BOARD NOTES - NS SCHOOL BOARD MEETING, 9/26/13
Present - Vice President Tom Knierim, Trustees Amy Byer, Sarah Jones, Toni Labbate, Michael Nightengale, Marianne Russo, Superintendent Ed Melnick, Asst. Superintendent for Instruction Robert Cheblicki, Asst. Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi, District Clerk Betty Ciampi. President Herman Berliner was unable to attend the meeting. Approximately 100 people were in attendance
Superintendent's Report: Dr. Melnick stated that he attended the NYS Council of Superintendents Fall Summit and came to the conclusion that North Shore is "ahead of the curve" with regard to integrating technology into instruction. 96 courses, he reported, are now on I-Tunes University. Commissioner John King was at the meeting and said that he supported granting waivers from the 8th grade common core exams for schools that offer the algebra regents in the 8th grade. For Geometry, students will take both the common core exam and the Regents, and the higher of the two will count as the final exam grade for purposes of calculating final course grades. He announced that homecoming would be taking place on Saturday and was expecting many alumni to be there. 10,000 were invited via e-mail. A Community Bond informational forum will be held at the high school at 7:30 pm on Tuesday Oct. 1. A second meeting will be held at the GWL library on Oct. 28 at 5 pm. Attendees will have the opportunity to tour buildings. Four NS students are national merit finalists as a result of their performance on the PSAT.
Student Organization Report - Adriana Rubertone and Nicole are the two co-SO presidents and will be giving reports at the BOE meetings this year. They said that students had been enthusiastically engaged in Spirit Week, working on floats, wearing class colors, and participating in special days such as pajama day and sports jersey day. The Freshman class just held its election for officers. There will be a fundraising drive each month. October - Candy Drive; November - Canned Food. They also stated that exchange students from Spain who spent time at North Shore had, sadly, returned home.
Superintendent's Presentation on Testing and Test Preparation. Dr. Melnick gave a PowerPoint presentation and explained how the district has worked test preparation into the curriculum over the past few years. He stated that it is important to distinguish between test preparation and the Common Core, and that he is, in general, a supporter of the Common Core, except at those levels where the standards are not developmentally appropriate. The Common Core, he said, is not a curriculum - but rather "tells us what kids should be able to do. We have latitude in how we get there."
North Shore, the superintendent said, was never a test prep district and was never concerned about being at the "top of the pack." In 2010 however, after a public outcry over declines in ELA and math scores, the district began emphasizing more test preparation. The Board developed a "White Paper" which reflected a change in district philosophy concerning testing and imbedding preparation into the curriculum. He said the district took it to an extreme three years ago, but the pendulum started swinging back towards the middle two years ago, only to have it swing towards more preparation last year after the state announced that the tests would be based on the new Common Core Learning Standards.
Dr. Melnick gave some background on different types of assessments, explaining the difference between formative and summative. "Formative," he stated, is "assessment for learning" and involves collecting "data at varying intervals throughout the year to provide information and feedback that will help improve the quality of student learning and the quality of instruction." "Summative" is the "sum" of what they have learned and is typically given at the end of a course of study, whether it is at the end of a unit or an entire course. Dr. Melnick stated that one of the problems with the state assessments is that they are used to evaluate students and teachers - to measure their worth and value - which he said he believes is a misuse of the exams. He stated that despite this, the District tries to use the tests as formative assessments - to inform teaching. However, because the district is unable to examine the tests, it is difficult to determine exactly what needs greater emphasis in instruction.
Dr. Menick continued that test preparation is imbedded in "quality instruction." He cited the Writing and Reading Workshops as examples. He stated that formative assessment is used along the way to make sure students get to where they need to be. "If you have a good assessment," he stated, "then teaching to the test is quality instruction." He said that some questions on the state tests offer a quality assessment and sometimes they don't.
The Superintendent then stated that a distinction needs to be made between "test preparation" and "test practice." He repeated that test preparation is a good thing when it involves authentic learning experiences. He then outlined the "test practice" that grade 3-5 students did last year. In January, for the ELA exam, students were administered one book from the "NY Ready Practice Tests". Data was collected and given to teachers. In February a full 3 day, 4 book ELA rehearsal was administered. K-6 humanities director Jeffrey Golubchik then met with teachers and literacy coaches to go over the data and to develop individual test prep plans. For Mathematics, two Stanley Kaplan resources were selected and Kaplan Advantage lessons were included within units of study and Kaplan Test Companion materials were also used. A "mini - rehearsal" was administered using materials from NY Ready.
Dr. Melnick went on to explain the approach used in the Middle School for the ELA. There, specific at-risk students are identified for individualized intervention. He repeated that "preparation is embedded in quality instruction" with the Reading and Writing Workshop. In March a 1 hour pre-assessment is given and in April, two to three weeks are devoted to test preparation (practice?), using NY Ready CCLS practice. Students were given practice questions but did not sit for a rehearsal. In Math, test practice involved solving problems from Kaplan Review books, sometimes for homework, sometimes during class.
After his PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Melnick offered his recommendations to the Board which included the following: emphasize quality instruction with authentic learning experiences; balance formative and summative assessments; and make it clear to the faculty that "we have their back." He stated that our scores will not be where they were last year if we lighten up on the test practice. But, he stated, the District has an obligation to prepare students for the test." He praised the faculty saying that he believes 99.9% are highly effective and that it is nearly impossible for a teacher to be 100% highly effective with every child, and that "teachers are more than the sum of their students' scores."
Laura Franco, Sea Cliff, said with the implementation of Common Core she was concerned about whether there was differentiation of instruction. After hearing the Superintendent's presentation, she said that she is more comfortable and believes there is differentiation
Patricia Demayo, Sea Cliff, asked about the connection between the World Languages program and the change in specials for elementary students. Dr. Melnick replied that the specials schedule was developed in consultation with teachers. The elementary day is significantly shorter than in other districts, he stated. The K-2 program has been for the most part unchanged, except for shortening of specials by 5 minutes. In grades 3-5 he wanted to have FLES for one hour every sixth day but the schedule would not allow it, and so it is for only 1/2 an hour. Changes in music, he stated, have allowed teachers to give more uninterrupted instruction, because students are no longer pulled out for lessons. Under the new schedule, students have 2 periods of chorus and 2 periods of general or instrument instruction every 12 days.
Noah Blumenthal, Sea Cliff, said that he is strongly in favor of authentic learning and loves the teacher's college program. However, he said that the District should go further than saying it "has teachers' backs," and allow their talent to come through - rather than being required to teach Kaplan produced lessons. He continued that the summative assessments imposed by the state are not just a measurement, but actually hurt kids. The purpose of the tests were to assess and push poor failing districts to improve. The district's goal should be cultivating a "passion for learning" and that the District has cut what elementary students are most passionate about - science, social studies, art, music. We don't need 3's and 4's if we have kids who are passionate - the scores will follow, he asserted. He also expressed concern over the loss of breaks. Snack time is no longer a break, he said, but now a working snack. Studies show, he said, that productivity and creativity decline with stress, but increase with breaks.
Maria Hoyle stated that many districts have passed anti-testing resolutions and encouraged the Board to do the same.
Simone Pavlides, Sea Cliff, said she agreed with Mr. Blumenthal and Ms. Hoyle. In addition, she explained that as a foreign language teacher with more than 150 students, she is better able than a state exam to assess her students, and believes the same holds true for teachers in this district.
Dana Baron, Glen Head, inquired about the test that was administered at the start of the school year for sixth graders. She stated it was extremely difficult and created a great deal of stress for her child. She also said that while she was at first a strong proponent of the FLES program, she was concerned what has been taken out of the elementary curriculum. She also questioned the Superintendent about what happens during the last few weeks of school. She said based on what her kids have told her, very little goes on. Dr. Melnick replied that arts and music will be integrated into the regular classroom. As for the last few weeks of school, he stated that perhaps kids were engaged in learning activities different from what they were accustomed to. Middle School Principal Mark Ferris stated that the test given to 6th graders was a pre-assessment, and conceded that the test could have a negative effect if it causes stress. Assistant Superintendent Robert Cheblicki stated that pre-tests were necessary for the SLOs and teachers need to show growth.
Kate Murphy of Sea Cliff stated that she was very happy after Open School Night with the high quality of the teaching staff and stated that they are more than qualified to measure student growth than are the state tests. She stated that her sixth grader came home very upset after the practice test. "It takes away all the joy and love of learning when you do this."
Christina Schatz of Sea Cliff said that a problem with the testing is that once they have been taken, the message is "we're done." Let's be leaders about this, she said, and ignore the tests.
Amy Goldstein, of Glen Head, said that Glen Head is a wonderful school and wanted her child to love learning and be passionate about it.
Robin Charlow of Old Brookville asked about APPR and how the tests were used in a teacher's rating. Dr. Melnick replied that student performance on the assessment is 20% of a teacher's rating. Based on how similar students perform across the state, teachers are assigned a score. An additional 20% is based on the Student Learning Objectives, and the other 60% is based on District measures which include observations. Non-tenured teachers are observed three times a year and tenured teachers twice.
Larry Ruisi of Old Brookville stated that it was difficult to support Common Core independently of the testing since they are so closely intertwined. "It's hurting the kids." he said. Some kids have been crushed, while others have developed apathy believing that the tests don't matter, he continued. He asked what we are going to do when test prep interferes with quality instruction?
Pooja Veera, Glenwood Landing, asked about the Rockville Center Opt Out. Dr. Melnick replied that it was not district-wide, but that 15% opted out and as a result the district was placed on a list of "District's for Review." He said most of the who kids opted out were higher performing students, and as a result teachers APPR scores suffered.
Amy Mandell suggested a balanced approach. She said she walked away from open school night shocked at what kids need to know. With the Regents so early, she asked what the kids would be doing for three weeks. Dr. Melnick stated that this year's schedule was to accommodate new exams and give the state the opportunity to "norm" them. Finals he said would be given after the Regents.
Deborah McDermott of Sea Cliff said that the district should use other measures in comparing us to others. She suggested looking at numbers of students in music and other programs.
A Glenwood Landing parent who moved into the district last year, said that her child had previously been in private school where they teach kids to think. She was behind with regard to being prepared for the state tests, and was brought up to speed - but now her daughter hates reading. Is there a financial piece to this?" She asked.
Dr. Melnick replied the District gets about $4000 in Race to the Top funds.
Roger Friedman, Sea Cliff, said that it looks as if there are two sides in the community. Dr. Melnick replied that tonight there is one faction here and that if scores are published and they go down, the other side will be here. "We need to hear all the voices in the community." He said.
Lisa Vizza of Glenwood encouraged the Board to enact the right balance before kids are turned off to school. She also expressed concern about the new initiative at Sea Cliff School called GRIT. She said students in the early elementary grades should be learning the tasks of cooperative play and developing social skills, and questioned whether GRIT was developmentally appropriate. Chris Zublionis, Principal of Sea Cliff, replied that the acronym was an unfortunate one, but the initiative is about having long-term goals and encouraging persistence in achieving those goals.
Lisa Albanese, Glen Head, stated that the generation of kids who were not test prepped did fine (Dr. Melnick agreed). "We are not utilizing the talents of our teachers." she said. "We are suffocating them and its a loss."
Anthony Losquadro, Sea Cliff, commented on the closeness of the recent budget vote, and stated that the first thing the new board did was to "go out and approve a new spending program" with the Bond proposal. Dr. Melnick replied that the bond would save money in the long run. Mr. Losquadro asked if that was based on an opinion or an actual analysis. Dr. Melnick replied that it was based on the advice of engineers. Mr. Losquadro asked if the board toured and viewed the areas where the work will be taking place. Dr. Melnick stated that they had.
Trustee Beyer added that she believes that the district has done many things to bring about cost savings to tax payers. She said the transportation depot and favorable contracts have netted taxpayers $23 million in savings.
BOARD DISCUSSION ON TESTING
Trustee Sarah Jones questioned Dr. Melnick on test practice and preparation. She commented on the amount of testing that was listed on a PowerPoint slide during the Superintendent's presentation and asked how much time did that take out of classroom instruction time. Dr. Melnick replied that the Fountas and Pinnell took the most time but believed is was a good assessment that helps teachers. The others he said take a relatively short period of time. Trustee Jones asked if the district would be administering the rehearsal tests again this year, and Dr. Melnick said that they would be. He said it helps the students build stamina, and help the district plan for students with IEPs.
Trustee Russo stated that she wanted to give perspective on what happened in 2010. She said that not only did scores decline on the 3-8 exams but also on the high school physics and algebra 2/trig exam. 50% failed the latter she said. The community was concerned that the district was not giving kids a proper foundation. As a result of the work of a group of parents, Trustee Russo continued, changes were made in the high school including a regents review class and a math center. When my kids were in elementary school, she said, there was a lack of teaching mechanics - spelling, grammar, etc. She said testing "made us look at our curriculum closely and make positive changes." She said that her son did phenomenally well on the ELA in 8th grade, but did not believe it was a result of test prep, but rather had a better foundation than her daughter did. There has however been a loss of creativity, she said, and that teachers should not be arbitrarily assigned a number. She stated that there needs to be community action surrounding testing to bring about a change in legislation. However, she said that we should not "throw the baby out with the bath water." In addition she said that kids need to learn how to take a test - it is a life skill.
Assistant Superintendent Rob Cheblicki, stated that he wanted to clarify what he believed were inaccuracies in the previous statement. He said that the reason for improvement in scores after 2010 was that the district engaged fully in test prep in all areas and that the spike in scores would not be possible with a revision of the curriculum. He continued that the reason for the Algebra 2/trig scores was a personnel issue that was corrected, and that the physics exam scores have improved because the school now gives students the option of taking the Regents or a local exam. Only the strongest students opt to take the Regents. The district did not change any curriculum. He also said that he was struck by the transformation in the views of the audience at this meeting as compared to the fall 2010 meeting.
Dr. Melnick said that he disagreed that the audience had been transformed. Rather, he said, it was a completely different group of people from who showed up a few years ago.
Trustee Nightengale stated that he wants his kids to love learning and that the tests may stunt that. However, he said that students need to learn how to take tests. Testing is important, he continued. He cited his having to prepare for the bar exam when he was in law school. Students need to "know the tricks to play the game." However, this testing, he said, is killing their creativity and that the district has to balance this.
Trustee Beyer stated that the audience was a different one than what showed up three years ago. She said that she is very proud of the white paper the Board produced in 2010. "What the community wants," she said, "is balance." "There is confusion between test prep and test practice." She said that it is a disservice to kids to not prepare them for the tests. "We needed to regain the confidence of the community." She did say however that she is bothered by the three day test rehearsal and the books emblazoned with the words "test prep."
Trustee Labbate said that she believed the old model of just testing students in 4th and 8th grades worked, and that perhaps the district should focus on those two years, rather than having significant amounts of prep in the other years. She stated that she believes the Common Core is a positive change, however, that when there is too much focus on testing skills, it is going to create "burn-out." She said she opposed opting out - that it could sometimes send the wrong message to kids - to "just quit and not do it."
Trustee Russo commented that not doing test preparation could result in more kids being eligible for AIS services which could put a burden on district resources.
Vice President Knierim concluded the discussion saying that "we need the changes to happen in Albany," and "that we all want to find a middle ground."
Item E - approval of LAC chairperson was tabled to the next meeting.
Item F - approval of school breakfast prices - Trustee Jones questioned if students eligible for free lunch were eligible for the reduced rate or free breakfast. Asst. Supt. Buatsi said she would look into it. She also asked why lunch and breakfast prices were being raised while snack prices were not.
Items C, D, F,G, and H through O were approved unanimously.
There was a lengthy discussion on item H - Approval of agreement with Syntax Company.
Trustee Russo stated that she did not believe it was necessary for the District to have a Media Relations firm. "It's a poor message," she said, "to hire someone to tell us what we have to say." She said that the board counsel was sufficient for advising the district on such matters and that she was capable of crafting something to say.
Trustee Nightengale stated that the district needs to find ways to save money. He said that when a representative of the firm was being questioned in executive session that he failed to answer a question. At this point, other trustees reminded Trustee Nightengale that the interview was in executive session, and asked that he respect the confidentiality of the discussion - which he did.
Trustee Beyer said that the Board was highly criticized by two of the Board members during the last election for not communicating effectively and that this is what the district was seeking to do. The purpose of the firm, she stated was to give crisis management advice on large issues to deal with the press - not the community. She said the contract was for a maximum of $3,000.
Trustee Labbate stated that she took issue with the comment that the board is hiring a PR firm because it does not want to tell the truth. She said it is a small resource to assist the superintendent in talking to big media outlets.
Trustee Knierim stated that the district was advised by board counsel to use the firm for a particular issue that had come up last year.
Dr. Melnick stated that the district was not spending $3,000, but that it was an authorization to spend up to that amount, and that it allowed him to seek advice. Last year, he said, the district did not spend money on the service.
Trustee Russo replied that the District had used the firm last year.
Dr. Melnick replied that the District had not been charged, because the e-mail the firm had offered advice on had never been sent.
Trustee Russo made a motion to table the vote until the next meeting because, she said, one board member was absent. Trustee Nightengale seconded the motion. The motion was defeated 2-4, with trustees Nightengale and Russo voting "yes". The motion to approve the Contract with Syntax was approved by a vote of 4-2, with Trustees Nightengale and Russo voting "no."
Terry Glassman, Old Brookville, stated that the purpose of the state testing originally was to catch kids in need of remediation. She also commented on the confusion between Test Prep and Test Practice. She added that she agreed with Trustee Nightengale that students need to learn how to take tests - that it's important to familiarize students with them, but to de-emphasize their importance.
Larry Ruisi, Old Brookville, said that he supported Dr. Ferris' approach to dealing with test preparation by "aligning standards to classroom instruction." He also expressed concern that a "wedge issue" was being created - that the testing issue is being presented as an either-or proposition.
Rob Casella, Glenwood Landing, said that students need to be prepared for the tests, but that it is important to minimize the anxiety associated with them. He also questioned why the elementary schools have a l hour shorter day than others. Dr. Melnick replied that it was contractual and historical.
A Glenwood Parent said that she was a part of the 2010 audience that expressed disappointment over the test scores. She stated that she is an advocate for tests and is concerned when people say that they want to take away testing. She said she believes the board "gets it" in looking for a balanced approach.
Noah Blumenthal, Sea Cliff, said that he would continue coming back to meetings to press for less test prep. He stated that he is a fan of test prep - when it helps one get a good grade on the bar exam or SATs, but there is a big difference when you are talking about young children. Test prep "is not a 12 year journey." he said, "It's a six week course." He said that it kills the love and passion for learning. He stated that he is not as much concerned about the anxiety it costs, as what it does to the curriculum. He took issue with the expression "middle ground", stating that we don't look for "a middle ground between broccoli and poison." He encouraged the board to "do the right thing on this" and that he would stand with them and defend them if they did.
There was no old or new business.
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