Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 12 August 2011 00:00
By district standards, the agenda at the Monday, Aug. 8, Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Meeting was fairly light, but the recently received results of the New York State Grades 3-8 Assessment gave the board plenty of weighty material to discuss. While board members debated the merit of the additions made to the tests in the past year, bigger questions about the value of testing as an educational tool in general may have been lurking in the background.
The meeting began with a moment of silence for the Navy SEALS recently lost in Afghanistan. Board President Gary Bettan then announced that there will be three workshop-format board meetings coming up on the following topics: Academic Standards on Oct. 17, School Climate on Dec. 5, and Financial Issues on Jan. 23. There will be no public participation at these workshops, but residents are encouraged to provide feedback during public participation at the following board meeting in each case.
Jumping into the NYS Grades 3-8 Assessment, Superintendent Gerard Dempsey revealed that while the district had only received the test results in the last few days and the data was still being analyzed, it appeared that the students had done better in math than they had in ELA (English Language Arts).
“While our proficiency scores–the combination of threes and fours–are approximately the same as they were last year, the Level 4 performance scores are not as good, and we’re disappointed by that,” said Dempsey.
Dempsey also noted that the length, complexity, and number of required written responses had been extended, especially for the younger students, on the ELA tests. “Consistently, what we find is that we’re chasing a moving target,” he said.
Assistant Superintendent Jill Gierasch gave the proficiency percentages for each grade in math and ELA. While the results were similar to last year’s overall, there were some changes, such as a dip from 85 percent proficiency in ELA last year in grade four to 79.4 percent this year; conversely, there were some positive jumps too, like math proficiency in grade 8 improving from 87 percent last year to 94 percent. Most changes in both directions were not as dramatic, however.
Gierasch further explained the changes made to the ELA tests this year. For example, in Grade 3, in 2010 the test took 75 minutes; in 2011, it took 150 minutes, doubling in length. Gierasch stated that these changes were supposedly made by the state for the sake of improving students’ college readiness, but Bettan was skeptical.
“How does a third-grader sitting through, you know, an hour-an-a-half of tests two days in a row make them any more prepared for anything other than just being frustrated with school in general?” said Bettan.
Gierasch responded that according to the state, results at this level indicate how students will perform academically later on. “And to be honest with you Gary, it is a marathon, but there is a correlation,” continued Gierasch.
The assistant superintendent further noted that Level 4 proficiency scores had actually dropped in certain grades throughout New York State, which the state claims is due to the fact that before 2011, the tests had too few items that measured the level cut score; now, the state claims that the test is “more accurate.” Furthermore, in contrast to past years, tests were sealed after grading and cannot be used as a part of next year’s test preparation, said Gierasch.
Board member Emily Schulman asked if the need for AIS (academic intervention services) for some students who scored below proficiency on the ELA would have an effect on scheduling; Gierasch and Dempsey both stated that while they still had to look at the data, they did not expect the impact on scheduling due to the need for AIS to be as significant as it was last year.
The state assessments were also relevant to the discussion of APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review), the next item on the agenda. Dempsey stated that he was concerned that the district had just received their assessment results so late–even later than last year–as that data will be used to evaluate teacher and principal performance starting next year. For that data to be available before the end of the academic year for APPR purposes going forward, the test may need to be given earlier, but there is no word from the state yet as to when the tests will be given next year, the superintendent said.
Nevertheless, central office administrators will take part in state-administered training on Aug. 30 and 31, Dempsey explained, and an APPR plan will be posted on the website in mid-September. The plan will be posted as a work in progress, as some aspects of the plan must be negotiated and cannot be printed or shared until afterwards. In general, 20 percent of teacher and principal performance is going to be determined by state testing, 20 percent by local testing, and 60 percent on observation/feedback/etc. Dempsey noted that while the subject may not come up much at the school board level, “At the administration and teacher level, this is going to be a major topic for the next school year.”
The other item on Dempsey’s agenda was to announce that the results of the much-discussed school climate survey had come in. Principals have received the initial, 140-page building-level reports, but a districtwide report is still pending. The superintendent noted that in many areas, such as physical safety, students, staff and parents mainly rated the district neutral or positive, but in some areas, such as “social-emotional safety” the district had received some negative ratings.
There was some discussion as to how the information could best be shared with the community; some board members advocated making PowerPoint presentations available online for stakeholders to consult, while others thought the information would be better shared at PTA meetings. Nevertheless, more detailed survey results will be presented at another board of education meeting in the fall.
Dempsey then turned the meeting over to Assistant Superintendent Ryan Ruf and Facilities, Building and Grounds Director Kim Parahus, who had an unusual and welcome topic to discuss: how to spend some extra money. Ruf explained that over time, $400,000 dollars had accumulated in the district’s Child Care Fund, and the district was now looking to spend some of those funds on new equipment for the children–specifically, playground equipment.
“Most of our playground equipment is at its life expectancy, which is anywhere from 10-20 years on each piece of equipment,” said Parahus. Stratford Road Elementary School has the oldest playground equipment and will likely receive the most replacements, while all the elementary schools may receive new, safer swingsets, said Parahus. In addition, items that were initially included in the 2011-2012 budget but pulled out due to lack of funds like art desks and stools for Mattlin Middle School, new cafeteria tables for several buildings, and more lightweight folding chairs for the entire district, may be purchased out of the Child Care Fund. Parahus also noted that using the funds to do some electrical upgrades was a possibility. Finally, Ruf responded to a question by board member Angel Cepeda that these expenses Parahus had mentioned would not use all of the $400,000 sum.
Board member Debbie Bernstein discussed the possibility of using the surplus in the district’s child care program as an opportunity to lower the cost of the program for the sake of district residents; Ruf responded that while he wouldn’t recommend lowering the cost of the program for the upcoming year, Bernstein’s idea was a possibility for the future. Other board members chimed in that they agreed with Bernstein’s idea.
In Public Participation, Stefanie Nelkens asked when parents would find out their children’s assessment scores, to which Gierasch responded mid-September. Nelkens also asked if there were any plans to prepare children for the writing section of the ELA in particular, for children who had a writing deficiency without necessarily needing help with reading, and the assistant superintendent answered that there are writing groups within the schools; eligibility for said groups is determined at the building level.
Chris D’Alessandro broached the subject of letting students take the English Regents exam in January, something discussed intermittently at board meetings throughout the last year. D’Alessandro advocated letting both special education and A.P. students take the test early. “I’m hoping that we’re going to be proactive and maybe consider that for the curriculum this year- I think it’s great for both the A.P. students and the special ed students,” she said.
Gierasch responded that students would have the option to take the Regents exam in January if it were available (whether or not the state will administer the test in January is currently up in the air), but could not yet say whether or not students would be prepared for taking it early as they had been in years past.
Finally, in new business, the board voted to establish the tax levy for the 2011-2012 school year, a figure of $119,534,324. They also voted to increase the price of student lunches by 15 cents throughout the district.
The next board of education meeting will be held Monday, Sept. 12 at Mattlin Middle School.