Superintendent’ Message 12/13/16

December 13, 2016

From the desk of the Superintendent

Dear Parents/Guardians and Community Members,

During our Education Committee meeting last week we addressed in depth our most recent standardized test data as presented in the 2016 School Performance Profile, and we have scheduled an additional presentation next month to benchmark our District scores with those of neighboring high achieving districts.

During our presentation we again emphasized that the scores from the Keystones and PSSA are only one indicator of student achievement. Districts often describe this as a “snapshot in time” and continue to look at other measures of achievement ranging from other scores such as SAT, and other measures such as high school graduation rates and the competitiveness of the schools that our graduates attend.

This emphasis on other measures was reinforced last week when PA Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera announced his recommendations for replacing the SPP with a new measure of school success, the Future Ready PA Index. This annual Index report will be structured to provide more holistic measures, and we believe more useful information, about how our students and schools are performing. Although it appears that the Future Ready PA Index will retain some of the characteristics of the current SPP, the weighting of those indicators will be modified. Representative changes include:

  • addressing the issue of unequal weighting of some content areas, for example achievement in English/Language Arts is more heavily weighted than Mathematics, and we do not believe this provides an accurate representation of our educational program
  • Increasing the weighting of rigorous course offerings such as AP and dual enrollments, which we believe will more accurately represent UD and our students’ achievement
  • allowing schools to include locally-selected reading assessments in grade 3 and math assessments in grade 7 as additional points of student progress, this is very important to us as it will provide what we believe are more accurate data about our students’ achievement
  • awarding extra credit to schools graduating students with at least one industry recognized credential, which our students may earn through a program such as the Eastern Center for Arts and Technology which we deeply value as an educational opportunity for our students.

This action from the PA Department of Education aligns with the reauthorized Federal legislation that led us from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act. A recent article in NEA Today reported that “ESSA calls for multiple measures of accountability, which may include system indicators such as access to advanced coursework, college and career readiness, and student engagement”, and this ties directly into the work that we are doing here in Upper Dublin. We have rewritten our curriculum with improvements to our assessment practices and are exploring other options to increase course rigor and achievement for all of our students.

Our data presentation last week revealed that while our “achievement” scores are not where we expect them to be, the more significant problem that we face is the need to improve “growth” scores for our students, those “value added measures” that indicate a student’s academic progress from year to year and that will receive increased weight in the new Future Ready PA Index.

We have implemented several important initiatives to address this, including adopting new Mathematics and Reading programs, and reducing academic leveling at the high school. We continue to explore additional options to improve our educational program. We are engaged in studies of our Gifted program and our intervention programs at all schools. We anticipate next month a recommendation about improvements to the schedule at Sandy Run Middle School.

There has been some conversation in the community about two other topics related to our improvement efforts that were discussed during our Education Committee meeting last week. I want to assure our community members that these are potential proposals that are being explored at this time; no recommendations or decisions have been made.

Our data review has documented the need for improvement planning at our elementary level. We saw that demonstrated last week in our low elementary schools’ growth scores in the 2016 PSSA results. We are also engaged in a needed review of our Response To Instruction and Intervention program to ensure

  1. Effective interventions and support for all students
  2. Common experience for all UD students across the 4 elementary schools as they all prepare to enter Sandy Run Middle School.

Several possible actions to address this need to improve our educational program include a review of how we allocate time at our elementary schools. One potential step that we are discussing, considering all pros and cons, is aligning all four schools with a schedule that provides one large block of time for lunch and recess instead of two smaller recess blocks. Our discussions are not about eliminating recess time; but rather on using recess time, and all of our instructional time, differently. No decisions have been made, nor do we anticipate that these discussions will be ending soon.

Similarly, we are examining how we provide academic supports for our students in a more balanced and directed format. One proposal that came from our elementary school principals and curriculum department is to create a position in each school of Instructional Support Specialist, a certified teacher who would work with classroom teachers to provide remediation and enrichment for students needing either support. I cite the principals as the source of this idea not to push responsibility onto to them, but to reinforce that this proposal, which I do support, came directly from the instructional leaders in our schools. The difficulty with moving forward with this improvement next year is funding; we simply cannot add four new teaching positions along with our other budgetary obligations. There is a possible solution in raising minimally the class size cap in our upper elementary grades from 24 to 26 which would allow us to move between two and four teachers into Instructional Support Specialists positions. I emphasize that no decisions or recommendations have been made, nor do we anticipate that there will be a quick decision. The considerations of pros and cons about this continue.

I appreciate the productive comments that I have received from several parents advocating against one or both of these initiatives. One parent indicated willingness to support a budget increase to add the positions. Another indicated that their child does not need longer blocks of uninterrupted instructional time, their child is doing well in school. These perspectives are valid, but they must be balanced against the needs of other community members who are seeking tax relief, and those whose children do need longer blocks of uninterrupted instructional time. And those conflicting needs are and will continue to drive our discussions about these topics over the next several months. Thank you for bearing with us as we work to develop recommendations for the Board that will support all UD students in reaching our vision that, with equitable opportunities, all students will achieve the successful outcomes that they and their parents anticipate.   

The Board of School Directors will hold their next Legislative Meeting on January 9, 2017, at 7:00 P.M. in the Cardinal Room at UDHS. All members of the community are encouraged to attend. Members of the public may access agenda and documents through the District website. Go to the Calendar and click on the meeting listed on the appropriate date. Agendas and materials will be available 48 hours before the meeting.

As always, I invite interested members of the Upper Dublin community to contact me with any questions or concerns you might have. I can be reached at 215 643-8802 or through dwheeler@udsd.org . Follow me on Twitter @UDSDSupt.

Sincerely,

Deborah S. Wheeler, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools