Results Wanted — better results

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WHY? — SAD 17 Director Robert Celeste suggested to his colleagues that directors ask parents of home-schooled children why they pulled their children out of public school system.

PARIS — SAD 17 Directors say they want results – better results.

“We’re at the bottom of the barrel and we didn’t used to be,” Paris Director Bob Jewell told administrators after hearing the results of the latest state assessment tests during a presentation by Curriculum Director Heather Manchester at the Nov. 20 board meeting.

“We need to see some results.”

Overall assessment

State assessments, known as the Maine Educational Assessments (MEA), measure the progress of Maine’s students toward successfully meeting the content standards adopted for Maine students. The tests, which all students must take in designated content areas at designated grades, include mathematics, English Language Arts (ELA)/literacy and science.

The assessments are used to help educators, parents, and educational leaders understand how well Maine’s schools are educating, how well Maine’s students are learning, and where additional support may be needed, according to information from the Department of Education.

Oxford Hills School District students need more support, say directors.

GOOD NEWS — Oxford Hills Middle School students exceeded the state average for exceeding state standards in the science assessment.

Overall only 9 percent of the students exceeded state expectation in ELA/literacy, 3 percent in mathematics and 5 percent in science. A total of 30 percent of the students met expectations in ELA, 20 percent in math and 43 percent in science.

Additionally, students showed a decline in the SAT scores.

Only 5 percent of students exceeded expectations in the ELA portion of the SATs and 2 percent in mathematics portion.

A total of 27 percent of the students met standards in ELA SATs and 22 percent in mathematics SATs.

ELEMENTARY MATH — Although 14 percent of Otisfield Community School students exceeded the state’s expectation in the mathematics assessment and the state average for exceeding that mark, overall the elementary mathematic scores were questionable, said directors.

“The math scores are still not where we want them to be,” acknowledged Manchester.

Despite the disappointing results, there was some good news, said Manchester.

This includes:

  • 24 percent of students at Hebron and Otisfield exceeded state standards in ELA and exceeded the state-wide percentage for exceeding state standards.
  • 14 percent of Otisfield students exceeded state standards and state-wide average of students exceeding in mathematics.

The majority of students at the elementary level, including 78 percent of Otisfield Community School students, plus students at the Oxford Hills Middle School, exceeded state standards in science. Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School students who were tested did not.

MATH SCORES — The SAT mathematics assessment scores were disappointing, school officials acknowledged.

The 71 percent of students receiving special education services did not meet state standards for ELA and 97 percent of the same segment of students did not meet state standards for mathematics.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Manchester said of scores from students receiving special education services. She said the district needs to look at each of those students separately as each receives services for different reasons.

Making progress

With two years of data from the same assessments, this is the first opportunity since 2013 that the state and school districts have been able to compare results over two years in mathematics and ELA/literacy.

The Department of Education said the MEA results in the content areas of mathematics, ELA/literacy and science are “very encouraging.” In all content areas, the Department of Education reported statewide performance has improved or remained stable.

“I am encouraged with how well our students are performing. In 2016-17, students were assessed for the third time on the rigorous standards Maine adopted in 2011 and while participation rates remained high, students showed consistent improvement,” said Robert G. Hasson Jr., Maine Department of Education commissioner. “This is a true testament to the hard work and determination of our students and their teachers.”

But at the local level, the scores were not encouraging.

“We’re not proud of it, but we’re not hiding it,” Superintendent Rick Colpitts told the directors as some questioned the progress, or lack of progress, the district is making in achieving its educational goals.

“We put new curriculum in place. When are we going to hear some results?” asked Jewell.

Jewell, like other directors, said the district has invested in new curriculum in an attempt to improve results, but that has not paid off yet.

“I’m one of your biggest advocates. My question to the administration is, ‘How do we make this better?’”

Manchester told the Advertiser Democrat on Nov. 27 that the district implemented new kindergarten through grade 8 math curriculum during the 2016-17 school year. New kindergarten through grade 6 writing curriculum was put in place during the 2015-16 school year and kindergarten through grade 5 reading curriculum during this school year.

New reading curriculum will be put in place for grades 6 through 8 during the next school year, she said.

“There is pretty significant training involved, including training in the summer, during early release day time workshop days,” said Manchester. “We also have a few half-days for teachers to work with their grade level. Our math and literacy coaches work closely with teachers to implement the new curriculum.”

Colpitts said the strategies, such as new curriculum,  not only need time to “mature” in order to see true results and reminded directors that there are other measures the district can use to judge success of its students.

Directors had their own advice … teach the kids to type, go back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and find out why students are home-schooled.

“It’s like you try to run a race with your shoes tied,” said Oxford Director Stacia Cordwell.

Strategies for success

Manchester told the directors that they have identified a number of strategies they will implement to improve students scores in the future.

They include:

  • continuing to adopt and align research-based curriculum practises in writing math and reading by ensuring research curricula are taught.
  • holding administrative “labs” to understand what is involved in the curriculum and providing long-range planning tools to support teachers.
  • continuing to utilize early release days for curriculum implementation and developing intervention and enrichment strategies.
  • fostering a climate of collaboration and teaching with urgency.
  • continuing to grow literacy and math coaches to support instruction in the curriculum.
  • working with teachers to continue to raise the rigor of work with students. Administrators defined “rigor” as high-level thinking tasks that require students to analyze, synthesize, compare, etc.
  • deeply investigating special education data to develop better strategies for working with those identified students.
  • utilizing available online assessments even with the youngest students.
  •  utilizing the limited resources available, such as released items and practise tests with students.
  •  having more focused practise on typing skills during computer lab time.
  • teaching kids tools on the computer.
  • modeling the thought process of answering questions with students.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net