Thursday, April 3, 2014

Taking the Emotion Out of Decisions

By now you have probably heard that the English Language Arts (ELA) Assessment was given in grades 3-8 across New York State. You may have also heard that some parents chose to have their children refuse to take this assessment.

There are many reasons why parents are making this choice. Some of those reasons are:

  • a lack of confidence in the current Commissioner of Education, 
  • disappointment in the new Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS), 
  • anger at the flawed implementation of the CCLS, and 
  • the rush to test on these standards even though the material is still being rolled out to students.

I certainly have strong opinions about how flawed the implementation of the Common Core has been, as well as how quickly New York State chose to test on the standards compared to other states. I doubt I would be writing this blog had those two things been done with more common sense. In my job, however, I am always forced to put my emotions aside and make decisions that are in the best interests of students, staff, and taxpayers.  These decisions are based on the information that I have at the time, any history that might be relevant, and any rules, laws, or regulations that might apply.

Parenting, in my humble opinion, is THE most challenging and rewarding job we could ever have, and I never judge a parent when they make a decision regarding their child. I also do not think we know how we do as parents until they have had a chance to take what we taught them and live on their own. Parents can also become stressed when we must make decisions for our children, even when we assist them with a decision. Sound like fun all of you non-parents out there?!?

The facts surrounding test refusals is complicated. In the most simplest form, and with the information that is in play today, schools across New York State could lose funding based on the total percentage of students who do not take the New York State Assessments. The "magic" percentage that school districts as a whole, as well as individual buildings, need to maintain their "good standing" status is 95% , and that percentage is calculated several different ways.

This percentage is one of the factors in determining if a school or district has made "Adequate Yearly Progress". In a nutshell, if a school, building, or sub-group of a student population falls below the 95% participation rate, a mechanism could be enacted where Federal funds that a school receives, called Title I funds, might need to be diverted. They would then cover the costs of an outside company to provide tutoring to students, but ONLY for those students who receive free and reduced lunch (no matter what their score is).

Still with me? The impact of this would have a domino effect because most schools, including West Genesee, use these Title I funds to help cover teacher salaries for students who truly do struggle. Diverting these funds creates a budget gap that eventually winds up in the general fund and schools either have to cut to close that gap, or raise taxes to supplement that gap. ALL of our students and ALL of our employees could be impacted.

In my opinion, no matter what negative impact this has for a school or a district, those who created this structure and these plans move forward with no repercussions. To me, this scenario qualifies as a "lose/lose". There are more factors that I have not included in this blog, but I wanted you to have some basic information.

Ninety-seven students refused to take the ELA Assessment at West Genesee, which is 4.43% of our school wide population who were eligible to take the assessment. We will not know if individual buildings or sub groups are below the 95% until later this spring and after the testing windows (the Math Assessments take place in May).  If we fall below the 95%, our clock starts ticking and the financial impact will be felt at the end of next year unless a waiver is introduced, and I have not heard any buzz about that as of yet.

Again, we are not alone. However, I wanted to make the point that there can be true and unintended consequences for decisions we make once emotion is removed.

Have a great rest of the week!