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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 2, 2009

Concerned with potential special ed cuts
GCSD board pleased with recent report card

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — School board members said they were pleased with and proud of the results of required government testing, presented in the annual School Report Card.

They expressed some concerns on how special-education students would fare if cutbacks were made.

“I do not think this is the time to start eliminating special-education administrators,” said board member Colleen O’Connell, a sentiment echoed by several other board members.

“I’m really concerned about their raising the bar,” said board member Gloria Towle-Hilt.

The board members’ comments followed the June 23 presentation of results from tests taken in the 2007-08 school year. The inch-thick school report card is available, in printed form, at the district office; data is also available at the state’s website — http://nystart.gov/publicweb.

Each of Guilderland’s seven schools — five elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school — are schools “in good standing,” reported Demian Singleton, the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction.

He listed as other successes that steady gains have been made in English and math for third- through eighth-graders over three years; that 95 percent of Guilderland graduates go on to attend either two-year or four-year colleges. (Sixty-four percent of the Class of 2008 went to four-year colleges and 31 percent to two-year colleges.)

Ninety-four percent of graduates receive a Regents diploma (68 percent of them with advanced designation) while 55 percent of students with disabilities received Regents diplomas.

Singleton listed as the first priority to “continue to support students with disabilities to ensure that this subgroup is able to sustain Adequate Yearly Progress on all accountability measures.”

The only group of students at Guilderland that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress in 2007-08 — defined by the state — were students with disabilities taking tests in English at the secondary level.

Only 1 percent of students are allowed to take alternate assessments, said Singleton, which will “undoubtedly present an immense challenge.”

Singleton said the district’s failure to meet the state’s mark was partially due to the fact that a small group of students had not taken the test.

“We’ve made modifications to testing procedures,’ said Singleton.

He also said that Guilderland was not alone and other suburban districts we’re beginning to feel the pressure as the bar is being raised on performance for students with disabilities.

Graduation rates

Another priority is to continue to closely monitor student completion rates.

That became a priority after the report card last year based on data from 2006-07.  That year, Guilderland had 45 “non-completers,” which was 2 percent of the class, more than double the year before. Thirty-six of them were general-education students and nine of them were students with disabilities.

The No Child Left Behind team looked at who dropped out and why, tracing their history back to kindergarten “to see where to begin to address the needs of these students,” Singleton said last year.

This June, he said the district is trying to make sure students are “not slipping through the cracks.”

The current report card shows that, of the 455 students followed as a “cohort” entering as freshmen in 2003, eighty-nine percent graduated by 2007. Of the 45 students with disabilities, 64 percent graduated. (The state standard for graduation is 55 percent.)

For the Class of 2008, ninety-four percent of the 423 students graduated with a Regents diploma; 26 got a local diploma, said Singleton.

Of the 39 students with disabilities in the Class of 2008, thirty-three graduated and six received Individualized Education Program (IEP) diplomas, which the State Education Department considers a “completion,” not a graduation, said Singleton. An IEP is tailored to meet a particular student’s needs.

Of those graduates, 18 received a Regents diploma and four received a Regents diploma with advanced designation; 11 received a local diploma.

The federal government, said Mary Helen Collen, the district’s data coordinator, is trying to align graduation rates for all districts and is “pushing us to look at a five-year graduation rate,” allowing students an extra year to complete requirements for their diploma.

“In conversation”

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo asked about the district’s “reluctance” to screen preschoolers about to start kindergarten.

“Will we use the time-tested model of identifying students who need help early on?” she asked.

“We’re in conversation right now about screening at all levels,” replied Singleton.

He stressed an important distinction, stating that many districts, “wrongfully so,” look at kindergarten screening as a measure of readiness.  However, he said of Guilderland, “We’re looking at diagnostic testing.”

O’Connell likes the Guilderland approach. Neighboring school districts, she said, screen preschoolers in March, and try to dissuade parents from sending children who are not ready to kindergarten, advising them to delay a year.

At Guilderland, O’Connell said, “It’s not whether this kid is ready for our kindergarten, but is our kindergarten ready for this kid.”

Guilderland is moving from a half-day to a full-day kindergarten program this September.

The report-card presentation again this year did not address, nor did the board discuss, differences in performance along gender, economic, or ethnic lines — all of which are documented in the report.

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