Yesterday was the monthly Octorara Area School Board Work Session Meeting, which the prime focus was their Pennsylvania School Performance Profile presentation.
What impressed me about presentation was the tone set by Elena Wilson, Octorara’s new Director of Curriculum and Instruction.
Gone were the statements from months ago about Octorara’s “world-class education,” replaced now with the idea the District must do better by our kids, no matter how the State measures achievement. Moreover, despite the fishing by some board members, she did no finger pointing or blaming of parents or subgroups for the District’s performance issues.
Dr Newcome introduced Elena Wilson, but wanted to stress several points:
- The presentation is only a broad overview.
- This year’s scores are a starting point to work from. (I would disagree with this reboot mentality.)
- 70 is the minimum standard, and each school has exceeded this standard. (I think exceeds standards is a bit of a stretch.)
- These scores are not a surprise.
- The District is already working toward improving scores.
A large portion of yesterday’s presentation includes information we have already posted. Wilson described the new point system, and the various data items used to create a school’s score. She also provided the scores for each of the schools. New information included data surrounding Closing the Performance Gap, which will not be scored until 2014-2015.
It should be no surprise that Octorara falls short in the area of Closing the Performance Gap. The graph Wilson provided showed performance in this area as either generally flat, or negative. She also stressed this measure does not necessarily reflect a decline in skills. It is a measure of how well the schools have done to bring under-performing student performance up over time.
How are they going to fix the issue?
Wilson provided us with a general description of Learning Focused Schools. The boiled down description is to make the focus on learning, rather than teaching. It is suppose to be a completely new paradigm compared to what the District has tried in the past.
The District is in the 2nd year of a 4 year plan that includes:
- Research Based Instruction
- Literacy Competency K-12
- Catching Children Up
- Regular Assessments
The Learning Focused strategy is intended to provide professional development on planning, implementing, and monitoring/evaluating exemplary lessons from standards that integrate research-based strategies and practices.
Board Questions & Comments
Dr. Sheri Melton (Region 1) asked, what was the unit of measure? She wanted to know if school scores were a points system or some kind of average. Was this an absolute score or a relative standing? She asked, is the goal to reach 100?
Wilson’s reply was straightforward. The score is a points system based on achievement in each area, and not a relative standing. The goal is to get each of our schools to a score of 100, or an A+, within 5 years. I applaud the enthusiasm, but we have to be realistic. With every school in the 70s, this is going to be a slow ship to turn. Closing the Achievement Gap is key to success.
Lisa Bowman (Board President) stated she was at a presentation about SPP, and she believed the Districts had 4-5 years to make half progress for Closing the Achievement Gap, from benchmark to 100.
Wilson commented that she believed that to be true, and explained the State has a complicated formula for creating the goal.
Samuel Ganow (Treasurer) referenced an article that listed each of the elementary schools (Was he talking about mine?), and Octorara did not come out looking good. He wanted to know if this was really comparing apples to apples. He wanted to know how much socioeconomics affects the scores.
Wilson replied that as they make their comparisons, they will be doing side-by-sides with those schools that most look like Octorara.
Brian Norris (Vice President) began his comments with the statement he believes a huge part missing to solve the District’s academic achievement problem is student home life. He believes a large number of students leave school to a home in which education is not a priority.
Norris then switched gears to ask Wilson, what tools the Board can give Administrators to motivate teachers, and to combat possible resistance to change?
Wilson stated she has been an Administrator with the District for six years, and this is the most cohesive the team has been. Administrator walk-thrus begin tomorrow.
Norris then asked about the State providing “extra credit” in the scoring. He stated it seems the focus is always the under-performing and advanced students, while middle students are short changed.
Wilson did not disagree.
Hank Oleyniczak (Region 2) asked if the new standard really are apples to apples, and how comfortable was Wilson with the State measures?
Wilson stated their new approach is to do better for our kids no matter what the state assessment looks like.
This is a BINGO!! Wilson doesn’t come straight out and say it, but 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.
Robert Hume (Region 3) stated the District focuses a lot of attention on advanced students, while social promotion has many students moving grades who are not ready. He wanted to know if “electronic learning” would help under-achieving students both learn and stay interested.
Wilson replied the District is using tools and best practices from Learning Focused to achieve that goal.
Lisa Bowmen then added that she was disappointed when she found out about the scores, but not surprised. The District had been chasing targets. The District would focus on math and reading would drop. The District would then focus of reading, then math would drop. She concluded by stating the District needs to be more comprehensive, and do well no matter what changes the State makes in the future.
Time will tell, but the paradigm shift from teaching to learning sounds like a whole lot of New Age mumbo-jumbo, doesn’t it?
Elena Wilson did a great job explaining the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile. I applaud her for promoting the idea the District needs to perform at a level that makes changes to state assessments irrelevant. I also want to commend her in not taking the bait from those tempting her to play the blame game.
Learning Focused is the District’s attempt to work smarter, not harder. However, it seems 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 very hard work to bring them up.
We will now be 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, and 5 years to see if the new plan works.
However, SPP doesn’t give us 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.