Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Board of Ed Frustrated With State "Embargo" of CMT Results

At last night's Board of Education regular meeting, Superintendent Michael Frechette was still unable to discuss Middletown's 2011 CMT scores. Frechette told BOE members that the State Board of Education had released the embargo on 9/1, but then "re-embargoed" the scores on 9/6. At a Superintendents' Group meeting, Frechette said three reasons were offered for this continuing embargo:
  • The State doesn't have the capacity to finish processing the scores
  • A school in Waterbury was caught cheating and the whole District has to retake the test, so the final state results can't be processed without the retake results
  • Other states are starting to "not participate" in No Child Left Behind because of disagreement over benchmark levels. CT has asked for a change in the regulations because now 81% of the districts in CT are on the NCLB list because the federal benchmarks were increased. If left at 80% proficiency (meaning 80% of kids are at or above proficiency on the test), all Middletown schools would be off the list.
Several interesting threads came out of this "I can't talk about scores" stance. First, on top of being identified as a school needing improvement, Bielefield Elementary School also has an overcrowding issue in its two Kindergarten classes. Principal Jeff Fournier was asked to describe to the board how this situation is being handled, and he described the 6 certified teachers, 2 intervention teachers and 2 paras who have been brought in to assist the two classes. (More on this subject in a separate story - still waiting for some additional information.)

Second, during the (first) public session, MacDonough parent (and BOE Candidate) Ed McKeon told the BOE that he had called the Freedom of Information Agency and was told there was no such thing as an "embargo" of public information. Once information is in the hands of a State Agency, it becomes public information and has to be released. McKeon also questioned how only Title I families could be offered the choice to attend a new school (since 2 Middletown schools have to offer choice after not meeting adequate yearly progress two years in a row) when the policy states choice has to be offered to Title I schools. This would mean that ALL the families at a particular school would have to be offered choice, not just singled out families. McKeon had a list of questions for BOE members and he chided them for not being more concerned about policies being made in the Superintendent's office without BOE oversight (since the scores can't be talked about...).

Finally, several BOE members repeatedly questioned Superintendent Frechette about what would happen if Middletown "violated" the embargo, and if Frechette knew when the embargo would be lifted. "I don't know, and I'm frustrated too...you have as much information as I do," commented Frechette to BOE member Sheila Daniels. BOE member Corinne Gill couldn't see how principals and parents being offered school choice could know what was going on if the scores were embargoed, and Frechette replied that he was allowed to give info to those two groups but no one else. "I find this unacceptable, " Gill finished. Frechette just shrugged and replied it wasn't his rule. BOE member Ryan Kennedy asked BOE Chairman Ted Raczka to send a letter to the State Board of Ed, asking why there was an embargo, what the penalty for violating the embargo would be, and when it would end. Raczka agreed, but also commented, "If you aggravate the State Board of Ed, they can find any number of subtle ways to remind you of the proper relationship and the children will suffer..."

After this comment, BOE member Sally Boske told the board that she knows other districts have sent letters, but haven't had any luck with responses. "I don't think we're going to get a response, but we should be on record anyway." Boske went on to comment, "Don't forget we're also in between Commissioners, so there's no help going that route either." Corinne Gill then asked where the embargo is authorized in state statutes, and stated that "It really scares me that we are allowing ourselves to be held hostage by the State BOE." Boske replied, "I have confidence that Michael Frechette is going what he's supposed to do."

The meeting then turned to other subjects, like how long it would take to start a rehab of Keigwin Middle School. Director of Facilities Ken Jackson said it's about a 4 year process to have a feasibility study, to get the grant from the state, and to set up a building committee. BOE member Ryan Kennedy asked whether there was going to be a Facilities Committee established (as part of one of the recommendations from the re-districting process) to create a 20 - 25 year facilities plan. BOE Chairman Raczka said yes, but that nothing would be done until after the election in November.

None of the committees (Budget, Communications, Curriculum, Policy) have met, and most alluded to not meeting until after the election. BOE Member Sheila Daniels commented, "It's not OK that committees aren't meeting just because there's an election coming up. School has started regardless of elections, and there's work to be done."

The only happy news of the whole evening was that none of the Middletown school properties sustained any direct damage from Hurricane Irene. Several branches or trees come down, but nothing that damaged a building. There were other minor leaks or cases of minor flooding, but nothing significant.

Commentary:

I didn't think that politics were supposed to play an overt role in how education operates in a town, but that was clearly the case last night. First, there was the drama between BOE Candidate Ed McKeon and BOE Chairman Ted Raczka. Members of the public have 3 minutes to address the board, and McKeon clearly wasn't finished speaking when Raczka informed him time was up. McKeon kept talking, saying he was almost finished, and Raczka quickly called the meeting into recess and then jumped up and turned the TV feed off. In all the BOE meetings I've seen, I've never seen the TV turned off when someone tries to keep talking past the time limit. Raczka usually bangs his gavel and tells the person he or she is out of order, but I've never seen such a quick move from "Your time's up" to an immediate recess, and the TV has never been off. In fact, BOE member Corinne Gill questioned Raczka's actions later in the meeting, saying, "When did we decide it was our policy to turn the TV off if someone exceeds their time?" Raczka could have told McKeon he was free to continue his comments for another 3 minutes at the 2nd public session, but he didn't mention that at all.

Secondly, to hear that no committee work is going on because there's an election in two months and the membership of the board is changing or might change is just insanity. Add to that the fact that the Superintendent is making changes, based on CMT scores, to how the system is running, but he can't tell the board what he's doing or why. There is an overwhelming force being brought to bear on the 2 overcrowded kindergartens at Bielefield, yet it is unclear that the same approach is being done for the overcrowded 4th grade at Moody. Furthermore, BOE Chairman Raczka commented that he wanted to make sure that "Bielefield was up to the level of quality at all of our other schools, " and this left me pondering some math and its implications: two teachers require the assistance of 10 other individuals for about 50 kids...

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that our kids aren't worth it. I'm suggesting, and I fully admit I don't have the class size numbers in front of me yet, that the effort seems out of proportion to the resources available to every other class in town. This puzzles me, and either there's an answer that will be revealed once the mysterious embargo is released, or I've got some digging to do.

In the end, this is supposed to be about doing our best for our kids, and it seems like there's a mix of "enforced" non-supervision and election "hide-and-seek" going on (BOE members are hiding from their responsibilities while voters are seeking answers and results). Even if the state did succeed in lowering the CMT benchmark, that's just a paper result. It doesn't change the fact that we should be working toward EVERY child meeting the benchmark, and this effort has to continue whether there are elections or not.







22 comments:

Aldon Hynes said...

Gee, last night was back to school night in Woodbridge where our Superintendent boasted about how well the school my daughter attends did, including details about some of the scores. Also, when school started, my daughter brought home a report about her CMT scores and how they compared with other students in the school as well as other students in the state.

Could it be that embargo only applies to schools that fail to make acceptable yearly progress?

Anonymous said...

I was truly embarrassed by the behavior that I saw on tv last night when I watched the BOE monthly meeting. The fact that a recess was called when a speaker, no matter who he was, went over the time limit was attrocious - there did not appear to be a line waiting their turn to speak; he could have been offered an opportunity to step aside and then return after the other speakers for an additional 3 minutes. I won't go to the issue that the public is not provided backup to the agenda items prior to the meeting or that they are not available on line to the public - whole other issue. Also, I was amazed that the Superintendent was not answering questions directly put to but just citing his frustration with an embargo on the test scores. Unreal.

Anonymous said...

Is this why we hired Dr. Frechette? "If left at 80% proficiency (meaning 80% of kids are at or above proficiency on the test), all Middletown schools would be off the list." I think it high time we move on and find a Superintendent that can produce results without the drama and politics he brings. Also, it is outrageous that Ted Ratzka disconnects the TV. He is not the almighty GOD of the BOE, and answers to the public. Maybe it time to remind him by supporting other candidates for the BOE, whom currently think it more important to worry about the upcoming elections then their responsibilities to the BOE.

Bielefield Parent said...

8 staff members helping the kindergarten and being pulled from the rest of the school is UNACCEPTABLE!! What about the other 300 kids in the school!!! They moved a teacher the week before school started to Wesley School to help with the kids they transferred there...r u kidding?
To Mr. Raczka: clearly the question you asked that prompted the Bielefield principal to get up and thank you for asking was written and orchestrated by Frechette...it couldn't have been more obvious...and you are the Bielefield Bd of Ed rep...pathetic!! you have never been on the side of those kids..only Frechettes...you praised Frechette/Fournier for being so "creative" and coming up with solutions to help kindergarten...scary you don't see anything wrong with this picture...I invite you to Bielefield's Open House tonight @ 6to take questions and concerns...if u can't make it we will gladly have a mtg for you to come and address the parents/kids concerns you pretend to represent.

David Sauer said...

Mr. Hayes:

Your post illustrates one of the many confusing aspects of No Child Left Behind. The scores that Woodbridge released are not the scores that Middletown is waiting for and cannot discuss. The CMT and CAPT test results are interpreted under one set of rules to comply state law and they are then interpreted under a different set of rules to comply with federal law. So every year there is essentially a state score and a different federal score for each test. If you look at any Connecticut NCLB report card you will see that on page 2 of the card the scores are reported using the federally required analysis and on page 3 they are reported using the state required analysis. The scores are usually somewhat close, but there is considerable variability.

The results of the 2011 CMT scores using the state analysis have been available for some time. They are currently available on-line and those are the scores that you received. The analysis of the scores under the NCLB rules is what remains incomplete. NCLB requires that this analysis be done by the state, and apparently they have not yet completed the task. The state has not publicly released the scores of these tests under the NCLB analysis for any schools yet.

For what it is worth, Ed is entirely correct that the FOIA does not allow public information to be embargoed. However, I suspect that the state will claim that the information that is embargoed is a draft and exempt from disclosure. The state FOIA allows drafts to be exempted. Since the results apparently are not final they at least have an argument that it is a draft at this point.

Anonymous said...

http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/pressroom/2011_CMT_Press_Release.pdf
Check out this website. Looks like the "embargo" was up July 13, 2011.
The CMT scores for Middletown can be accessed on the State Department of Educations website.
Why the secrets Frechette?

Kindergarten Parent said...

As a kindergarten parent of a child at Bielefield, I find that the teachers are doing the best that they can do with what they are given. The assistance they are given is actually taken from the other grades. So they suffer too. With that being said it is my opinion that the BOE needs to step up including Ted who coincidentally is the Adopt-a-School Board member. So maybe he should be held accountable. The only way we, the parents, can make a change happen is by being heard. Open house is at Bielefield tonight, voice your concerns. Let them be heard and maybe change will come!

Ed McKeon said...

David:

Interesting dodge. I never thought of the "draft." However, since the district already has the information and has acted upon it, I don't know how that would stand up.

I've got a request in to the DOE, and if they don't respond, I'll file an FOI complaint, and pursue a violation.

David Sauer said...

Ed:

I'm not sure the fact the city has the info or acted on it helps you that much. The state probably isn't going to be held accountable for what the city did with information that they claim is "tentative". If you end up fighting this with the state I think you will have more success making them explain how the results were a draft until released on 9/1 (presumably therefore, final) and then became a draft again on 9/6.

It is sad that by not meeting its obligations in a timely manner the state DOE has made it difficult or impossible for about 80% of the Connecticut districts to comply with their obligations under federal law. Looks to me like the state is pretty sure they are going to get a waiver of the NCLB requirements from Duncan.

Anonymous said...

What constitutes an "overcrowded classroom" in the schools? How big are the classes in question? How big are the classes at other schools?

julie shipe said...

I am a Bielefield Parent. I have children in K, 1 and 2. My parents were teachers. I have to say that 24 4-5 year olds in one classroom is unacceptable. As a teacher friend of mine said-it's like herding cats. I am so pleased that Principal Fornier has brought is whatever assistance he is able to. Please remember that we are dealing with Kindergarteners here. You are dealing with children who have either had preschool (in a relatively small class) or have been home with parents. Having 24 kids that are learning the routine of formal schooling for the first time is FAR different that 24 4th graders who have had 5 years to learn and practice how to act in school.
Frechette and BOE...If you can't purpose yourself to provide an education that YOU would be proud of your own kids having then you need to step aside. You have problems almost all of your schools. One school is no more important than another because one kid is not more important that another. Look at what has been done at MacDonough... What is going on there needs to be the model for your district. See you at the next BOE meeting.

Anonymous said...

It's not an education they are proud of. I heard Frechette's kid is at Mercy this year. Can anyone verify?

Anonymous said...

Jam-if you don't know the facts you should not comment-you fail to realize that that every other school has another K teacher and does not have to pull their resources away from the jobs they are doing to help K. This staff is not in K full time-they are being pulled from duties like teaching students to read so the entire school is robbed of resources.

Anonymous said...

I know Snow School has 22 kids in each kindergarten class. There are three classes. My son is in one of them. When his older brother was in kindergarten, there were 15 kids in his class, same school. Some years you get lucky, some you don't. Class size can never be completely equitable. There should be an upper limit though.

julie shipe said...

"Jam-if you don't know the facts you should not comment" Not sure if this was directed at me...but let me assure you that I do know the facts. I have friends with kids across this town and know what is going on in all of the schools...and beyond. The problem is that you already have a school that is failed to make AYP AND you pull a teacher...no logic. Having been in the classrooms I will also mention that these are very small classrooms. There is barely enough room for 20 students like my older kids had, let alone 24.

Jen Alexander said...

This comment is to the Bielefield and Snow parents who are reading the Eye - I just wanted to extend the invitation to submit write-ups of any of the things that go on at your school. Of course, the invitation includes folks at other schools as well...

A few of us at the Eye are Macdonough parents, so it gets lots of coverage, but we'd be equally happy to publish things about your school assemblies, issues, or anything else you'd like to share!

Just send it to mieyejen@gmail.com if you've got something you want to post, or let us know if you would like to become an Eye author in your own right.

Anonymous said...

Hey BOE and "redistricting Committee" - Good job, all of your "hard work" really paid off. How long will it take before we are redistricting again to correct the overcrowding at Bielefield. The schools and admins in the town are a joke and I will looking it private options to get away from this BS!

Anonymous said...

Jam is the author of the aricle-not you Julie. I think what parents are upset about isn't so much that class sizes are unequal it's that 7 students from Bielefield transferred to Wesley(reported by the Patch)and a K classroom was "collapsed" at Bielefield School creating the issue.
10 K students transferred to Wesley from Famr Hill-that's 17 students and there's the K classroom that should be at Bielefield. Sheila Daniels asked why Bielefield was chosen to lose a K classroom and there wasn't a clear answer.

Anonymous said...

Frechettes kid does go to Mercy.
Can't believe the Superintendents kid doesn't go to public school. Can't blame him though, the mess he created.. I would be embarrassed to send my kid to MHS.
The teachers and security guards work hard but the Administration needs to get alot tougher and stronger.

Anonymous said...

interesting development...less than 48 hours after Frechette/Raczka were patting the Bielefield principal on the back @ the Bd of Ed mtg about his "creative solutions" for using 8 staff to help the 2 K classrooms they have now backtracked and made a teacher at Bielefield be the 3rd kindergarten teacher..stay tuned...this opens up all kinds of questions...something has been fishy about this from the start and sounds like central office is squirming.

Jam said...

Annonymous @ 10:33pm on 9/14

I'm sorry that I don't understand your comment - what don't I know the facts about? There are two K teachers at Bielefield (and I wasn't even commenting about the collapsed class), and those two teachers have additional assistance during the week from other staff that aren't K teachers. Bielefield's Principal was reading from a piece of paper before the BOE and he repeated several times that there were a total of 10 additional staff members to give additional instruction (especially in reading) to those two classes. My point in my commentary is that I don't believe there's another grade at any other school in this town that is getting that much extra help. You're right that it pulls resources from other places, and that's why I can't figure it out.

I am still waiting for the Superintendent to send me the enrollment report. I too was wondering what "overcrowded" actually means, and since the Superintendent was using the term, I figured it was as close to an official declaration of fact as it gets around here. I'll report back when I find up.

Jam said...

Right...that's find OUT at the end. Sorry.