State says this; feds say that. Schools ask: What?

CHATHAM – The Chatham Middle School has been placed on a list with “thousands of other schools in New York State” that need to raise test scores among students will special needs. The board discussed that issue at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

Interim Middle School Principal Annemarie Barkman and Director of Pupil Services Jean Scheriff presented the English Language Arts (ELA) test scores to the board October 25 and discussed their plans for dealing with being designated “A School in Need of Improvement” under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“We aren’t surprised,” said Ms. Scheriff of the test results, though she did say that to have the designation meant the students did not met the state standard two years in a row. “This is the first time we haven’t made the standard for the second year,” she said.

Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo said she has been told there are many schools in the state with the designation due to students with special needs scores, including other schools in the county. Though she was not comfortable naming them at the public meeting, the Ichabod Crane Interim Superintendent Lee Bordick has also mentioned the ICC District’s middle school possibly being “A School in Need of Improvement” at a meeting over the summer.

Ms. Barkman said the school was making more time available for intervention with all students. She said that getting the designation may or may not come with $25,000 in aid. She, Ms. Nuciforo and Ms. Scheriff are attending a meeting about a program called School Quality Review at Questar III/BOCES next week and will know more information after that.

Board member Mike Clark pointed out that students with special needs get certain types of assistance for other tests but not for the state English test. He said that the state “tests them in a way their IEP say they cannot be tested,” a reference to the Individual Education Plan each special needs student must have. The IEP for some students requires the district have someone read test questions to the student or give the student more time to complete the test.

Mr. Clark said that if the district tested the student as the state requires for the English test, that is, without an intervention, the district would be violation of the education plan.

Mr. Clark also said that No Child Left Behind, adopted during the administration of President George W. Bush, “doesn’t have realistic goals.”

Ms. Nuciforo agreed with Mr. Clark’s points but said that there is some value in the testing system. “We have identified that students at either end of the ability spectrum could be doing better,” she said of the state tests.

Last fall the state Education Department caused confusion throughout the state by changing the standards by which tests were scored after students had taken the tests. Some student who were considered proficient in English or math in the spring where told in the fall of 2010 that they did not met state standards. At the this week’s meeting Chatham administrators did not discuss the change in scoring but focused instead on ways to meet the state standards.

“Nobody wants to be on a list,” said Ms. Nuciforo of the designation. But she said with the help of experts at BOCES who specialize in the No Child Left Behind law the district will seek ways to get off the list.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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