October 13, 2012
Cincy frets over assessments
CINCINNATUS — School staff and administrators stretched to their limits will still need to find a solution to test results that fell below the state average last year in some grades, the Board of Education decided Thursday.
The board heard reports by Joseph Mack, principal for grades five through 12, and Karen Heffernan, principal for prekindergarten through fourth grade, then followed with a discussion of how to help the two administrators focus on teachers’ needs.
The ELA and math assessment test scores for grades three and four in 2011-12 were well below average scores for the state and the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES district, although Cincinnatus is a small school so comparison is difficult.
For ELA and math, 39 percent of the school’s 50 third-graders scored at either Level 3 or Level 4, which is considered meeting the standards. The state average was 56 percent and the BOCES average was 61 percent.
Level 1 and Level 2 are considered falling short of the standards.
In fourth grade, 50 percent of the 36 students scored at Level 3 or Level 4 in ELA and 56 percent for math, below state and BOCES averages.
But 97 percent of the fourth-graders met state standards on the science test, a score that has been consistent for five years, Heffernan said.
The BOCES has 23 school districts ranging in size from McGraw and DeRuyter to Liverpool, North Syracuse, West Genesee and the Syracuse city schools.
Heffernan said some students failed the ELA test but passed their grade’s ELA requirement, which was puzzling. She said the elementary school’s plan for improvement includes a special “math night” of extra focus on math, and curriculum changes.
Nobody is happy with the results, said Superintendent of Schools Steve Hubbard. But he said teachers should not focus too much on tests. Earlier, before the report to the board, he said Cincinnatus teachers work hard and he cannot push them much harder.
“We need to understand our children so we can help them in ELA,” Hubbard said. He said maybe two late afternoons per week could become “math night,” with students taking a late bus.
Board President Margaret Peri said teachers and parents need to understand each child’s abilities and needs. She said it is difficult when the tests loom in April.
The ELA and math results improved in the upper grades, as students scored at Level 3 and Level 4 closer to the state average and surpassed it in the cases of fifth-grade ELA, with 65 percent compared to 57.6 percent, and eighth grade ELA, 71 percent compared to a state average of 50 percent.
The eighth-graders, now ninth-graders, also impressed in science, with 92 percent meeting the standards. That rate has steadily improved since 75 percent in 2006-07, Mack said.
High school students scored impressively on state Regents exams. Some grades had a 90 to 100 percent passing rate, with a 92.7 passing rate for the four grades.
Of the 40 seniors, 38 received Regents diplomas.
After Mack and Heffernan left, the board discussed whether it can add another administrator, even part-time.
The Cincinnatus district had two principals and a curriculum director until three years ago, when the curriculum director position was eliminated due to budget cuts.
The district also shared a special education director with Homer and McGraw, but that ended and special education coordinator duties were added to Heffernan’s job.
Board member Debra Kressler said the two could use help with discipline of students so they could focus more on instruction.
“We’re getting by but we’re stressing at the seams,” said board member Charles Winters. “We’re keeping a handle on it but how much more can they do, to improve the test results?”
Vice President Rae Lynn Kurtz said maybe the principals and teachers were not even holding their own, with their workload.
Hubbard said the discussion is difficult because the national economy has not improved, so finances are as tight as ever. The district has cut 17 percent of its staff in the past four years.
Hubbard and Winters also said the public might not understand, since some people believe two principals is enough to manage the schools.
Winters said people who tell him that do not understand how a principal’s job has grown.
The district just passed its 2012-13 budget in May with the highest margin in years, Hubbard said, so now might be a tough time for this discussion.
Hubbard said perhaps a part-time administrator could be shared with another school district. The district now shares a business manager and cook manager with McGraw.
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