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Mineola High School Leaders Talk Goals for Students

Instructional leaders detail assessment process for teachers, administrators.

Following up on a , administrators of the presented their goals to the at a meeting on December 19 at the .

“This year we had several changes,” principal Ed Escobar said, noting the common core standards, PARC assessment and APPR which all come from state as well as the which brought the eighth grade to the high school.

The high school’s goals focuses on three areas: a Response to Intervention (RtI), Common Formative Assessments and Project Based Learning. The first two have to do with increasing student achievement while the key to the third Escobar said is “really what’s going on in the future; it’s the ... because it’s one thing to learn and to know content, it’s another thing to put it together and apply it to a specific problem.”

The key component of RtI is “collaboration” with tiers representing different levels of intervention, which assistant principal Dr. Whittney Smith said are either “under understood or under utilized in a secondary setting.” The Instructional Support Team (IST) is a problem solving team currently being run by high school instructional leaders, that reviews student difficulties and develops a collaborative plan.

“We had the faculty actually rotate through stations and brainstorm strategies that they air to those issues that kids were displaying at the high school level and we came up with a fairly comprehensive list given the issues that kids tended to have both behaviorally and academically at the high school,” Smith said.

The team sets up a written plan for each student that Smith likened to a profile – “what does a student look like?” – and then pair it with an action plan. It is being piloted in the eighth grade with one counselor  attached to the team. “It was a lot easier to get off the ground quickly with him and troubleshooting some of the things wrong with the form, any difficulties they may have had,” Smith said. “The original intention of an instructional support team is for teachers to help teachers. Our instructional leaders and administrators run it; we’re looking to shift that back to a teacher-teacher type position.”

“The notion here is Tier I is a basic intervention and if that doesn’t work, it’s accelerated and it goes to Tier II,” Dr. Nagler said.

Statistics show that 85 percent of students should be “serviced well” according to Smith in Tier I – the general education program. Tier II and III become smaller groups that have more targeted intervention, small group and individual counseling, reading clinic classes.

“One of the things that we’ve looked at is high schools in general – not this high school – is departmentalized and there are a lot of people doing a lot of things for kids, however we are looking now at this model is to get all of those people to work together so that there’s one plan and we’re not duplicating services,” Smith said.

The assessments test “what the student is learning,” Escobar said. “You’re testing someone whether they know it or not but after the test is over and they walk out the classroom, it doesn’t really make a difference. To put Andrew Jackson in context to what he was doing and the time that he lived in... then you’re getting students to apply what they’ve learned.”

Common formative assessments are given several times a year to measure how a student is doing as the year goes on and allow for change. These assessments do not necessarily have to be a test.

“If you’re in a math class or a science class and we gave a test on a topic and the topic, 75 percent of the students did ok and 25 percent did not know the material, then we have to regroup and find out what we’ve done and what we’re going to do in the future so these students understand what they did not know because they’re going to be tested on that come June when they take the Regents,” Escobar said.

Student learning objectives (SLOs) are academic goals for teacher student which are set at the start of a course. “This is the future,” Escobar said, “this is what’s coming down for all teachers in New York State” in September 2012. Each student will be working with teachers toward the goal, which is aligned toward the common core and represents the most important learning for the year. Teachers will then base their curriculum on  students’ data to create the goals. “It’s definitely a big change for everyone, teachers and administrators,” Escobar said.

One of the problems is that most high school courses do not end in an exam. “We’re creating exams that the same exam that all the children are taking across the grade and then we’re comparing them to each other, which is the bizarre part,” Dr. Nagler said, explaining that in creating the teacher evaluations the median is used and the percent of students that pass in a particular class is how the teacher is rated, “which if you’re following my logic, half of the kids are failing so .”

He added later that  “I think the premise here is we do this already, we set goals, teachers set goals, that’s what the SLO’s are.”

In English, student growth is primarily skills based and tested on NWEA exams. Teachers address needs by grouping, tiered lessons and providing activities in eighth and ninth grade while in tenth and eleventh assessments are conducted on two paired literary passages, mirroring what students will see on Regents exams.

“In this way, we’re helping students develop those skills,” Larry Butti said.

Dr. Nicole Moriarty and John Gollisz gave an overview of the math, science and social studies areas saying a pretest would be used as a baseline to measure student growth.

“Using that pre-test we could more effectively pinpoint where remediation is necessary for our students and drive instruction by differentiating our lessons,” Gollisz said, adding that a summative assessment for each unit would be given to see growth for each specific student. 

Future steps would include an overall baseline test, individualized instruction in small groups, a post-test in January similar to midterm and another pre-test for second half of year followed by an end of year test to show overall growth.

“Students don’t come in as a blank slate into the classroom,” Gollisz said. “Teachers tend to think that way sometimes but students come in with lots of knowledge – middle school, wherever, – and we’re here looking at growth for all students so even if a student come in with a lot of knowledge, it’s a teacher’s job to make sure that they grow even further and that’s what a pre-test is very valuable for.”

The difference between project-based and problem-based learning is that project-based is broader and might be devoted to a whole unit of study where the focus is crafting a “driving question” or overarching theme, whereas problem-based is “more defined” and guided by the teacher.

“It’s inquiry but it reflects more of what the teacher wants to know versus what the student would discover on their own,” Gollisz said.

The “key issue” would be “to work to get all of the staff on board,” Escobar said.

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