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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 28, 2010

School districts this year don’t have to provide
extra help for students who fall below new cut-off scores

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — While protesters at the capitol objected to the State Education Department’s announcement that schools would have a year’s grace in having to provide help for students who scored below new cut-off points on required tests, the Guilderland School Board last week accepted the news quietly.

“This one-year window is intended to stave off the unanticipated (and not budgeted for) influx of many students in need of intervention services caused by the new cut scores,” Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Demian Singleton told the board.

“They recommended, wisely so,” said Singleton, “that school districts were not prepared to deal with the influx of new students.”

After the state raised the bar for interpreting student test scores, Guilderland saw about a 15-percent drop in the number of students who met or exceeded standards in math or English from grades three through eight from the 2008-09 school year to the 2009-10 scores.

For students who fall between the old cut-off of 650 out of 800 on a test and the new cut scores, which are different with every test, it is up to the school district whether or not it will provide added help, known as “academic intervention services.”

Singleton said at last week’s meeting that the “raising of the bar” was tied to eligibility for Race to the Top funding. New York State learned in August that it would receive $700 million in the federal funds with half of that going to the State Education Department; the other half was distributed according to Title 1 guidelines, which are based on poverty counts and favor big-city schools.

Superintendent Marie Wiles told the board earlier this month that Guilderland will be receiving just $30,762 in Race to the Top funds. This will be spread over four years, which comes out to about $1,000 a school, she said.

Singleton at the Oct. 19 meeting told the board that individual student scores on the tests were not received until Sept. 26 and were printed and mailed to parents as quickly as possible.

He also explained that flexibility is being allowed this year in calculating a school’s “adequate yearly progress,” allowing for “adjusted cut scores” in determining a district’s performance levels.

“Has the state ever explained why so many students did so poorly when they adjusted the scores?” asked school board President Richard Weisz.

“They’ve explained why they’ve done it,” answered Singleton.

Under the leadership of the new education commissioner, David Steiner, cut-off scores for the math and English tests were set according to new proficiency standards, meant to be aligned with college-ready performance.

The state analyzed how its tests related to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam — which the Regents chancellor refers to as “the gold standard in testing” — and also looked at how the eighth-grade math and English exams related to the high school Regents exams, and, finally, how performance on the Regents related to first-year performance in college.

The Regents report shows that 44 percent of first-time students in two-year colleges need remedial coursework, and 13 percent in four-year college need such help.

While performance on New York State tests appeared to show progress in student learning, when compared against the NAEP exam results, there was no progress.

The performance levels have now been renamed to show parents and teachers whether a student is below, meeting, or exceeding the proficiency standard. The new labels describe Level 1 as “below standard,” Level 2 as “meets basic standard,” Level 3 as “meets proficiency standard.” And Level 4 as “exceeds proficiency standard.

In the past, students had to score 650 on their tests to make Level 3. Now the cut-off scores are higher — such as 684 for third-grade math, or 658 for eighth-grade English.

At Guilderland, for the 2008-09 school year, 95 percent of students in grades three through eight scored at or above the Level 3 learning standards on the math test. This compares with just 80 percent, with the new cuts, for the 2009-10 school year.

In English, the change was nearly the same: In 2008-09, there were 90 percent at or above Level 3 compared with 73 percent in 2009-10.

“Have they identified why the scores weren’t higher?” asked Weisz at last week’s meeting, to which Singleton replied, “No.”

Weisz then asked if the state had given districts guidelines on ways to improve.

“Other than AIS, no,” said Singleton, referring to academic intervention services. “They’re looking at significant revisions to the actual structure of the tests.”

“These numbers make absolutely no sense, concluded school board member Colleen O’Connell.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from Superintendent Wiles that both the administrative council and the ad hoc special education committee “had nearly perfect consensus” on a recent consultant’s study, recommending changes for Guilderland’s special education programs.

Wiles outlined four “priority areas”: entrance and exit criteria, organizational structure, professional development, and out-of-district placements. Four different task forces will be formed to address each of these.

“I want the task forces to work with a clean slate…If they like what we have, I’d like to hear it defended,” said Weisz;

— Heard for the second time from Thinh Nguyen who is concerned because his 6-year-old son has to walk a tenth of a mile on a road without sidewalks to and from his school-bus stop. Last year, the bus stopped in front of his house. (For the full story, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Guilderland archives for Oct. 7, 2010.)

Wiles had responded with an Oct. 14 letter to Nguyen, explaining the district moved to more centrally located bus stops in 2006 to reduce transportation costs. She wrote, “It would be impractical, if not impossible, for every driver to have visual contact for every student walking home regardless of where parents choose to locate their home.” She also wrote that the process, involving over 6,000 students and 65 schools, is complex but the district does its best to be fair and consistent in creating bus routes and bus stops.

Weisz advised Nguyen that he could make a formal, written appeal to the board and was welcome to hire an attorney;

— Approved an agreement with Christ the King School in Guilderland that, in the event of an emergency, would allow students from Farnsworth Middle School to be evacuated there;

— Accepted the donation of a violin from Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Buttridge;

— Approved two new high school clubs — the Red Cross Club and the Philosophy Club. There is no cost in the first year as the club advisors work without pay;

— Heard from Singleton that a recital will be held tonight, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium to raise funds to keep the Kawai grand piano. Teachers from every grade level, students, and community members will perform;

— Heard from Singleton that he has met with the teaching staff at Guilderland’s five elementary schools to review plans for using the state-required Response to Intervention process for reading to help struggling students;

— Learned that Farnsworth Middle School received a $250 grant for Kids Care Week from Hasbro’s Children’s Fund and generationOn for a project directed by Alan Fiero; and

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Met in executive session to discuss a “personnel issue.”