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MASSENA - Two schools that had been designated by the state Education Department as Schools In Need of Improvement have had that tag lifted.

Massena Central and St. Lawrence Central schools were notified last week that they were now designated “In Good Standing” for the 2012-13 school year.

“It was excellent news. This announcement is long overdue,” Massena Central School Superintendent Roger B. Clough II said.

“It recognizes what we have known all along, that our students have steadily improved on the math and English language arts exams,” he said. “Under the old system, a small subgroup of our students could fail to make sufficient progress and an entire building could be labeled as needing improvement.”

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, J.W. Leary Junior High School had been designated as a School In Need of Improvement for English language arts in 2010-11 after a subgroup of 47 students with disabilities out of a total enrollment of 463 students did not make “adequate yearly progress.”

New York state officials successfully applied for a waiver from the specific provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, which meant a change in the designation for some schools that were on the Schools In Need of Improvement list.

Prior to the waver, SED officials had set a standard that all students be proficient on English language arts and math assessments by 2014. The waiver provides new timelines for schools and districts to demonstrate that they are increasing the percentage of students who are on track to college and career readiness while closing achievement gaps among student groups.

“The state applied for a waiver with the federal government. They’re looking at the information slightly differently. They changed the way they’re looking at the data,” St. Lawrence Central School Superintendent Stephen M. Putman said.

The new state goal is between 2010-11 and 2016-17 districts will reduce by half for each accountability group the percentage of students who are not proficient or on track in terms of college and career readiness based on their performance on the ELA and math assessments.

At the same time, Mr. Clough said, “teachers did a lot of professional development, focused on ELA strategies and did a different curriculum.”

In addition, they offered after-school tutoring for students who needed the improvement.

“The teachers worked very hard to get us off the list,” he said.

Now, Mr. Clough said, is the new designation means that Massena now meets the state’s newly adopted standards as a district currently satisfying requirements for student achievement on state exams.

“Basically, this means that the state looked at the measures and acknowledged that they were unreasonable. It was wrong to give an entire school a bad score when it was such a small and very specific group of students who struggled. We understood, but many people in the community did not. They somehow thought that our junior high school was failing our students, and that wasn’t the case,” he said.

At St. Lawrence Central School, Mr. Putman said they were also notified that they were no longer a School In Need of Improvement.

“We have been removed from the list of Schools In Need of Improvement. All three of our buildings are in good standing,” he said.

The school was identified in November as a School In Need of Improvement for special education students’ performance in English language arts.

St. Lawrence Central was among many of the local schools that had at least 30 special education students in the same grade whose performance landed the them on the list.

“We were on because of a subgroup of 31 kids in grades five through eight. You had to have at least 30 to get on the list,” Mr. Putman said.

Now, he said, “We made the grade. We are off the list.”

The change in designation means the districts will now have greater flexibility in how they use their resources. Instead of spending money and assigning teachers to run mandatory extra help programs, the districts can now target their teaching on areas proven to improve student performance, according to Mr. Clough.

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