Aquebogue students on the last day of school in 2015. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Almost every Riverhead public school has been identified as a “focus school” this coming school year due to low academic performance on state tests by certain groups of students last year.

Aquebogue Elementary School is the only school in the district where students in those sub-groups met academic expectations with their test scores, putting it in “good standing” with New York State.

Now, students at Roanoke Avenue and Phillips Avenue are being offered the choice to attend Aquebogue Elementary School for the coming school year, since it is the only elementary school that is not a focus school and that does not receive Title I funding.

Though Riley Avenue Elementary School was also designated a focus school, Ril students will not have the option to transfer to Aquebogue because Riley is not a “Title I school” – a school which receives Title I funding due to a high population of economically disadvantaged students, like Phillips and Roanoke.

Click to enlarge.

SWD = Students with disabilities. LEP = Limited English proficiency. ED = Economically disadvantaged.

The school district has only received a “handful of requests” to transfer since last week, when letters were sent out to parents notifying them of their option to transfer, according to schools superintendent Nancy Carney.

The option for students in a focus school to transfer to a school in good standing is legally required by the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The law requires districts to notify parents no later than 14 days before the start of the school year of their option to transfer from a focus school.

Riverhead notified parents of Roanoke and Phillips elementary students of their option to transfer in letters sent out last week, exactly two weeks before the start of school on September 2.

Parents must submit their transfer request in writing to the superintendent’s office by this Friday, August 26, roughly a week after the letters were sent out notifying parents of their option to transfer.

Schools are identified as focus schools when they report low academic performance on the state’s English Language Arts and math tests for certain sub-groups of students, including students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and students with limited English proficiency.

Riverhead Central School District was identified this year as a “focus district,” because for the first time it had schools within the district that did not meet academic performance expectations for one or more of these sub-groups of students.

Although four schools last year were put on a local assistance plan by the state due to their test scores, no Riverhead schools had previously been labeled “focus schools” by the state education department.

Some parents are frustrated with what they feel is a lack of transparency by the district to communicate this information to parents in a timely manner.

“Telling parents about this essentially the week before school’s going to start is poor planning,” said Cynthia Redmond, a parent at Aquebogue Elementary School. “Had we known a little earlier, we could have lobbied to our representatives. It’s ridiculous.”

Aquebogue parents received no notification from the district about the focus schools designation and the transfers that will results from it, she added.

Redmond believes the results from the state tests used to designate focus schools are skewed due to the number of parents who chose to opt their children out of the tests last year, particularly in Aquebogue.

“My son is one of seven children in his classroom who took the tests last year,” Redmond said. “It’s not even a real assessment of how a school is doing.”

Record numbers of students across Long Island chose to opt out of the state assessments this year as part of a national “Opt-Out” movement, driven largely by parents’ belief that the tests are not developmentally appropriate and therefore are not an accurate assessment of either the student or the school.

Redmond added that a large influx of new students at Aquebogue would hurt both the students that are already there and the students coming in, due to overcrowded classrooms and strained resources.

“This isn’t about Aquebogue versus Roanoke or Phillips or anybody else,” she said. “We’re all one district, and every kid in this school district deserves the best education. The teachers and administrators at Roanoke and Phillips are just as good as the teachers at Aquebogue.

“This isn’t being driven by the quality of the teachers or the quality of the schools,” Redmond said. “This is being driven by test results that aren’t a real assessment of how a school is actually performing.”

Redmond said she and other parents plan to attend tonight’s board of education meeting at Riverhead High School to make their voices heard on this issue.

Students who transfer to Aquebogue will be permitted to remain there through fourth grade, as per New York State law. The school district will continue transporting those students unless Roanoke or Phillips has their focus school designation removed, at which point the parent or family would be obligated to transport the student.

Should Aquebogue be designated a focus school in coming years, it would no longer be available as a transfer option for students at other focus schools, but students who transferred to Aquebogue in a prior year would be allowed to remain there through fourth grade, according to the law.

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Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a co-publisher of RiverheadLOCAL. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie