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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 9, 2010

State redefines student proficiency, raising the bar

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — After the state raised the bar for interpreting student test scores, Demian Singleton, Guilderland’s assistant superintendent for instruction, told the school board, “Certainly, there’s been an impact.”

Guilderland saw about a 15-percent drop in the number of students who met or exceeded standards in math and English for grades three through eight from the 2008-09 school year to the 2009-10 scores, which were released in late July.

But, Singleton went on at the Aug. 17 board meeting, “I’m proud to say we’ve fared fairly well.”

In July, the Board of Regents, which oversees public education in New York, released a report, “A New Standard for Proficiency: College Readiness,” which states, “The Regents raised standards a decade ago. Now the Regents are embarking on a new era of reform to improve student achievement.”

As part of the new initiative, under the leadership of the new education commissioner, David Steiner, cut-off scores for the math and English tests were set according to new proficiency standards, meant to be aligned with college-ready performance.

The state analyzed how its tests related to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam — which the Regents chancellor refers to as “the gold standard in testing” — and also looked at how the eighth-grade math and English exams related to the high school Regents exams, and, finally, how performance on the Regents related to first-year performance in college.

The Regents report shows that 44 percent of first-time students in two-year colleges need remedial coursework, and 13 percent in four-year college need such help.

While performance on New York State tests appeared to show progress in student learning, when compared against the NAEP exam results, there was no progress.

The performance levels have now been renamed to show parents and teachers whether a student is below, meeting, or exceeding the proficiency standard. The new labels describe Level 1 as “below standard,” Level 2 as “meets basic standard,” Level 3 as “meets proficiency standard.” And Level 4 as “exceeds proficiency standard.

In the past, students had to score 650 on their tests to make Level 3. Now the cut-off scores are higher — such as 684 for third-grade math, or 658 for eighth-grade English.

At Guilderland, for the 2008-09 school year, 95 percent of students in grades three through eight scored at or above the Level 3 learning standards on the math test. This compares with just 80 percent, with the new cuts, for the 2009-10 school year.

In English, the change was nearly the same: In 2008-09, there were 90 percent at or above Level 3 compared with 73 percent in 2009-10.

School districts across the state saw similar or more precipitous drops. In 2008-09, statewide, 77 percent of students met or exceeded standards in English and 86 percent did so in math. But, after the bar was raised for what it means to be proficient, just 53 percent met the mark in English and 61 percent in math.

The State Education Department also refers to a “tragic racial achievement gap,” noting that low-need communities, like Guilderland, outperform large cities and rural areas in both the English and math tests. In economically disadvantaged districts, fewer than 40 percent of the students met or exceeded the new proficiency standard in English and fewer than half did so in math.

Other business

In other business, the board:

—         Approved combining the Guilderland and Mohonasen ice hockey teams for the 2010-11 school year. Board President Richard Weisz said the merger was “sad for the hockey parents,” offering fewer opportunities, but board member Colleen O’Connell commented, “It’s saving the program; the numbers are down”;

—         Accepted the resignation of Brian Bailey, who had worked at Guilderland since 2004 and left his post as assistant principal at Guilderland High School to become the high school principal at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk.

The board met in executive session to discuss filling the vacancy. The district received over 130 applications for the post, according to the interim superintendent, Michael Marcelle, who said, “We’re very pleased with the pool”;

—         Approved BOCES service contracts and a consultant agreement to host the Summer 2010 Reading and Writing Institute;

—         Accepted a donation from David Griggs-Janower of a quilted nylon grand piano cover;

—         Received a copy of district priorities, developed in May by teachers, administrators, parents, students, and residents. The priorities fall into three categories: “Healthy, safe, and engaged”; “Globally aware and connected”; and “Intellectually challenged and academically accomplished.”

Weisz called it a “great session” and urged keeping it in mind with budget priorities;

—         Heard an update from Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders and Rudley Lewis, project executive with Sano-Rubin Construction Company, on the progress with the $27 million capital construction project, detailing the work to be completed before the opening of school.

The district office has been moved from its former location, once a golf clubhouse, on the middle school campus, to the high school building. Weisz called the new offices “quite a change”; and

—         Approved 38 change orders. “We have seven buildings under construction,” said Sanders. “We’re getting to areas behind walls we couldn’t see.” Sanders also said that the district had used a little less than half of the $1.1 million that it had budgeted for contingency expenses. “If we don’t use it, it will go towards lowering the debt payments,” he said.

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