Sunday, January 25, 2009

Board to vote Tuesday on PSSA rule

As you may be aware, the Neshaminy school board could make PSSA proficiency a graduation requirement. What you may not realize is that this policy could be put into effect with the current junior class.

Although I support the concept of mandating PSSA proficiency, I don't believe that this year's junior class or their parents have been given adequate notice of this significant policy change. I am also concerned that the safety nets designed to assist students who don't achieve PSSA proficiency are not fully in place for all students who may need it.

If you feel strongly about this issue, you should make a point of attending Tuesday's school board meeting (January 27th, 7pm). For a little more detail on my objections to adopting the policy for this year, below is an excerpt from an email I sent to my fellow board members last week:

"Even though I support the concept of making PSSA proficiency a graduation requirement, I am recommending that the Board Policies Committee withdraw its recommendation to enact the rule for this year's Junior class. My concern is that there has not been adequate notice to the students and their parents of this very dramatic change in Neshaminy policy.

Despite assurances from staff at Tuesday's Board meeting that the students had been notified of this policy change, it is now clear that this is not the case. The small mention in the course selection book is hardly acceptable notice for a policy change of this magnitude. When students make their course selections, they don't read the selection book cover to cover - they review the courses they are interested in with their parents. I seriously doubt that more than a handful of students/parents even noticed the statement about PSSA proficiency, and the PSSA's are now just a few weeks away.

I also have a concern regarding the remediation course for those who do not achieve proficiency - is there even sufficient space at the high school to accommodate them? If, say, 300 kids don't pass Math and 200 don't pass Reading, that's 500 spots needed. At approximately 25 kids per class, that's 20 sections. Has that been considered is the space planning for next year?

I appreciate the effort put forth by the staff and board members who have worked on this policy, and as I said earlier, I support mandating PSSA proficiency. However, enacting such a policy with virtually no notice shows little regard for those affected by it and gives the appearance of a haphazard action on our part."


JS said...

I agree that enacting the requirement for this grade almost immediately prior to that group taking the test is a bit risky.

If you enact it for this years sophomore class, then they have course selection for next year to choose appropriate classes to ensure they are best prepared for the requirement. If you enact it now, those students who are in need of extra instruction only have the solution of next school year for remediation before graduation looms. The actual methods for that remediation aren't even finalized, so how can you impose a requirement on them? If you don't Pass A, then you'll have to do B, but we don't know yet what B is or how we'll institute it? Not sound judgment.

Sadly this appears to be exactly how most decisions are made in the district lately. No forethought, only immediate reaction or gratification.

Wish I could make the meeting, but can not. Between this and the Teachers' contract I'm sure it's going to be a late night up there.

KClarinet said...

There are a few related questions that I think the board needs to have answers to before it enacts this graduate requirement at all, much less for the class of 2010. I don't necessarily question making Proficiency a requirement, but as is often the case, you should be prepared or at least aware of side effects you may not intend.

1. What happens if a junior does not achieve a proficient score on the PSSA in his/her junior year? Is there an opportunity for seniors to take the test after they've done remedial work? If not, then it's probably too late (PSSAs are coming up in, I think, March?) for next year's seniors to do anything about their PSSA standing.

2. How would this requirement jibe with current law regarding special education students? Would students with IEPs be required to test Proficient to get a diploma? Do the Federal and State laws regarding this require accommodations that would make this requirement difficult or impossible to enforce when a student is covered by an IEP?

3. Will the district be able to provide the remediation students who score below Proficient will need? (Mr. O'Connor partly covers this in his email.) Putting aside the actual numbers likely to be involved, it isn't only a problem of space for those remedial sections - it also requires staff.

The alternative to doing whatever is necessary (regardless of cost) is to simply let students leave without graduating (drop out). This will certainly elevate the meaning of a Neshaminy diploma, but is the district willing to accept the public image of an increasing dropout rate. If not, and we want to keep everyone under the age of 18 in school and have them score Proficient on the PSSAs, then money must be committed to remediating non-Proficient 11th graders (assuming they can retake the test in 12th grade). In my post on the last thread, I describe how funding for this kind of program must result either in higher taxes or reduced funding for other programs in the district that are currently aimed at already successful students.

Of course, NCLB as it is currently written will make this kind of requirement unnecessary, since all students (100%) throughout the system are required to score Profient by 2014.

I'm not advocating for or against the requirement, but if adopted, it should be adopted with eyes open and a realistic idea of the consequences both good and bad.

Rebecca said...

I don't support this idea at all but understand why board members feel they must do something. NCLB puts unrealistic demands on school districts and boards are held accountable. My fear is people will forget about the students in all this. Teenagers are under tremendous pressure, and one more all or nothing test is the last thing they need when they are focusing on trying to get into college. I disagree with you on this policy change William but I really appreciate you sticking up for this years junior class because they have not been properly prepared for this change.