Sunday, August 31, 2008

PA Education Forecast: Dark Days Ahead

Did you hear the one about the school district in Lancaster County whose high school posted its highest reading and math scores ever but didn't achieve AYP because of the IEP subgroup? Apparently this phenomenon is rampant in Lancaster County and throughout Pennsylvania.

No word yet if that district's school board president declared it the darkest day in their history.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blue skies or darkest day?

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Paul Kadri explained in painstaking detail the district’s PSSA scores and clarified what the term AYP meant. He celebrated our accomplishments by honoring faculty and students from the high school, and he noted that the Philadelphia Inquirer listed our progress in high school reading as being ranked 3rd in the Philadelphia area. It was truly a time for celebration as was evidenced by the faces of the three NHS student representatives in attendance to accept an award on behalf of their classmates. But those smiles wouldn’t last long.

The three Levittown school board representatives (Board President Rick Eccles, VP Frank Koziol, and Ritchie Webb) were not pleased with our scores, and they angrily voiced concern over Neshaminy’s progress and also (what they said was) Kadri’s unwillingness to turn over the raw PSSA data to them as soon as it was available. The punctuation on their attack was Eccles’ statement, “this is the darkest day in Neshaminy’s history.”

No longer wanting to be on the receiving end of their venom, Kadri challenged the Levittown representatives by countering many of their statements. At one point when Webb brought up some past history to explain his discontent with our superintendent, Kadri immediately challenged him with a scornful look followed by “do you REALLY want to do this now, Mr. Webb?” Susan Cummings, Bill Spitz and Joe Blasch all came to the defense of Kadri, and each stated how the board must do more to support his efforts. Cummings reacted strongly to Eccles’ darkest day comment by stating that the three NHS students in attendance, once full of proud smiles, now appeared to be angered.

So which is it, blue skies or darkest days? Are you pleased with Neshaminy’s progress despite the AYP flags for the IEP/Spec Ed subgroup, or do you think we have sunk to an all-time low? Please participate in the survey over to the right then add your comments to this post. I remind you to keep your comments constructive and PG-13 remembering that Neshaminy students read this blog. And if you need more background on this issue before forming an opinion, here are some sources of information which should help you:
1) Read today’s Courier Times summary of Tuesday’s meeting. It may not have captured the emotion of the evening, but it’s a balanced report which includes a summary of our AYP status.
2) Refresh your memory with some of the highlights from this year’s PSSA scores by re-reading an earlier post on this blog, “Since when does 90% equal flunking?”
3) Watch the rebroadcast of the meeting. It lasted 3-1/2 hours so it’s not exactly easy viewing, but here’s a watcher-friendly hint: Watch from the beginning of the meeting through Kadri’s Powerpoint presentation on PSSA’s (and the follow-up comments from the board), then fast forward to the end of the meeting for public comment when Chris Graham of Langhorne admonished several board members for their obvious agenda against Superintendent Kadri.

As for me, I am still haunted by Tuesday’s events, particularly the reaction of those high school students who attended the meeting. Mrs. Cummings’ comment of how the smiles were now gone from their young faces has stayed with me. I can’t shake it, can’t get it out of my head. I’m not sure I ever will.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Going nowhere at 100 mph

According to this morning’s Courier Times article, teacher union President Louise Boyd said that “things are really moving slowly” with respect to ongoing contract negotiations. She further claims that the district is “limiting” substantive face-to-face meetings.

On the other hand, board member and negotiating team spokesperson Ritchie Webb points out that the board has met with the teachers 10 times since January and another meeting is scheduled for September 3rd.

You can read the complete article by clicking here.

Schools blast state for PSSA changes

As if there wasn’t enough controversy surrounding these tests. Take a look at this article in today’s Courier Times.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Waiting for the apology that will never come

When you make a mistake you should own up to it, right? Apparently the Courier Times doesn’t think so.

In last week’s article bash against Neshaminy, the Courier Times printed incorrect information. Despite being given clarification by school district officials, the newspaper has yet to issue a correction to their misinformation and there are no indications that they will be doing so.

In their article, the Courier Times incorrectly stated that none of Neshaminy grade spans were able to meet every target. The correct information is that Neshaminy grade spans were unable to meet every target in Reading ONLY, which resulted in the District not meeting AYP.

In addition, the article stated that “several Neshaminy schools are either in corrective action or school improvement or received a Warning…” This is a misleading statement as we have only 1 school in Corrective Action, 1 school at School Improvement and the remaining 5 in Warning.

Should Neshaminy residents just let this pass? HELL NO! The Courier’s article has completely undermined our accomplishments this past year. To illustrate the confusion they have caused, here are a few quotes from Courier Times readers in their post-article blogs:
“Great!!! yeah, super to hear that Neshaminy is the "dumb ass" school district.”
“Neshaminy is now at the bottom of the heap of school districts in Bucks County.”
“I am surprised at the low scores that Neshaminy and Pennsbury achieved.”
”LOL Neshaminy - So glad my kids go to Council Rock schools.”

I don’t suppose that the Courier will mention that of the 16 high schools in Bucks County, Neshaminy High School had the second highest increase from 2007 to 2008 with a combined total of 23%? No, of course not. Why bother with relevant data when you can write editorials using meaningless statistics like PSSA proficiency of graduates? Unfortunately for Neshaminy, the Courier wants to hype the issue of poor test scores and teacher contract negotiations, and reporting positive news won't give that issue any heat.

Is anyone else out there as upset as I am???

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Since when does 90% equal flunking?

If you read any of the recent Courier Times articles about PSSA scores, you’re probably confused. First was last Friday’s article with the screaming headline “Neshaminy flunks scholastic goals” and an explanation that “The Neshaminy School District is the lone public school system in the area that did not achieve AYP …” which gave people the impression that Neshaminy’s overall scores were the lowest in the land. Then there was a follow up article on Sunday which posted the scores of Bucks County school districts and it was apparent that Neshaminy’s overall scores were not the worst – not by far. And for those of you who track the yearly progress of PSSA’s, you noticed a substantial improvement in several key categories.

In a memo to the school board, Superintendent Kadri clarified that “In Neshaminy, we had 92 performance targets measured by NCLB. We missed only 9 of them. That is a very strong showing. Of the 9, all 9 of them involved small sub-groups of students. Seven of the nine were related to reading. Unfortunately, because there was at least one of the seven in each of the three grade level categories, (high school, middle school, elementary), the entire district was determined to be failing. This could happen even if all of our scores went up and even if we did better than other school districts that were not identified as failing.“

Mr. Kadri also highlighted some very impressive achievements not addressed by the Courier article including:
· At the high school we increased in reading by 13% in math by 12%. In addition to having substantial growth our overall levels are very strong especially when compared to our peers.
· At the middle school level, our scores are either leading or competitive with the majority of districts in Bucks County. In some places we have advanced proficiency levels near or over 70%. In other words, students are not just passing the exams; they are registering at the highest levels of proficiency.
· The elementary schools continue to be strong and competitive and easily met overall indicators for AYP.

Kadri’s words are powerful proof of what was accomplished this past year in Neshaminy. Having said that, we must continue addressing the special ed subgroup situation. Whether or not we believe proficiency is even achievable for these students, the fact is NCLB is the law of the land and we are obligated to comply. Love it or hate it, AYP is part of our lives.

My problem with all this is the manner in which the Courier Times reported the scores. AYP is a very challenging concept, and the Courier reporter and editor should have considered the confusion such an article would cause without the supporting data. The headline “Neshaminy flunks scholastic goals” was misleading and sensationalistic. Yes it’s true we didn’t achieve AYP, but achieving 90% success in the 92 performance targets is far from flunking. It’s something to be proud of. But after reading last Friday’s article and the subsequent editorials, nobody in Neshaminy is cheering.

In Sunday’s editorial, the Courier embarrassed our superintendent by printing a quote without any clear context of the dialogue. They even admit they didn’t understand Kadri’s statement – so why would they even print it if they didn’t comprehend his point? Obviously they couldn’t fairly represent his perspective, but that didn’t prevent them from using it against him. That was a cheap shot not worthy of the Fourth Estate.

Then in today’s editorial the Courier continued its assault on Neshaminy by criticizing us for not tracking PSSA proficiency of graduates, and accuses us of having a “head-in-the-sand strategy.” I admit to finding the Courier’s stand almost humorous because PSSA proficiency of graduates is a completely useless statistic. While it may be true that good PSSA scores are a reflection of a successful school district, there is no correlation between PSSA scores and academic success. If you believe otherwise then ask yourself this question – if PSSA’s went away, would that result in less students graduating?

Through all these articles and editorials, the Courier does raise some good points about test scores, teacher accountability and empty diplomas – these are all worthy topics. But the Courier went overboard trying to link them into their cause du jour – teacher contracts. As a result of that, lost in all the words was the fact that Neshaminy’s overall scores improved and are worthy of praise.

I consider myself of fan of the Courier Times and read it daily. Unfortunately when articles lack proper balance and editorials do more to insult than inspire, they serve very little purpose. In my mind, the only one who flunked last week was the Courier Times.

What do you think? Feel free to add comments to this post, or you can send your comments directly to the Courier Times, or do both.