2014 September

Official Board Minutes are available here.  A PDF of the Agenda is available here.

Athens City School District
Summary of Board of Education Meeting, September 24, 2014
Ana L. Rosado Feger

The meeting started off on a positive note, as I asked for speaking time and used it to publicly thank the board, the Central office, and the high school administration for the speedy implementation of AP Computer Science at the high school. The people involved are to be commended for seeing a need and working creatively to fill it. The proposed method (an online course with local in-person tracking and coaching) was judged to be viable if 6 students signed up. Close to 20 students are currently enrolled, and at least my student is enjoying the course.

Much of the rest of the meeting was spent discussing the State Report Card, with some major themes:

1. The reliability of the data itself.

a. Mr. Parsons reported that in his preliminary study of the data provided by ODE, there appear to be errors in classification of students and their subsequent coding into report card categories.

b. There appear to be built-in “penalties” which work at cross-purposes. For example, a child who “passes” the OAA for third-grade-reading-guarantee (TGRG) in Fall but then performs more poorly in Spring results in a report card penalty to the district for not providing supplemental and/or supportive services in Reading throughout the year.

c. Mr. Parsons and others reiterated the challenge of using the available data to identify real problems vs. phantom (ie data-related) problems. It then becomes difficult to identify and implement solutions.

d. MY TAKE: There will continue to be issues with the data, particularly when translating from the state to the district, the school and further to the individual student levels. Some of these issues stem from ODE policy. For example, facilitating a student to skip a grade (either whole grade or in one subject) is only credited to the school as a “service” in the year that it happens, although the student obviously continues to be served. This “loss” of service counts against the district. Other issues stem from the many changes that are occurring both in standards and in assessments. For example, although the OAA’s are replaced with PARCC assessments this year, the TGRG lists a specific score on the OAA as the requirement. These issues need to be addressed at the state level, a place where parent voices are few and far between. These are systemic problems, not district problems, and perhaps a place where parent involvement is needed at the state level.

2. Challenges of the measurement method.

a. The underlying tenet of the “No Child Left Behind” act is that ALL students should be proficient regardless of their background. Hence one of the key measures in the Report Card is “Gap Closing”. ACSD faces the challenge of having enough diversity to trigger reporting in 8 different subgroups at the district level, while at the same time having small absolute numbers of students within each school which means their performance is not reported on the individual school report cards. Again, it is difficult to target an intervention when the information is incomplete.

b. Given the challenge, the board chose to look at the raw “% Passed” measures. On these there has been improvement over time

c. Action plan as summarized by Tom Parsons: Investigate data issues and fix that which can be addressed locally, continue to investigate how to correct data at the state level.

d. MY TAKE: This is a data/analysis issue that has no easy fix. It is clear that there are inaccurate numbers in the data. For example, the district report card at ODE lists 0% of Athens High School students take AP classes, which is patently wrong. Amusingly, it also lists a ~20% percentage of AHS students with a “passing” AP exam score.

e. MY TAKE #2: Last year was disruptive on many levels. New curriculum was introduced in the classroom. Students had 16 snow days. OAA’s were administered on a different date as originally planned. Frankly, the report card is a rearview mirror on education and performance. The concern would be that parents and other district stakeholders withdraw support from the district after being disappointed by the “lower grades” on the state report cards. I encourage my fellow parents and Athens citizens to support a look toward the future. There are many positive things happening in our district and proposed in the District Improvement Plan. Change is disruptive…and change has been the only constant lately. Different standards, different curricula, and different assessment are all confounding the data. Let’s look beyond this report and focus on the future.

Other business:

3. High School Graduation Requirements: the legislature has changed the high graduation requirements starting with the class of 2018 (this year’s freshmen). Students will take end-of-course exams in seven classes and have to accumulate a certain number of “points” to be eligible to graduate. Points are awarded according to performance in these exams which will be developed by an ODE-approved provider. Two alternate pathways are provided for students to be eligible for graduation: remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT, and a certified industry credential. Details of these end-of-course exams are not available yet. As part of this requirement, the state will pay for every student in high school to take the ACT once during their junior year.

a. MY TAKE: Many of these classes were required for graduation already, with perhaps the exception of Algebra II but that came in with the shift to Common Core. The OGT was a measure of questionable value (a graduation test administered in 10th grade?) I have concerns about the development of these end-of-course exams and how they interact with an individual teacher’s plans for assessment. Students who are currently freshmen but have completed some of these classes will be granted baseline “passed” points regardless of their actual performance in the course, which seems unnecessarily punitive although only a few students will be affected. The point I find the most disturbing is that to my knowledge these exams do not currently exist in finished form, although the requirement to pass them is already in place. Again, a place where parents can and should make their voices heard at the STATE level. Too many requirements are being approved without regard for the need to have the supporting infrastructure.

4. PSEO (dual enrollment in high school/college) has been extended to students as young as 7th grade and to private colleges.

a. MY TAKE: The expansion to 7th grade will affect relatively few students, but should be seen as a positive. I am unclear on how this would reflect back onto the district in terms of performance measurement, my opinion is that if a student is ready for the challenge then the district should get some sort of credit for helping facilitate it. Not mentioned at meeting but relevant to parents: Ohio University will now allow PSEO students to register for online classes, though they strongly advise against it unless the student has shown the ability to manage their own learning.

5. Finances: ACSD has approved applying for an “Active Planning Process” with the Ohio School Facilities Commission Classroom Facilities Assistance Program.

a. MY TAKE: This is the first step towards moving forward with the building improvement plan. I look forward to seeing the plans as they develop.

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