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School District Presents New Plan for Struggling Students

Mamaroneck district schools have historically provided extra help for struggling students, but it was not until last spring that the Mamaroneck School Board adopted a formal Academic Intervention Services (AIS) Plan, as required by state regulations. As described at the October 6 study session by Annie Ward, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, the new plan goes far beyond previous efforts.

Describing AIS as a “state-mandated safety net” for students who are at risk of not meeting state standards for their grade levels, Ms. Ward explained that formulating the plan required answering two big questions:

What should be the “entrance” criteria for AIS? In some cases, like elementary reading, answering the question required making an initial decision on benchmarks for each grade level.

How would the district determine whether a student met the AIS criteria? Which assessments should be used?

Consideration of these questions by administrators, instructional coaches and reading specialists led to the 86-page AIS plan, chock full of charts and tables, to determine everything from the target reading levels for elementary students at any given point in the year to the specific assessments that would be done in each grade to determine who needs extra support.

What’s New About the Plan?

Both the AIS plan itself and Ms. Ward’s presentation emphasized several basic tenets that may differ with traditional practice in the district. In contrast to the old model of providing homework help and “keeping kids afloat in daily assignments,” Ms. Ward said the new plan requires schools to identify gaps in students’ abilities and provide instruction to close those gaps. Moreover, AIS services are available to all students, including those receiving special education support.

The plan balances district-wide consistency with the need to tailor instruction for each AIS student. Ms. Ward noted that AIS services must supplement, not replace, the regular classroom program. Figuring out how to fit everything into the school day can be a challenge, particularly for students who are pulled out of class for other services (such as speech).

In general, AIS support will come from special math and reading teachers, or by special education teachers who have time in their daily schedules.

The district is exploring before-school AIS for elementary math, to help counter “Swiss cheese” instruction, where students are constantly out of their classrooms. However, this requires finding extra funds to staff “morning math,” and may not assure that all needy students show up.

How Do You Decide on the Right Level of Support?

In addition to selecting who gets AIS services, specified assessments help decide exactly what support students receive.

Ms. Ward described three first graders, each assessed at the same low level in reading. Additional tests, however, showed the children had vastly different skills and weaknesses. On a spelling test, for example, one student had clearly mastered beginning and ending consonants for various words and understood that a vowel came between them. Another was unable to reliably produce the initial consonants. Despite their similar reading scores, each will receive different levels of support to help them attain grade level benchmarks.

In some cases, Ms. Ward emphasized, monitoring may be enough to assure that students catch up to where they should be.

The district has not yet determined how long AIS support should be tried before a student is referred for a special education evaluation. This is among the issues to be explored as the district develops its Instructional Support Team (IST) plan,  which is slated to happen this year.

Who Gets AIS?

Ms. Ward’s presentation demonstrated that the district plan casts a wider net than is required by standardized state assessments. For example, the district is mandating AIS services for elementary students who passed state math tests but got fewer than 70 percent of the questions correct.

MHS Assistant Principal Gail Kleiner tracks progress of at-risk students.

MHS Assistant Principal Gail Kleiner tracks progress of at-risk students.

Similarly, Ms. Ward gave the example of “RT,” a high school sophomore who is receiving extra support even though he passed all his classes last year, with grades from 70 to 79. RT was on Assistant Principal Gail Kleiner’s radar because he failed the standardized English Language Arts test in eighth grade and had made grades lower than 75 in ninth. He now takes a class that provides extra help in organization and study skills and is enrolled in a Geometry section that moves at a slower pace.

Positive Feedback

The plan and planners got praise from the board, community members and Superintendent Paul Fried. Dr. Fried thanked Ms. Ward and her team for their “gargantuan effort” in pulling together the plan. He also commended Mamaroneck High School principal Dr. Mark Orfinger and the MHS administration, noting that high schools are not known for monitoring and tracking student progress.

See For Yourself: The AIS Plan is available on the district website. LMC-TV videotaped the session.

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13 comments to School District Presents New Plan for Struggling Students

  • Eleanor


    I certainly hope that the new math program makes a difference in our dismal math education. However, it frightened me when Dr. Fried “also commended Mamaroneck High School principal Dr. Mark Orfinger and the MHS administration, noting that high schools are not known for monitoring and tracking student progress.”

    What does he mean “that high schools are not known for monitoring and tracking student progress?” If not them, then who?

    Dr. Fried is also well aware that Dr. Orfinger has “placed a ban on NYS approved graphing calculators” that other districts are allowing, and educating students in their use. They are also allowed while taking SAT exams, but “our high school denies their use.” We are “technologically at a disadvantage” because Dr. Orfinger believe that using “calculators are like cheating.” This has been documented and brought to Second Circuit District Court. There is nothing new in this math program if our math teachers maintain status quo.

    Dr. Fried also wrote to me in July saying he was looking into this problem, but never responded afterwards. I still await his investigation findings.

    Sounds like more politics and compliments without real action. Instead our kids will continue to not be educated and not compete. Everyone taps each other on the back, including the school board…but our kids SUFFER WITH LACK OF MATH EDUCATION. Get rid of the stale math teaching techniques and administrators who keep our kids back.

    The real question is “why are the students failing” and put at risk. They really don’t need more instruction time with the same old techniques that are proven not to work. Students need better math education from a competant staff. It is very clear to me, that it is the staff’s instruction that has to be imporved. Why can’t the School Board really address the issues and get angry, instead of complimenting those who are the cause of the problems.

    Shame on us.

  • Loretta P..

    I’m glad my grandchildren are not at MHS today. In my opinion, by NOT ALLOWING calculators during SAT testing when other students in other school districts are permitted to use them is cheating; cheating the students at MHS from the same level playing field that their peers elsewhere are afforded. That is an outrage. The practice to use or not use calculators or any technology for that matter should be universal and approved only by the SAT Board themselves – not by individual schools. Does this alarm any one else?

    How can Dr. Orfinger justify his actions when he is clearly placing the students at a unique disadvantage? I would have to believe that this discussion has been an ongoing debate for sometime now. But this is the first I’ve learned of it. I’m shocked.

    There is an old misnomer about MHS and colleges acceptances. And it goes like this: The school administration in the past has wanted us to believe that college recruiters or administrator/decision makers are all “on board” with MHS and are “aware” that it’s a challenging and competitive public school environment; that earning a B grade at MHS is like an A grade elsewhere and so on. The belief that some sort of amnesty is given because of the quality of the students, the education and the internal competition and significant amount of students taking AP classes will propel an MHS application to the front of the line. But at the end of the day, this weighs in marginally at best. Grades and SAT scores are compared apples to apples against all other transcripts out there – regardless of what public school system a student comes from in the U.S.

    Sure, if a student comes from a school as outstanding as Edgemont High School or Scarsdale H.S., perhaps this may be true. But MHS does not rank up in the top 10 public schools in the country and it never has to my knowledge. So for that matter, it’s not distinguishing itself enough to get away with that idea of piling on more work, and adding more weight to the students heavy plates; that one will have a sort of carte blanche when applying to schools who will just kick up the GPA a notch because the student is an MHS grad. This simply isn’t valid.

    Students are in such a competitive race to get into the college of their choice, why can’t they be afforded the same luxuries as the others out there? I believe this is the wrong decision by a high school principle. No one benefits from this poor judgment in the end. In fact, it only hurts the students and does not build ‘character’ if that is the goal. There are many other more productive ways to successfully accomplish that effort.

    • Eleanor

      Hi Loretta,

      I brought the district to Federal Court because I was so furious that Dr. Orfinger denied my son access to a NYS and SAT spproved calculator. Dr. Orfinger said “Oh, I am not denying him access…he can bring it to class…BUT HE CAN’T TURN IT ON IN THE BUILDING OR USE IT FOR HOMEWORK.”

      The School Board was well aware of this, and didn’t give a damn.

      Dr. Fried was not involved at the time. It was a direct action of Dr. Orfinger who created a “written building policy” of denying my son to “turn on a calculator.” No one seemed to care as long as it didn’t affect their children (they thought). But, ultimately it affected all of our children when one is denied …just because his mother caught them. Most people had no idea what technology was or was not being used, or why their children were not doing well in math. My son asked me to follow my due process, because he wanted to leave behind a legacy for all children who didn’t have parents that could fight the system.

      Dr. Fried has been made aware of our situation in June, 2009 and when I read that he “commended Dr. Orfinger and said that he is not responsible to be aware of testing grades” it sickened me. Pat, pat, pat…each other on the back. But, what about our kids?

      How about the fact that our children are not being prepared for functioning in college if we don’t educate them with technology that is being required for college curriculum?

      That may be one of the reasons why our children are doing so poorly on math tests. If we continue to be antiquated in our approach, then nothing will change. You are right to be outraged. I was…

      It’s time for parents to start asking the right questions. Are our children being prepared to function at the highest level possible in college and in the real world?

    • Eleanor

      Wasted tax payer money doesn’t add up.

      Mamaroneck Free School Distric Special Education case is currently being discussed and taught in Law Schools throughout the country. Professor Weber asks his students in his book “why would this district incur such considerable expense to litigate” our case.

      I have the same question, considering that Special Education Law Firm of Shaw & Perelson representing our district were paid approximately $50,000 for their services for the year we went to court. I never saw this as a line item in our budget.

      I believe that $50,000 dollars of tax payers’ money would buy an awful lot of scientific graphing calculators to educate our students.

      Re: Special Education Law: Cases and Materials, Second Edition 2007

      Mark C. Weber, Vincent dePaul Professor of Law, DePaul University College of Law;Ralph Mawdsley, Professor of Education Administration, Cleveland State University College of Education;Sarah Redfield, Professor of Law, Franklin Pierce Law Center

      “3. … “Considering that the cost of the TI 92 is relatively low and that the student would be able to use the TI 92 anyway when he took the state Regents exam, does the school district’s incurring considerable expense to litigate this case seem to be an appropriate use of school resources? Why or why not?”

  • Eleanor

    Conclusion: Our regular and special education students not being prepared to take SAT tests using approved Scientif Graphing Calculators that are allowed.

    Mrs. Brause letter to Dr. Orfinger in July 2009 obtained under FOI Request wrote ”

    “very few students are using the TI 89 model, and certainly they aren’t allowed to use the TI 92 scientific graphing calculators.”

    Texas Instrument TI89 Allowed on SAT Tests

    NYS Education Dept. encourages all Special Education Students to use technology to the maximum amount possible.

  • Debbie Manetta

    In response to the comment about Mamaroneck High School “placing a ban on all NY State approved graphing calculators that other districts are allowing”, we want to assure your readers that our District closely monitors and complies with all State Education Department regulations related to the use of calculators on SATs, Regents and AP Exams. First and foremost, in complying with State Education policies, Mamaroneck has the best interests of our students in mind.

    • Eleanor

      No one ever said that “Mamaroneck High School “placing a ban on all NY State approved graphing calculators that other districts are allowing.” What was said was that Dr. Orfinger had placed a ban on a NYS & SAT approved calculator model that other districts were allowing. This is covered in Special Education Law: Cases and Materials, Second Edition 2007.

      I would appreciate your publishing

      ..What calculator models for each Math Course are used in class. I am sure that this information went out to parents in the beginning of the school year.

      ..What Calculator Models and other higher level technology are our Special Education Students using in their math classes. NYS says that technology should be used for Special Education Students “to the maximum amount possible.” How are we accommodating them?

      ..How many of MHS Students used the TI89 Calculator for last years SAT Tests? I am sure that we had to send the SAT Board a list of each model allow, since they had to be cleared before using them. Are all of our students offered instruction in the use of the TI89 Calculator?

      .. Can you share how our district is using technology and advanced calculators in our district?

      How has our district changed since the time my son was ordered to use an inadequate calculator to get answers, and instead was told to do what the calculator was able to do, and then use paper multiplication tables to get math answers. The summer before this happened, my son interned at IBM TJ Watson Research “Think Tank.” They didn’t care what model calculator he used, but MHS Principal Dr. Mark Orfinger cared.

    • Eleanor

      SAT allowed TI89 Graphing Calculator – Ms. Manetta,you haven’t responded to how many MHS students used the TI89 calculator for the SAT last year. I was shopping at Staples and noticed that they are “sold out” of that model calculator. How will this district bring our children up to par with other districts that are educating their students in higher level technology?

      Let me share with you the following information:

      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      The TI-89 and the TI-89 Titanium are graphing calculators developed by Texas Instruments. They are differentiated from most other TI graphing calculators by their computer algebra system, which allows symbolic manipulation of algebraic expressions. For example, equations can be solved in terms of variables; the TI-83/84 series can only give a numeric result.

      In the United States, the TI-89 is allowed by the College Board on all calculator-permitted tests, including the SAT, some SAT Subject Tests and the AP Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, and Statistics exams. However, the calculator is banned from use on the ACT, the PLAN, and in some classrooms. In many testing situations, the TI-89 and TI-89 Titanium, along with the HP-49 series, are the most powerful and function-rich graphing calculators that are permitted: the TI-92 series, with otherwise comparable features, have QWERTY keyboards that cause them to be considered small computers.[1]

      The TI-89 is a graphing calculator developed by Texas Instruments (TI) in 1998. Possessing a 160×100 pixel resolution LCD screen with advanced flash memory, coupled with TI’s Advanced Mathematics Software, the TI-89 was dwarfed only by its larger and slightly more powerful cousin, the Voyage 200. In the summer of 2004, the standard TI-89 was replaced by the TI-89 Titanium.

      The TI-89 runs on a 32-bit microprocessor, the Motorola 68000, which nominally runs at 10, 12, or 16 MHz, depending on the calculator’s hardware version[2]. Texas Instruments has allocated 256 kB of the total RAM for the unit (190 kB of which are available to the user) and 2 MB of flash memory (700 kB of which is available to the user). The RAM and Flash ROM are used to store expressions, variables, programs, tables, text files, and lists.

      The TI-89 is essentially a TI-92 Plus with a limited keyboard and smaller screen. It was created partially in response to the fact that while calculators are allowed on many standardized tests, the TI-92 was considered a computer due to the QWERTY layout of its keyboard. Additionally, some people found the TI-92 unwieldy and overly large. The TI-89 is significantly smaller—about the same size as most other graphing calculators. It has a flash ROM, a feature present on the TI-92 Plus but not on the original TI-92. The TI-89 is not permitted on the ACT or the National Fundamentals of Engineering exam, although it is permitted on the SAT examinations.

      The major advantage of the TI-89 over lower-model TI calculators is its built-in computer algebra system, or CAS. The calculator can evaluate and simplify algebraic expressions symbolically. For example, entering (x^3-x^2-8x+12)/(x+3) returns x2 − 4x + 4. The answer is pretty printed by default; that is, it is displayed as it would be written on paper, as opposed to x^2-4x+4 returned by calculators which are incapable of displaying superscripts or subscripts. The TI-89′s abilities include:

      Algebraic factoring of expressions, including partial fraction decomposition.

      Algebraic simplification; for example, the CAS can combine multiple terms into one fraction by finding a common denominator.

      Evaluation of trigonometric expressions to exact values. For example, sin(60°) returns instead of 0.86602.

      Solving equations for a certain variable. The CAS can solve for one variable in terms of others; it can also solve systems of equations. For equations such as quadratics where there are multiple solutions, it returns all of them. Equations with infinitely many solutions are solved by introducing arbitrary constants: solve(tan(x+2)=0,x) returns x=@n1π-2, with the @n1 representing any integer.

      Finding limits of functions, including infinite limits and limits from one direction.

      Symbolic differentiation and integration. Derivatives and definite integrals are evaluated exactly when possible, and approximately otherwise.

      In addition to the standard two-dimensional function plots, it can also produce graphs of parametric equations, polar equations, sequence plots, differential equation fields, and three-dimensional (two independent variable) functions.

      The TI-89 is directly programmable in a language called TI-BASIC, TI’s derivative of BASIC for calculators. With the use of a PC, it is also possible to develop more complex programs in Motorola 68000 assembly language or C, translate them to machine language, and copy them to the calculator. Two software development kits for C programming are available; one is TI Flash Studio, the official TI SDK, and the other is TIGCC, a third-party SDK based on GCC.

      Since the TI-89′s release in 1998, thousands of programs for math, science, or entertainment have been developed. Many available games are generic clones of Tetris, Minesweeper, and other classic games, but some programs are more advanced—for example, a ZX Spectrum emulator, a chess-playing program, and a clone of Link’s Awakening. One of the most popular and well-known games is Phoenix.

      Hardware versions
      There are four hardware versions of the TI-89. These versions are normally referred to as HW1, HW2, HW3, and HW4 (released in May 2006). Entering the key sequence [F1] [A] displays the hardware version. Older OS versions (before 2.00) don’t display anything about the hardware version unless the calculator is HW2 or later. The differences in the hardware versions are not well documented by Texas Instruments. HW1 and HW2 correspond to the original TI-89; HW3 and HW4 are only present in the TI-89 Titanium.

      The most significant difference between HW1 and HW2 is in the way the calculator handles the display. In HW1 calculators there is a video buffer that stores all of the information that should be displayed on the screen, and every time the screen is refreshed the calculator accesses this buffer and flushes it to the display (direct memory access). In HW2 and later calculators, a region of memory is directly aliased to the display controller (memory-mapped I/O). This allows for slightly faster memory access, as the HW1′s DMA controller used about 10% of the bus bandwidth. However, it interferes with a trick some programs use to implement grayscale graphics by rapidly switching between two or more displays (page-flipping). On the HW1, the DMA controller’s base address can be changed (a single write into a memory-mapped hardware register) and the screen will automatically use a new section of memory at the beginning of the next frame. In HW2, the new page must be written to the screen by software. The effect of this is to cause increased flickering in grayscale mode, enough to make the 7-level grayscale supported on the HW1 unusable (although 4-level grayscale works on both calculators).

      HW2 calculators are slightly faster because TI increased the nominal speed of the processor from 10 MHz to 12 MHz. It is believed that TI increased the speed of HW4 calculators to 16 MHz, though many users disagree about this finding.

      Another difference between HW1 and HW2 calculators is assembly program size limitations. The size limitation on HW2 calculators has varied with the AMS version of the calculator. As of AMS 2.09 the limit is 24k. Some earlier versions limited assembly programs to 8k, and the earliest AMS versions had no limit. HW1 calculators have no hardware to enforce the limits, so it is easy to bypass them in software. There are unofficial patches and kernels that can be installed on HW2 calculators to remove the limitations.

      A TI-89 Titanium
      The TI-89 Titanium was released in the summer of 2004, and is positioned as a replacement for the popular classic TI-89. The TI-89 Titanium is referred to as HW3 and uses the corresponding AMS 3.x. In 2006, new calculators were upgraded to HW4 which was supposed to offer increases in RAM and speeds up to 16 MHz, but some benchmarks made by users reported speeds between 13–14 MHz.

      The touted advantages of the TI-89 Titanium over the original TI-89 include four times the available flash memory (with over three times as much available to the user). The TI-89 Titanium is essentially a Voyage 200, except it doesn’t have an integrated keyboard. The TI-89 Titanium also has a mini-USB port, for connectivity to other TI-89 Titanium calculators, or to a computer (to store programs or update the operating system). The TI-89 Titanium also features some pre-loaded applications, such as “CellSheet”, a spreadsheet program also offered with other TI calculators. The Titanium has a slightly updated CAS, which adds a few more mathematical functions, most notably implicit differentiation. The Titanium also has a slightly differing case design from that of the TI-89 (the Titanium’s case design is similar to that of the TI-84 Plus)

      There are some minor compatibility issues with C and assembly programs developed for the original TI-89. Some have to be recompiled to work on the Titanium due to various small hardware changes, though in most cases you can fix the problem on the calculator by using a utility such as GhostBuster, by Olivier Armand and Kevin Kofler. This option is usually the best as it requires no knowledge of the program, works without the need of the program’s source code, is automated, and doesn’t require additional computer software. In some cases, only one character needs to be changed (the ROM base on TI-89 is at 0×200000, whereas the TI-89 Titanium is at 0×800000) by hand or by patcher. Most, if not all, of these problems are caused by the Ghost Space or lack thereof.

      From a usability and functionality standpoint (preloaded spreadsheet, text editor, day-planner, calendar etc), the TI-89 is beginning to resemble quite closely the portable, battery-powered, BASIC-programmable microcomputers of the mid-1980s, such as the Amstrad Notepad NC100, Laser PC5, Tandy TRS-80 Model 100, Kyocera 85 and so forth. Due to the advanced processing capabilities and simplified user input methods, the TI-89 is considered by some to be a fully featured portable computer.

      Case swapping
      A TI-89 that has been “case swapped” with a TI-83+”Case swapping” is possible on the TI-89. Users are taking the internal electronics of a TI-89 and putting them in another calculator’s plastic shell (case), most commonly that of the TI-83 Plus. This type of “case modding” for calculators is rather easy, compared to other types of “case mods,” because Texas Instruments leaves very little differences between the cases of the different types of calculators, mostly the name (model) of the calculator and the labels for certain buttons. This is most commonly done by students in an effort to evade school restrictions on advanced calculators with symbolic manipulation capabilities.[3]
      Case swapping is also available between TI-89 Titanium, TI-84 Plus, and TI-84 Plus Silver Edition.

  • Marley & Me

    OMG – That is one long &*%$#@&*! cut and paste job if ever there was one!!!

    Next time, a link to the specific page would suffice ;-o

    Ruff, ruff!

  • Eleanor

    I copied and pasted it because I thought it may get her attention. Her comment said they monitor and comply with SAT rules. I think she missed this one. However, I think that students and parent’s should be informed, even if the district forgot to do that. I promise I won’t make my comments as long in the future.

  • complicated

    and exactly why is this super-specialized information session and debate with the school conducted by way of blog comments ? does it help in any way, beyond catharsis, of course.

  • Eleanor

    It is not a debate. Ms. Manetta joined the blog on her own. This is “information” that I am sure that parents who have children taking the SAT test would want to know, since the district has not been informing or educating our students in the use of this necessary technology.

    Our students are performing poorly on standardized math tests. We have to find out why and level the playing field. My hope is that it does help. But then again, who knows?

  • Anon E Mous

    In the words of Sam Brown, ‘Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance.

    What is critical on this and other subjects is that information is shared and that discussion and debate occur. The internet and the Larchmont Gazette provide an opportunity for that, removing limitations of time and place.

    An article here in the Larchmont Gazette reported that there was an objection by a Council member to televising either T.O.M. Council budget or work sessions because that could inhibit its discussion.

    ‘OMG’, that the public should see its government in action, or inaction :-)

    Honor the rights to free speech and a free press remembering that many have fought long and hard to protect those rights which are among the foundations on which this nation is built.