School Committee Reviews MCAS Scores, Discusses FY '13 Budget Guidelines
Although the No Child Left Behind Act will likely see changes in the near future, the district is working on closing the achievement gap shown in the 2011 MCAS results.
Despite anticipated changes to the No Child Left Behind Act, the Newton School Committee last night reviewed the district's efforts to improve its MCAS test scores, particularly those in minority "subgroups" such as African American, Hispanic, low income and special education students.
According to the MCAS report presented last night by Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Ann Koufman-Frederick, the achievement gap between those subgroups and the White students remains significant, especially in the early grades.
To view the district's MCAS report, click the .pdf to the right.
"What jumps out at me is your need to work between the special education administrators and [regular education staff] to address a gigantic achievement gap," said School Committee member Jonathan Yeo. "Of the 323 elementary and middle school students who scored 'warning' [on the MCAS], 291 were students with disabilities. That's a gigantic percentage."
While the district's overall (or "aggregate") performance rating was "very high" on both the 2011 math and English Language Arts (ELA) tests, eight schools remain in some form of improvement status due to subgroups not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) either this year or in years past. The district itself also has an improvement status.
The district itself could move out of that improvement status if scores improve again in 2012; the high school subgroups' progress on the 2011 math test allowed the district to meet AYP, which must be done two years in a row to remove that improvement status.
Nevertheless, several administrators and School Committee members underlined the fact that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) -- a law that mandates the AYP requirements -- is likely to see some changes in the near future. Currently, the act requires all students reach the proficient level on state tests by the 2013-2014 school year.
However, in a Boston Globe article published today, a new proposal in Massachusetts would require schools to reduce by 50 percent the number of students failing to reach proficiency in ELA and math by 2017. The state would monitor those schools who continually fail to show improvement, the article says.
The Globe article notes that the proposal was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education yesterday and if federal officials approve, the state would receive a NCLB waiver and the new plan would go into effect next school year.
Regardless of whether the NCLB requirements change, though, Koufman-Frederick underlined the programs the district continues to use to close that achievement gap between the general student population and subgroups.
Across all levels, Koufman-Frederick said the district is working on increasing professional learning communities for teachers, adding tutoring opportunities, developing reading strategies as well as tiered instruction and intervention.
Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Joe Russo noted the elementary school principals and staff are collaborating on programs and visiting different schools to share and view teaching methods. An Achievement Gap Committee is also looking at what schools outside the Newton district are doing to address the struggling student populations.
Other tactics to address the achievement gap include:
- Elementary level -- increasing the volume of response writing, math coaches and literacy specialists, increasing the use of science notebooks (writing responses), training teachers in assessment and intervention as well as professional development programs.
- Middle school level -- math coaches working with new teachers and special educators, literacy coaches, increasing use of digital resources and using a professional development program called "making things visible" to deepen understanding and critical thinking.
- High school level -- after school and peer tutoring, a Power English Course and the physics teachers meet on a regular basis to develop strategies for students struggling on the MCAS physics test.
Fiscal 2013 budget guidelines
As the district heads in to what will likely be another difficult budget year, the School Committee discussed last night the guidelines it will look to when developing next year's numbers.
During the discussion, School Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff invited the newly-elected School Committee members to the table. Although Diana Fisher Gomberg, Steve Siegel and Angela Pitter-Wright do not officially begin their terms until January, they had a chance to weigh in on the budget discussion.
"I would like us to take a fresh look at some of our policies," Pitter-Wright said, offering an idea for the district to assess its paper use and where it can make adjustments to help trade off costs for technology.
Gomberg, who recently won the Ward 4 seat, said she would like to see the arts protected in the fiscal 2013 budget and possibly have some programs restored.
"I feel [the arts] took a big hit last year," Gomberg said.
Vice Chair Reenie Murphy told the committee last night the fiscal 2013 budget already has some "good news" and "bad news." While the School Department will save money from new teacher contracts, the district already has a projected enrollment increase of 200 students in addition to growing utility bills and increases to special education costs.
The district will also loose federal education jobs money in the next fiscal year, Murphy added. Although the total isn't clear yet, the amount could be up to $900,000 lost.
With similar struggles fiscal 2012, the budget guideline group (including Murphy, Margie Ross Decter and Sue Rosenbaum) agreed to keep the guidelines close to those used last year. The broad guidelines, she said, worked well:
- Protect educational infrastructure
- Protect operational infrastructure
- Keep class sizes low
- Protect student services
- Maintain breadth of program
School Committee member Geoff Epstein, though, voiced his specific suggestions for the budget including more focus on STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as a district investment in full-day kindergarten.
Epstein also suggested a focus on public-private partnerships and the actions the district needs to take to achieve those relationships.
However, both Murphy and Superintendent David Fleishman emphasized the importance of having broad, more general budget guidelines rather than specific initiatives.
"It's not wise to focus on specific programs ahead of budget context," Fleishman said.
The broad guidelines, Fleishman added, are helpful as the Newton administrators spend time with principals, department heads, curriculum coordinators and in some cases, other school districts, to hear budget feedback and ideas.
Editor's note: The School Committee also received a facilities update and voted on a few items last night, stay tuned to Patch later this week for more updates from the meeting.