It was without surprise to school officials across the state that scores would plummet with the release of the 2013 School Report Cards. But explanations from the State Education Department announcing the results indicated that the scores would be used to create a new base line, instead of being flagged as a red mark of inefficiency. Similar to school districts across the state, the Onteora Central School District’s performance dropped — though, as before, it ranks above state and county averages. Onteora Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill came armed with easy to understand statistics during a conversation on Tuesday morning, August 13 and explained what it all meant.
In English Language Arts (ELA), 38 percent of Grade three Onteora students scored at levels three and four — meaning they met or scored above the proficiency level — and 37 percent of students passed in math. The Ulster County average for grade three students scoring at or above proficiency level is 28 percent in ELA and 23 percent in Math. In Saugerties school district, 33 percent of third graders met at or above proficiency level in ELA and 22 percent in Math. New Paltz grade-three ranked at 44 percent for ELA and 32 percent in Math. “I don’t know…I think third grade kids are so inexperienced to even sit for a standardized test,” McGill said.
She pointed to Onteora eighth graders, who have more experience in test taking, and they fared better — 57 percent passing at or above proficiency level in ELA and 42 percent in Math. The Ulster County average for eighth grade proficiency is 33 percent in ELA and 17 percent in math.
“This is all new curriculum, this has been a huge lift for everybody, so I think that it speaks to the work that we’ve been doing and that teachers have taken this task to heart,” McGill said.
What made it all so difficult?
“It’s based on the shift in the Common Core (curriculum),” said McGill. “It requires a lot more problem solving. They’ve changed the test but they also changed the core curriculum. For example in Math, they want you to get very deep instead of doing breadth, they want deep study into things and you have to be able to pull from a repertoire of skills to even formulate what the question is.”
The State Board of Regents adopted the Common Core standards in 2010. However ironing out the new curriculum once handed to school districts was another hurdle that is still in the works.
The curriculum change is “very different,” according to McGill. “It expects a bigger framework of knowledge. The ELA has multiple shifts and it’s going toward more non-fiction at a younger age and being able to digest primary documents.” It was because of the Common Core that McGill moved toward Project Based Learning in grades four-though-six. “It allows for deeper understanding and it spends more time in non-fiction and it tries to compensate by giving kids a development perspective that’s age appropriate.”
McGill points out another problem. The Common Core curriculum is unfunded, though key to its success is new textbooks and staff development that align with the curriculum. McGill mentions that this is yet another unfunded mandate, where the burden points to the local taxpayer.