WPCNR SCHOOL DAYS. By Ayana A. Meade. Special to WPCNR. October 17, 2015 UPDATED October 18, 2015:
On October 13th, newly appointed White Plains Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Fried, along with several Board of Education members and PTA Co-Presidents, addressed community member questions about the Common Core tests as well as other issues facing the school district.
The panel discussion was open-to-the-public and hosted by the White Plains Council of Neighborhood Associations (WPCNA) as part of their monthly meetings—the WPCNA is an advisory council that disseminates information and opinion to the public and public officials, and encourages local action.
In response to recent concerns regarding low test scores throughout the district, Dr. Fried who previously served as Superintendent in the Montville Township, New Jersey schools, made a point to mention in his opening remarks,
“We don’t want to loose our children to private and parochial schools—we want to be known for our excellence, and I believe we are excellent. The averages from our test scores shouldn’t be the deciding factor for people in your neighborhoods who are deciding should I send my child to a private school or to our public schools. We offer extensive opportunities for all of our children, no matter how high achieving, or no matter how struggling they are—so I would ask you to be advocates for our schools back in your neighborhoods.”
For the opening question, Sanford Zevon, a 50+ year resident of the community asked Dr. Fried to explain in simple terms what the Common Core examination is— its good points, its bad points, and how it affects our students.
Dr. Fried explained that the move from Regents exams to the Common Core State Standards as a measure of student achievement, came out of a push for change in two basic areas—a desire to create a nation-wide testing standard; to create a test where students from different states could be compared using equal comparative measures. Also, out of a desire to create a test that raised testing standards in order to keep American students academically competitive with outperforming students from other countries.
Dr. Fried explained that the main difference between the Regents and the Common Core exam was that the Regents was very fact and procedure based—the answer was either right or wrong; whereas the Common Core tests requires more in-depth understanding, and asks students to delve further and explain how and why they arrived at the answer.
As a follow-up, another attendee asked the Superintendent to explain how the tests are being used to evaluate not only a student’s performance, but also the performance of teachers and schools.
Mr. Fried explained that the state uses a growth model that ties the year-to year performance of students to the evaluation of teachers and schools—the model is used in the allocation of state funds. The current growth model is based on 50-50 model—meaning 50% of the teachers score is tied to the growth model and the other 50% is tied to observations made by school administrators.
AnneMarie Encarnacao, a real estate agent who is also running for Common Council, expressed frustration when trying to convince out-of-town buyers to purchase homes in White Plains, citing that the less-than-stellar test scores pose a roadblock. She commented, “we all know how great we are—our schools” continuing, “but it’s difficult to get people from out of the area to come here because of our schools.” “How do I change our outside perception?”
In response, Dr. Fried directed Ms. Encarnacao’s attention to a handout detailing what the White Plains School District has to offer and its accomplishments. In addition, he said the district will be providing realtors with packets containing additional information about the district that they can share with their clients. The district will also be inviting realtors to tour the schools so they can see things firsthand.
He then added,
“statistically people have to be astute enough to understand that there’s no such thing as an average—yes there can be an average SAT score, but the reality is that each child is unique and different and special and that we can really provide an excellent education to every child, so I understand what you’re facing. It is one of my goals, that the Board of Education supports to really look at this issue.”
Rose Lovitch, a Board of Education member suggested that realtors advise their clients to check out the district’s website and attend Board of Education and PTA meetings—both of which are open to the public. Potential buyers can also watch school events and meetings on Public Access 77.
The Superintendent was also asked whether the textbooks and classroom curriculum have been upgraded to enable the students to perform better on the new Common Core testing?
Dr. Fried responded that the district is constantly updating not just the materials they use but are also incorporating new technology, stating that it is essential to keep students up-to date.
The district is constantly providing professional development to staff—training teachers in the latest techniques, all of which tie back into the mandated Common Core curriculum, as well as employing new teaching methodologies that encourage more student involvement and interaction.
In response to all the discussion surrounding low Common Core test scores, Education Board Member, Charlie Norris (above left) chimed in to address “the elephant in the room.”
“I walk around Stop & Shop and all the places in White Plains, and people stop me—white people stop me. And they ask me all kinds of questions, but they don’t ask me the question they’re thinking—that somehow, how are my kids dragged down because they go to school with Latinos or African-Americans?”
Norris added that, instead of being “dragged down” his children were inflated by the experience of living in a diverse community such as White Plains, noting that every year our academic teams “totally blow Scarsdale out of the water!”
“I chose to live here because my wife went here and I wanted my kids to have ‘this experience’—I didn’t want to live in Scarsdale, I didn’t want to live in Edgemont. I didn’t want to live in those places.”
Common Council member, Nadine Hunt-Robinson who is currently up for re-election added “coming from a corporate environment, the world indeed has gotten small, and the strength to sell on White Plains is if a child comes out of a homogenous environment all through their grade school, perhaps even college, they’re not going to be as effective when dealing with global clients.”
Other issues raised during the meeting included the dismantling of the adult education program, whether the district looks at how growth and development affect community demographics, traffic safety and beautification on North street, the lack of voter turnout for district budget issues, and how instruments in disrepair at Highlands School are impeding the music program.
About 30 persons attended, including School Board members, and Dr. Fried. Except for Rosemarie Eller, the School Board President,and Councilwoman Nadine Hunt-Robinson, the audience was predominantly white.
Hunt-Robinson did mention a STEM program for non-English speakers, endorsed by The White House. The only mention in the meeting of possible efforts for English challenged students.
No one raised the question why the district claims its students are testing competent at reading and writing grade levels 3 through 8 even though the first two years of Common Core tests say the vast majority of students are not.
Supplemental Information: In the 2015 Common Core Assessments last spring, 29% of White Plains third and fourth graders passed the ELA Common Core Assessments; 34% passed in 5th Grade. In Middle School, 33% of sixth graders passed; 25% of 7th Graders passed, and 32% of 8th Graders passed the Common Core ELA.
In the 2015 Math Common Core Tests, 39% og White Plains Third and fourth graders passed and 46% of Fifth Graders passed. In Middle School, 33% of 6th Graders passed; 28% of 7th Graders passed and 32% of 8th Graders passed.
These test results were not mentioned or disclosed by anyone at the meeting.
The next White Plains Council of Neighborhood Associations (WPCNA) meeting will be held on November 10th.