Thursday, February 14, 2013

Thinking Out Loud

February Pupil Services Committee Meeting:
Committee members in attendance: Chair Linda Raileanu, Maria Pimley, Susan Tiernan, 
Heidi Adsett
Board members in attendance:  President Vince Murphy, Vice-President Karen Miller, 
Ed Coyle

Guidance Software Recommendation:

Supervisor of Pupil Services Dr. Salsbury informs us that, since 2004, the District has been using the COIN inventory, career guidance software with limitations such as: lack of current employment statistics,  transcripts can only be mailed, data must be calculated manually, no interface with District scheduling system (Power School), limited number of career assessments, and no capability to track students once they are in college.

In light of these limitations, a guidance committee was formed 2 years ago and has been working to address areas of concern. The goals of the committee:
  • Determine the best way to match student interest with college program
  • Determine the best way to gather data from students after they have started college
  • Determine a way to provide additional help with PSAT preparation

The outcome of this committee was the recommendation to replace COIN with Naviance, a college and career readiness platform that helps connect academic achievement to post-secondary goals. Some benefits of Naviance over COIN: students can view the status of application materials, enhanced communication between students and counseling staff, ability to track and measure outcome of alumni, college and career readiness design program with lessons for grades 6-12, adaptive learning SAT prep tool and Power School data can be downloaded into system on weekly basis. Ideally,  Naviance will enable completion of a baseline data report, tracking where students are applying and being accepted.   267 districts in PA now use Naviance and the District hopes to have COIN completely replaced with the system by 2014-15. The cost for first year is $36,000, and approximately $20,000 in  following years.  Dr. Ranieri tells us this amount was included in the budget.  Dr. Pimley asks if Naviance has the ability to track trade/technical colleges and  we are told that such institutions, such as Kaplan University,  are indeed part of the database.  

Guidance counselors from Rustin and East were in attendance to speak about Naviance.  One counselor tells a story of a colleague who,  while visiting the veterinary school at University of NC, actually downloaded a video of the campus to send to an interested student.  Also interesting is a brief discussion of  GPAs which,  like school districts, are apparently not created equal.  For example, we are told that a 3.5 in WC is not necessarily a 3.5 in Unionville Chadds Ford.  With Naviance, a student’s GPA can be tracked/compared (anonymously) to other students in our area who have been admitted to particular universities, thus showing the probability of admittance.  In addition, a counselor offers the website,  as a resource where students can access a list of colleges/universities where admission is not always dependent on test scores.  From Fairtest,  “Over 815 four-year colleges and universities across the U.S., acting on the belief that   "test scores do not equal merit" do not use the SAT or ACT to make admissions decisions about a substantial number of their incoming freshmen classes.”  (See the  October blog for more on this superb site.)

In the end, the Naviance PowerPoint presentation reminded us that the implementation of this system fulfills one of the school board’s student achievement goals for 2012-13 school year: “The District will establish a relationship with the nation’s top universities”.   Kudos to the Board, but let us not forget the positive input of parents, together with the two-year commitment of guidance counselors and administrators that, in reality, brought Naviance to the district for the benefit of all students. We are grateful to all involved.       

West Chester Communities that Care Drug Free Communities Grant application:

Some background:  At January’s Pupil Services meeting,  West Chester Communities that Care approached the Board to renew a 2-year grant from the PA Liquor Control Board.  CTC raises awareness of the impact of underage drinking in our community and uses the grant money for  youth leadership programs, education and  social norms campaigns.  At the January meeting, Dr. Ranieri explained to the Board  that the District serves as  fiscal agent for Communities that Care and, in order to comply with new Board Policy DFF of August 2012, the District must seek approval for all grants over $10,000.  It is also explained that, once received, the CTC grant  will simply “pass through”, having no impact on the budget. The application was approved.

This month,  Communities that Care returns to ask approval, via the District as fiscal agent, for the continuation of a 5 year grant (up to $25,000/year) from Drug Free Communities (DFC). CTC currently receives funding from DFC to support their efforts to prevent and reduce substance abuse among youth, so this request is more a re-authorization to continue that funding.  President Vince Murphy asks how this grant will impact district budget.  As she did in January,  Dr. Ranieri explains that the District serves as fiscal agent for CTC, making the grant money merely a pass-through with no impact on the budget.  How soon we forget.

February Education Committee Meeting
Committee members in attendance: Chair Maria Pimley, Linda Raileanu, Susan Tiernan, 
Heidi Adsett
Board members in attendance:  President Vince Murphy, Vice-President Karen Miller, 
Sean Carpenter, Ed Coyle

K-12 Science Overview:

Paul Joyce, Supervisor of Science, gives an enthusiastic overview of science in the District. At the elementary level, he notes the use of all-inclusive science kits available to all teachers and customized textbooks for grades 2-4.  Maria Pimley notes that she heard , admittedly “anecdotally”, that science kits were not being used in all elementary classes.  Mr. Joyce comments that while some teachers may have been slower to realize the all-inclusive nature of the kits than others, once they were used, kit use was consistent.  

Next came  some self-professed  “thinking out loud” from two board members.   Dr. Pimley admitted to and apologized for baring her  thought process, fondly recalling her completion of a cell poster for a 4th grade science assignment.  She continued, noting the absence of  the  “biological sciences” in current elementary science lessons, wondering if the reason for the absence is that students at that level cannot cognitively grasp such concepts.  Her thoughts are basically  affirmed by Mr. Joyce.  Now it is Ms. Raileanu’s turn to ponder aloud, apparently attempting to connect the earlier discussion of  the Drug Free Communities grant to the current science discussion.  She asks Mr. Joyce if “we” could possibly  link the study of plants in school to the “toxic” nature of drugs.  She suggests that perhaps in the “younger grades” , “we” could “subliminally” put messages in the curriculum about what “wonderful things” plants are while simultaneously warning children of their potential “toxic” side.  Ms. Raileanu believes it is  “our job”  to disseminate such messages.   Mr. Joyce admits he has never thought of such a connection but promises to look into it.   

While I was certainly relieved to hear that the person in charge of the District’s science curriculum, i.e., Mr. Joyce,  had never thought of using “subliminal” messages in student lessons, I was dismayed that a school board member, regardless of their professed expertise in the area of science, would find it an acceptable suggestion.  While one can  respect the fact  that Ms. Raileanu is a scientist/teacher/healthcare advocate, one must also respect that Mr. Joyce is an employed expert in his field who continues to serve on numerous PA Department of Education state science committees. With that in mind, is it not Mr. Joyce who is perhaps better suited to the “job” of crafting District science programs than any member of the Board?   Let's just chalk this one  up to a “thinking out loud” faux pas and move on.

Mr. Carpenter asks how PLCs (Professional Learning Communities-check out September blog  for background) are being received by science instructors.  Mr. Joyce reports that the teachers feel that PLCs have a positive impact on students, and admits most issues are “logistical”.   Dr. Fraser agrees that work is ongoing with PLC implementation in all areas, but the “game plan” is to have that accomplished by next year.    

2013-14 School Calendar:

Director of Elementary Education Dr. Missett presents the first reading of 2013-14 school year calendar.  Of note is a shortened spring break, now officially referred to as Easter break.  We are told that the Thursday, Friday, Monday break comes in response to parent surveys, the results of which were close.  Mr. Coyle comments that he has heard some parents express concern that student groups historically use the week of “spring break” for travel.  Dr. Missett is aware of that concern and has hopes that those trips will begin to occur during summer months.  Parents will continue to be surveyed about the break for the next two years.  And per Board Policy AEA,  school will begin after Labor Day for the next two years.  Fun fact: there is currently a bill sitting in the House  Committee of Tourism & Recreational Development, HB75, that would make it a law for schools to begin after Labor Day.

Update on Standardized Testing

Dr. Fraser reports that the PA Department of Education has delayed implementation of the revised grades 3-5 PSSA until 2014-15.  These revised tests were aligned to PA Common Core and originally intended for implementation in 2013-14. Dr. Fraser sees this as a positive, giving us more time to prepare. We are also informed the PDE has asked permission of the US Department of Education to change the 2012-13 Annual Measurable Objectives (targets needed to be reached to make AYP) at the high school level only.  The 2012-13 AMOs for Math are 89% and 91% for Reading.  PDE has requested of the US DOE to change Math (the Algebra 1 Keystone) to 39% and Reading (the Literature Keystone) to 50%. Why? The Keystone exams are more rigorous than the PSSAs and the lower percentages accurately reflect the percentage of students in PA who achieved proficiency on the 2011 Keystone exams.  Dr. Fraser reminds us of the article he distributed in November concerning lower test scores in Kentucky resulting from Common Core implementation, noting that PA’s  recent request to “reset” AYP targets is not surprising.  

PA School Performance Profile

Dr. Fraser introduces a school rating profile, the PA School Performance Profile,  to be rolled out by PDE this spring, using data from 2011-12 school year.   

Why the profile?
  • Parents will have comparative measure for district of residence, neighboring districts and all districts across the state
  • Provide information about academic performance measure of schools, career and technical centers, cyber charters and charters in PA
  • Resource for schools to communicate/compare/analyze performance as related to achievement and encourage best practice

In addition, the PA School Performance Profile will contain the building level data necessary as a component of PA’s new teacher evaluation system, which is part of Act 82 of 2012, originally the omnibus School Code bill HB 1901 passed with last year’s budget.  One may recall the controversy surrounding this particular portion of HB1901 due to the fact that, in the final version of the bill,  charter schools would not be subject to the “educator evaluation” language of the bill.  At that time, the omission was justified by many who believed that charter educator accountability would be addressed in charter/cyber reform bills in the fall of last year, but that has yet to happen. For teachers and principals, Act 82 requires 50% of the overall rating to be based on student performance; for non-teaching professional employees (educational specialists), the bill requires 20% of the overall rating to be based on student performance. The evaluation tools* will be used for classroom teachers in the 2013-14 school year, with rating systems for principals and  non-teaching professionals proposed for use in the 2014-15 school year.  Intrigued?   Then why not plan to attend the March 11th Education Committee meeting where Dr. Fraser promises a more detailed presentation  on the system.     See you there. 


*The rating system is  weighted as follows:

  • 50% based on observation and evidence: planning/preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities of teacher
  •  50% based on multiple measures of student performance:

Ø  15% building level data: school-wide student improvement on PSSA performance, PVAAS (PA Value Added Assessment System) growth, graduation rate, promotion rate, attendance, AP course participation, SAT/PSAT data
Ø  15% teacher specific data: student improvement attributable to teacher on PSSA performance, PVAAS growth, IEP growth of special education students
Ø  20% elective data: locally developed/selected by school district from a list approved by PDE. Includes district-designed measures, national standardized tests, student projects

Act 82 requires the Department of Education to develop the evaluation tool, and directs the State Board of Education to make required changes and modifications to the tool through the regulatory process. When an employee receives a "needs improvement" rating twice within a ten year period, the overall rating of the employee will be considered unsatisfactory. An employee cannot receive a "failing" rating based solely on test scores, and an employee who receives a "needs improvement" or "failing" rating must participate in a performance improvement plan. Act 82 also states that an employee's rating form shall not be subject to disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law.  

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