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Happy Holidays!

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(December 2011)

As 2011 draws to a close and we prepare for our holiday recess, I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone in the community the very best. Whether you celebrate one of the winter holidays or you do not, I wish you a time of happy reflection and good memories of the year.

I was thinking about little children and their “magical thinking” surrounding this time of year and I remembered a story my mom used to tell about our family Thanksgiving visit to New York City when I was four years old. I had been to visit the Macy’s Santa Claus and then, while we were riding on the bus through Manhattan, there was a Santa on every corner collecting change for some charity. Everyone on the bus became aware that this little girl was staring out the window and seeing Santa on every corner. My mom said people tried to distract me, people "tisked, tisked" that this poor little kid was confused by so many Santa’s until out of my own magical thinking I declared very loudly: “Boy, Santa sure does run fast—he beats the bus to the corner every single time!”

That story—which I hated when I was growing up—sums up why I love working with children. They have a fresh way of looking at the world and they look for logical explanations for illogical events. As you enjoy the upcoming break, it is my wish that all of you and your families have some time for magical thinking and revitalizing rest. See you at the dawn of 2012!


When social media is anything but...

Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(November 2011)

I know that you have heard this before, but I am telling you, the time is now to get a handle on your child’s use of social media.

Over the past several weeks, I have had the unpleasant experience of having to investigate incidents of bullying and other bad behaviors. Inevitably, social media has actually become anti-social media on several occasions. It is a means of blasting another kid, bad-mouthing parents, teachers and school in general. It is not the familiar complaints that we have all remarked upon in our own development; it is hostile and it targets people.

If you're not sure if your child has a Twitter account—there is a really good chance he or she does—please check.  What you will read on Twitter will curl your hair—or in my case make it turn white! You do not even need an account of your own to check the interactions of your child and those with whom she or he is tweeting. It is not hard—mind you this 61-year-old grandmother who is marginally comfortable with technology can tell you where the next party is going to be held and who is planning on attending because it is all over the Tweets.

It is not just Twitter. It is also other venues, including Facebook. Many Voorheesville students have wide-open Facebook pages for all to see. Their profiles are not set up with the caveat that “so and so only shares information with some people”—but wide-open for anyone out there to troll their "wall" and photos. Think of the risk a vulnerable young person is at from people who actually do troll and groom for pernicious purposes. We are talking about young children—pre-high school aged. Some of the photos that are posted are very concerning; some of the verbal posts are downright mean; some of the back and forth is potentially dangerous. I am not posting this as an anti-social media message—indeed I am actually using the technology to offer this caution. I am posting this to urge parents to actively engage with your children regarding the vulnerability they are subject to when they so casually “post" about their lives.


Generalizations related to NAEP data disturbing

(November 2011) As much as I always relish pouring over data and looking at releases of new statistical data sets, I am frequently appalled at the gross generalizations that commonly occur, especially regarding educational outcomes. The media coverage on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results is particularly disturbing. It is not appropriate to assert that New York fourth-graders lag behind the rest of the nation, as was recently published in local media outlets. New York fourth-graders did not collectively participate in this assessment. The participants were a small representative sample that closely matches the demographic profile of New York students. In 22 years in school administration, I have only been approached once for participation. In that case, one grade at one of eight elementary schools in the district where I then worked was targeted for a NAEP assessment in Reading. When I pointed out to the administrators of the NAEP that the date they had selected to test these nine-year-olds happened to fall on the day after the three-day New York State English Language Arts exam, and that I was concerned about test fatigue affecting outcomes, I was informed they would be there anyhow.

What folks don’t know about NAEP is that schools do not have much to do with the assessment. Our students, if they are selected, take the assessment which is administered by representatives of the federal government. The tests are taken away and placed into the mix with all the other sample members. The school never sees the results, the students never learn how they did. Now, in the recent reporting of the NAEP results, 422,000 fourth-graders and 343,000 eighth-graders were assessed across the country. While that is a large sample size, it does not describe the sample size for each individual state. How many students from New York State were assessed? The negative tone of the reporting suggests that New York State falls behind the rest of the country, but remember the sample size matches the demographic profile for the state. In New York, we have a more diverse population, with higher than national average free and reduced lunch, so our sample size would reflect that demographic. In the year studied with this NAEP, New York had about 201,000 fourth-graders and about 205,000 eighth-graders. Only a small percentage of these students would have been participants in the NAEP. With that said, what should be noted in the review is that the gap between the poor and the not poor has actually declined. That is news worth celebrating, because, remember, the sample would reflect the demographics. Given the fact that, in this dire economy, we seem determined to make more and more children poor, it is good news that they are achieving better and better.

Among ethnic groups there has been further good news, which is rarely noted in the media reports. Since 1973, white fourth grade students have increased their scores by 25 points, black students by 34 points, and Hispanic students by 32 points. Compared to 1973, scores for eighth-graders in 2008 were 16 points higher for white students, 34 points higher for black students, and 29 points higher for Hispanic students. In reading, the average reading score for fourth grade white students was 14 points higher in 2008 than in 1971, while the score for black students was 34 points higher than their score in 1971. Hispanic students in 2008 showed a 25-point gain compared to 1975.

Another way to look at the NAEP is as it was designed—a longitudinal study of academic outcomes in the country. If you look back over time at the NAEP, you will find that today’s children are at least as bright, maybe a little brighter, than their parents who were at least as bright, maybe a little brighter, than their parents. The fact is the NAEP is trending upward, although very slowly—by design. If you have huge spikes in a tightly designed instrument such as the NAEP, you would have statisticians scratching their heads and analyzing flaws in the instrument. Not only is there an upward trend, there is an inclusive trend. In 2008, the average math score for all nine-year-olds on the NAEP was 24 points higher than in 1973, and that is with the inclusion of students with disabilities who were previously excluded from the test. In reading, nine-year-olds scored 12 points higher than nine-year- olds in 1971, again with students with disabilities and English language learners included in the assessments. For grade eight students, students who took the math assessment scored 15 points higher than in 1973 and in reading they scored five points higher than their predecessors in 1971, again with the addition of students who in previous generations would have been excluded from the test.

When interpreting NAEP results, it is wise to heed their very own caution:

Cautions in Interpretations

Users of this website are cautioned against interpreting NAEP results as implying causal relationships. Inferences related to student group performance or to the effectiveness of particular classroom practices, for example, should take into consideration the many socioeconomic and educational factors that may also impact performance. nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ltt/interpreting_results.asp (last update April 2011)

When confronting data sets, it is imperative that the interpreters be free of bias and let the data speak, understanding that no one assessment, no matter how celebrated, no matter how tightly designed is a perfect indicator of student learning.


A closer look at the state test scores

(August 23, 2011) At the Board of Education meeting on August 15, I presented an End of Year Academic Report (pdf). This report includes aggregate averages on the 3-8 testing, with Table 1 comparing outcomes from last year to this. It is difficult to draw any comparisons that are educationally informative because the tests this year were distinctly different from last year, with each test being longer and testing more content. Table 2 compares our scores with similar local schools. One interesting outcome can be noted in grade 5 ELA where the scores appear somewhat depressed in all of these schools. I did look at other districts across the state and discovered that this particular test had lower outcomes, which may very well speak to the quality of that particular test, not the test-takers. Table 3 has our scores disaggregated by gender and by disability in ELA. Those are the only two subgroups where we have enough population to make comparisons. Of note is the difference in achievement by gender, with girls outperforming boys. It is also interesting to note that we have a larger population of male students. This gender gap is a persistent problem, not only locally but internationally. To begin to address this issue, we have invited Michael Sullivan, noted author with many articles and books on connecting boys to literature, to be the keynote speaker on our first Superintendent’s conference day.

Table 4 compares outcomes in Math with the same subgroups. The gender gap is not as great in math, and in several grades, it is reversed. Among students with disabilities in both ELA and Math, there is work to be done and to accomplish that we have begun restructuring math instruction at the elementary school to include deeper conceptual understanding. In ELA, we are persisting in our work with balanced literacy.

The next table compares our scores with State averages and includes the differential. As would be expected, out students’ scores are consistently higher than the State averages. I again looked at the grade 5 ELA results because it was one test where our scores fell close to the State average and when I compared other schools, I discovered the range of scores across the State appears to huddle around the average, which again indicates that the test may have not been aligned with the other grade level tests in terms of distribution of scores.

Moving on to the Regents, the first table shows student scores that are at 85 or above, a level that the State views as distinguished. The next table shows Regents outcomes for students who failed by score and by gender. What can be deduced from these results is that the Algebra2/Trig exam was a doozy. This has been noted in the media. It was a real challenge to help students who failed, as the test was not administered in August, nor was is scheduled to be offered in January until Mayor Bloomberg arranged for private investors to reinstitute January Regents. If that had not occurred, the students across the State who came up against this difficult exam would have had to wait a full year to retake the test, prompting many to not seek a Regents with Distinction diploma and to discontinue pursuit of higher levels of mathematics in their last year.

The final table demonstrates performance on the AP exams. It should be noted that 108 students took one or more AP exams and that 65% of them achieved a passing grade.

All in all, it was a productive year, with many challenges lying ahead. Over the next two years, the 3-8 testing program is undergoing a complete over haul as we switch to the Common Core Standards and a new testing company has contracted for test creation. We will continue to implement curriculum to have our children prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead.

Individual parent reports of student scores on the 3-8 testing should arrive here in the next few weeks and they will be sent on to parents as soon as we receive them.


2010-11 school year

How can it be June already?

Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(June 2, 2011) As we prepare for the end of the year events, culminating in our graduation on June 24, it is a good time to reflect on the state of education right now.  Voorheesville is such a unique little district.  Here we sit at the foot of the escarpment, a short distance from the State Education Building, immersed in finishing up athletic seasons, preparing for end of year exams, completing the NYS 3-8 tests, and celebrating so many rites of passage.  Today I met with five middle school students who just returned from the World Competition for Odyssey of the Mind - a demanding program which requires students to solve a problem, create a product, and perform a presentation in front of judges.  To get there, this team had to win locally and statewide.  They spent the long holiday weekend at the University of Maryland presenting their work.  Competing against 64 other middle school teams from across the country and around the world, these students took first place!  I decided to chat with them, not only to congratulate them but to inquire about the quality of their experiences.  I asked them to compare what they learned from their year-long work on this demanding project to the most recently completed NYS ELA and Math exams that they finished just weeks ago.  Now, these are excellent students who will doubtless do just fine on the assessments, but what I wanted to learn from them was what their performance assessment at the World competition taught them compared to their test preparation.  One youngster responded that the NYS tests don't really teach you anything, while the performance at Worlds was a culmination of so many things they learned.  They learned about persistence and they learned about cooperation.  They learned that it is possible to communicate with other kids who don't speak English.  They were teamed with a group from China for a portion of the weekend and they found common ground as they worked out strategies to communicate.  They learned that hard work pays off.  They learned creative problem solving.  They also learned how to resolve differences, how to build upon ideas, how to support each other.  I would like to suggest when they are older, this learning experience will have a more lasting impact on them and will be one they recall more vividly than whether they got a 3 or a 4 on a battery of bubble sheets.

The challenge for us all in education is not to resign ourselves to a reductionist approach to teaching and learning, but to broaden the world for our children, all the while cherishing and challenging them.  Congratulations to these youngsters, Sadye, Ben, Lydia, Erik, and Alexandria and to their dedicated parent coaches who spent countless hours preparing for this world class event.

It is my sincere hope that all of our families enjoy a productive and peaceful summer.


Snow Days

Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(February 1, 2011) This is a no win event for a school superintendent.  If we have school, we get a ton of calls on the wisdom of opening.  On the rare day where we start school and then have early dismissal, well, that is chaos theory in action!  Since I became a school administrator in 1990, calling snow days has been one of those experiences that makes me wish I had moved to the tropics - oh, wait, then I would be calling hurricane days.  Can't escape Mother Nature.  I thought I would take a minute to describe how we make our decisions to close.  Before 5:00 a.m. I get a call from the director of transportation who has already monitored the weather, checked with neighboring districts, and in some cases actually driven out on the roads.  We compare notes and I usually say to call back in a half hour so we can get more data.  We make the decision to close when the weather is bad.  I have long held that nothing we do on a particular day is worth putting a child's life in danger - especially since we pick up so many children when it is still dark.  A two-hour delay is optimal, but if the weather prediction is bad, it's a closure.

I get a lot of feedback that it is the northeast after all.  I have been called wimpy and worse on more than a few occasions.  Sometimes, like February 1, we open school because it looks like the weather might just let us squeeze in a day, and then wind up calling an early dismissal as conditions deteriorate.  That decision alters the students' schedules as we get their lunches into them on an early lunch schedule.  We decide by 9:30 a.m. on early dismissals because we have to get our drivers back in and also pick up all of the out-of-district students.  On days like this the feedback I get is frequently hostile as it is a terrible inconvenience to parents.  I know all about that as I raised four children while working.  One of the things I learned early and now always counsel parents is to have an emergency plan in place so that if your child gets home and you have not yet arrived, they know what to do.  This plan covers more than early dismissal from school.  I say I learned because when my oldest was in kindergarten I had another child at the doctor in Albany where it was bright and sunny.  I had no idea that Shenendehowa, where we lived at the time, was having a huge snow event.  My five year old was on his own except for the fact that I had a friend who knew I was in Albany and whose intuition drove her to my house to collect my little guy (before cell phone days!!!).

Sometimes a superintendent will not call a school day on a snowy morning and the feedback can be outright furious - why are you having school when it is obviously snowing?  Sometimes I wish I could get those folks who call me wimpy and state it is the northeast to answer these criticisms!  However, I will tell you that a superintendent makes the best call they are able to with information at hand.  I will also tell you another thing I learned when my oldest was in kindergarten.  It was a slippery morning and I had my doubts about having my son take the bus to school.  I watched from my front window as a big yellow bus came down the slight hill on our street sideways, headed directly to where my son and several other kids were waiting for the bus.  The driver did an amazing job of avoiding the children, but right at that moment I made a decision that no matter what decision the superintendent made about opening or closing school, I, as the parent, would be the person who decided whether or not my child would attend.

As superintendent, I must make decisions for the 1200 children at Voorheesville and I do so with the best information I can accrue.  However, every parent has the ultimate authority to keep a child home rather than risk weather emergencies.  As of today, February 1, we have used two snow days.  We still have two on the calendar before we have to eat up April vacation.  I rather doubt that the ground hog will see his shadow tomorrow - he probably won't even venture out of his burrow!

P.S.  UPDATE:  We did have a snow day on Ground Hog day - down to one day left and the active weather pattern seems to be persisting. 


Resilience

Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(Jan. 26, 2011) As we work with our students at all levels, one thing that becomes very vivid is the amount of complaints about bullying. From the media, it appears that this is a national phenomenon. It certainly needs to be addressed and schools across the country are working on multiple manifestations and venues, from the schoolyard to cyberspace. One of the concerns that I have been observing more and more of late is that bullying seems to be so prevalent that it is hard to distinguish what may be "kid stuff" from what is truly intentionally hurtful. I am becoming acutely aware that resilience is in short supply.

Here is a scenario: a child comes into the office crying because one of his peers said he did not like his haircut. The child tearfully describes how he is being bullied over this haircut. While I certainly am not impressed with anyone teasing another about their hair, or their freckles, or their glasses, I am also concerned with "why does another’s opinion of your haircut matter so much that it ruins your day?" I am beginning to believe we need to not only address bullying, but also resilience building.

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back, to get up after falling down, and to not look at life as hindrance free but as filled with challenges to be grappled with. I worry that many of our children are becoming very fragile and I worry that we are missing opportunities to help them develop the capacity to not be victimized.

Here is another scenario: A parent calls and complains that their child is being bullied and it must be stopped, but don’t tell the offending child that their child has complained, for fear that the bullying will increase. It becomes an almost impossible task to untangle at the school. Certainly we want to address bullying, but if we call out a child for bullying, we have to produce evidence that this behavior has occurred. I fully understand the concern that a parent will worry that his child may be bullied even more, but wouldn’t the school be a bully if we disciplined a child without describing the evidence?

One of the hardest lessons children learn is the difference between tattling and standing up for the right thing. One of the aspects of bullying that is most compelling is the behavior of the bystander. I flash back to the scene from "The Christmas Story" where Ralphie is confronted by the neighborhood bully, Scut Farkus, and his sidekick, Grover. How many kids gathered expecting Ralphie to be pounded on only to be amazed that Ralphie flipped out and beat Scut up, while Grover took off. Certainly, not a scene I want repeated at school, but I can tell you that if Bobby and Billy decide to have a fight in the park at 4:30, that info spreads like wildfire among the students. The bystanders who do nothing are in need of education as much as the bully and the victim.

We are in possession of a wonderful video which we are using in our health classes, made locally by several high school students from different schools. It is entitled “If You See Something, Say Something.” It creates several scenarios in which the decision to reach out to an adult could have changed a very bad outcome into a very good one.

Bullying can be so subtle. Several years ago, when I was an elementary principal, I had a student, Jimmy, who might have been Scut Farkus. One day, after yet another incident, I tried a different approach with him. I said “It must really bug you that you are the one who always gets caught.” His response to me changed my life as an interviewer of students in matters of discipline. He said: “Do you think they (supervising adults) will ever blame one of the crown princes around here?” It turns out that he was being set up by one of the other children on quite a regular basis. However, that boy was a darling little guy, popular, beloved by teachers—one of our stars. When I approached the teacher to suggest that this was a more complex issue, she said to me “Alex would never do that.” I pointed out that that was exactly what Jimmy said she would say. We called Alex over and I gently suggested that he may have had a role in the event and he burst into tears. “I did it because I knew he would get in trouble and I wouldn’t…” It was a real learning experience for all of us, children and adults. One can’t help but ask here, who was the bully and who was the victim?

Perhaps it is because my daughter is a social worker who works with emotionally distressed teenagers and college students and she has shared her concern that some of her most fragile clients are the kids who have been the most successful—attending excellent colleges after high flying high school careers. They are under so much pressure that they are seriously at risk for collapse. They have no resilience because they have little experience with failure. They have not had to develop coping strategies and without them, now facing challenges that feel insurmountable, they become distraught to the point of illness. We need to help our children understand that they do have the internal reserves to cope with difficult situations, difficult people, and difficult expectations. For youngsters who do not have a chance to develop those internal reserves, life itself is the bully.

Let’s continue to work together to thwart bullying and to build resilience in our students.


Holiday Message

Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(Dec. 20, 2010) As we approach the winter holiday break, I wanted to take this time to offer you my wishes for a wonderful respite.  If you are traveling, I wish you safe journey.  If you are hosting, I wish you a peaceful gathering.  If you are expecting a quiet interlude, I wish you a time for reflection and an opportunity to re-energize for the upcoming New Year.  

The holiday season in our house is filled with comings and goings as my four adult children, their assorted friends, and my three-year old granddaughter pretty much treat our household as the revolving door.  My husband wonders why I always cook as though I am cooking for ten - it is because on any given night there could be that many mouths to feed!  It is what I relish about the season.  Christmas day happens to be my husband's birthday so our celebrations seem to overlap.

Here at school, things are winding down.  The concerts are abating, the students are anticipating the upcoming break, and the staff is looking forward to beginning 2011.  In schools there are two New Year celebrations - one in September on the first day of school, and one when the calendar turns over.  I hope each person in our school community feels the warmth of family and friends over the break.  You are all so valued, so important in our mission of educating children.


What's behind a scaled score

Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder

(August 18, 2010) I admit that I am a long-time skeptic as to the value of some of the New York State testing regimen, especially at the elementary level. I often tell people about my experiences as an elementary school principal when the tests were first initiated for fourth and eighth graders. The nine-year-olds took ELA exams, Math exams, and Science exams. These exams were designed to give us hard data about student performance. I observed levels of stress among the students and collected my own hard data—how many fourth graders visited the school nurse during testing weeks compared to the rest of the year. You can probably guess that visits spiked remarkably. I decided at the end of one testing cycle to surprise my fourth graders with an ice cream party. When I announced that all fourth graders should come to the cafeteria, one little boy asked his teacher if he should bring his number 2 pencil!

A few years later, the grades 3-8 tests were initiated. I admit my skepticism remained intact, but when it was announced that all children would be proficient by 2014, I actually became prophetic. “Well, what that means is the scaled scores will increase gradually to give the illusion that there is growth towards attaining that lofty goal of 100% proficiency, despite the fact that the lofty goal makes no sense at all.” You do not need too much of a background in educational statistics to realize that if you give such a test and everybody passes, it is a bad test, just as it is if you give such a test and everybody fails, it is a bad test. You may recall this occurred a few years back on the Regents Math exam, which was re-scaled because so many students failed it. To say all will be proficient means the results have to be statistically tweaked to accomplish this. It is rather like the Lake Woebegone Effect, where all the children are above average.

Now we have a new dilemma. In order to prove that New York State tests have been soft, this year’s versions were bumped up and moved to the end of the year. We educators were told that these assessments would be testing a good deal more than previous ones. Once they were completed and sent off to the State, an announcement was made that indicated a new cut point was implemented for determining levels of performance. I am sure you have read the local press regarding the shock that school people and parents will be feeling when they see that a child’s performance level on the State exams has been seriously affected by the new cut point. But again, that old skepticism of mine inched forward. One of my administrators pointed out an irregularity. On a third grade math test, a child who answered 37 out of 39 questions correctly (that is 95% correct) was deemed performing at level 3. A child who answered 85% of the answers correctly was deemed performing at level 2. Some children, who were performing at level 1, actually had scaled scores that would have put them at level 3 last year. I scratched my head over this and wondered it this was an aberration on the grade 3 math assessment. As I began to dig through the data, I found that it was not an aberration, but was true across all tests, in both ELA and math. I contacted a couple of colleagues who advised me to remember that you can’t compute percentages and compare them to scaled scores because test items are weighted by difficulty. So I ran an error analysis, and I learned that the errors the students made were random (especially for higher-scoring students), which suggests item difficulty did not impact their outcomes.

Since psychometrics is not my passion, I decided to consult a guru of psychometrics whom I met several years ago. Dr. W. James Popham is professor emeritus of statistics and educational measurement from UCLA. He is an authoritative author and a renowned scholar in this field. When I emailed him my dilemma and asked if I was on track in looking at these data sets differently, he generously responded: “One of the problems with scaled scores is that, although their potentials for analysis are considerable, it is really impossible to make any sense out of them. Thus, when you use a “percent-correct” prism in an attempt to interpret the meaning of your school’s scaled scores, this is a really sensible thing to do. I wish more educators would be sensible!”

I have continued to correspond with him as I have dug deeper and his response has been consistent: “Your analysis is one way of trying to figure out on your own what’s meant by these mystical numbers.” Dr. Popham has written a book I recommend for parents called

Testing! Testing! What Every Parent Needs to Know About School Tests.

As I have been analyzing the data sets through this new prism, I am finding that the cut points were adjusted to force more students into levels 3 and 2, despite answering large percentages of the questions accurately. A handful of children who scored less well are children with whom we are already working to help them achieve. But I have to be honest, I simply cannot look a parent in the eye and say your child is performing at level 3, despite having answered 95% of the test questions correctly. On many of the tests, the range to achieve at level 4 is no more than one error. I have decided that, given this different view of the data sets, when we receive the parent report to mail home, I will be attaching a label which will tell parents the percentage of items their child answered correctly. I hope this will make the testing agenda more transparent and will ease undue anxiety about student learning. I am all for rigor and I am surely in favor of educational reform, but I don’t want it carried on the backs of school children. From my point of view, you don’t make a poor assessment stronger by making it harder to pass—you reform the assessment.


SED changes scoring of grade 3-8 ELA and math assessments

August 3, 2010

As you might be aware by the recent press, the New York State Education Department has modified its scoring of the English-Language Arts and Math Assessments, grades 3-8, in an effort to raise academic standards. By raising the "cut point" scores (the raw score ranges that constitute a 4,3,2 or 1 overall score that represent student achievement on the exam), this has resulted in an overall decrease of student reported scores. In essence, the number of raw score points previously needed to achieve a "3" or "4" on the state assessments (which translates to mean students are meeting state standards, and meeting state standards with distinction, respectively) has increased. Please visit the following news links for a full explanation of the re-scaling and re-calculation of state assessment scores:

Regents Approves Scoring Changes to Grades 3-8 Math and English Tests (New York State Education Department)
http://www.oms.nysed.gov/press/Regents_Approve_Scoring_Changes.html

Tougher Tests Trip Up Students (Albany Times Union)
http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Tougher-tests-trip-up-students-593964.php

The purpose of such assessments is to not only identify students that would benefit from remediation, but also serves to provide teachers and administrators with appropriate data to inform instruction. Though the scoring and scaling have drastically change, rest assured that our continued use of this data to immediately improve and differentiate our instruction for all students will certainly continue. Though on the surface our scores (as most others in New York State) will appear to decrease quite significantly, and will initially indicate a greater number of students requiring remediation, we are extremely of our instructional program, and relish the opportunity to closer analyze this data for instructional purposes. Those a score of a "2" or "1" would technically indicate that said students are partially or not meeting state standards (respectively), such a change in assessment scoring allows us to re-visit the concept of remediation, and how such services can be delivered more efficiently to a wide group of students. Those students that require a stronger level of remediation will continue to receive the attention they need, while others will have their indicated need for remediation serviced within the classroom. Your building administrator would certainly be happy to explain your child's score, and how this will affect overall instruction.

Like anything else, a massive change in assessment scoring and standards can be quite overwhelming. Rest assured that our continued focus in providing your child with an interactive, student-centered instructional program remains our priority, and such data only assists us in making this instruction more meaningful.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 

 

2009-10 school year

End of Year Message from Dr. Snyder

June 25, 2010

It is hard to believe that we are days away from closing the books on another school year!  On Friday, the graduating class of 2010 will cross the stage and celebrate their well-earned completion of K-12 education.  We wish them well.  I am sure, to the proud families,  it seems like just the other day they were starting kindergarten.  I, myself, have four children and as I look at them and recall the fleeting days of their childhoods, I am astonished at how clearly I recall that "just the other day" when I saw each of them enter kindergarten!  On Friday, these boys and girls start forging their ways as men and women.  Congratulations to each of them and to their families.

On another note, we are also bidding adieu to Mark Diefendorf who is retiring as principal of Clayton A. Bouton High School.  He has faithfully served.  When we did out alumni survey last fall, the highlights were the comments made by former students.  Over and over again, Mark Diefendorf's name came up, crediting him as an outstanding teacher.  We have benefitted greatly by having Mark stay here during the transition in leadership this year.  He has provided historical memory, wisdom, and positive energy for all of us who were at Voorheeseville this year for the first time. 

These last few days of school have been teeming with last minute lessons and projects.  It is wonderful to see the extra effort so many teachers have put in to make certain that students, some of whom slacked off a bit, are able to complete their responsibilities and move on to new horizons.  It is also a joy to experience what elementary principal, Tom Reardon, described as the "sizzle" of young students blossoming with new skills.  We hope all of these children enjoy summer vacation.  We hope they play, read, have wonderful family events, read, ride bikes, swim, and read!!! 

Happy summer, dear children - see you all in September. 


Budget Message from Dr. Snyder

May 17, 2010

I write this on the eve of the budget vote.  We began crafting this budget in late fall and we have been working to make this as reasonable as possible for our tax payers.  This year it has been a lot like driving in the dark with no lights as we have been working on assumptions rather than real data because of the lack of a State budget.  We have built a budget that is based on the Governor's proposed budget, assuming that this is a worst case scenario.  The cuts in State Aid to our District have been large and painful in an era when expenses increase in everything from the price of gas, to insurances and retirement costs.  Still, we have been able to adjust our expenditures in a reasonable and thoughtful manner to avoid curtailing programming for students.  I am sure you have noticed that many surrounding districts were so powerfully affected by this year's cuts in aid that there have been teacher lay offs and cuts in programs.  We have not been forced to make such drastic cuts this year, but we have had to review every line from the point of view of what is needed to maintain the quality of educational experiences for Voorheesville children.  Despite the cuts in revenues, we still are bringing forward a budget with a 2.89% increase in the tax levy.

There are four candidates running for two seats on the Board of Education.  Members of the Board are a grassroots mainstay of democratic action.  These volunteers, as members of the corporate body of the school Board, assume responsibility for creating policy, managing fiscal oversight, and overseeing the educational program.  The four candidates, as they appear on the ballot are:  Cynthia Monaghan, Justin Brusgul, Kristine Gravino, and Kevin Kroencke.  We are always grateful when citizens step up to be considered for this elected position..

There is also a bus proposition on the ballot tomorrow.  We plan the life of our fleet of buses so that there is a continuous exchange of the oldest vehicles with the most miles, rather than having to put up major bus purchases all at one time.

So, tomorrow, May 18, the polls will be open in the Middle School foyer from 2:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.  I urge you all to exercise your rights as citizens of this community to vote on the budget, the bus proposition, and to select two school Board members.  See you at the polls!


"Voorheesville, more than scores!"

March 17, 2010

March always seems like a long month in the school year, but this year it is zooming by! We are finalizing our budget work and on Monday March 22, we will put forth the bus proposition for the Board to act upon. Our budget is pretty stabilized right now and as bad as the press has been about some of our contiguous districts, we have been able to put together a budget with a projected 2.8 tax levy increase. It has been an enormous amount of work, but we were able create some efficiencies with scheduling and with some attrition by retirements and cutting some part time positions. We feel we have a budget that respects the concerns of the tax payers and also addresses rich programming for our students. Speaking of the latter, recently the Times Union published graduation rates for surrounding schools, unfortunately, Voorheesville was omitted and we feel it should be acknowledged that we had the highest graduation rate in the county. Something similar occurred last autumn when there was a published report that Albany City Schools were named among the top 1500 high schools in the country by Newsweek, ranking higher than Bethlehem and Guilderland. What was left out was that Voorheesville outranked them all. (I read a blog on the TU website which asked why Voorheesville was not mentioned and someone responded that it might be so hard to spell!) Now, I will say that all of these achievements are based upon scores and I am the first to say that Voorheesville is “more than the scores.” Our expectations also include high achievements in areas that are not included in the State report card, but which we feel are vital to the educational processes of our students. There are the school concerts, which consistently win rave reviews, the upcoming plays which are sure to be astonishingly entertaining, and a special event I want to draw attention to, which is occurring next Tuesday, March 23. That evening we will be celebrating our Media Arts & Technology Festival which will showcase the good work of our students, alumni, and faculty in areas including film, photography, music—all things digital. We'll also get to hear from two local documentary filmmakers. The festival runs from 6:30-9:00 p.m. at the high school. Please join us for another example of “Voorheesville, more than scores!”

Happy Spring to all.


Budgeting for next year

February 10, 2010

I write this column in the midst of our budget preparation season. I am sure that readers are aware of the decreases in state aid in the Governor’s budget proposal. Voorheesville is targeted for a nearly $700,000 decrease in aid and nearly $400,000 in budget increases on contractual expenses and retirements. This could have been catastrophic, but we went into the budget process mindful of the fact that these are hard days for everybody. We have put together a draft budget that will come in more than $70,000 less than the current budget and will have a projected tax levy impact of 2.87%. Details on the draft of the budget were shared at the Feb. 8, 2010 Board of Education meeting and are available on the 2010-11 Budget Web page or by clicking on these documents: powerpoint presentation and detail sheets, both PDFs.

In order to accomplish our task of bringing in this budget, we have made some adjustments to how we will deliver Academic Intervention Services (AIS) at the secondary level.  AIS are required for students who are in danger of not meeting the state's proficiency levels in core content areas. In the past, we have scheduled AIS during the nine period day, and if a student’s schedule allowed a match between the schedule of the providing teacher and the student, AIS was implemented. However, as often as not, a teacher would be scheduled for AIS, but there would be few students in the class. AIS counts as a teaching period and having whole periods of AIS in the content areas with so few students able to access them has not been cost effective. Next year, we are going to extend the school day for students who need interventions. AIS will be available after ninth period in what is being designated as tenth period. Teachers and/or tutors will be available to provide levels of service that can be tailored for the students’ needs. Some students might require daily help in one subject, others might require a more moderate amount and have needs that can be met two or three times a week. The period will close in time for students to get to the late bus for transportation home. One of the positive aspects of this methodology is that it allows students to take control of their learning needs. Rather than struggling to mesh a schedule with their teachers, they can actually receive the personal attention they need to succeed in their studies. Because AIS will no longer be taking a teacher out of circulation during their schedules, we were able to trim some part time positions which will be assimilated by the change in AIS. We gain teaching time and we gain the capacity to tailor additional support to a student’s needs.

We were also fortunate this year as we refinanced a major bond at a huge annual savings and switched health insurance for another savings. These anticipated savings allowed us to somewhat cushion the blow of the devastating reductions that schools are facing. I must say, in a difficult financial climate, I feel that our budget is taking shape in a very sensitive and responsible manner. There are still issues that are out there and we are still waiting for final number on such things as the health insurance rates, but we feel that the Board will have a budget to approve by April 12 that is responsive to the community and still provides an outstanding program for Voorheesville children.

On another note, we have begun the process of searching for a replacement for Mark Diefendorf, our long-time high school principal and teacher. Currently, applications are being screened and interviews are set up for after the vacation. Our target appointment date is March 8. We have a strong pool of applicants and, hopefully, the process will continue smoothly.


Happy Holidays!

December 23, 2009

My how time flies!  As we prepare for the holiday break, I would like to express to all members of our community best wishes for the season.  It seems extraordinary to me that we have completed the first decade of this century - doesn't it seem that the Y2K fears were just yesterday? - would our computers work, should we lay in a fresh water supply?  Seems so out there after ten years!

The opportunity to be here at Voorheesville is one of those things that I am most appreciative of this year.  During my first few months here I have met so many wonderful people, from kindergartners to senior citizens, from teachers to parents, from our staff to our community members.  I have had the opportunity to read to and write with elementary students; to observe physics students create catapults and measure their effectiveness; to sit in on AP biology and to judge poetry recitations.  There is always something happening here and it is so overwhelmingly good.  We have a rough spot here and there every now and then, but those spots are far outweighed by the energy and flow of learning that happens here. 

As we close out this decade and prepare for 2010, please know how lucky I feel to have been welcomed into this community.  Alums, there is still time to fill out the alumni survey on the front page!  We are seeking as much input as we can get from as broad an audience as is available.

Enjoy the holiday break!


Happy Thanksgiving!

November 17, 2009

As I write this the first quarter is closing, teachers are completing grades, the flu seems to be abating a bit, and the holidays are right around the corner.

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving because there is something touching about the utterly simple idea of gathering for a shared meal with family and friends for the single purpose of being thankful. Of course, somewhere between the stuffing and the apple pie, there can be some stress derived from the event. I well remember the one year that my personal stress level was so high I forgot to turn the oven on, and our turkey wasn’t served until quite late that night! The funny thing is now that moment is part of our family folklore and it always makes us laugheven though at the time it was not the least bit humorous!

That speaks to me of how often the rough spots become polished over time and actually become shared family memories that are treasured moments. So it is with raising children. Often as I was raising my own four children, I was running on empty. The daily schedules, the constant push and pull of kids and dogs and cats and turtles and hamsters, the special events, sports, dramas, concerts—the homework!—put such demands on our family time. Now I look back on all that business and I am amazed that it is absent from my life, but I am even more amazed that I miss it.

Speaking from the other side of parenting, I want to remind young parents everywhere that these days of childhood are fleeting and before you know it, even though you can’t imagine it now, these little people will be grown and be gone. Perhaps that is why I am so fond of Thanksgiving. They return, and for an afternoon we feast, laugh and are simply thankful for each other and the memories of their childhoods.

From all of us to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving, and don’t forget to turn the oven on!


Rachel's story inspires school community; challenges us all

October 8, 2009

We just came off of a very moving day called Rachel’s Challenge which is a movement to turn the tragedy of Columbine to a source of strength and kindness by focusing on the character of the first victim. Rachel Scott, aged 17, was killed on that horrid April day. So many times we teach our children that school is about preparation for life, but this young woman showed us all that growing up is not preparation for life, but it is life. She had spent her too few years making a difference in other people’s lives because she lived according to what she presciently identified one month before her death as her code of ethics. This code was based on this statement contained in a school essay: “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”

After the tragedy of Columbine her family and friends decided that the best way to honor her memory was to share this message of compassion. They have been to hundreds of schools across the world to issue Rachel’s Challenge: to treat the people around you with respect and gentleness, to reach out to the lonely or the disenfranchised, to make the world a better place because of your attention to the needs of others. So yesterday, the Challenge team came to Voorheesville with a presentation for grades 6-12 (done in two different assemblies). At each assembly, the students were riveted. There were stark and vivid images of one of the most disturbing events of our time. Of course, for them, Columbine is ancient history, but the essence of the message of reaching out and being kind is something that touches them deeply—they live with it every day as they sort out who they are and where they fit in—they know when it is missing. The adults, for whom Columbine is still raw and painful--in recollection only yesterday not ten years past, the assemblies were moving in a different way. After the assemblies there were break out sessions facilitated by volunteer teachers and administrators who helped the students process the message. I overheard one child coming back to her classroom say she felt inspired. A peer asked her what she was inspired about and the child said: “we can do this, we can be kind, and we can help.” I was also inspired because I heard this little kid process that message and grasp the impact of “paying it forward.” Thus, Rachel’s Challenge has already impacted our community.

This is only the beginning. We will be focusing on these elements of character and courage throughout the year. Thanks to Mr. Pat Corrigan, who organized the day, and thanks to the many volunteers who helped, but especially thanks to Rachel Scott’s family who chose to memorialize their child in a way that has turned the anguish and bitterness of a truly tragic day into a declaration that we can make a difference—just as their little girl intended.


Welcome!

August 27, 2009
 

This note will be the first of many communications from this office and I am delighted to be writing it as Superintendent of Voorheesville Central Schools.

It has been an amazing summer which is rapidly drawing to a close. You know when the student athletes come back for practice that summer days are numbered. Over the course of this summer we have hired two new administrators. Tom Reardon, our new elementary principal, comes to us from Bethlehem and Brian Whitley, our brand new and very first middle school principal, comes to us from Shenendehowa. Both are enthusiastic and energetic leaders who are eager to contribute to our mission of continuing to create a school environment that celebrates the learning process.

One of my personal beliefs is that a primary role of educators is to awaken curiosity. Watching my two-year-old granddaughter figure out how to open a locked plastic box was a clear demonstration that determination to succeed is nurtured by curiosity. Curiosity drives effort. She shook the box and heard something inside. She tried to pry it open with her little fingers. She banged it on the floor. She realized the oversized plastic lock had to be manipulated. She met with failure over and over, yet she was persistent. Her expressions spoke volumes about her feelings. She frowned and she furrowed her brow and she scrunched up her face, then she turned the box a different way and her expression became serious—you could almost see her thinking “There has got to be a way.” At one point she shouted “Daddy,” and my son looked over and said “Look for the key.” She went back to her toy basket and found the large plastic key and then she had to figure out how to fit the key in the lock and how to turn it, etc. This went on for about a half hour before she actually opened the box. I wish I had a video of her expression when she succeeded. She was jubilant and so satisfied with the hard work she had exerted to accomplish her task. Inside the box there was only a little plastic cow, which might have proven a big disappointment for the amount of effort she put in. However, it was not what was inside the box that satisfied her, it was the success of her efforts. Watching my little Olivia developing resilience while developing skills and also watching my son offer just enough direction to encourage her without doing it for her, reminded me that learning is hard work but oh, so satisfying! I believe her little event is a metaphor for what we hope to achieve with our students. People will expend effort and achieve results when they are curious about the world around them. I look forward to meeting and working with the members of this community throughout the year. Thank you for having me!

 
   
 
photos of students of various ages

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