Most of the Diocese of Rochester’s 18 Catholic schools are outperforming public schools in their respective geographic locations, according to the results of recent New York state assessments. The number of students proficient in English language arts and math at diocesan schools, as measured by the assessments, has increased each year since 2015 and consistently has been significantly higher than state averages.
The state assessments measure the percentage of students in grades 3 through 8 who achieve proficiency in math or English language arts in a given school or district. In 2018, 16 of the diocese’s 18 schools had higher percentages of students proficient in English language arts than did their respective public-school districts, while 15 of the Catholic schools had higher percentages of students proficient in math than did their public-school counterparts.
Several individual schools had especially notable results, including St. Agnes School in Avon, where 85 percent of the school’s students in the assessed grade levels were proficient in English language arts, and 79 percent of students assessed were proficient in math. Seventy-nine percent of the students assessed at St. Michael School in Penn Yan and 76 percent of those assessed at St. Joseph School in Penfield were proficient in English language arts, while 81 percent of the students assessed at St. Louis School in Pittsford and 77 percent of those assessed at St. Pius Tenth School in Chili have achieved proficiency in math.
Diocesan officials are pleased with these latest results, according to Anthony Cook, superintendent of diocesan schools.
“The academic excellence and growth of our Catholic schools is exciting for our students and staff,” he told the Catholic Courier Nov. 26. “Throughout the last couple of years, our teachers and principals have worked diligently to place our Catholic schools on a path of continuous improvement. The continuous growth of our schools’ performance on the New York state assessments, year over year, are a reflection of our hardworking students and families, caring and dedicated school staff, welcoming school communities, and integrated faith and service-based learning.”
The efforts and caliber of Catholic-school teachers are key contributors to local students’ success, agreed Elizabeth Jensen, principal at St. Agnes.
“I can’t say enough about what I see taking place in my classrooms and the high-quality education that’s being provided to my students,” she remarked Nov. 20.
All the teachers in St. Agnes School know what areas they need to cover in order for students to meet state standards, Jensen said, yet they don’t “teach these standards blindly” or assume that every child will learn the material in the same way. Teachers take the time to determine the best way to teach each child in their classrooms with the resources available at their fingertips, she added.
“They cover it all, but their pacing is based on, ‘Do all my students know this material?’” Jensen explained.
In order to properly pace their instruction, teachers have to be able to really get to know the students, which is facilitated by the small class sizes at many Catholic schools, she added.
At St. Agnes, for example, teachers work at the beginning of the year to understand where students’ are in their learning process, and meet those students where they are while still setting high expectations for them, Jensen said.
St. Agnes’ teachers are knowledgeable about various teaching strategies they can use to ensure all their students learn the necessary material, according to Christine DeVito, who said she recently witnessed the use of such strategies in her son’s fourth-grade class.
“The whole class didn’t really seem to be understanding the (math) lesson, so (the teacher) took a small area rug in her room and she marked it out into a box with tape and then had them use their bodies to demonstrate the principles they were trying to get, rather than using pencil and paper,” she told the Catholic Courier on Nov. 20.
Jensen said Catholic-school teachers in the Diocese of Rochester also benefit from a supportive diocesan schools office, which encourages them to get to know their students in order to meet their individual educational needs. She added that she encourages her teachers to take the time to identify her students’ individual needs and tailor instruction accordingly. She also encourages them to think of state assessments as a gift.
“It’s just a way to inform you of what your students need,” she said. “The teachers aren’t getting these scores and feeling like their jobs are on the line.”
“While the Catholic faith development of our students remains at the forefront, strong assessment results indicate the success of teaching the whole student, spiritually, emotionally, socially and academically,” he said.
DeVito said she’s witnessed the positive effects of this philosophy at St. Agnes.
“The teachers support the kids so well, both emotionally and academically and spiritually in all areas of growth that I guess it’s easy to see that kids feel successful with their academics as well,” she said.