Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Board of Education Delights in Bielefield Test Scores

Last night's regular Board of Education meeting opened with a somber moment of silence honoring former MHS football coach John Skubel (passed on 8/17) and Veteran and Children's Advocate Lee B. Smith (passed on 8/16).

The BOE then amended the agenda to move up a vote authorizing the Superintendent to work with the city to create a new full-time Nursing Supervisor position.  "We are seeing children with complex medical conditions and needs, and we must have someone that our nurses can come to with questions," noted Ann Perzan.  Perzan is the Director of Special Education, but the school nurse program is housed in her department.  Perzan also noted that school nurses are not currently given performance reviews because there isn't someone with greater clinical skills in the administrative chain.  Substitute nurses are also hard to find because many qualified individuals won't work if there isn't a Nurse Supervisor in place.  Superintendent Charles was authorized to work with the city to create the new position, and there will be no cost for the position as current Special Education funds will be repurposed to cover the position (the previous purpose for those funds ended in June).

Bielefield Elementary School then took center stage as the surprise star of the 2012-13 CMT test results.  Designated a "focus school" because of struggling sub-groups' performance on the 2011-12 Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), Bielefield instituted an after-school study program during the 2012-13 school year, aimed specifically at helping Hispanic students who struggle with English.  Assistant Superintendent Enza Macri had told the BOE earlier in the year that students who have been in the U.S. for six months have to take the CMT in English, even if they are not proficient speakers.  As administrators tried to determine why the Hispanic sub-group was struggling, parents explained that it was hard to help their students with homework when they struggled with English themselves.

Bielefield then used a $25,000 grant to form the after-school program, which served almost 100 students, and DATTCO donated the busing to get the students home afterwards.

And the result?  Astonishing gains in every category:

  • Hispanic 3rd graders: 
    • proficiency in math - 50% in 2011, 63.2% in 2012
    • proficiency in writing - 54.5% in 2011, 77.8% in 2012
  • Hispanic 4th graders:
    • proficiency in reading - 16.7% in 2011, 64.3% in 2012
    • proficiency in math - 33.3% in 2011, 64.3% in 2012
    • proficiency in writing - 66.7% in 2011, 80% in 2012

District-wide, however, CMT test results were fairly flat.  See the Courant's article here for the full story.

Here's the rub.  The $25K grant Bielefield received because it had been named a "focus school" was a one time distribution.  Additionally, DATTCO is unwilling to donate bus service again this year.  So, given the extremely tight budget conditions for this year, the program cannot continue.  Assistant Superintendent Macri somewhat jokingly told the board that she was buying a bus and driving all the students home herself, and the despair in her voice was plainly evident: a superbly planned and executed program has to be dropped because there is no money to support it.

BOE members then had a larger discussion about the assessment process in general.  There is speculation that some of this year's flat CMT scores are due to the fact that Middletown has already started to switch to Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  CMT is being phased out, yet assessment testing has not been switched over yet.  "These two could not be more different," Macri told the board, "and we're afraid that if we switch testing this year, our schools are going to be held accountable if there is a dip in scores in the process."

Furthermore, teaching goals have been developed for the 2012-13 school year based on CMT test results, but teachers also have to switch over to the Common Core Curriculum.  If Middletown decides to take the Smarter Balanced assessment test, which does measure CCSS, those test results will not be ready for evaluation until after the 2013-14 school year starts.  This makes teacher goal setting in advance of the school year impossible.

Read more on the State's requirements here and the Smarter Balanced assessment process here.

In other district news, a significant achievement regarding a new Middletown Federation of Teachers (MFT) contract has been reached.  In particular, Elementary teachers have not had common planning time, and this has been a sticking point in the contract process for years.  Superintendent Patricia Charles told the board that "we got very creative and made a number of changes to make this happen." Previously, Elementary teachers did not supervise recess, but new scheduling changes mean that they will supervise recess up to two times per week and they will start 15 minutes earlier.  A new state mandate requires all students to have physical activity at least 20 minutes per day, which has led to additional specials (music, art, gym, library/media) being added to the schedule so that students can meet the requirements, but teachers also now have common planning time.

This is a win-win for everyone: common planning time for teachers improves the quality of the instruction, children benefit greatly from additional specials and physical activity, and seven of eight Middletown elementary schools now have part-time Library/Media Specialists back in the building for the first time in at least 8 years.  Assistant Superintendent Macri was quick to point out, though, that the library/media program is not as extensive as it should be, nor will every student in every building have a library/media special: "This is a good start, but we hope to find funding that will grow this program to be an important part of the curriculum."

Director of Special Education, Ann Perzan, updated the board on the district's Special Education Program.  Perzan is working on a 5-year goal plan, focusing on aligning special instruction with the new Common Core State Standards and building Special Education support/services capacity at each of Middletown's schools.  She told the board that the State's new expectation for school districts centers around the concept of "least restrictive environment," which means services provided to students at their home school instead of in a centralized location.  Board members were visibly shocked at this pronouncement, asking if this was just a Middletown requirement or required of all districts.  Perzan replied that the State wants all districts to move in this direction, and that specifics would be rolled out in September at the directors' meeting.  {Author's note: the cost of having a complete range of Special Education services at each of eleven Middletown schools is a daunting prospect, even if it theoretically best serves children's needs.}

Finally, mixed news from the financial side of school business.  The district, with the help and support of the city and the Common Council, was able to consolidate its copier contract from individual school contracts to one district-wide contract, with significant savings realized.  The bus contract was also re-neogtiated, saving almost half a million dollars.  This happiness was overshadowed by a letter from the State regarding a final audit of the Lawrence School Building Project (finished 8 years ago).  Apparently $214,000 in "ineligible" purchases were made during the construction process, and the state wants that grant money back.  For the time being, the District will be allowed to seek some relief through the State Assembly in the form of special legislation during the next session, but not all the purchases made will be covered if the special legislation is approved.  State Senator Paul Doyle is taking the lead on getting this legislation approved.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for September 10, 2013, at 7pm at City Hall in the Common Council Chambers.


Anonymous said...

Scores made steady increases every year under previous administration.

cybermom said...

It sounds like everyone is working very hard to do a good job for Middletown schools. It would be nice if you posted the CMT results for all schools and grades.

Jam (Jennifer Mahr) said...

To cybermom: The Superintendent's office is still processing that information into a format that is easy to read and understand. The EYE will publish that information as soon as it is available.

David Sauer said...

All of the information is available at

You can get the data broken down almost any way you want, but it takes a little playing around to figure out what is available and how to get it. One interesting feature is you can "disaggregate", i.e., break it down, according to gender, ethnicity, ESL, special ed, and free/reduced lunch. Doing that often gives you a clearer picture of who is taking the test and helps to put the success/failure of a given school into somewhat better perspective.

This site can give you a great deal of detail, but having it processed into a format that makes it easier to get the big picture would definitely be a great help to parents.