Education Committee Meeting – October 28, 2013

At the last Regular Board Meeting, Dr Newcome (and others) made a big deal of inviting all stakeholders to attend this Education Committee Meeting. The intent was to go deeper into Pennsylvania School Performance Profile scores, what they think the scores mean, and what others think the scores mean.

With as big a deal as this particular Education Committee Meeting was, it is extremely interesting that no other candidates for Octorara Area School Director were in attendance. Octorara is switching gears, becoming a Learning Focus School. It is a major change to the School District, but not one candidate (other than myself) could make time for this meeting. Does that make any sense?

Achievement vs Growth 

The big discussion this evening was explaining the new performance indicator… Growth. Under Adequate Yearly Progress, the state measured ability (maybe not the best word). Students where then listed as performing at Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and Below Basic levels. The goal was to get students testing at Proficient or above.

Now, with School Performance Profile, schools will also be scored on Growth. One thing to note is Growth does not necessarily mean a Basic student has moved to Proficient. The student could, but not necessarily.

The best way to explain this is take two 5th Grade students who start the year reading at a 3rd Grade level. If one student moves from a 3rd Grade level to a 5th Grade level, and the other student moves from a 3rd Grade level to a 4th Grade level, both have shown Growth. However, while one is now at Grade-level, the other is still behind. Does that make sense?

Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System

The Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAA) is a way for school districts to drill down into performance data. Elena Wilson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, provided examples of how this system works, using charts created from data of Economically Disadvantaged Students.

The specific examples Wilson used showed that in many cases, Growth was seen in Economically Disadvantaged Students who were performing Basic and Below Basic, but that there was negative growth with those in this subgroup performing Proficient or Advanced. Remember, these Growth indicators do not mean that Proficient or Advanced students are going backwards, or that Basic and Below Basic are ever going to be Proficient or Advanced. It is just a measure of Growth… in any given year, was there a full year of learning?

The PVAA data can look at indicators District-wide, by school, by Class (exp. the Class of 2023), and down to the individual student level. There is such confidence the data can target issues, the State will begin using it in the State Teacher’s Evaluations.

Drawing the Wrong Conclusions

Dr Newcome rightly explained, to those in attendance, that the PVAA provides so much information, that it could be easily used to prove whatever point an individual wants to make. I agree.

The only scores that anyone should be looking at, to make overall evaluations about the schools, are the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile scores, and the scored areas that make it up.

The drilled down data is for finding trends to focus on… trends within a Class, subgroups, teachers, and individual students.These slices do go into making the SPP scores, but can easily be distorted. If one slice is doing particularly well, or terribly poor, in a particular area, that slice may not represent to true picture.

Shifting Standards of Comparison

One of the most frustrating aspects of trying to discuss Return on Investment, for taxpayers, is the shifting standard by which the District would like to be compared. There are times when the District wants to be compared to only Chester County schools. Sometimes they want Lancaster County schools included in the caparisons. Other times, the District wants to only be compared to adjacent Districts.

The District is now making comparisons based on schools that “most look like Octorara.” They define this as any District, from anywhere in Pennsylvania, with a similar percentage of Economically Disadvantaged Students. However, I don’t know how well this would work. What of a District with a similar number of Economically Disadvantaged, but has a greater percentage of Economically Disadvantaged with IEPs? …or has a greater percentage of Economically Disadvantaged with English as their Second Language? It just becomes a mess.


I can say with certainty the District, all Districts, should have enough information to pinpoint their particular issues. Success will be on how they use this information to adjust school culture, academic rigor, academic support, teacher preparedness and learning. Octorara is betting on Learning Focus to make the difference.

Elena Wilson wanted to stress, when asked about teaching to tests, the goal is to increase performance to make the tests irrelevant. When she asked about if and when the State again changes their assessment systems, she again pointed out the goal is to increase performance to make the assessment systems irrelevant.

As I wrote just a few weeks again, only marginal schools are having the conversations Octorara is having. Those schools that actually do provide an excellent education did well under AYP, and they are scoring well under SPP. Those barely treading water under AYP, are now barely treading water under SPP.


17 thoughts on “Education Committee Meeting – October 28, 2013

  1. In fairness to David Jones, he was at the finance and policy meeting last Monday. Along with Nelson, they were the only candidates at that meeting. In fact, David Jones was able to provide valuable answers to important questions regarding the requirements of Obamacare. At last evenings education meeting Alexander offered no questions, despite being asked directly if he had any. Another resident who was present was engaged , asked questions and particapated in the process. Instead ,Alexander went home and then asked difficult questions of the format and process, offering up critique from the safety of his home. He had every key person confined in the room and said nothing. Being in the arena requires the courage to ask difficult questions of those with the knowledge. I ask, is this what type of board member Alexander may be?

    • In all fairness Mr Norris… you, Dr Newcome, Ms Bowman, and several others have made comments that indicate you believe the value an individual’s opinion is proportionate to how many Board Meeting they come to. With that standard, Jones seems to fall a bit short. Wouldn’t you agree?

      You like to point out that I have only been coming to Board Meetings regularly since the beginning of the year. Interesting fact is, in what you consider a short time, my attendance record has been better than some actual board members.

      However, even attending Board Meetings and educating one’s self is not enough in your eyes. If a person is a regular attendee to board meetings, and you don’t like their opinion, it then becomes how many committee meetings they attend… and then how active they are in the PTO, how many games they attend, or school concerts they see, or whatever…

      If a person shares your point of view, they don’t have to do much for you to value their opinions. If they disagree with you, there is never enough they can do to prove their opinions have merit.

      My only “question of the format and process” from last night’s meeting, is an ongoing question and concern… the ever shifting standard of comparison. It is not new. I spoke to that fact during the last budget process.

      Elena Wilson’s presentation last night was as complete and thorough as anyone could expect. I have no harsh criticism of it. I’ve educated myself about much of the information covered last night. So, there was little for me to question. It tended to be objective and fact based, something I appreciate.

      However, there is a question about why other candidates did not attend. Especially, when the Board, ad nauseam, made a big deal about how important it was to understanding how the District was planning to tackle the issue of performance… arguably the biggest issue facing the District. This is suppose to be a New Era and a revolution for education at Octorara.

      Your comments here only serve to reaffirm the belief of those thinking David Jones’ last minute candidacy is a circling of the wagons, and he is hand picked by the Administration and Board Leadership, to avoid questions of accountability.

      For that… I thank you for the confirmation.

      David Jones has provided no platform or vision to voters, and he has feigned hurt feelings when pressed for his motivation in deciding to run so late in the game. I can certainly see why the Vice-President of the Octorara Area School Board endorses David Jones, and hopefully enough voters see it as well.

  2. I have never attended any committee meetings. But in the past year I have attended four, maybe five, general board meetings. Can’t recall seeing David Jones at any of them.
    On the subject of performance metrics, can we all agree that the goalposts keep shifting and that the whole system is a mess?
    Side note to Mr. Norris: I truly do not understand your implication that Alexander lacks the guts to speak out. Hello! He has been doing just that for nearly a year, and in forums far more public than board meetings

  3. I personally sat through a meeting where Brian Norris pushed to spend, spend, spend like he had an open checkbook with the tax payers name on it. Lisa agreed with him, but the other board members didn’t think it was a good idea, especially Mr. Lapp. He tried to reason with Brian by saying the people are taxed enough and it wasn’t a good idea to raise taxes and spend money on toys that we don’t need. Brian could care less, and his attitude towards Tim is disturbing and immature.

  4. As I stated somewhere else in your cyber spaces Tim, I chose to attend the Finance Meeting this month. You chose to attend the education meeting. We both made a choice and neither of us attended both. So get over it, please. I chose to run for school board because I believe you are not the right person for the job. The closer we got to the election and the more I talked with voters in our district, the more important I thought it was to offer another choice. Your means of communication is over the faceless internet. This isn’t dialogue and it’s not productive. It helps to vent anger and displace it on others, but I fail to see how any of it moves the district forward one inch! You have caused so much dissension in such a short period of time, putting you on the board will accomplish nothing. You’ll have to spend all of your time, like now, talking AT people and not TO them because they don’t trust you and they don’t respect you. Those are very ineffective communication tools. The issue of who attended what, when and where is a smoke screen. I assume if you didn’t attend the finance committee you had a reason and I’ll leave it at that. You have weighed in on issues that happened in the borough 7 years ago when I was on council, but you weren’t at any of the meetings I attended or ran. None of your other followers were either, yet you all have an opinion in retrospect. Isn’t that interesting. But, if I don’t attend one meeting you think I should have attended, somehow I’m not fit for the board now? Oh please. At this point, you have your followers Tim. I’m not going to get ANY of them to change and write in my name no matter what I say. I would suspect (hope) the same is true for anyone inclined to vote for me and Nelson, whom I also support. Trying to demonize me or distort my record is a waste of time. The voters will speak on Tuesday and we’ll see who the majority favors. If that’s you, so be it. The voters will have spoken. If it is me, David Jones, Write-in candidate for Region 3 of the Octorara School District, then that’s fine too. BTW Chuck, Bon Appetite:)

    • Dave,

      I am kinda shocked that you are taken aback by the visceral reaction of some citizens. Politics is, for many, an inherently moral subject that has to do with the duties and obligations of those in power over the people.

      You are seen by many as a local political insider, stepping up at the request of other local political insiders… and it doesn’t help the image that Mr Stoltzfus and Mr Norris both publicly support and endorse your candidacy. Your announcement, not even a month before the election, was guaranteed to cause anger in some people. You don’t have to agree with them, but there should be a bit more empathy.

      You are running a negative campaign, in which all you ask voters to do is vote against the big meany Tim Alexander. You are not asking them to vote for anything. You have presented no vision or platform, only a promise to get along and play nice with the Administration and other Board members.

      Now, you are upset that people remember you were on Parkesburg Borough Council, and don’t want to be held accountable for choices you made while in office… just as some members of the School Board also do not want to be held accountable for decisions they made.

      Debt and labor costs are the responsibility of the Board. The high taxes are the responsibility of the Board. Providing a sense of accountability is the responsibility of the Board.

      Your campaign is focused on only protecting the status quo. If that is what people want, that is what they will get voting for you… a school district with the highest property taxes, high per-student costs, high labor costs, and high debt.

      • Tim, for someone like you to preach to me about morals has finally added a little laughter to your comments. There are people like you who never made a decision that effected the public from a position in public office who always like to blame someone else. I stand by my record in office and have explained my positions and decisions to you and your friends many times over. As council president and finance committee chair I handed out a copy of every budget figure we had to anyone who attended or asked for a copy “before” I started a meeting. I presented every piece of information at “open” meetings and always gave everyone in attendance more than enough time to state whatever position they wanted to take on any issue. I gave staff clear directions. If a taxpayer wants a document, give it to them. That was my policy as President of Council and CEO of the hospitals I ran. I was in office during the greatest economic collapse of the past 70 plus years. Contrary to what you think, I didn’t cause that collapse, but I did roll up my sleeves and try my best to help us all get through it as best we could on the local level. People like you and your friends who were never there, but want to construct a different view based on your 20/20 hindsight 7 years after the fact don’t get a free pass Tim. You have a problem with me alright, but it’s not what I have or haven’t done in the past. If you were even half honest with yourself, let alone the voters, you would tell the truth. Your problem with me is I had the audacity to challenge you and give the voters a choice between an internet whiner and someone who has a track record for getting things done. I haven’t seen you point to one single accomplishment you have in the public domain. You complain about my signs, but what you really fear is maybe more people will see them then read your blog and you could actually lose the election after you already got fitted for your crown. You talked so high and mighty about wanting to see a more vibrant local election scene until someone came along that might actually be a credible challenge to you, the high and mighty know it all. It’s one thing to say all of these laudable slogans about taxes and working with the community, students and parents to better the school. I don’t know anyone running or sitting on a school board anywhere in the country who wouldn’t say and hasn’t said the same thing Tim. That’s what we all want to see happen. These are not new and unique ideas that you have come up with here and now. You remind me of a comedian, Pat Paulsen, from years ago who mocked politicians like you who went around saying things like you say. You get all of the right words and put them in a halfway coherent sentence and repeat them over and over and some people actually believe you. The BIG question is HOW will you do these things? How will you pull people together when you can’t even talk to people face-to-face? You go to meetings and sit quietly and then you go back to the internet and distort what was said and rip others because they don’t agree with you. Saying I am a better choice to get things done is not negative unless you happen to be the one I believe I can do a better job then. When you sit on a board you represent ALL of the people not just your little group of zealots. When you and your friends say the hateful things you say you must be kidding if you are shocked that I would take offense. I have a little fun writing a food journal and I get ripped for that? Are you kidding me? I guess we should throw out the comic section of the newspapers and the lifestyle sections. My goodness Tim aren’t you the one promoting a company that sells $80 T-shirts? Aren’t you the one who wants to give a billionaire a $10 million dollar tax break? There is no evidence that kind of thing benefits anyone but the billionaire. What that has to do with Octorara anyway, I fail to see. I’m running for the board in Octorara not Pequea. We have Victory Brewery coming to our district and I support them and any other good business neighbor who wants to help pay taxes and relieve OUR property taxes. You have some good thoughts and ideas Tim, but to be effective you have to have a plan for how to get others to move in your direction. So far that plan has seen you criticize and belittle people who don’t agree with you. That’s gonna work real well on the board Tim. I can see it now. You go to the meeting and then you come home and complain through the internet about how everyone else on the board is holding you back from making the kind of changes you want to make. This is the same blame game that has dominated the political landscape for years now and keeps getting worse. People in office who complain about others in office and obstruct processes till everything shuts down. That’s your real plan Tim and its painfully obvious. Win the election, complain, point fingers, blame everyone else for a lack of progress and pat yourself on the back for being the only person smart enough to make a good decision. The problem is at the end of your term the only thing you will be able to say is “I never voted for any of this and therefore its their fault not mine.” The problem is, that is precisely what you have been saying for a year. So, you are asking people to put you in office so you can come back at the end of your term and say it was all somebody else’s fault. Well, we don’t have to put you in office for that because that’s all you’ve been doing all along. When is the last time you stopped and talked to a board member or administrator and had a reasonable give and take conversation? Your head is so far up your computer its too funny. If you’d have taken the time to talk to an administrator instead of taking all of your actions into the abyss of the internet, maybe you could have gotten your requested information right away, but then oh my, you wouldn’t have anything to complain about would you? You rip everyone in the administration, the board and the teachers and then you say I’m running a negative campaign? Really? Sometimes you’re just too funny Tim.

      • Dave,

        In all that ranting, you still have not provided voters with any kind of platform or vision… nothing to vote for.

        If you had been coming regularly to Board Meetings before October, you would have known that I had spoke at board meetings. It was because the Administration and Board leadership were intentionally obtuse, dismissive, and even combative when faced with facts that I decided to create this blog. It was because the Administration and Board leadership were intentionally obtuse, dismissive, and even combative when faced with facts that I decided to run for the Board.

        The Board members who are upset with me for this blog, are upset that I just didn’t go away when I got nowhere speaking to them. I had the audacity to take the information directly to the people, and spent time exposing information the District was pretending did not exist.

        You seriously believe I’m the one who will be an obstructionist? If there had been “obstructionists” on the Board years ago, maybe we wouldn’t be a school district with the highest property taxes, high per-student costs, high labor costs, and high debt.

        The District needs more Board members who realize they work for the students, parents, citizens, and taxpayers of this area… not the Administration, the Teachers’ Union, or a special group of insiders.

      • Tim,
        I wouldn’t join Mr. Jones in his pathetic attempt to discredit you on your own website. He’s shown himself to be nothing but a puppet who has no real conviction. He comes to your website (the faceless internet) and does the exact thing he accuses you of doing. I’m guessing that he’s getting that tactic from the Ken Knickerbocker school of political douchery.

        Stick with the facts, the one thing that Mr. Jones can not refute or spin… although he will try.

        Good luck.

      • You’re right, and I actually just emailed Mr Jones that this is starting to read like bunch of childish bickering. He’s just ranting, while I keep reminding him he has provided no platform or vision. Is that what he wants to do up until election day? He hasn’t even educated himself about the data. He is just arguing to argue, and I’m not doing it anymore.

  5. Sadly ’tis true. Jones offers little positive, only years as a government apparatchik, a lot of crying and whining, and promises to play nice with the other children. At any time he could have stepped up to the plate, proffered a platform. At every turn he has declined the opportunity. He has remained mute. Can you spell ‘w-i-m-p?’ Vote for Jones and vote for continuing wimpish mediocrity. Vote for Alexander and vote for at least the hope that some genuine seriousness can be brought to bear on the OASD board. Vote for the wimp, or vote the warrior. Alexander is the warrior.

    • No need to waste our time talking about a “write me in” guy…

      Vote for transparency people, vote for Tim Alexander!

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