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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 25, 2008

GCSD report card
School board members like English scores and like plans to reduce drop-out rate

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — School board members said they were pleased with improved scores in middle-school English and with plans to cut the high-school drop-out rate at Guilderland. And they expressed concerns about inappropriate testing for students with special needs.

Their comments followed last Tuesday’s presentation of the district’s most recent report card, based on results from state tests taken in the 2006-07 school year.

Demian Singleton, the district’s new assistant superintendent for instruction, listed as one of Guilderland’s successes that all state and all federal No Child Left Behind “accountability measures” had been met and each of the district’s seven schools is considered “a school in good standing.”

The inch-thick school report card is available, in printed form, at the district office; data is also available at the state’s website — http://nystart.gov/publicweb.

The presentation did not address, nor did the board discuss, differences in performance along gender, economic, or ethnic lines — all of which are documented in the report. (See related story.)

“The most striking gain clearly is the eighth-grade ELA,” said board member Hy Dubowsky of the English Language Arts test.

Reading instruction has been a contentious issue at Guilderland over the last few years as a parents’ group has pushed for changes in curriculum. Middle-school scores typically dip after elementary school and then come back up in high school.

At Guilderland in 2005-06, just 67 percent of eighth-graders had scored at or above the proficiency level. In 2006-07 and again in 2007-08, that percentage was up to 79.

Singleton credited Mary Helen Collen, the district’s data coordinator, with “bringing data to the table for teachers to be able to understand it.” In addition, he said, No Child Left Behind teams are active in the middle school, bringing in reading teachers and engaging special-education teachers.

“It’s really about timely data analysis and being available to influence instruction,” said Singleton.

“Reading has always been a tough nut to crack,” said Dubowsky who last year had requested that the data be analyzed to “tease out the variables.”

Tests for middle- and elementary-school students are graded at four performance levels. Students at the top level, 4, exceeded standards; students at the next level, 3, met standards; students at Level 2 need extra help; and students at Level 1 are deemed to have “serious academic deficiencies.” Proficiency is defined as scoring at levels 3 or 4.

At the high school, where students take statewide Regents exams, proficiency is defined as getting a 65 or higher on the exam; students are considered advanced if they score 85 or higher.

Board President Richard Weisz said he was “struck by the lack of correlation between performance in elementary school” and the high proficiency on high-school Regents exams. “Why do we struggle to get out of the high 80s in English at the elementary level awhile we’re in the high 90s at the high school?” he asked of the percentages.

Collen answered that the English test given at the elementary schools is a “small exam,” and there is just a difference of two raw-score points between levels 3 and 4. The test design is being reviewed, she said.

Singleton also said that the state is going through a standards review and that the ELA standards are difficult to understand. The math standards, he said, are much more clear, making it easier to align curriculum with them.

Weisz also asked, “What are we doing to make the 3s [into] 4s?”

“It’s always a challenge to make these exams meaningful to students,” said Singleton. He said the expanded enrichment program at the middle school may help and enrichment programs may be expanded at the elementary level as well.

Weisz said that the federal No Child Left Behind Act is about making 1s and 2s into 3s. “Education is about making all 4s,” he said. “I don’t want to get complacent.”

The federal act requires states to develop and report on measures of student proficiency in English and math and requires a third indicator. In New York, the indicator for 2006-07 was science at the elementary and middle levels and graduation rate at the secondary level.

Special education

Board member Denise Eisele asked about the State Education Department’s views on evaluating students with significant special needs. One of her children went through an alternative assessment, which she termed “silly,” saying it didn’t assess him at all.

Superintendent John McGuire said that, while he favors ambitious goals, he is concerned “when we set the high bar, we make it meaningful.” He agreed with Eisele, saying, many students might be forced to take assessments that are “perhaps demeaning and demoralizing.” Quality schools across the state and country, he said, could end up on a list of unqualified schools.

“All students are on a trajectory to be proficient by 2014,” said Collen.

“It’s going to look very weird when the Scarsdales and Guilderlands start showing up on failing-schools lists,” said McGuire.

Two of the eight challenges that Singleton listed at the end of his report involved students with disabilities. For 2006-07, at Guilderland, 12.46 percent of its students were classified as having disabilities, which is a similar percentage to public schools statewide.

Guilderland spent on average $7,543 annually on each general-education student, and $18,979 on each special-education student. This compares to $10,518 and $26,797 for schools deemed by the state to be similar to Guilderland, based on rates of student poverty and on income of district residents. Statewide, general-education students cost $9,168 annually and special-education students cost $22,354.

One of Guilderland’s goals, Singleton said, is to continue to support students with disabilities to ensure that they sustain “adequate yearly progress.” Another is to “maximize the use of student achievement data for early diagnosis of learning needs and timely prescription of services.”

Graduation rate

Another challenge is to “improve status on graduation rate accountability measures.”

Singleton called Guilderland’s drop-out rate “a concern.” Guilderland had 45 “non-completers” in 2006-07 — which was 2 percent of the class — more than double the year before. Thirty-six of them were general-education students and nine of them were students with disabilities.

The No Child Left Behind team is looking at who they are and what caused them to drop out, tracing their history back to kindergarten “to see where to begin to address the needs of these students,” said Singleton.

Guilderland may bring an in-house GED (general equivalency diploma) program to the high school so students can become “completers” if not graduates, Singleton said.

Board Vice President John Dornbush called the in-house GED program “a terrific idea.”

Singleton went over the Class of 2007 graduation information. He reported that Regents examinations at both the passing and advanced levels showed strong results.

Of the 415 students who graduated 95 percent received a Regents diploma and 71 percent received a Regents diploma with advanced designation. New York State does not count as graduates students with an IEP (individualized education program), set up for those with special needs, or students who earn a local rather than a Regents diploma, which involves passing specified Regents exams.

Of the 42 students with disabilities in the Class of 2007, twenty got Regents diplomas, five got Regents diplomas with advanced designation, 13 received local diplomas, and nine received IEP diplomas.

Seventy-one percent of the Class of 2007 planned to attend a four-year college, 24 percent planned to go to a two-year college, 2 percent went to work, 1 percent went into military service, 1 percent had adult services, and 1 percent had unknown plans.

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