Articles tagged with NYSSBA

More classrooms see return to “ability grouping,” NYSSBA reports

The following story was originally published by the New York State School Boards Association in On Board Online.

Ability grouping – a controversial approach in which teachers sort students into small groups based on their level of comfort with curriculum material – is back in classrooms.

Ability grouping became unfashionable in the late 1980s and 1990s, when critics said it was an unnecessary technique that sends negative messages to some students and highlights racial disparities.

“It was PC to criticize ability grouping,” Tom Loveless, a prominent education analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington told On Board. But now ability grouping has resurfaced as way to differentiate instruction.

Seventy-one percent of fourth-grade teachers used ability grouping for reading in 2009, compared to 28 percent in 1998, according to a survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For fourth grade math, 61 percent used ability grouping in 2011, compared to 40 percent in 1996.

Ability grouping is not the same as “tracking,” which Loveless said has been persistently popular in the crucial subject of eighth-grade mathematics. While ability grouping refers to the practice that teachers use to separate students within a classroom into smaller groups, depending on their proficiency with a subject, tracking is usually district-driven and focuses on making choices and placing middle and high school students into programs in which they study different curriculums.

In a recent paper published by Brooking’s Brown Center Report on American Education, Loveless suggested that the return of ability grouping was linked to the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind, as well as the increased use of technology in the classroom, which enables teachers to personalize instruction more readily.

The debate about ability grouping – when, whether, and how to use it – involves disagreement about the best way to deal with one of public education’s perennial problems – the “achievement gap.” Middle- and upper-income students, who are usually white or Asian, consistently outscore low-income, usually African-American or Hispanic students, on standardized tests.

In New York, only 16.1 percent of African-American students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard in 2013, compared to 39.9 percent for white students. Racial and economic gaps widen as students get older; 94 percent of students from low-need districts graduate from high school, compared to 65 percent of students from high-need districts.

Educators say they are taking a second look at ability grouping as they strive to make all students college- and career-ready. “We are seeing more of a trend to go back to specifically working with students in ability groups,” said Ken Eastwood, superintendent of the Middletown school district, who added that he is uncomfortable with the term “ability” and would rather say “proficiency groups.” Starting this fall, Middletown will offer a two-year kindergarten class “for kids who are not cognitively ready for kindergarten,” which represents about a quarter to a third of the class.

Ability grouping isn’t limited to less proficient students, Eastwood added. “There’s a push around rigor, where kids can accelerate,” he said. “Your best readers and writers have to be challenged. I like the concept of personalized learning, when we push kids individually.”

This fall Middletown is also adding two mastery classes in third grade. “We’re taking the highest learners and building a curriculum around their capabilities,” said Susan Short, principal of Presidential Park elementary school. “The sky is the limit. There will be a lot of project-based learning, with the teacher as facilitator.”

For many teachers, ability grouping reflects classroom realities. “When there’s a heterogeneous classroom, you’re still grouping students based on their ability level,” said Nicholas Sgroi, who taught fifth grade at Carter Elementary School in Middletown. “As lessons start going on, you see what they know, and see where they need support or push them further. It goes on all year long. The groups are pretty fluid.” Even students who stay in the lower group are “still growing at their own pace.”

In a lesson on fractions, for example, Sgroi has students who need more practice with the material adding like denominators. To challenge others, he’d offer a problem of adding fractions with different denominators or ask them to develop word problems on their own. “They’re not just doing work sheets,” said Sgroi.

But what happens when the kids in different groups are predominantly of different races? That’s something many districts with diverse populations want to avoid.

“We’re wrestling with big issues of equity,” said Laurence T. Spring, Schenectady superintendent. “Race, economics and disability cannot be predictors of students’ achievement. We need to think of lots of other things to do in the classroom. Most educational services should have a heterogeneous environment, especially in elementary school.”

He pointed to the district’s inclusive admissions process for the high school’s IB (International Baccalaureate) program as reflecting the goals of the district. As Spring said, “We want more kids in IB, to take the challenge.”

While ability grouping raises few eyebrows in the early grades, some worry that it might lead to tracking later on. These critics say that creating different groups for younger students to learn a given curriculum can create a culture that leads to older students being assigned to entirely different curriculums.

As Cathleen Chamberlain, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction in Oswego, said, “Some of the problems with tracking is that we can actually be determining a student’s future when we are making tracking decisions. Some tracks point to a future in college while others send students directly to a career path and we may be inadvertently closing doors that are options for students. Again, we have to be mindful that we are not typecasting students.”

“I’m horrified that tracking is coming back,” said Carol Burris, a principal at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Long Island, who was named principal of the year by the School Administrators Association of New York State. Her district has “accelerated all kids in math, including special needs kids, completely de-tracked ninth and 10th grade, and offered IB English to everybody in 11th grade,” she said.

With 15-16 percent of the district’s students eligible for free or reduced lunch, and a minority population of 21 percent, the district has 100 percent of graduating students receiving a Regents diploma and 80 percent having a Regents degree with advanced designation.

“We level the field,” said Burris, who has a book coming out on de-tracking in math. “We closed the achievement gap in terms of earning a Regents diploma. “We’re in the process of leveling up, to give the best curriculum we can. The tone of the building improves when you’re not isolating lower performing students.”

“For me, the problem really lies in not stepping back and saying ‘what is ability?’” said Amy Stuart Wells, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “With accountability and high stakes testing, the definition of ability has gotten more and more narrow. The return to ability grouping is so hierarchical because it’s competitive about very narrow measures. The perception of kids factors into the tracking process. We need to question what’s happening.”

For all the focus on data driven results, it’s unclear that ability grouping ultimately achieves its stated goals. “We don’t have good evidence that it helps or hurts kids, except for the highly advanced, high achiever, by giving them different curriculum,” said Loveless.

Despite questions about the value of ability grouping, Loveless expects to see more of it in elementary and middle schools as districts strive to improve results.

“It’s not going to go away,” he said. “It comes back under a different name.”

Joetta Sack-Min|September 13th, 2013|Categories: Curriculum, Data Driven Decision Making, Educational Research, Policy Formation, School District Reorganization, School Reform, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, Teachers|Tags: , , , , |

School security changed in the wake of Sandy Hook

How will school security change in the wake of the Newtown school shootings? It may be too early to know the long-term effects of the tragedy on schools, but in the short-term, at least, conversations about school safety have intensified in its aftermath.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy executive director and general counsel of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, spoke to school board association leaders at NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., Saturday afternoon on how her state association responded after the Newtown shootings.

McCarthy was joined by Francisco M. Negrón Jr, NSBA’s general counsel, and Jay Worona, general counsel and director of legal and policy services of the New York State School Boards Association.

Negrón pointed out that since the 1999 Columbine shootings, most school security has focused on indentifying disenfranchised students who could potentially become violent. However, after Sandy Hook, school boards and other education leaders are now looking at how to deal with threats from outside the school.

“We need to be aware of both,” said Negrón, “and assess both threat levels.”

School boards need to make sure district safety plans are up to date. Negrón recommended that such plans be reviewed, if not yearly, then at least every two years. “Safety plans must be real and dynamic,” he said. “Don’t put them on the shelf. Review them on a regular basis to make sure they meet your needs.”

Boards also should take the pulse of their community before taking measures such as hiring armed guards for schools. When you don’t talk to people, said Worona, the presumption is that you haven’t done anything. “We need to make sure people understand we can’t make our schools safe to the point that nothing will ever happen, but we do need to make them as safe as possible,” he said.

School board associations and individual school boards should know that national support is available to help after tragedies, said McCarthy. CABE received hundreds of telephone calls and offers of support within hours of the Sandy Hook news breaking, including from NSBA.

NSBA has a list of resources on school security, including articles from American School Board Journal, available here.

Kathleen Vail|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Leadership Conference 2013, School Law, School Security, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , |

NYSSBA: “Let’s try a little bragging”

The following commentary is written by Rebecca Albright, a school board member in New York, and was originally published by the New York State School Boards Association.

In the beginning I had just two children. When my son and daughter were five and two, respectively, I adopted 1,200 others between the ages of 5 and 21.

Other school board members know the feeling. When I was first elected to the Wilson school board in Niagara County in 1986, I felt like I became “mom” in a much broader sense of the word. These were all my kids!

In 1994 I was elected to Orleans/Niagara BOCES and my brood grew to 37,000, give or take. I don’t remember their birthdays and they will never get my car keys, but they are mine nonetheless! I fret over them, I advocate for them, and I brag about them every chance I get.

I feel fully entitled to brag. It’s what moms and dads do.

There is a distinct difference between advocating and bragging. Advocating is speaking up for public education and the resources we need. I do a lot of that when I visit legislators, but bragging is bringing attention to what these kids are actually doing.

You don’t like the term “bragging”? How about “broadcasting success”? As school board members, we’re privy to lots of information that average community members don’t have. I think it’s our duty to share the good news. People rarely hear it anywhere else!

In the current economic and regulatory climate, I think we all find board work stressful. But when I brag, I light up. Bragging brings a thrill to these old bones. It’s exhilarating and energizing.

Is there anything better than seeing the faces of kids when you talk in a way that lets them know that you think they are special and that you are proud of them? Do you notice how they sit up straighter, maybe even smile a bit? Ever tried that with their parents? Have you tried that with community members who aren’t parents or whose children have grown?

One of the biggest contributions we can make as school leaders is expressing appreciation for the hard work and good results that occur every day in our schools despite all the issues that we grapple with in our boardrooms.

Recognizing accomplishments is not only good for kids, it’s good for you. When you see students, staff or community members puffed up with a sense of accomplishment, that feeling of well-being is infectious. It can easily outweigh all the other concerns that trouble us.

So here is Bragging 101: talk about students as if they are your own flesh and blood. In the same way parents are quick to open their wallets (or smart phones) and show photos of their kids, you ought to have something handy to show people or brag about. Ask your superintendent for a “cheat sheet” of facts – maybe in graphical form – on student achievements, graduation percentages, student athlete teams, the scholarship monies earned. When someone asks you how the kids are  doing, give them an answer that they’ll remember and repeat to others!

Of all the duties that come with being a school board member, this is one you will truly enjoy. And it will be good for the students and the district, too. So, brag a little. After all, they really are your kids.

Rebecca Albright is president of the Orleans/Niagara BOCES board and host of “Your Public Schools” on LCTV public access television in Lockport.

Joetta Sack-Min|August 24th, 2012|Categories: Board governance, Public Advocacy, School Boards, State School Boards Associations, Student Achievement, Student Engagement, Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |

NYSSBA applauds veto of special education placement bill

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vetoed legislation that would have required school officials to consider a special education students’ home life and cultural backgrounds when making educational placements. The bill would have given parents more power to demand a publicly funded private education for their children with disabilities.

The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), other education groups, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had opposed the bill, which likely would have resulted in more placements in religious schools.

NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer released a statement praising the veto:

“The bill would have made a child’s cultural and family background a factor in special education placements, thereby promoting religious segregation in special education placements at taxpayer expense.  This result is contrary to the pluralistic values upon which our public education system was established,” he said. “Although we respect the personal choices that parents make to raise their children in accordance with their faith and culture, it would have been wrong to obligate taxpayers to pay for these private choices.”

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to veto the bill. NSBA noted that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the main federal special education law, includes provisions for addressing issues related to cultural and religious differences during the placement determination stage and it allows parents to petition school districts for private placements. Adding another legal layer to these proceedings would delay a placement and could increase legal costs for both parents and school districts, according to NSBA.

“This expansion of the educational placement process could create a situation where such decisions become subjective in nature rather than being based on educational outcomes, actual data reflecting a student’s present levels of performance, and the spirit and intent of the IDEA and Section 504,” wrote Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. “Further, such expansions could have the unintended consequences of promoting school vouchers, preferences toward certain private and parochial schools, and the promotion of segregated schools on the basis of economic status or family income – all irrelevant to appropriate special education placement determinations.”

According to The New York Times, Cuomo said in a memo that the bill “would have created ‘an overly broad and ambiguous mandate’ to send more students to private schools, burdening taxpayers with ‘incalculable significant additional costs.’”

 

 

Joetta Sack-Min|August 3rd, 2012|Categories: Diversity, Educational Finance, Educational Legislation, Federal Advocacy, Religion, School Vouchers, Special Education|Tags: , , |
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