December 20, 2014

Closing the proficiency gap

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CVU, Williston school boards address NECAP scores

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks gives a presentation to the Williston School Board addressing the continued struggles of Williston’s economically disadvantaged and special needs students on the New England Common Assessment Program exams. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes )

Despite showing overall improvements in the 2011 New England Common Assessment Program exams, economically disadvantaged and special needs students in the Williston School District and at Champlain Valley Union High School continue to struggle.

The WSD and CVU boards – which met at the same time on March 14 – agreed that efforts need to be made to close the academic proficiency gap.

“We have been identified as not making what they say is adequate progress with a couple of subgroups for a number of years now in both reading and math for students on IEPs (individualized education programs) and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks.

Parks said the key to closing the gap is hiring high quality teachers.

“The teacher really is the most influential factor on student achievement,” Parks said. “The good news of that is we know the effects of really good teaching overshadow those other variables like socioeconomic status, like ethnicity, like class size – and even what (students’) previous achievement level is – and that’s why we invest in really high quality teachers.”

At the CVU board meeting, Lorna Jimerson suggested that test results could be skewed because of the fact that not all 11th grade students have completed algebra II before taking the NECAP exam.

“It seems to me that there might be a problem with the timing of the test,” Jimerson said. “Some kids might take three or four years to do algebra I, geometry, algebra II … but the exams get in between.”

Like Parks, CVU Principal Sean McMannon said that being adequately staffed is critical. He requested that a $40,000 budgetary windfall that resulted from overestimating rising health insurance costs, and underestimating the savings from an eliminated information technology position, be allocated toward teacher staffing.

“What I’m requesting from the board is the permission to – if possible within the budget – go back to that final tier which we reduced which brought us in at a 1.5 (percent) increase year-to-year, and if possible within the hiring landscape, to reinstate up to $40,000 worth of positions,” McMannon said.

Jimerson said she would support that course of action.

“I would be in favor of this,” Jimerson said. “The key to kids’ learning – especially kids that are struggling – is small class sizes.”

The board agreed to grant McMannon the authority to reallocate the budget surplus by a margin of 7-3.

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