BKW super decries Enterprise coverage of test results for students with disabilities

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Superintendent Timothy Mundell points to an empty chair on Monday night, asking the audience to imagine the student student sitting there being hurt by Enterprise coverage.

BERNE — The school superintendent here delivered a 20-minute speech, directed at The Altamont Enterprise, on Monday, critical of the paper’s March 7 article noting that Berne-Knox-Westerlo has been identified by the state education department as a potential target school, in need of intervention for its special-education program.

Timothy Mundell portrayed the district’s students as victims of the news story, which accurately related information from the district and from the state’s education department.

At BKW’s March 25 school board meeting, Mundell brought a chair and sat it next to the lectern where he was speaking. He asked that those in the room imagine a student, any student, sitting in that chair.

“Every time we have a conversation in this room or make decisions, that student is affected,” he said.

After referencing a colleague who does not allow staff to impose “ACEs” on students — adverse childhood experiences — Mundell held up a copy of the March 7 edition of The Enterprise, on which a front-page story was headlined “State may intervene” with the subhead “BKW students with disabilities scored in lowest 10%.”

“How could they do that to us?” he asked.

When Mundell was questioned by board member Helen Lounsbury at the Feb. 25 school board meeting, on which the Enterprise’s March 7 article reported, he said, “I’m going to be very honest with you, we are a school that’s labeled as potentially a target school for intervention next year in a special education category.”

Mundell said on Monday that the headline was misleading. The statistics referenced in the subhead refer to information provided to The Enterprise by a New York State Education department official: that BKW was identified as a potential target school in need of intervention because students with disabilities who took state assessments were among the lowest 10-percent in their group for achievement and growth in English and math.

“The story, as I said, was somewhat reasonable as a summary of the meeting and the discussion,” he later said. “The headline was not; the twist of the headline had to have some purpose.” He called it “an insult to our school and community.”

Mundell referenced “ACEs” throughout his speech, suggesting that the article in question could constitute an adverse childhood experience for BKW students. He said that, after the article was published, his office was flooded with parents concerned about the news and concerned about their children being identified.

He quoted one administrator as saying, “Oh my God, our families are reading that.” Mundell said, “I listened to their shock and amazement.”

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration describes adverse childhood experiences, which Mundell referred to as ACEs, as stressful or traumatic events. Examples given include various types of abuse and neglect, witnessing abuse in the household, or having a household member with mental illness or addiction.

Mundell expressed concern that referencing the number of students at the school with disabilities and their type of disability could expose their identity, as there are so few in the group. These numbers were first reported in an Enterprise article from December 2018; the figures came from a presentation at the December school board meeting by Pupil Personnel Services Director Susan Sloma. No students were named in either article. Those figures are still posted by BKW on the platform BoardDocs under the district’s December agenda.

He also said that there are 800 students in the school, not 762 as reported by The Enterprise using information from the state education department, because there are students placed out of the district that BKW is accountable for.

The superintendent went on to say that he spent 20 hours researching data from the state education department and had found information on the district’s proficiency rate. With the data — from lowest-ranked district descending to highest-rank — displayed on a projector screen, Mundell asked the district technician to slowly scroll down until BKW was displayed.

Minutes went by, with the superintendent noting districts in more affluent areas ranked lower than BKW, until the district was shown to be second from last of the more than 300 districts on the list. With over 600 districts in the state, Mundell noted this placed BKW in the 56th percentile in English testing for “that subgroup” not the bottom 10-percent.

“This was an ACE,” he said, referring to the article. “And our community needs to know it. If you are fair and able to get the data, you should do your homework.”

As The Enterprise reported in December, statewide in 2018, tests in third through eighth grades showed 45.2 percent of test-takers were proficient in English; in math, 44.5 percent were proficient. In 2018 at BKW, 56 percent of the general-education students were proficient in English and 44 percent were proficient in math.

The relevant scores reported in the March article, however, were the scores for students with disabilities. As the Enterprise reported then, for students with disabilities statewide, 13.8 percent were proficient in English and 14.6 percent were proficient in math, according to 2018 test results. At BKW, 41 students with disabilities were tested in English and 4 of them, or 10 percent, were proficient. In math, 39 students with disabilities were tested and two of them, or 5 percent, were proficient.

 

 

— From the State Education Department website
The most recent results for math tests taken by Berne-Knox-Westerlo students with disabilities in grades 3 through 8 are displayed by the State Education Department, along with results in other categories, at https://bit.ly/2HJHHgY. Level 3 or higher is considered proficient.

 

 

— From the State Education Department website
The most recent results for English tests taken by Berne-Knox-Westerlo students with disabilities in grades 3 through 8 are displayed by the State Education Department, along with results in other categories, at https://bit.ly/2CJRuzn. Level 3 or higher is considered proficient.

 

On March 25, Mundell recounted what the district has done since he became superintendent to help students socially and emotionally — such as by hiring a school social worker and a counselor for the elementary school.

“Five years ago, we couldn’t even write an IEP correctly,” he said, referencing an individualized education program required for students to receive special education. “Today we’re commended by state ed department.”

Mundell also said, “I’m not interested in division … That chair,” he said, pointing to his prop, “every time there’s a political machination, the student in that chair gets an ACE. Not on my watch.” Mundell also said he was opposed to fighting.

He concluded his speech, to applause from school board and audience members, “We’re reviving a culture here, one student at a time … We can’t allow the words people print on paper to go unchallenged.”

After the meeting, Mundell declined to answer any questions from The Enterprise, not only related to the subject of the district’s potential designation, but also to other subjects discussed at the meeting. Mundell said not to call him in the future as he would no longer talk to The Enterprise.

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