The Onteora Central School District Middle School grades six-and-seven have been flagged by the State Education Department as having too wide a margin in test scores between regular and special education in English Language Arts (ELA). The gap is based upon 100 or more points that differentiate between the two populations, with special education students cited for lower test scores. As a result the State has assigned school officials to come up with a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) that will be monitored.
At the November 10 Board of Education meeting at the Middle/High School, Middle School principal Jennifer O’Connor told the trustees, “This designation is based upon the 2013-14 student ELA assessments, so these are today’s 9th and 10th graders that the report is based on.” The regulatory requirement is to develop a plan that specifies the process, additional resources needed, professional development, and actions to improve the performance for students with disabilities.
O’Connor said she appealed the designation based upon the fact that there are higher special education classification rates for Onteora, at 25 percent in grade 7, and 28 percent in grade 8, compared to the State norm of 11-15 percent; partially completed tests which resulted in a low score of one (out of four); and a negative climate surrounding state testing, resulting in adverse performance and attitude.
The Common Core based State tests were still considered new, causing confusion to students and teachers. “This was the year where the refusals were just starting,” O’Connor said, “so while there were several refusals there were more partials that year. So if you start the task and stop, it still scores.” O’Connor’s appeal to the State was denied. An LAP team was put together consisting of O’Connor, the director of Pupil Personnel, Middle/High School special education teachers, and BOCES coordinator of special education. The district must explain how it will improve its scores in the future in ELA. As part of the plan, teachers will be creating goals for better student achievement and curriculum. Additionally, support in curriculum includes more reinforcement in classes to support reading and writing expectations, team meetings between general and special education based upon the plan, and more detailed data for the purpose of targeting plans for daily planning.
Before the school board meeting began, a forum was held on recess with approximately 30-40 parents, teachers and school officials in attendance. Some parents weighed in with their concerns, sometimes emotionally, pleading for an uninterrupted playtime for their children. A packet was handed around with information on recess in the district and homework policy guidelines. Parents additionally complained of excessive homework that overflowed into recess and home/family time. Teachers said during the 30-minute daily recess time, if students are kept in for punitive reasons it’s never for the full 30 minutes. However students have opportunities during recess for additional art classes, computer time, music study skills, library helper, peer mediation, gardening, private time, therapeutic breaks, or just not wanting to go outside.
Some students attended the meeting asking to keep their choices open when it came to extracurricular studies during that 30-minutes. Later during the School Board meeting, President Bobbi Schnell thanked those who had participated. “We had a good turnout and at a future meeting we will put it on the agenda and it will be a topic up for discussion.”
Talk about of drug abuse
Trustee Laurie Osmond requested that the board have a discussion in the future on drug abuse among young people. “I would like to have a longer discussion about creating a community school forum about opiate abuse among the region’s teenagers. I know there’s discussion at the Ulster County level, they’re forming subcommittees, it’s great, but that’s going to take some time. I think there should be many conversations about this, not just relying on the County to do it. I think we should do something often, soon or both and I know various other community members are holding meetings on their own, but I think the schools have to be leaders in the conversation and we should do as much as we can.”
At the request of Board President Schnell, at a future meeting a discussion will take place about changing the names of Woodstock, Bennett and Phoenicia back to Elementary schools. During the reconfiguration, Woodstock and Phoenicia grades Kindergarten-through-three were designated Primary schools, and Bennett grades four-through-six titled an Intermediate school.