When to Move On?

Other leaders in education have written articles about knowing when it’s time to leave a position or district. In most cases they are discussing situations in which tensions have grown, a BOE has changed, priorities and relationships transitioned, and it’s time for a superintendent of schools to move on. I went to hear retired Erie 1 BOCES superintendent Don Ogilvie speak on this topic and that of administrative resiliency earlier this year as part of the WNY Educational Services Council speaker series.

My question to Mr. Ogilvie was different. I wanted to know, “how do you know when it’s time to move on when things are really GOOD?” 

Since sometime over the summer, I’ve been thinking about our work at Randolph and the rest of my career. Things are really good at RCS! Sure there are things to do–there are always things to do in an organization with an $18 million budget, almost 200 employees, and 950 students. But we’ve generally got it figured out and as our teams have grown in their competence, I’ve felt more and more irrelevant.

Mentally I’m craving the kind of organizational systems problem solving that gives me a sense of purpose. I want to know that my work is making a significant difference that benefits students and employees. We’ve largely figured those things out at RCS over the past several years. We have experienced teachers, administrators who know our systems and how they best work to serve our students, and an incredibly experienced, thoughtful BOE–the place is humming along nicely. This is evidenced by our consistent and dramatic increases in academic achievement, our climate survey results, and our successful contract negotiations and positive budget votes.

So, what would you do? Continue to work in the environment you’ve tried so hard to create, knowing that your biggest problems are behind you? Or leave the sustainability of the system to the other leaders in the organization who have it down, choosing instead to look for another opportunity to impact an educational system elsewhere? Perhaps there’s another school system where those working hard within that district and those children and families could benefit from committed, sustained instructional leadership? And your sense of purpose and meaning could be renewed? Or do you sit back and enjoy the ride?

Correct Maslow Post

I have been the proud superintendent of the Randolph Central School District since the Fall of 2008. In this, my eighth school year here, I’ve decided to take on a challenge in another district.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have been selected and appointed as the superintendent of schools for the Springville-Griffith Institute Central School District. I will start there on March 7, 2016.

My reasons for this decision are centered on the incredible accomplishments of everyone at Randolph. The problems we had when I arrived have been eradicated: there is again trust between the employees, administration, and BOE members; we have systems in place in which teachers support one another with a coherent, shared curriculum; teachers are doing more with technology tools that personalize learning for all students every year; we’re on the cusp of purchasing a useful basal reading series that will help to improve our ELA instruction even more; everyone in the system is pulling his or her own weight; we have cleaner buildings (and floors!), and a capital project all set to go that will take care of masonry, roof tops, phone and data upgrades, fire detection and alarm systems, stage rigging and lighting, a safer parking lot flow, a new track and a new heating system in the high school. We continue to hold a strong budget position that balances the needs of our students with the needs of our taxpayers. And I have more confidence in our administrative team than ever before at RCS.

I’ve realized with every passing day “they’ve got this!” I want to have a feeling of purpose again, to go where I’m needed. I want to think and analyze and solve problems. And I’m 100% certain that with everyone we have here, working hard each and every day, our expectations of excellence will continue for all of our students.

What an honor and privilege it has been to be a part of the Randolph community these past years! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the academic achievements, the state championships, the countless excellent lessons I’ve observed, and most of all, the relationships I’ve enjoyed with so many of you. A huge part of my heart will always be a Cardinal!

A Personal Thank You to My Father in Law, Fred Moritz

This Saturday, October 24, 2015, my husband will be accompanying his 92-year-old father, Fred Moritz, to Washington, DC on the Honor Flight Buffalo for World War II Veterans. This opportunity brings veterans to DC to see the memorials erected in their honor, all expenses paid. As veterans are not permitted to bring a spouse as guardian, my husband Derek gets to go with his dad. As part of the experience, Fred’s grandchildren were asked to write letters to him in which they express what he means to them. I’d like to take the opportunity to publicly honor the man who shaped so much about my husband and all five of his grandchildren.

 

Papa and Grandkids

Dear Papa,

I’m so very grateful for the opportunity to know you and to call you first dad and then Papa. As a nervous young college student, I came to Gowanda after dating your son Derek for a couple of years. Since Derek was my first boyfriend, I remember feeling very nervous about how to act when I met his parents. That feeling dissipated within moments of meeting you as your open, warm and generous spirit greeted me at the Palm Gardens. You then proceeded to take me on a tour of everything from the kitchen to the basement of the motel! From that first day, you treated me like someone special and what I most remember is always being able to sit and talk with you in those round chairs in the living room. You showed a genuine interest in me, my thoughts, and my career. You really listened to me, as you did with all of us. All of these years later, after almost 29 years of marriage to your son, your kind, caring and positive attitude continue to guide our family. Thank you, for every conversation, laugh, and dinner you bought. Most of all, thank you for being the man who you are–the man who so greatly influenced the man I married and love. Here are a few of the things I most remember from all of these years together.

You are generous to a fault. If you have $100 in your pocket, you find a way to give any one of us $120 if we need it. One of us can’t mention our own vehicle without you saying, “take my truck!”

Whenever any one of us messes up, you are the most supportive, loving parent we could hope to find. Before Derek and I were even married, I smashed that Capri I drove into a guardrail on Broadway Road. You and Derek showed up and instead of yelling at me as I was expecting (my own dad’s typical reaction), you both embraced me, asked if I was okay and told me it was just a car.

Even when Derek, Charisse, Bill and I were young and in our heyday, you could ALWAYS drink the rest of us under the table. We’d all wake up the next morning, hurting from the night before, and you’d be singing in the kitchen telling us, “you can’t soar with the eagles if you’re going to hoot with the owls!” But somehow you always managed to do so.

Thank you for teaching our children to dive, all five of the grandkids, with countless hours in that pool. A favorite family memory is definitely the day you were sitting by the pool, having cocktails with your friends and you suddenly decided one of the kids wasn’t diving quite right so you decided to show him how it was done. Fully clothed. Snookered.  With $100 dollar bills floating to the surface around you.

Those chickens. I will forever walk through the yard with my head down looking to avoid the chicken poop thanks to the ridiculous number of chickens you kept in the yard. For the tolerance of this alone, my mother in law deserves a medal. No one ever has loved a pet more than you’ve loved those darn birds.

When my own father was absent from my life, you stepped in and treated me with kindness and compassion and love. Thank you for always being a father to me. 

Because of your example, a valued family trait has always been chutzpah. Or in your words, “balls”–nothing worse than being a dunkie, right? I’m grateful that you helped us to instill courage into our children–the ability to take a risk and to stand up and do what’s right. I’m so very thankful that I’m married to a strong man who’s raised our own kids to be able to take care of themselves. I’m certain that even now at 92 years old you wouldn’t hesitate to use a quick right hook if needed.

Thank you for the great advice you gave me about how to drive in the snow on the way home from Forestville 30 years ago. I still hear your voice when I’m nervous on bad roads, “a constant speed Kim, slow and easy”.

Warning to Readers: There is some questionable language coming up–this post is intended to honor and memorialize Freddy for our family, which means including the expressions our children have grown up with. We have so many colorful expressions thanks to Papa, many that no one seems to know but us–our own family language: Papa

  • “they’re going to find her at the bottom of the bird cage”
  • “tell him to go piss up a rope”
  • “too many chiefs, not enough Indians”
  • “big as a horse”
  • “dumb as a box of rocks”
  • “you can’t get a racehorse out of a jackass”
  • “if I had a dollar for every time. . .”
  • “he’s a real dandy”
  • “SHUT THE DOOR!”
  • “that one’s getting whippy”
  • “next time, I won’t have my hat in my hand”
  • “have a hot toddy”
  • “they’ve got brakes, let ’em use them!”
  • “too stupid to get out of the rain”
  • “can’t find his a** with both hands” also, “doesn’t know his a** from a hole in the ground”
  • “lazier than a white dog”
  •  And who hasn’t been called “joe balls” by Papa?

Papa, I’m forever grateful for the model we have of how much you and Omi have loved each other for 50+ years. This is your #1 contribution to our family. Even when you’re constantly busting her chops, telling us that you slaved all day to prepare a meal when you couldn’t make toast if necessary or yelling at her to “sit down!”, you both stand as a clear and beautiful example to the rest of us of how to love one another, to make a family together and to stand beside each other through it all.

I love you Papa. I hope you and Derek have a fantastic day on Saturday. You definitely deserve this honor!

Papa and Derek, Charisse, Omi

Cuomo’s Evaluation Regs in Randolph

Of 700 districts in NYS, we are the 9th district who negotiated, submitted and received approval for our APPR plan under the new regulations, 3012-d. After the usual back and forth with the attorney at NYSED who reviewed the plan and gave us 10-15 wordsmith-ed changes to make, our plan was approved on Tuesday. Most of the school districts in NYS are submitting for a hardship waiver for various reasons including more time to negotiate and hoping the wait will indicate a revision of the regulations of some sort. We made a conscious decision to move forward, but it is most assuredly NOT because we embrace these new regulations as better than the old.

We submitted under the new regs because it lessens the workload on our teachers, principals, and students. We wanted to eliminate pre-assessments, teacher portfolio reviews, our interim/formative assessments being tied to evaluation, and mandated pre-evaluation meetings. Our students, teachers, and principals work incredibly hard every day–they’ve been involved in unbelievable school improvement efforts and they’ve proven, repeatedly, that Randolph Central is an outstanding school district because of the collective work of every member of our team. If we can eliminate what’s become meaningless work within our system to allow them time to concentrate on what matters most–the education of our children–then that’s what we need to do.

We decided to trade one act of compliance—meeting the requirements of the old APPR regulations—for a new act of compliance—meeting the requirements of this new law.

For a glittering moment in time, back in 2011, I honestly believed that the APPR regulations were designed to improve our educational systems. As a veteran school administrator, I accepted responsibility and acknowledged that we’ve historically not done a good enough job of evaluating teachers or terminating bad teachers or principals. I truly believed that was the reason we were seeing Annual Professional Performance Regulations. Now I know that any good intentions of the regulations if there ever were any, have just become mandates dictated by a governor who uses public schools as a pawn in whatever political game he’s playing.

The downside to moving to the new plan? The regs are so incredibly flawed that 50% of a teacher or principal’s composite evaluation score is based on NYS assessments and how our students supposedly grew or didn’t grow on some ridiculous calculation someone somewhere created to measure if our teachers and principals are getting as much growth out of our Randolph students as those ‘similar’ students across the state. And this is exactly the wrong reason for testing. Thank you, Governor Cuomo. Yes, these regulations are from the Governor’s office despite the fact that he’s an expert at blaming things on NYSED or NYSUT or whoever is convenient.  

Our school district is perfectly poised to clearly illustrate the absolute absurdity of these regulations. Why? Because we have had the sharpest three-year gains on NYS 3-8 tests of any district in Western New York.  Yet under these new regulations, many of our teachers are likely to receive an ineffective rating on the 50% of their evaluation score that is the building growth score. A score of 0-12/20 is ineffective.

Our dedicated teachers and administrators have aligned our curriculum to the NYS common core standards and raised our expectations for all children. We have used a systemic team approach to developing a consistent, comprehensive curriculum–aligned to rigorous standards that you can call whatever you like. You see, our teachers have always worked hard, been well intended and had the best interest of our students at heart–since long before this Governor deemed them ineffective or developing on the HEDI scale. We use the common core standards and the NYS 3-8 assessments as a system check. And this is exactly the right reason for testing. We need standards and assessments. What we do not need is a state mandated noose around our necks through arbitrary regulations designed to marginalize our state’s teachers and administrators.

But hey, we just work here. I guarantee we will exercise whatever local control we have to make it work for our teachers, principals, and students. If you believe that NYS regulations resulting in countless teachers and principals labeled ineffective or developing are going to do anything to improve public education then you should give Governor Cuomo a call.  He’s forming a review committee so that they can tell him he’s right and everyone else is wrong.

Learning Tech Tools

After 28 years of marriage I’m happy to say that I’m finally learning how to cook. It’s fun and challenging and I’m loving it.

Just to put this into perspective, our adult son moved to Jacksonville last November. On one of his “FaceTime” calls home he told me that whenever he makes hamburger helper it reminds him of home. (EEK!) What’s working for me is something called “Hello Fresh”, a program where the company sends me all of the fresh ingredients for three meals per week. Previously if a recipe called for more than a couple of ingredients I didn’t even consider it. Now I’m peeling and mincing ginger and dill. I’m making catfish and salmon and sprinkling cardamon and cinnamon onto a chicken before I place it into the oven!  I don’t even know what cardamon is and farro? Whatever it is, I followed the recipe and the dish was terrific. The meals are delicious, healthy and affordable. I’m stretching and learning something new and my husband and I are trying foods we’ve never had before–never too late for that, right? 11942107_1019786778065483_4558108573972776341_o

This way of learning how to cook is working for me because it fits me. I can learn because all of the ingredients arrive perfectly measured and ready to go. I’m not intimidated by the name of an ingredient I haven’t heard of or scared away from trying it because I don’t know where to look for the things in the first place. This program might not work for my friends who love to cook because it would seem unnecessary to them.  They have the ingredients, they’re more experienced and they have had success with cooking for years. I need the step by step instructions on my Hello Fresh app on my phone and the convenience of everything arriving in an organized, ready to go manner. Nothing has ever worked for me before and so I’ve never liked to cook (Hello Hamburger Helper!) but this program and tool are meeting my needs and I’m being successful (finally!).

In public education we’ve always talked about differentiating learning for every student. With a class of 20-22 students, that’s actually very hard to do well. We now have technology tools available to us that will adapt to each child’s strengths and abilities. Tools like PEG Writing, iReady adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction, Dreambox, and IXL are valuable tools that can truly help to tailor instruction to each child.

Technology will never replace teachers. The most critical and important part of our work lies in those relationships that we form with students. But technology tools can enhance learning just as the apps on your smart phone enhance your life. I don’t drive anywhere new without entering the address into the Maps app on my phone. I electronically bank on my phone, constantly “google” for information that answers my  many questions, take pictures, check the weather, shop on Amazon, follow recipes on Hello Fresh, book air travel on Southwest and JetBlue apps, and read the news through Twitter feeds, the Buffalo News and Post Journal apps. These tools have made my life easier and they’ve given me access to information in ways that I need to be smarter and more productive.

I’m not talking about smart boards and other teacher tools that just replace what we’ve always done or better engage students. I also have Facebook and Instagram on my phone–they engage me but they’re not productive and they certainly don’t make me smarter. As we move forward with our District plans to spend our Smart Schools Bond money on devices for our students, we need to find technology tools that make our students and teachers lives easier and give them access to information in ways that make them smarter and more productive.

My own experiences as a student in the public schools significantly shaped my life and I can contribute the professional success I have today to the quality of the education I received and the fact that I kept going back to further my education. The full impact that each of our teachers has on our students cannot be measured. Our work is crucial and doing the very best that we can for our children matters—what we say, the attitudes and beliefs we share, every choice we make that shows our own work ethic and dedication to our jobs teaches our students something.  Carefully researching and analyzing our productive use of new technologies will be one incredible way that we can model what real learning looks like and will continue to improve our teaching and learning too.

If I can make Tandoori Chicken for dinner tonight through the use of an app on my phone, what more can we accomplish in our classrooms when we find the right tools??

 

NYS Growth Scores, how can they inform our decisions?

On August 21, 2015, school districts across NYS received growth scores for teachers and principals. The principal growth score is also considered a building growth score and will play a bigger part in teachers’ composite scores next year with the required changes to our APPR (annual professional performance review) plans.

As a superintendent I have been a vocal proponent for school improvement reforms including the alignment to common core standards, teacher and principal evaluation, data informed decision making, and NYS testing for an annual system check and alignment.

Reforms should actually help us to improve our systems. I cannot support the use of growth scores without a thorough and clear explanation of how the scores are determined—the video on www.engageny.org “Growth Scores Explained” sounds logical but it dioesn’t go far enough in helping us to understand and explain what we can do with this information. I also wonder if it’s still an accurate explanation of how those scores are determined.

Consider the story of school improvement in our district. Since 2012, Randolph Central has improved our academic achievement results on NYS tests significantly. In one measure our elementary school has gone from a Business First ranking of 174 out of 276 to 59 and our district has increased its rank from 74 to 44 of 96 Western New York districts. We have had the sharpest 3 year gain of any school district in WNY.

Our incredibly hard working teachers have aligned their instruction, as a system, to the NYS common core learning standards. They have laboriously studied and then taught the Math modules from www.engageny.org. Teachers have modified inadequate ELA modules and struggled to put together a comprehensive ELA program that is aligned to the more rigorous common core standards. They have implemented adaptive testing with diagnostic instruction, participated in data team meetings to ability group all students for academic enrichment in Math and ELA daily, piloted and are now implementing technology based programs as tools for instruction and studied the NYS testing results, gap analysis and annotated released questions. They have done absolutely everything we have asked of them. 

At the same time our growth score has gone down every year. This year that same elementary school–that’s gone from 174 to 59 for its increases in academic achievement received a 10/20 for its growth score down from 14/20 last year and 16/20 the previous year. A growth score of ten puts this building principal at the lowest end of effective.  In the new mandated APPR plans that same ten will equal ineffective in teacher and principal evaluation.

We can basically conclude that the better we do academically the lower our growth score. If growth scores as a reform are meant to improve learning for students, someone needs to help me understand how.

Sharing Randolph’s Academic Performance Results

Here’s my annual update regarding our academic performance as a district, as measured by the publication Buffalo Business First using data from the NYSED website and ranked within the 96 school districts of WNY. There’s no mystery to the rankings, they are based on four years of Regents diploma rates, as well as four years of results from 24 grades 3-8 and Regents tests, considering the percentage of students who met or exceeded (achieved 3s & 4s or 85 and above) state standards on each. There is more weight given to the most recent of the four years. It’s data, plain and simple, and it is the one time per year we have a comprehensive review of how our students are performing as compared to all other students in Western New York.

For those of you who may ask, “why does it matter? Why are test scores important?” I would answer, “our performance results are one of the ways we can gauge if we are making good instructional decisions, if we are aligning our system to rigorous standards, if we are helping every child to achieve at the same levels, or better, than students in all other school districts.” In short, we want to do well by the children of the Randolph school district—to do our very best to prepare them for life after school. Here’s one way for us to know if we’re doing so.

Gail N. Chapman Elementary School,  led by veteran Principal Jerry Mottern, has seen the most significant gains in the school rankings as the are #59 of 262 public and private elementary schools in WNY. Our elementary students and teachers have increased their achievement results from the 2014 rank of #104, 2013 rank of #174, and 2012 rank of #202. How’s that for increased results Randolph?1620988_969211126456382_4810068027629205689_nNext we look at our Randolph Middle School, led by Principal Laurie Sanders, compiled using our 7th and 8th grade Math and ELA and Science results. The MS results rest squarely on the shoulders of a very few teachers and they have worked incredibly hard to maximize learning for their young adolescent students. Here Randolph is up to a WNY rank of #95 out of 194 middle schools. That’s an improvement over the 2014 rank of #121, 2013 rank of #123, and 2012 rank of #145. Nice!11427192_969211133123048_6464657500780077395_n

Randolph High School, also led by Principal Laurie Sanders and Assistant Principal Jason Halpainy, realizes improvement, ranking at #63 of 136 WNY high schools. That’s up from the 2014 rank of #66, 2013 rank of #68, and 2012 rank of #82. As our high school teachers begin to see classes entering much better prepared than ever before, we expect to see our Regents results climb as well. 11407077_969211129789715_5574215360471231538_nAnd last of course all of these gains positively affect our overall Randolph district rank, with district leaders: Director of Pupil Services Mary Rockey and Curriculum Coordinator Jamie Berg, which comes in at #44 of 96 districts in WNY–realizing a goal set by the BOE to be in the top half of all districts in WNY! Our district rank has climbed from the 2014 rank of #50, 2013 rank of #59, and 2012 rank of #74. 11243642_969211136456381_3847133671347664434_nMany, many thanks to everyone in our school community who has worked hard to take our students beyond our old expectations for learning–for every teacher who worked hard to learn the “new” math or dissect a new novel, to the parents at home struggling to help with homework or looking up lessons on the engageny website, to the students who have met every new challenge with aplomb and the administrators working every day to both challenge and support their schools–WELL DONE RANDOLPH! What an incredible time to be learning here!

Common Core Advocate?

As a school district leader who writes and speaks about our school improvement efforts, I’ve been labeled a “Common Core” advocate. I’m not sure what that means to the people who use the phrase. Common Core may be the most misused and misunderstood term of our generation. If an advocate is one who speaks and writes in support or defense of a cause, then my cause is school improvement and I am an advocate of standards and systems that work.

First, it’s our responsibility to lead so that we have schools with systems in place to ensure that ALL students are taught to the same high standards. That system can’t be one in which each teacher reads and interprets standards alone, plans a curriculum and lessons independently of every other teacher, and then modifies and adapts the curriculum based solely on her own hunches or feelings.

A school district that’s healthy, coherent and cohesive puts systems into place to ensure that all teachers and administrators work together to read and analyze standards, design curriculum across and between grade levels and modify and adapt curriculum based on data that is both anecdotal and performance and test assessed. The systems must include a cycle of analysis for continuous improvement. Our school district has seen dramatic gains in student learning and achievement for all students by working together in these ways.

Second, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have a school system in which every child receives the support he needs to learn. That support, individualized and differentiated, is meant for students at all levels from our most disadvantaged students to our most advanced.

We must create schools with systems in place in which all students are supported through adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction. After 26 years in public education, the past 15 as an administrator, I’m tired of talking about differentiation as if it’s an easy expectation for teachers to meet. We will never be able to truly challenge all students if do not embrace computer based solutions in a blended learning environment in which we use artificial intelligence (AI) learning solutions to supplement more traditional (and important) learning opportunities.

Third, school leadership must be first and foremost about instructional leadership. It’s the core of why we exist in the first place and we’ve left it last on our list of priorities for far too long as we’ve managed our buildings and districts.

Fourth, we need to support and believe in our children. They deserve our very best and our best hasn’t been good enough for all children. We must expect more of ourselves and show children that we expect the best of them. We must raise our expectations for all children.

1907492_969203296457165_958415829057568557_n

Of 431 districts in upstate New York, Randolph is ranked 20th on measures of poverty, and yet we have shown consistently for four years now that our children are capable of achieving so much more than ever before in our history as a district. Other districts have proven this before us. My most fervent belief is that we must show our children that we believe in them, in their intellect and ability, their strength and potential, especially when they don’t believe in themselves.  We must show them that they can be more than their current circumstances.

I know there are school districts where children have done well for generations. That’s not true for all school districts and all children. Children are not inherently bad or good, smart or stupid. They often are advantaged or disadvantaged. Public education can be the game changer for every child. It was for me. I am an advocate for every child’s ability to learn and grow and become more than perhaps any one expects. I am that child, grown and educated, to have become more than anyone would have expected. I’m here to make it happen for every child in our system.

11232361_969203733123788_8006242998965460662_o (1)

Am I a Common Core advocate? I suppose I am. Aligning our curriculum to rigorous, shared learning standards, working together and raising our expectations for every member of our school community have resulted in significant learning gains for our children. That’s a goal for which it’s worth advocating.

Support for Higher Standards HERE, in Randolph

Yesterday I met with an organization called HANY (High Achievement New York) and the Buffalo News Editorial Board. They wrote about our meeting in today’s Buffalo News. 

Do you want to know why the common core learning standards have been a good thing? Because in aligning our teaching and learning to the more rigorous standards, our students are learning more, deeper, earlier and better. That’s it. For every student who graduates I want to know that we’ve filled him or her up with as much knowledge and skill as possible and then that we’ve “tamped” it down and filled him up again. I want what we do with our students in our instructional programs to really matter, to lead them to success in later life. It’s the reason why I’m a school superintendent–to bring focus to our instructional program and increase our expectations for everyone, first of all ourselves. My number one responsibility is to provide the highest quality education possible to all of our children.

I’m tired of the lunatics who continue to bash and personally berate anyone who dares to speak up and say, “hey, this is actually working for us.” You know why you don’t hear more success stories? Because 99% of educators are good decent people who are in this work to do their very best for the children they serve and they have no desire to put themselves out there to be attacked, maligned and belittled.  And for every lunatic who tears apart our story or attempts to tear down who we are in Randolph or me personally—go ahead, because you don’t know us, haven’t been here and cannot speak to our story. You don’t know the challenges of our children nor do you have the authority to question their accomplishments, race or background. I will not be bullied into keeping quiet about our work and our school success.

I continue to write and talk about the positive side of all of the changes from APPR and the implementation of the common core standards because it’s true that we needed to do better. My 25 years of working in public education in WNY lead me to say: we haven’t expected enough of most of our students; for students without significant external challenges or learning difficulties, it just hasn’t been all that hard to get a diploma; our brightest kids haven’t had to work to their full capacity; teachers have worked largely in isolation leading to a gazillion different pathways through our schools; administrators haven’t attended enough to the main reason we exist–our curricular and instructional programs.

We’ve had NYS learning standards for the entirety of my career (since 1990) and we’ve been testing students to check their attainment of the content in those standards almost as long, longer if you consider the Regents exams. I don’t care one whit what we call the “new” standards–I care about what alignment to clear, rigorous standards results in for our RCS students.

What we’re doing now is working. Our teachers, students and parents have worked incredibly hard to ensure that a Randolph Central education means something. We have an aligned, coherent curriculum in our elementary and middle school that challenges all of our students, not just our most learning challenged students. We’re making better informed instructional decisions on teams about what we teach and we’re using computer based adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction to differentiate for all of our students. We have systems in place that are working and our students are benefiting.

As for the NYS testing? As Buffalo Business First rolls out the school rankings this week, here’s ONE measure of proof that our students are achieving more: Gail N. Chapman Elementary is ranked 59 out of 262 elementary schools. That’s up from last year’s 104 and from 174 in 2013.

We’re here to keep children safe, to care for and love our children, to manage our responsibility to our school community and our taxpayers in a fiscally responsible manner. And we’re here to bring it, each and every day, with the best instructional program we can muster. Thank you to every family who entrusts your precious child into our care!

 

Parents & Opting Children Out of Public Education

With the “opt out” of NYS 3-8 testing that has been discussed in the media, some parents may begin to think that it’s possible to “opt out” of other testing, curriculum or programs that they dislike in our public schools. I’d like to address the question “Do parents have the right to direct the public schools on what their children will and will not be taught, on what tests they will and will not be given, and on what books they read?”

While parents have the right to direct the education and upbringing of their children, it does NOT mean they have the right to dictate what the public school district teaches (our curriculum) or what programs and materials we use for instruction  (ex. iReady).  According to NYS Education law and Commissioner’s regulations, as a public school district we are required to follow the state mandated learning standards.  New York State adopted the national P-12 Common Core standards, with some additions. These learning standards apply to all public elementary and secondary school students.

The NYS learning standards also apply to students with disabilities and those students who are at a risk of not achieving the learning standards must be provided and must participate in academic intervention services. The New York State Education Department has provided resources for schools and parents on the website http://www.engageny.org/.  Don’t believe everything you read on websites from across the country or on Facebook, please cross reference your information with the NYS education laws and regulations.

Parents do not have a right to tell the school what their children will and will not be taught and as public school administrators and teachers we cannot follow parent directives. We are required to follow the directives of the NYS Department of Education. When parents advise their children to refuse all testing or to opt out of parts of the curriculum, it puts the child in a difficult position. Students are actually insubordinate if they refuse to participate in all testing or in our use of the instructional program iReady/Ready which we use in our Math and ELA programs, just as is the case with students who refuse to participate in physical education class or any other part of our academic programs.

Please know that we very much want to work with you in the education of your children.  As a public school district, we have more rules and regulations that we are required to follow than you can imagine—but we do want to hear from you, to talk with you about your concerns, to be flexible in the areas in which we can be. If you have any questions about the many changes that we’ve had in the past few years in education, or about anything, please contact your building administrator or me at any time.

Wait, We DO Get NYS 3-8 Assessment Data

In the media, on blogs and twitter, I continue to read that one of the main arguments against the NYS 3-8 assessments is that they are totally secret– that there’s no information available to our teachers about how their students did so how does it inform their instruction– that we can’t see the test questions.

These statements are simply not true. We had our results on August 14, 2014. We shared them with our teachers last summer. They used the results, along with what they knew from our iReady adaptive testing and diagnostic instruction, to plan for the 14-15 school year.

Let me say it again. We do know how our students did on the test questions as they are tied to the standards. We have information about how our RCS students did on the test, how they did as compared to other students across the state by question,  and we know what standard each question was tied to so we don’t need to see and analyze the actual test questions. Isn’t it better to focus on the learning standards than to try to teach to the test?

We use this information to make instructional decisions about our curriculum for the following year.  We analyze which learning standards the majority of our students missed. Our curriculum coordinator and administrators analyze the results-but more importantly, our teachers analyze the results. As an example, last year our 7th grade students scored poorly on questions that were tied to ELA standards on poetry. That was certainly an easy fix, as our 7th grade ELA teacher looked at it and said, “well that makes sense since I never got to the module on poetry.”

Further, when teachers identify that a majority of students miss questions, they can often find them here. I would go so far as to suggest that NYSED posted the questions which were most frequently missed as I was talking with a curriculum coordinator in another district who found every single question that the majority of her students grades 3-8 missed.  Then she sat with her teachers and they unit planned for the year to ensure that each grade level made the right curricular decisions.

So why do so many people think we have no access to information about the results? Do other districts not know how to access the data through the (WNY)RIC? Is there not an administrator in every district to access this information and share it with teachers? We’re small and we have a curriculum coordinator, Jamie Berg,  who works with our CIO, Mike Frame, and our admin team to get this information out of the NYSED portal. . .we were able to analyze this at an admin retreat on August 14, 2014.

Why, then, do so many people continue to say that we don’t have access to information about how our students performed on the NYS math and ELA assessments?