Wilmington and Whitingham school board members discuss testing issues
by Mike Eldred
Oct 25, 2012 | 2893 views | 1 1 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILMINGTON- Wilmington and Whitingham school boards discussed standardized testing issues, and heard plans for a new Wings program at the joint elementary school beginning next year.

Board members explained the meaning and use of standardized test results after Twin Valley High School Principal Bob Morse distributed the latest science testing results, from tests taken in spring 2012. Scores indicate that only 4% of Twin Valley High School students were “proficient” in science. No TVHS students scored “proficient with distinction,” the top level of achievement. Most students, 65%, scored “partially proficient,” and 31% were “substantially below proficient.” Statewide averages, which include elementary and middle school scores, are: 2% proficient with distinction, 30% proficient, 42% partially proficient, 25% substantially below proficient.

The scores are below the previous year’s scores – which were also lower than the statewide averages. Morse said that the low number of students tested at Twin Valley High School, however, contributed to large swings in the scores. Only 26 Twin Valley students were tested.

But Morse said the school has instituted a number of changes in the math and science programs, changes he believes will be reflected in better scores on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests. “I hope we’ve turned the corner and we’re going to start to get better results,” he said.

But there are still hurdles to improving scores. Morse said students and teachers spend a lot of time preparing for the tests. “Last year we spent five weeks, every other day, prepping and working with students. It was a really big effort.”

In an effort to raise scores, Morse said the school has moved to a project-based curriculum, and is also looking at instituting an “intervention” program that other schools have used with success. “We’re putting a lot of new things in place, and we’re trying to get a special consultant in who we hope is going to help us turn the tide this year.”

“I’m losing faith that this (testing) is really telling us anything,” commented Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd.

Interim superintendent Nancy Talbot said a new science curriculum, aligned with the same standards upon which the NECAP is based, is already in place. She said teachers and administrators are expecting to see a big change. “We can’t wait until next year when the NECAP tests are taken again to see if what we’ve been doing works,” she said.

But Whitingham School Board Chair Dwight Williams expressed concern that scores had been allowed to drop so low. “Four percent of our students are proficient,” he said. “I want to hear what we’re going to do about that. I know conversations are happening, but to me, when you’re talking about a 4% proficiency rate and you don’t have some anxiety, that’s alarming to me. Spending five weeks to prepare and not seeing any improvement – something is not right.”

Morse said there were a lot of factors contributing to the scores that he couldn’t discuss in open meeting. Twin Valley Middle School Principal Keith Lyman said there was a problem with increasing student apathy toward the tests as students get older.

Wilmington board member Paul Wheeler asked if there was too much pressure on students. “One of the problems is that there isn’t pressure on kids,” Morse said.

Morse related a story about a student who walked out during testing. At the principal’s office he was given the ultimatum to either take the test, or he would sit in the office for the rest of the day. “He said ‘This doesn’t mean anything to me, I don’t need to take this test.’ I finally got him motivated to go down and take it, but when I asked (the test proctor) they said he slept most of the time. There are some notations you can make (on the test) in a case like that, but for a student like that nothing is going to change until it means something to them. But most kids put a good effort into it.”

Board member Phil Taylor questioned whether the test has any real value as a tool for accountability or for evaluating school performance. “A couple of years ago DVES was number one in the state in writing. The next year we were at 75% or 80% (proficient or proficient with distinction). What happened? Did instruction change? Did curriculum change? One thing that changed was that we had a smaller group of students. The smaller the number the more effect one student’s score has on the overall number.”

“But 4% is 4%,” said Williams. “You can make the argument either way. We celebrate when (scores) are the other way.”

“I’ve lost faith in the testing,” said Boyd. “It’s a tool, but it’s not a good measure of letting us know if we have a good school system, whether scores are low or high. Our planning is to make sure we have a good school, and that’s what we’re doing.

“It kills me that this statewide testing is to satisfy policy and not to ascertain the best outcome for the kids. If we have a great program that teaches kids but doesn’t test well, should we stop?”

But DVES Principal Rebecca Fillion provided another viewpoint on the value of testing. At DVES, she said, teachers use the test results to tweak the education program. Looking at the tests over the long term has allowed them to map the results of their efforts. “At the elementary level, it has forced us to offer more inquiry-based instruction,” she said. “When the test data showed that DVES scores were low in life science, we put in another section of life science.”

In other matters, Wings project director Andy Hauty and DVES site coordinator Patsy Mehlhop told board members they were planning changes and improvements in the program to coincide with the joint elementary school, beginning next year.

Hauty and Melhop said that the consolidation would allow them to provide more programs at the same cost as the programs currently at DVES and Whitingham Elementary. Their projected budget for the 2013-14 school year is $74,219, two-thirds of which would come from local support, and one third from the program’s federal 21st Century Schools grant.

Mehlhop said the increase in programming to five days per week, until 5pm would help students and parents. “We asked what we could do to expand what we’re doing and keep bringing kids in, but also to realize there are different distances that parents have to travel,” Mehlhop said. “I think it’s really exciting to see what we could do.”

Hauty said the increased hour and service to students and parents would make Wings more competitive for future federal funding. “The expansion of programs increases attendance, and (federal grant programs) look at how many students who are at economic disadvantage are participating in the program.”

Mehlhop said Wings was also looking at other avenues of funding. “Tonight we just wanted to lay a foundation because we know you’re working on budgetary items. We have big dreams for this, but we don’t want to increase your budget. We’re looking for other funding for our big dreams.”

Mehlhop said one of Wings’ plans for this year is to create a program called “Bridge,” which would offer activities at DVES in preparation for school consolidation next year. “Whitingham kids would attend programs here and get to know the DVES kids, and the DVES kids will get to know the Whitingham kids,” she said. “I think we’ve got the transportation figured out, and I think it will be lots of fun to see kids mingle a little bit.”

“Our kids are very excited about it,” said Fillion. “I told them they’re getting 100 new friends.”

Taylor said the increased programming would be a help to working families. “If their kids can stay at the program until 5 pm, and combine that with our all day pre-K-4 program, it makes things a lot easier for parents in both towns. I believe this has a big impact on students who are at risk by giving them a consistent, safe, welcoming, fun climate.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Wayne Andrews
October 25, 2012
I remember a few years ago reading the academic achievement in schools was measured by "near the average" below the average" and so forth and so on. Absolutely insane and worthless accounting system then and still is today.

I wonder if any of these educators or board members would want their doctor cutting or dentist drilling near or around the problem area?

I hope I live long enough for some education board to perform a study on this accounting system and what a waste of teachers time and dollars it has been.

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