Where the scores do seem to have slipped is at the highest level - exceeds standards. For 4th grade math, for example, this year 44% scored at the highest level, last year it was 57%. The drops occurred at each school. Board member Cecilia Absher asked particularly about the 50% drop in ELA level 4 scores for Mamaroneck Avenue School from 2003 (12%) to 2004 (27%). Michael Kollmer, who is in charge of program evaluation and research for the district, replied "These tests change every year and it's also a different group of students. You have to be careful in terms of taking a linear approach."
Superintendent Sherry King added, "It is something we are looking at quite specifically. It's a very important lens for the conversation we are going to be having all year on differentiation. What do we learn from this one set of data, what other other kinds of data do have, and then what do we do with instruction for students with very different achievement levels?"
Two additional questions were raised – and answered. Why do our students consistently do better in math than English? And why do the scores in both drop in the middle school?
Mr. Kollmer explained “everyone in the state does better on math than ELA.” He added, “The ELA bar is set slightly higher.” As for the middle school scores, he noted, "They build in a higher bar in middle school, and it is actually called the ‘middle school dip.’”
Despite the dip, Mr. Kollmer pointed out the significant discrepancy between the district’s scores and the statewide averages. For example, this year Mamaroneck exceeded the state math score by 16 percentage points at the elementary level and by 35 points in the middle school. So despite a middle school test average that is 8 percentage points lower than the elementary school results, “One would say that our middle schoolers are high achievers in math,” he remarked. Mr. Kollmer noted that overall in the district, “There is a consistency in terms of performance, but an inconsistency in terms of the models the state is using.”
Ethnic Breakdown of Test Results
The federal “No Child Left Behind” legislation has required New York state and local school districts to focus on tests results from specific ethnic and disadvantaged groups. Some of these data were presented at the meeting. Mr. Kollmer cautioned that reading too much into small numbers can be misleading. For example, there were only nine black students in Mamaroneck’s 4th grade testing group last year.
The district’s Hispanic population, however, is larger, and therefore the results are more significant, with 45% of the fourth grade students not passing the ELA test. Almost all of those not passing did score at level 2 (“needs extra help") rather than level 1 (“has serious difficulties"). Mr. Kollmer commented that the challenge is “how do we move these students from level 2 [not passing] to level 3 [passing]” and added, “That is what we are going to be looking deeply at as we move forward.”
Mr. Kollmer stressed the need to “analyze the data in terms of the actual items on the test and relate them to the various different groups, including schools, classrooms and subgroups of a population and be able to identify the specific needs of individual children and to disseminate that information to the staff in a timely basis so that it will have an effect from level to level.”
Annie Zimmer, the newly appointed Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, added, “It’s important to remember we’re talking about actual students in actual classes about whom we have a lot of information beyond what we’re seeing here.” She noted, “We’re beginning to assemble a very complex and multifaceted picture of students. These data we need to review in the context of all the other ongoing assessments that are underway.”
As in other school districts, Mamaroneck has initiated a number of alternative assessments at the elementary and middle school level. Writing portfolios at the Hommocks and the ERB (Educational Records Bureau) writing test for 5th and 6th graders are in place. The Development Reading Assessment is given throughout the elementary years to evaluate reading performance. A district-wide math assessment has been developed by teachers for grades four and five. A software program called Tinkerplots allows the district to merge data from multiple sources to develop a broader view of students’ progress. For example, results from the 8th grade ELA exam have been correlated with those of the Earth Science regent exam to discover individual students’ strengths and weaknesses.
Ms. Zimmer comes to the Mamaroneck schools after 15 years in Ridgewood, New Jersey where she was first a middle school English teacher and later Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction. Last year she work in the New York City school system as a Local Instruction Superintendent, supervising a network of 11 schools that included the high-achieving Stuyvesant High School as well as struggling schools in East Harlem and Chinatown.
Speaking with the Gazette, Ms.
Zimmer stressed the importance of both “consistency
of practice” across the classrooms and schools, as
well as “differentiated instruction,” which requires
teachers to vary their approach, depending on the needs of
each individual student. She explained, “The whole
idea behind differentiated instruction is that in any given
class you have kids with a wide array of abilities, interests
and experiences.” She added, it’s all about “how
a teacher assesses those abilities, interests, and experiences
and develops an appropriate plan. It’s far more common
that two of you are ready to move on and I have 10 others
who need to hear it another way. So it’s really complex
to provide what that learner needs at that moment to take
the next step.”