.9 percent of eighth-graders met the English Language Arts standard; in Franklin County, 55.5 percent; and in Essex County, around 60 percent.

"It appears we had another productive and successful year for English Language Arts learning and ELA instruction for our faculty," said Peru Central School Superintendent A. Paul Scott.

At Peru, 66.9 percent of third-graders scored in levels 3 and 4 on the ELA test administered this past January. Students are scored at levels 1 to 4 and have to at least receive a 3 to have met the standard.

Students in grade 5 at Peru scored in levels 3 and 4 at a rate of 71.3 percent, while that percentage dropped to 62.5 percent for sixth-graders. Around 66 percent of eighth-grade Peru students met the standards.

Scott said more focus has been placed on strengthening student achievement and day-to-day instruction linked with state standards, especially in the middle grades.

"It appears good work has been under way, and I think Middle School scores reflect that good work."

Malone Central School Superintendent Stephen Schafer was also pleased to see gains in his students' English scores.

"Just looking at same-grade comparisons to last year, we have noticed some gains and also some gains in a cohort group, such as the group in third grade last year and scores this year in fourth grade."

He viewed the gains as positive, though he admitted a significant amount of work remains to see all students meeting or exceeding the standards.

"We are pleased that we have seen some gains, but we obviously have some continued work to do."

sbartlett@pressrepublican.com

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