School officials and parents in District 13 know that standardized testing is here to stay. The question, they say, is how to properly prepare students for the tests while still providing them with a well-rounded education.
State testing was one of the major topics of discussion at the district’s annual Educational Planning meeting last Saturday morning at the James A. Dever School. Administrators, Board of Education trustees, teachers and community members gathered for a two-hour discussion of the state of the district’s academic programs and a look at the changes ahead.
Superintendent Dr. Adrienne Robb-Fund showed examples of questions on state tests from 2005 and sample questions for the tests that will be given in April, and noted how much more complex the questions are now. Students not only have to get the answers right, but also show their work in order to get full credit.
In addition to the state English Language Arts and math tests, which are given to all third- through sixth-grade students, they are assessed throughout the year to monitor their progress. Robb-Fund said that all of these tests, which are either from approved testing companies or created by the district, are aligned with the new Common Core Learning Standards.
Board of Education Trustee Bill Stris said that the advanced skills associated with Common Core are important. “We’re in competition with the world,” he said. “Our kids, in order for them to have a standard of living, they’re going to need to be able to do this.”
Robb-Fund also said that individual student data from the assessments are used to make instructional decisions in the classroom. Now more than ever, she explained, teaching is data-driven.
Last year, the district met its Annual Yearly Progress goals on the state tests, but, Robb-Fund said, district officials were still disappointed with the results. All four schools, she said, were rated as either effective or highly effective. The Dever school, which takes in students from Malverne, was the lone school rated highly effective.
Board member Frank Chiachiere said he fears that the “drill and kill” mentality of preparing high school students for Regents exams has worked its way down to the elementary level, and he is concerned that teachers might be teaching to the tests.
Robb-Fund said that teachers do their best to find a balance, but noted that they do have to prepare students for both the format and length of the test.
In order to provide students with a well-rounded education, District 13 officials said, it important to maintain a strong music and art program. Dever school Principal Darren Gruen noted that a vast majority of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders participate in band, orchestra or chorus.
Much of Saturday morning’s discussion focused on 21st century skills, and one of those skills is the ability to speak more than one language.
Students typically do not begin foreign language instruction until junior high school, but District 13 officials and parents say they would welcome a program at the elementary level. The problem, Robb-Fund said, is money.
“We all know that interest is there,” she said. “If we want our kids to compete in a global society, we would love for them to speak more than one language.”
She said that, as an educator, she supports an elementary foreign language program, but can’t support it in an era of stagnant or declining resources for schools. The best idea, she said, would be for the PTA to offer after-school language clubs, or perhaps Saturday programs. But adding it to the regular curriculum, she concluded, isn’t realistic.
Board President Jeanne Greco Jacobs said that there needs to be a discussion of what languages to teach, and that the focus should be on languages that would most benefit students in the future, such as those of emerging economies, and not necessarily the languages that have been traditionally taught at the secondary level.
Robb-Fund said that every classroom in the district has at least four computers and a SmartBoard. There is also a computer lab in each school, as well as several mobile laptop carts.
Students are now being taught keyboarding, also considered a 21st century skill. Robb-Fund said that while many children can type using the “hunt and peck” method, they don’t know the proper way to use all 10 fingers.
She also said that officials would soon visit some other districts that are using tablets in classrooms, such as the iPad, as learning tools, in the hope of incorporating them into District 13’s technology arsenal in the future. Additionally, Robb-Fund spoke about possibly purchasing some electronic textbooks.
The Educational Planning meeting was the first step in the preparation of the district’s 2013-14 budget. The annual building tour, to review potential capital projects and other repairs, is scheduled for Dec. 8.