CONCOURSE VILLAGE — When Concourse Village Elementary School Principal Alexa Sorden found out that almost all of her students had passed this year's state math and English Language Arts exams, she saw it as a sign that what she tells them is true.
"It showed what I believe in: that your zip code does not determine your outcome," she said, "and that’s one of the things that I tell my kids."
The school, which is located in the South Bronx at 750 Concourse Village West in District 7, had 98.8 percent of its students pass this year's state math exam, up from 83.7 percent last year, and 93.8 percent of them pass the ELA exam, up from 59.2 percent last year, according to the Department of Education.
This was more than 50 points higher than the citywide results, where 38 percent of students passed the ELA exam and 36.4 percent passed the math exam.
"I knew this year was going to be higher," Sorden said, "because I’ve been with them a year longer."
Sorden is the founding principal at Concourse Village Elementary, and she is about to start her fourth year leading the school.
She said she placed a strong emphasis on creating a positive culture from her first day at the school through steps ranging from establishing a clear noise level system for how loud students can be to creating a uniform layout in each classroom to help provide students with a sense of stability.
Sorden maintains that steps like these played a big role in helping the school's test scores reach almost perfect levels.
"All the focus is on learning. We don’t have any behavior issues," she said. "That’s why I invested so much time in culture and so much time in what classrooms looked like. I needed them to feel proud."
She also tries to keep major parts of the school's curriculum consistent from year to year, such as the procedures it uses to solve math problems and make annotations, to help prevent both students and teachers from having to relearn new methods each time they come back to school.
Sorden was thrilled with the state's decision to remove time limits from the tests, which she said helped make her students much more relaxed when taking them than they had been when there were strict time limits.
"When you're like '70 minutes, 70 minutes,' I had kids vomiting. I had kids crying," she said. "I had kids, they were just falling apart."
Despite the school's high test scores, Sorden is already working on getting them even higher for next year and is particularly focused on improving her students' ability to answer questions through their writing, which she plans to tackle by assigning them four information reports in science that she described as "very targeted on answering the question and sticking to the task."
The third graders next year will be the first group of students to take the state tests who have been with Sorden since the beginning, so she is very optimistic about the school's ability to do even better than it did this year.
"This third grade coming up now, that's my kindergarten when we opened. They’re very strong," she said. "Their mission is to get us to number one."