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Sunday, October 21, 2018

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News from Keri Gelenian, Head of Schools/RA Principal

Fall 2015

I looked up the origin of the word spontaneous. It comes from the Latin spont, which means willing. Not what I expected, but a perfectly appropriate connection to my thought that RA’s distinctiveness stems from valuing spontaneity. We are willing:

  • A group of seniors led by Jennifer DeBois were willing to draft a letter to change the rules regarding senior privilege during study time.
  • Eric Reichert was willing to take over as the cross-country coach, a new experience for him.
    Caleb Parker and Emma Hayes were willing to take me up on my offer to come in on a day off from school to work on a math activity with a stranger in front of some 35 Rivendell teachers. I thought it would take me hours to cajole two students to come in. It took minutes.
  • Rachel Sanders was willing to experiment with her biology curriculum by adding an aquaculture project in the greenhouse based on a spontaneous field trip to the Dartmouth organic farm last year.
  • Nurse Creigh Moffatt would be willing to do just about anything to improve our health and wellness.
  • Laszlo Bardos was willing to teach three different courses in the same room at the same time to accommodate the needs and interests of different students. He was also willing to start an electronics club after school.
  • Students in journalism were willing to include advertisements in the school newspaper to help pay for a trip to DC.
  • Gail Keefer was willing to teach French to 5th and 6th graders from Samuel Morey and teach a new course on Africa to expand our global studies offerings.
  • Everyone was concerned about taking a dog named Digger on a field trip to the Orford cemetery, but Jamie Nunn was willing to make sure that Digger didn’t disturb any bones.
  • Michael Galli, Cindy McLaren and Nancy Hall were willing to plan a complicated assembly, change the schedule and hold the assembly less than 16 hours later. The entire process was triggered by a short conversation earlier that day. It would be safe to say that it was an amazing assembly.

I could go on and on with examples of people being willing to help make RA a better place for everyone. People at RA don’t pontificate they spontificate.


After School Help (Soon to be renamed by students)

Our after school program is finally up and running. The program is designed to support students in math and literacy based on test scores and grades or teacher recommendations. We have sent letters home inviting students into the program based on our selection criteria.

The program runs Monday through Wednesday from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Students are organized into literacy and math groups depending on their needs. Students have an additional block of time to complete homework. On some days we will have a math and reading specialist working with teachers.
We will have a snack and a fun activity to end the day. Students exit the program when their level of performance improves.

Special education teacher, Brynne MacMurtry, is running the program. If you have questions or would like to havemmore information, please contact Brynne at .


Smarter Balance [SBAC] Scores

Recall that newspapers used to print NECAP results and school rankings. The Vermont DOE has also downplayed SBAC results -- surprising, given all the media attention, time and money that went into the launching of the Com-mon Core Standards and associated SBAC testing.

We received a memo from the Secretary of Education that reported that SBAC scores across the state were lower than NECAP scores. She attributed the drop to the nature of the Smarter Balance questions. This was expected based on the results of the pilot testing that occurred two years ago in Vermont and across the country. In the same memo, the secretary went on to write:

“So how do we use these tests? Remember first of all that this is the first year of these tests. We really have no idea what level of performance on the Smarter Balanced assessment predicts a stu-dent will be well prepared for college and careers. We need to look at this data over time before we can come to any defensible conclusions about school quality based on these tests.”

I believe that there probably is a strong relationship between students’ scores on the SBAC and their ability to do college level work. But I also believe there are other important factors besides standardized test scores that influ-ence a student’s ability to complete an undergraduate degree, technical degree, job training program or simply meet the expectations of an employer. These might include financial support, ability to deal with stress, confidence, the ability to find adequate support, or uncertainty about what they want to do in life.

The issue of school quality mentioned in the memo rests primarily on educator’s ability to improve students’ intel-lectual skills to the greatest degree possible. At RA the Smarter Balance test results provide very little information that we don’t already know about students’ academic performance. The DOE should investigate whether or not this is true in the majority of schools in the state.


SBAC Results Compared to GPAsbac scores

“Was there a relationship to 11th grade students’ GPAs at the end of last year and their SBAC scores?” We asked this question to test if Smarter Balance assessment actually did give us information about students that we didn’t already know.

By dividing students into four equal groups based on GPA (four quartiles) and comparing GPA quartiles to SBAC scores, we found that there was a strong correlation between test scores and GPAs. For example, of our students who scored a 4 on SBAC language, 9 were in the top GPA quartile, 4 were in the third highest GPA quartile, 1 was in the third highest quartile, and 1 in the lowest quartile. We then looked close-ly at the surprising individuals. For example, why did someone in the lowest GPA quartile score a 4 in the lan-guage test? When we identified that student, there was a readily apparent reason. When we looked at three stu-dents with a high GPA but low test scores, we also found sensible reasons; we had recorded that these three students spent very little time on the test.

 

In her memo, the Secretary of Education went on to say that we need to give these tests, “Because they DO give us useful information that we can use to evaluate the size and direction of our achievement gaps, as well as the mas-tery of individual students on specific content.” Our RA analysis leads us to conclude that we already have this information.

What We Could Do

Given our stance and our experience, I believe the state and federal governments need to back away from failed policies of accountability/punishment and constant meddling with standards. There are many common sense ways to better spend taxpayer’s money. Here are a few examples:

  1. Create greater incentives for qualified people to become math, science or reading teachers.
  2. Increase the training and placement of clinical counselors to work in elementary schools.
  3. Assure that schools have strong music, art, and drama programs.
  4. Increase support of post-secondary programs like Upward Bound.

Sincerely,
Keri Gelenian