Sunday, November 18, 2012


November 12 Pupil Services Committee Meeting
Committee members in attendance:  Committee Chair Dr. Maria Pimley, Susan Tiernan
Committee members not in attendance:  Heidi Adsett, Maureen Snook
Non-committee members in attendance:  Vince Murphy, Ed Coyle, Linda Raileanu

Gifted Update:
Pupil Services Director Dr. Ranieri provided an update on District Gifted program, specifically the impact of changes made to Gifted Resource teacher schedules.  One will remember the Gifted Program was analyzed during Budget Task Force II and changes were made to the allocation of Gifted Resource Teachers (GRTs) at the elementary level.  While the meeting agenda specified this month’s  presentation was intended as an update only, many in attendance had questions pertaining to the origin of the current system and conveyed they were never informed of changes. 

Pupil Services Director Dr. Ranieri and Pupil Services Committee Chair Dr. Pimley reminded all in attendance that lengthy discussions were held in the spring before any of these changes were made.  Dr. Pimley directed all to reference committee meeting notes on website from spring 2012 for history of changes. ( April 2012 Board Packet  contains pertinent minutes)  Dr. Ranieri admitted she expected many questions and assured Gifted parents in attendance their questions would be addressed and information posted to the website. She also encouraged  parents with concerns pertaining to their individual child to contact their school’s GRT directly.

Returning to the update on the  impact of Gifted program revisions, Mrs. Tiernan asks Dr. Ranieri what a typical day looks like for the  “shared” Elementary  GRTs. Elementary GRT Deb Smith was in attendance and provided an enthusiastic report, explaining in detail her rotation schedule for schools and reporting the current system is a great way to see all kids and work closely with teachers.  Dr. Pimley questions if building Instructional Coaches ever supplement the work of GRTs. Ms. Smith explains that when instructional coaches and teachers contact her with specific student needs, she sends targeted work via  PDF file to teacher/coach, who can then set up student learning centers in classrooms.  Thus, student learning is not interrupted during the GRT’s rotating absence and GRT, classroom teacher and instructional coach enhance their collaborative relationship in support of student learning.

Reports that things are going well at middle and high school levels also:  On the high school level, note is made of the positive addition of Deb Tobin as GRT. Ms. Tobin, who has a background in business, has a caseload of 45 and offers students  many opportunities for job-shadowing.  Of note, Ms. Tobin will attend a conference at the University of PA, the focus of which is to encourage more women to pursue careers in computer science.

Top Universities summary of process :
One assumes summary is based on the following  Board goal/assessment:

Board goal-The District will establish a relationship with the nation’s top universities.
Assessment - A baseline data report will be made tracking what colleges students are applying and where they are being accepted. Develop a survey for recent graduates.

Dr. Scanlon notes Princeton Review college rankings, stressing the importance of  making sure WCASD students are being matched not only with top universities, but with the right programs. He also emphasizes the need to continue to monitor, through surveys, student performance while in college programs. 

Act 120 Concussion Policy and District protocol:
First Reading of Policy JGFH: Concussion Management - The policy covers athletic activities outside of school day and is based on PA Safety in Sports Act of 2011, introduced by Representative Tom Briggs from Montgomery County. 

Mr. Coyle questions if this policy should cover all athletics, not just those “outside” school day: for example, what about gym?   Dr. Ranieri states we would then have to get baseline concussion tests for all students, adding that the policy is intended to address/implement the Safety in Sports Act, so to include all students and/or change the language may “muddy the waters” of the intent of the law.

Linda Raileanu, speaking as a neuro-nurse and specialist in this area, relates the story of her daughter who had a non-sports related concussion.   In light of that possibility, she questions whether teachers might also be trained to at least recognize head trauma/neurological  symptoms.  Dr. Scanlon is confident in the fact that WCASD teachers are able to recognize when their students, after experiencing head trauma, are behaving out of the ordinary and would not hesitate in sending student to nurse.

Dr. Pimley suggests that all schools be required to hold informational meetings for parents prior to athletic season: the current wording notes that schools “may” hold meeting.   She also suggested that parents be required to attend such a meeting and sign off if they choose not to attend.

Committee Members in attendance:  Dr. Maria Pimley (chairing in the absence of Mrs. Adsett), Sue Tiernan 
Committee Members not in attendance:  Committee Chair Heidi Adsett, Maureen Snook
Non-committee members in attendance:  Vince Murphy, Ed Coyle, Linda Raileanu

Field Trip Updates:
At the August Education Committee meeting, Mrs. Snook requested a study of District field trip costs and it was unfortunate that Mrs. Snook was not in attendance to hear analysis provided by Dr. Missett.  In 2011-12, educational excursions cost the district $73,614.49 and educational competitions cost the district $75,805.69, with funds covering mostly substitutes and transportation.  As of November, 2012-13 expenses are $36,579.28.  Dr. Missett was asked one question:  Does each building have its own field trip budget?  Yes, and if there is excess, it is up to the principal of the building to decide how to spend.

Common Core assessment update:
Curriculum Director Dr. Fraser provided 11/2/12 article from Education Week, entitled “Scores Drop on Kentucky’s Common Core Aligned Tests”

From the article:
“Results from new state tests in Kentucky - the first in the nation explicitly tied to the Common Core State Standards - show that the share of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math dropped by roughly a third or more in elementary and middle school the first year the tests were given.”

In 2010, Kentucky was the first state to adopt the common core in English Language Arts and Mathematics, so the state’s  performance is viewed as a “predictor” for other states.  Dr. Fraser explains the significance of this article for WCASD, stressing the rigor our students and staff will need to adhere to in order to prepare for common core aligned assessments.  He is confident we are on track and reminds us all that the District’s Professional Learning Communities (see September blog for PLC discussion)  will play a key role in helping staff prepare WCASD students for the upcoming assessments .

The article also states that  Kentucky expects backlash from parents and other stakeholders over the drop in scores, and has not only enlisted its Chamber of Commerce but has also received some help, via grants, from  National PTA, to counter expected negative publicity.  Mr. Coyle questions  if WCASD might find grant money or enlist the local Chamber’s help should news of our scores be less than positive.

English Language Arts Update:
English Language Arts Director Dr. Susan Elliott provides comparative examples of questions from PSSA and Keystone exams. Dr. Elliot points out that the new assessments place greater emphasis on critical thinking skills, grammar and the ability to construct and comprehend written arguments.   For example, the  “old” test sample question asked us to find the definition of “linger” in a text excerpt, supplying four one-word answer choices.   The “new” sample test question compels us to infer the meaning of “linger”, forcing us to identify the text fragment that best conveys the definition. 

 Of note and in full support of Dr. Elliott’s superb presentation is another  Education Week article by  Catherine Gewertz, entitled “Common Standards Drive New Approaches to Reading”. Gewertz admits the “shifts in literacy instruction envisioned by the common core are among the biggest in recent decades”.

The article quotes David Pearson,  professor of language and literacy at the University of California, Berkeley,  who states the literacy standards   " have the potential to lead the parade in a different direction: toward taking as evidence of your reading ability not your score on a specific skill test—or how many letter sounds you can identify or ideas you can recall from a passage—but the ability to use the information you gain from reading, the fruits of your labor, to apply to some new situation or problem or project."

Not  your score in identifying or recalling, but your ability to use information? This is great stuff and few of us would choose not to follow that education reform  “parade”, but realistically how easy is it for us to join?  The article points out some obstacles: class time needed to enhance all student reading,  appropriate professional development for teachers to support all students, and funding needed to ensure classrooms have a variety of text types to promote learning.

A teacher in attendance at Monday’s meeting echoes some of the concerns mentioned in the Gewertz article.  She comments on the need for the Board and administration to continue to provide funding support for diverse texts, updated technology, new programs, etc. that may be needed to assist with implementing common core changes in the classroom.                                                      

In sum, Common Core standards could enhance critical thinking skills, better prepare students for college and career, and ultimately produce a better educated citizenry.  Additionally, the focus on literacy spans all subjects, affording educators more opportunity to collaborate across their fields.  Beautiful stuff,  but one must question how we can possibly sustain such positive impacts within the confines of an accountability based assessment system: we may be raising the bar, but we are still teaching to the test.  

In  the article,  “Time on Testing: 738 minutes in 3 weeks”, Chicago teacher Adam Heenan tells of a student who had turned an assessment answer sheet on its side and bubbled in the colloquial acronym “YOLO” — You Only Live Once — on the exam. Heenan and others are pushing for an audit of time and money spent, not only on testing, but on test-prep:  “We need to know how much time and money test-driven policymakers have diverted from teaching and learning into testing, and to show what we could be doing with those resources instead.”

Speaking of test-driven policymakers, in 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan -  assumed to be keeping his throne four more years – told us that education was the “civil rights issue of our generation”.  In that speech, Duncan acknowledged the limitations of NCLB and admitted the need for states to “develop better assessments”.  He also conveyed his impatience with decades of promises to reform the US education system:  

“And yet we are still waiting for the day when every child in America has a high quality education that prepares him or her for the future. We're still waiting for a testing and accountability system that accurately and fairly measures student growth and uses data to drive instruction and teacher evaluation. We're still waiting for America to replace an agrarian 19th century school calendar with an information age calendar that increases learning time on a par with other countries. We're still waiting and we cannot wait any longer.”

No, Secretary Duncan, we cannot. And as we near 2013, we are beyond waiting – we are lingering.

Some great articles to spur discussion at your holiday table - enjoy and be safe!
*For a detailed and  thoughtful analysis on the origin of “high stakes testing”, see Dora Taylor's series on Parents Across America website.
*For a targeted analysis of Duncan’s accountability based “reforms”, see PL Thomas’ article, “Obama Won, But Did Educators Lose in the Process?


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