ITHACA, N.Y.—Two Ithaca City School District (ICSD) elementary schools lost their “good standing” status with the New York State Department of Education last year. 

The district’s Board of Education unanimously approved improvement plans for Enfield and Beverly J. Martin Elementary schools at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Public elementary schools can lose their good standing if test scores, attendance or overall academic progress fall below a certain percentile compared to other schools statewide. Schools can also be downgraded if a particular demographic subset of their student body appears to be disproportionately affected by those deficiencies, even if its student body on average appears to meet state metrics. 

This is the first year that any ICSD schools have lost their “good standing” status since New York State adopted the current method of assessing school performance in 2017.

School leaders said pandemic-era learning loss is at least partially to blame for the decline. Numerous studies show COVID-19 related learning disruptions have had a lasting and disproportionate effect on marginalized students.

On average, fewer than 10 percent of students at Enfield had proficiency in core subjects like math, English and language arts, state data shows. Sixty-two percent of students were considered “chronically absent” during the 2021-2022 school year—meaning they missed at least 10 percent of all school days—nearly double the district-wide rate that year.

At Beverly J. Martin Elementary, Black and African American students had disproportionately lower proficiency scores compared to their peers. They were also much more likely to have missed more than 10 percent of the school year.

“As we’re looking at the specific subgroup [of Black students], zero percent were proficient in math,” Beverly J. Martin principal Jacqueline Richardson told board members. 

In comparison, 47 percent of tested elementary school students district-wide were proficient in math last year. Just over a quarter of Beverly J. Martin’s total student body met the same benchmark. At Enfield, only five percent met math proficiency standards.

But the data that the state uses to determine a school’s standing can be easily skewed in smaller schools like Beverly J. Martin and Enfield, where the sample size for minority group students can be in the single digits, analysis shows.

The zero percent figure referenced by Richardson is based on test scores for only 10 Black fourth-grade students. Last year, there were not enough Black students tested in any other grade level at BJM to meet the minimum sample size.

Both elementary schools will receive supplemental funding from New York State to address deficiencies this year. The improvement plans serve as a blueprint on how school leaders will spend that money.

Enfield will receive $200,000 in supplemental state funding under New York State’s Title I 1003 School Improvement Grant. Beverly J. Martin Elementary will receive a grant of $50,000 because only a subset of its students fell below state metrics.

Both principals said that their schools will use the funding to extend face-to-face instruction time. 

“We’re looking at bringing in STEAM or STEM labs and having opportunities for students to engage in science, technology, engineering, art and math as an extension [of the school day],” Richardson said. 

Richardson said that another one of the school’s priorities is to improve engagement among Black and African American students and their families.

Enfield Elementary principal Keith Harrington said they planned to offer more tutoring hours, but said opportunities for extended day programs might be more limited at the rural school. Since most students live too far away to walk home, extra programming needs to take place during either lunch or recess to avoid disrupting after-school bus routes.

“We’re also thinking about how much stamina elementary school students have as far as extending the day,” Harrington said. “We’ve shifted our extended day program to incorporate both the engaging pieces like the knitting club and the music club but also incorporate tutoring in that time as well.”

Harrington told board members his school had been working to address some issues even before the state formally designated Enfield as a target for its “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” program.

“We’re obviously not happy about the designation,” Harrington told board members, “But we’re actually very happy about the new resources available to us.”

You can view school improvement plans for both Beverly J. Martin Elementary and Enfield Elementary below or via the ICSD Board of Education’s website. To see how other schools stack up, explore state education data online here.

Megan Zerez is a general assignment reporter at the Ithaca Voice. Reach her via email or social media @meganzerez