Lower test scores are not a cause for alarm as far as Tim Mains is concerned.
On Thursday, Mains, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, and other members of JPS administrative staff held a press conference to express to the public their reaction to the district's third- through eighth-grade ELA and math scores, and plans for future improvement.
Mains began the conference by echoing the words of John B. King, state Education Department commissioner, saying people should not be worried about the approximately 30 percent decrease in students deemed proficient in ELA and math. He also addressed parental concerns over individual student performance, saying these scores are only being used as a benchmark from which to measure the district's implementation of the Common Core learning standards-which are intended to track students' progress toward college and career readiness.
Tim Mains, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, discusses the decrease in JPS test scores in ELA and math, and plans for proper implementation of the Common Core learning standards during a press conference Thursday.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
"I want to make it very clear that, here in Jamestown, we are not using these scores - and it would not be fair to use these scores - to evaluate any student. They shouldn't be used to evaluate a student, they shouldn't be used to evaluate a teacher and we are certainly not going to use them to evaluate a school. And we don't want the community to do that, either," he said.
The scores, which were released by the Education Department on Wednesday, rather accurately reflect the 30 percent decrease that was predicted by the state. Mains said JPS, which was evaluated at approximately the 50 percent mark in last year's assessments, is now sitting at approximately the 20 percent mark; which is consistent with the state's prediction.
According to the individual district and school performance sheets, which are available on the Education Department's website at www.nysed.gov, students were ranked in one of four levels-with levels three and four representing the students who met or exceeded the state standards. The number of JPS students who met this criteria in ELA in third through eighth grade, respectively, are: 13.2 percent, 20.3 percent, 14.5 percent, 19.3 percent, 23.6 percent and 29.1 percent. The district's third- through eighth-grade rankings in math are: 14.7 percent, 24.5 percent, 14.2 percent, 19.8 percent, 22.1 percent and 24.4 percent.
Mains described the district's journey toward improving these numbers by meeting the Common Core standards as akin to "climbing a mountain."
"We want people to understand that this tells us where we are in our trek up the mountain to conquer the Common Core, and the numbers tell us we're in the foothills," Mains said. "I believe that this time next year will be better than (where) we are now. But I also want to make it clear that the mountain is pretty large and pretty high. It will take more than a single year to really incorporate our change in instruction, and to help kids be able to perform at the levels that are expected of the Common Core learning standards."
In order to provide a look at the district's performance from a variety of perspectives, Mains invited other administrative staff to speak to the scores and the implementation of Common Core at JPS. The other speakers included: Chris Reilly, president of the Jamestown Teachers Association; Tina Sandstrom, director of elementary education; Jessie Joy, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment; and Katie Russo, principal at Lincoln Elementary School.
Reilly discussed the challenges the Common Core presents for teachers in their instruction of students.
"The Common Core standards aren't just different standards, they're substantially more rigorous standards," Reilly said. "We understand that, and we accept that and we know that we have a lot of work to do in order to get to where we want to be-and that's not going to happen overnight. But the Jamestown teachers, and teachers throughout the state of New York, have accepted this challenge. I think that the Jamestown Teachers Association and the district are all on the same page with this, and we all want to get to the same point."
Sandstrom said JPS' teachers have been studying and exploring state curriculum modules, and said they are prepared to fully implement those modules when school starts on Sept. 4.
Joy provided insight into two measures that will be taken by the district to ensure future improvement in both testing and implementation. The first entails engaging teachers from kindergarten through ninth grade in a deep study of the curriculum modules, a process she described as the "first phase of our implementation of the Common Core curriculum modules." The second is the monitoring of the progress of that implementation throughout the year through frequent student assessments.
"So we're not waiting until the big championship game at the end, but having some scrimmages before we get to that big championship game to know that we're ready," she concluded.
Russo discussed specific changes that will occur in the classroom setting as these modules become fully implemented.
"It's a challenge, but we're ready for it," she said.
She highlighted the collaborative efforts of teachers in professional learning communities to ensure they are making the best instructional decisions for their students. She also said the district will reach out to parents by giving them resources that will allow them to help in their child's learning.
To view scores by individual district, building and county, go to: www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/pressRelease/20130807/home.html.