In tough times, schools need to innovate

A few years ago at the request of a couple of local papers I began writing a weekly column. The experience gave me an even deeper appreciation for professional news people who write columns for a living. I had always known that it was a tough job, particularly if one was committed to producing columns of a consistently high caliber, but I found that it was even tougher than I had realized. After taking a break for over a year I am going to give it another try. If you have any questions or concerns about any column, please feel free to contact me by email at [email protected].

By the time this article runs, state and national elections will be over and whoever is in power will be waking up to the challenges they will have to deal with. Clearly there are some very significant ones. New York State’s finances are very shaky. Implementing simple, quick fixes with the hope that a rising economy would come to the rescue is questionable at any time. Given the current circumstances they probably would not work anyway. New York needs to make significant long-term structural changes. If they are thoughtfully and fairly crafted, everyone will benefit in the long run. As proposals are rolled out I will try to write columns on them to bring them to your attention.

In the meantime and throughout the process we will try to keep our focus on improving the quality of education in Herricks for the benefit of all students. Their education goes on and we owe them our full attention. As a parent I was frequently reminded of the fact that a year may not seem that long to us, but it is to a student and if they miss any opportunities they cannot go back and make them up. A lost athletic season, a lost field trip, a lost opportunity to take a valuable class is probably lost forever.

Over the next several weeks I would like to talk about a number of initiatives to improve the quality of education in Herricks. There have been some fascinating presentations at recent Herricks Board meetings on some of these and more will be presented at upcoming Board meetings. I know, however, that many people are unable to make meetings.

One initiative which I have found particularly interesting has been the piloting of a new assessment, one which a number of us have been urging the New York State Education Department to allow districts to use in lieu of the cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming current State ELA and Math Grades 3-8 assessments which yield relatively little useful information for parents, students or teachers. The new assessment was developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association . It has a number of significant advantages:

It is computer based.

It is fully adaptive. The computer starts providing students with questions at an expected grade level. As students get questions right or wrong, the program provides easier or more difficult questions until it determines a student’s functional level. The ultimate score is not the number right or wrong, but what level of achievement a student is capable of. In fact, most students end up leaving a session having answered about the same percentage of questions correctly.

Each time a student takes the Northwest Evaluation Assocation test (3, 6, 12 months later), the computer system starts the student at their prior level of achievement.

There is no top or bottom as there is for most standardized assessments. Students across a full rang of achievement levels are accurately assessed.

Results are back in 24 hours or less.

Each assessment takes roughly an hour compared with several hours for administration and scoring. (Due to the cumbersome nature of the current New York assessments much of the month of May is lost to testing.)

Cheating is virtually impossible. (New York State officials acknowledge that this is a serious problem.)

The cost to school districts is half of the New York assessments. The cost to the state is virtually nothing.

Most importantly, the results can be a valuable part of the instructional process. Teachers can use the information to better organize and differentiate instruction and parents and students can receive the same information.

The key part is that data from the NWEA provides information on what a student can and cannot do. This allows everyone – teachers, parent, students – to focus their time and energy more efficiently and effectively.

Results in Herricks will be shared with Herricks parents and students shortly.


John E. Bierwirth

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The Island Now

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