What do you consider to be the most important issue for the district and school board to focus on in the upcoming years?

RIFThe Pennsylvania School Performance Profile highlighted an issue that, through my research, has become a pet peeve… 3rd Grade Reading.

Reading is fundamental to all other education. Research reveals that reading proficiently by the end of 3rd Grade can be a “make-or-break” benchmark in a child’s educational development. Academic success can now be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing a child’s reading skills by the end of 3rd Grade.

A child who is not reading proficiently by 3rd Grade has a high probability of never reading at grade level, will struggle with other subjects, is at greater risk of having discipline issues, are high risk for dropping out and failing to graduate, and are the least likely to go on to college.

Octorara’s Grade 3 Reading score is 72.07 or a low “C” grade. If we want to know why the Jr/Sr High School is only scoring a 74.27 in Reading/Literature, and a 71.00 in Writing, all we have to do is look at the Grade 3 Reading scores. It is neither complicated, nor confusing. Whatever is being done at the PLC, to teach children to read, is either not effective or not enough. The District then has to spend time and money correcting the shortfall, while getting little (if any) results.

Octorara’s Grade 3 Reading scores need to be in the 90s if we are ever going to see 11th Grade performing at high levels. We can’t keep trying to plug holes. The District must fix the fundamental issue which has a cascading effect, and causes most of the District’s academic issues.

In 2010, then Assistant Superintendent Dr. Nancy Bishop spoke before the Board, explaining the district’s five-year-old curriculum mapping program. She praised the immense amount of work in standardizing curriculum, which was available with numerous resources in a mapped online system. Bishop had said at the time, the State was moving toward curriculum mapping, putting the district ahead in this trend.

In September 2011, Bishop again stood before the Board. This time, she was downplaying the fact, and making excuses why the High School and Intermediate School did not make AYP because of Reading and Math, and the Elementary School had missed AYP in of Reading.

In 2012, Octorara was placed on a district-wide “Warning” by the State for Graduation Rates, and Reading Performance in Grades 6-8. The PLC was individually placed on Warning as a “Feeder School”, being held accountable because of their 3rd grade PSSA results. The Jr/Sr High School did not make AYP because of Reading Performance by the Latino/Hispanic, IEP-Special Education and Economically Disadvantaged student groups, and for Mathematics Performance by the Students Overall and the Latino/Hispanic, IEP-Special Education and Economically Disadvantaged student groups.

Note: The Octorara High School was saved from being hit for not making AYP two years in a row because the District merged the Sr. High and Jr. High into a single school for reporting purposes. This caused a reboot, because the State looked at the merger as creating a new school. Nice trick, right?!?

This year, it took almost 10 months of consistent reporting about Octorara’s academic situation to get the Administration and Board to switch their tone from “Octorara provides a world-class education” to “Octorara needs to do better for our children.” The final straw came with the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile scores.

The new School Performance Profiles pulled together all the disparate performance issues, we have been discussing, and provided an easy to understand score. It was not new information. It was just comprehensive and difficult to spin. With this, even the most hardened apologists have had to reconsider their positions.

In October 2013, Elena Wilson, Octorara’s new Director of Curriculum and Instruction, explained to us the District is in the 2nd year of a 4 year plan that will provide A+ performance within 5 years. Using the tools from Learning Focused Schools, this District will transition from teaching to learning.

As I see it, Learning Focused Schools may help, but they have created a solution without understanding the cause of the problem. Months ago, when I started the discussion about return on investment, Dr Newcome stated he did not know why assessment scores were so low, despite (what he described as) very hard work to bring them up. Fact is, they are playing a game of catch up that they just can’t win.

Dr Newcome has characterized the new assessment scores as “a starting point to work from.” We are expected to forget the past, forget all about AYP and PSSA assessments, and give the District a reboot based on this year’s benchmark SPP scores and Keystone tests. We have been given a new goal, a new plan, and 5 years to see if it all works.

However, SPP doesn’t give us any new information about performance. It just presents what the District knew (or should have known) in a new way. The big change provided by SPP is it is harder to spin.

The Administration cannot be allowed to continually kick-the-can, with the Board not pushing accountability and providing proper oversight. High taxes, highly paid teachers, and high debt has not produced any truly tangible results. Our excessive spending has been image over substance.

Moreover, at least among some, we have a school culture that embraces a bigotry of low expectation. It is a culture that has made parents and IEP-Special Education and Economically Disadvantaged students the easy scapegoats.

Can our children wait another 5 years with the hope performance and attitudes will change?

One thought on “What do you consider to be the most important issue for the district and school board to focus on in the upcoming years?

  1. Tim Alexander for school board!

    Don’t forget to tell your friends to get out and vote this year for the greatest election ever!!!

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