We'd like to comment on a few things that were discussed at Monday's board meeting. Some are good and some are bad.
1. Thank you to Board Members Heneghan and Garg for asking questions about the MAP data and other items on the agenda.
These two board members were the only ones who submitted any questions to Dr. Schuster prior to the meeting. Their questions, and Dr. Schuster's answers, were posted on Board Docs on Monday afternoon in the Superintendent's Report tab. These two board members are asking very thoughtful questions. We wish the same were true of the other board members, and of Dr. Schuster's cursory answers and non-answers -- she put a lot of the responses off to future dates, which we found odd since these were questions asked in anticipation of Monday's meeting, not a future meeting. One of the "Board Agreements" discussed on Monday called for "no surprises" and for board members to submit their questions in advance. Questions not presented ahead of time could be challenged as "surprises," so are we to assume that the other board members had no questions at all regarding the important data and materials posted for them ahead of the meeting? That they felt the information provided was sufficient and raised no concerns that should be discussed? We certainly hope not, because as parents, we are very concerned about the data.
2. Thank you to the parents who stepped up during public comment and asked important questions, raised concerns or pointed out information that the board should have been aware of.
A. One parent expressed concern when her child brought home his Everyday math workbook on the last day of school. She was dismayed that it was empty and had not been used at all last year. This sentiment was echoed by one Board Member who said her child had also brought home an empty, unused work book. The parent expressed disappointment that tax payer money had been spent on unused materials. We agree that this is a wasteful expenditure of the tax payer money that funds the schools. Dr. Schuster seemed surprised that this had happened and said she will look into it. We will await her explanation to the board. Someone needs to be held accountable.
B. When a parent ceded time to another to make a longer public comment, Board Member Yaeger expressed anger and said the policy that allows multiple people to cede time to another needs to be changed. Other board members and Dr. Schuster began discussing whether the policy should be changed until former Board Member Mayer, who was in attendance, pointed out from the audience that the current policy only allows one person to cede another their time. The fact that the board didn't seem to know what the policy on public comment says, is troubling. Board Members need to do their homework and learn the "rules" that they expect everyone to play by.
C. A couple of parents expressed concern that the MAP data presented during the meeting showed that D181 has fallen behind other districts. One pointed out that MAP growth data from other districts shows more than 70% of their students are meeting their growth targets, and that this is what should be happening in D181. This is the kind of information that D181's Assessment staff should be presenting to the Board. We hope that in the future they will do so, and not wait for community members to gather this information. We are paying D181's Assessment administrators very high salaries to do a comprehensive job.
3. Thank you to Board Member Heneghan for advocating for open communication between Board members and community members who contact them as a group or individually. The "Board Agreements" that were discussed on Monday included one that appeared to limit the type of communications individual board members can have with community members. Mr. Heneghan expressed his opposition to the proposed language and the board agreed to allow him to revise the language to ensure that communications would not be restricted. We will await the new draft language. We expect that no action will be taken to try and silence an open exchange between the Board members and the electorate.
1. The MAP data presentation given by Mr. Russell lacked an action plan on what specifically the district will do going forward to address the inadequate % of students achieving their individual growth targets. A 62 slide power point had only 1 slide on "take aways" and these were short observation statements with no action plan included. It was only after Board members pressed for specific actions the Administration plans to take to improve the percentage of individual students meeting their growth targets, and how it will determine why certain schools achieved significantly higher growth percentages than others, that Mr. Russell presented a couple of ideas. Why weren't these action items included in the report to the Board?
2. We are troubled by one action plan he explained as follows: Next fall students who did not achieve their growth targets might be called in for individual conferences where the "RIT number" they achieved will be explained to them, and the RIT number that they should be shooting for in the next test cycle will be identified and explained to them. Is this really going to help students achieve a higher score? Won't it simply put undue pressure on them? Is the focus really going to be on explaining to the students that they have to do better and what score they need to attain? We hope not. Rather, the students should never have to think about the "RIT number." The students should receive instruction that addresses their individual educational needs and then the MAP tests results should indicate whether the instruction was adequate. As Mr. Russell pointed out during the meeting, the growth percentage shows "how effective your instruction was." If a student doesn't meet the growth target, then the Administration must look at why the instruction was ineffective. Someone must be held accountable, and it can't be the student.
3. During the MAP presentation, Mr. Russell minimized the low percentage of students meeting their growth targets by reporting that NWEA (the company that created the MAP test) no longer states that in high achieving districts, 70% of students should achieve their growth targets. Mr. Russell said that now NWEA says that it is sufficient if only 50 to 60% of students achieve their growth targets. Really? As one parent pointed out during public comment, the letter Mr. Russell signed and sent home to parents with the Fall 2012 MAP score results specifically pointed out the 70% goal. Parents should be able to believe the information the administration sends home to them, and not expect that when the goal is not achieved, that the administration will suddenly change course. Why should the District lower its standards just because the growth targets were not attained? What we want to see and hear from the Administration are the following:
A. A straight-forward acknowledgement of what the data shows. Don't try to minimize it or justify it or ignore it or bury it. Face up to it! Tell us what it means! Tell us what you are going to do about it! Tell us how you are going to do better next year and ensure that every student can achieve their individual growth target!
B. PPS Administrator Schneider said that Data is there so we can "learn" from it, not place "blame." We agree that the Administration should learn from the data. However, the Administration and Board of Education need to use the data to ensure accountability. Accountability from the Administrators if they did not adequately prepare the curriculum and teachers to be able to teach the materials last year, and as a result, individual student achievement was compromised. Accountability from teachers who were told to use materials and did not, and as a result, individual student achievement may have been compromised. Data cannot be collected, presented and then shelved. It needs to be used to not only measure student performance and growth, but to measure the success of programs. If programs are not successful, and this was a result of poor execution by the one or more Administrators, then the data should support a change in personnel.
C. This Administration needs to come back to the Board and Community before the summer is over and present a comprehensive report on all of the Transition Programs that were implemented in 2012-2013. The report should include an analysis of the data that was collected, identification of what worked and what didn't, what needs to be changed next year -- and exactly how it will be changed -- in order to improve student performance. This report should identify if student performance in any of the transition programs was impacted by class size, number of teachers doing direct instruction on the subject matter and materials that were used.
3. The Board once again approved a 4 day/week summer work schedule for the Administration. After Mr. Heneghan questioned the propriety of the Administrators only working on site 4 days per week this summer, the majority of the board once again approved it. We are appalled. Last summer, the Administrators worked a 4 day/week schedule. Last year's transition plan was poorly executed by the Administration. The school year began without the curriculum materials for both the transition programs in Language Arts or Math being ready for the teachers. There was insufficient teacher training, support or monitoring from the Administration as the year rolled out. As a result, subjects were taught inconsistently across the district and student growth declined. This summer, the Administration must complete the curriculum, plans and training necessary for the major district wide curriculum changes in the form of the ALP. In addition, there will be major staff changes effective July 1, with a new Assistant Superintendent of Learning (Mr. Russell) and Director of Assessment (Ms. Benaitis) starting jobs they have never previously held. In our opinion, it is irresponsible for the Board to not require all Administrators to report to work 5 days per week for the entire summer, unless they are using their "paid" vacation days. Rather than hold someone in the Administration accountable for the poor Transition Year results, the majority of the Board have chosen not to make the first and most obvious change -- the Administrators need to work full time this summer to ensure that the ALP plans are ready on Day 1 of school. There is something seriously wrong with this picture!
4. Before the first day of student attendance this fall -- August 22 -- the Administration should report to the Board whether all of the components of the ALP that will be rolled out next year are completely ready. Have all of the curriculum materials, assessment materials and necessary teacher training been completed? If not, why not and who is responsible for this not getting done? What will be the plan and schedule during the 2013-2014 year to collect, analyze and report to the Board on data and information that addressed whether or not the programs are being rolled out in a consistent fashion across the district and whether students are successfully performing in these new programs with all students showing growth? We hope that the Board expects such a report to be ready before the doors open to students on August 22. There are only 70 days left until then.