Guilderland and Voorheesville high schools receive state accolades 

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles attributes part of Guilderland High School’s success for being recognized by the state as a “high achieving” school to the expansion of co-teaching, where in many sections of English, social studies, science, and math there is both a general-education as well as a special-education teacher.

The New York State Education Department last week recognized Guilderland’s and Voorheesville’s high schools as “high achieving” under the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan.

In total, the department identified 582 — out of 4,433 public schools, statewide— as Recognition Schools that had either high academic achievement or made strong progress in state-mandated testing, in this case Regents testing. Both Guilderland and Clayton A. Bouton high schools were recognized for their high academic achievement. 

There are 1,346 public high schools in New York State, including charter schools (1,256 public-only); 212 made the list, just four were from the 24 component school districts that make up Capital Region BOCES: Guilderland and Clayton A. Bouton, and Shaker High School in the North Colonie Central School District and Bethlehem Central Senior High School. 

“It’s a great honor for our district. We have high-achieving students, we do well, we’re meeting the mark for the majority of our students together,” said Frank Marci, Voorheesville’s superintendent. 

A Recognition School must:

— Be in good standing;

— Have the highest level of student performance and graduation rate;

— Not have the lowest accountability indicator in English and math progress; chronic absenteeism; English proficiency; and college, career, and civic readiness; 

— Not have any subgroups that were identified as potential targets for support and improvement based on 2018-19 school year results; and

— Not have a participation rate that is less than 95 percent on English and math testing in the 2018-19 school year.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act was passed during the Obama administration, allowing states to develop their own learning standards; ESSA replaced the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act. 

Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles described No Child Left Behind and ESSA as two different accountability systems. “It’s the same big umbrella of federal guidelines, guidance, accountability for public schools in the United States,” she said; where the change happened was at the state-level.

New York State in September 2017 adopted its own Next Generation Learning Standards, which explicitly laid out what students should be learning at each grade level while revising and clarifying existing standards.

The new Next Generation Standards were scheduled to be fully implemented by September, with student testing beginning in spring 2021, according to the state

Guilderland has practiced high-quality instruction regardless of what the state has required the district to do, Wiles said, but one thing that the ESSA framework has done is it has made Guilderland more focused on its subgroups and making sure the district meets those students’ needs.

Under ESSA, the focus on the subgroups has been the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Guilderland is now more fully aware that there may be some students who could be struggling and the district needs to be paying attention to that, and not letting those students fall through the cracks, Wiles said, which she feels Guilderland has always done. But, with ESSA, the required reporting and plan-writing underscores that in a way that is helpful, she said. 

Another reason for Guilderland’s improved performance, Wiles said, is due to the expansion of co-teaching, where, in many classrooms for English, social studies, science, and math courses, there is both a general-education as well as a special-education teacher.

“So, we have two adults in the classroom helping students, modifying curriculum, providing various accommodations, structuring learning in ways all students can access it,” she said. “And I think we’ve seen a great improvement and acceleration of students learning as a result of that.”

The co-teaching benefits all students, she said, regardless of subgroup. 

With regard to shrinking budgets — 13 positions could be cut in Guilderland’s budget for next year — what the district has proposed so far will not impact instruction, But Wiles also pointed out the budget is in draft form. 

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