Four Rome schools headed for state improvement list

Designation a result of low participation on state assessment tests, officials say


Four Rome school district schools are likely to be identified for improvement plans as part of the state’s implementation of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements, says district Superintendent Peter C. Blake.

The state’s designation of the schools, which were not identified, are anticipated by the end of January.

The move stems from low student participation rates on state assessment tests, Blake told the Board of Education Thursday night during a presentation on ESSA. The state assessments include annual English and math tests for grades 3-8.

“We believe we’ll have four sites identified” under the ESSA program, said Blake. He said after the meeting that the designation would be for needing Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI).

If students’ participation rates on the annual tests do not go up, the school district will be “basically shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Blake. He added “we have to find a way to increase participation rates.” He noted “kids that do take the assessments perform well enough to meet minimum requirements,” adding “I am confident...if we get better participation rates it will solve the problem.”

Blake cited “valid reasons 10 years ago” for objections to the state tests, which had resulted in many parents’ decisions to “opt out” students from taking the tests. But he added “the game has changed,” including various changes and improvements in the testing.

ESSA is the federal government’s revision/re-approval of the prior No Child Left Behind law, involving national requirements for public school education, said Blake’s presentation. The U.S. Department of Education last January approved New York’s ESSA plan, which “emphasizes fostering equity in education for all students and expands measures for school accountability and student success,” according to the state Education Department.

For the 2017-18 school year English and math test results announced in September by the state, the Rome district’s overall rate of student “opt-outs” who did not take the tests included 60 percent in math and 57 percent in English at the middle-school age, plus 41 percent and 37 percent respectively for the elementary level. For the prior 2016-17 tests, about 50 percent of the Rome district’s overall test-eligible students did not take them, similar to rates in other recent years.

“Unfortunately, if families and kids opt out of these assessments, we are creating more work and cost for our community and teachers because the state is going to mandate more things for us,” Blake remarked Friday.

Having schools identified in the CSI category under the new ESSA requirements will mean that plans will be required for improvement based on state data, and it “will detract from the current good work/progress that our staff is doing with children each and every day,” said Blake’s presentation.

“We are improving,” Blake said of the school district’s overall academic results beyond the state’s tests. But he said of the state, “they say we’re not,” because of the participation rate issues.

Upcoming steps for the district in relation to ESSA will include ongoing professional development involving ESSA standards, state Education Department visits and development of plans for school board approval.

School board President Paul Fitzpatrick on Friday noted the “need to encourage and inform the public” that these are “not the tests from a few years ago,” regarding the state assessments. Among several improvements, he said, are a reduction in the test days from three to two; no longer linking the test results to teacher evaluations; and teachers “not teaching to the test,” but rather to the overall standards.


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