Scoring big

The debate regarding state testing in our schools is raging — with students opting in or out of tests some deem too stressful and unfair. But there are tests, those that chart the highs and lows of student performance in certain areas from year-to-year, that have undisputed merit.

Such is the case with New York state’s middle school English Language Arts (ELA) tests,  the results of which were recently presented to the Pine Plains Central School District Board of Education. Middle School Principal James DiDonna shared that critical information with the board at its Nov. 16 meeting; he was highly encouraged by the middle school’s progress from 2013 to 2016.

The trend of the students’ academic performance had an upward trajectory. That much is clear. During those four years,  the students’ success rates climbed — the results of a multifaceted approach by the school district.

Firstly, the middle school did a lot of curriculum writing in terms of ELA. Secondly, the middle school participated in the Response to Intervention (RTI) program, which enabled teachers to do a lot of in-service and professional development, specifically in ELA and team building among teachers. Thirdly, the district has optimized its relationship with Bard College during the past few years. Bard started at the high school level and then worked its way to the middle school, bringing in professors to the schools to work alongside teachers. Then, Pine Plains teachers go to Bard for additional staff development. 

As Pine Plains Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler said, it’s “clearly done well for us in the middle school.” That’s evident from the upswing the district has seen in high school students taking English and social studies Regents exams. “Why not use the resources that are close by?” asked Handler.

Why not indeed.

Not only is the Pine Plains district and the middle school in particular taking advantage of all that’s available to them — they are making smart use of their resources.

During his presentation, DiDonna spoke of the time, effort and money involved in the school’s professional development. Teachers have to travel, and sometimes stay overnight, to meet with other teachers facing similar educational challenges. They meet together, they eat together, they brainstorm — both among Pine Plains teachers and with the broader teaching community. What an excellent way to tap keen minds dealing with students and their ELA struggles.

Evidently, from the improved test scores, the progressive approach is paying off. Kudos to both DiDonna and Handler for trying different methods and being open to both success and failure in the hope of finding something that truly works. Their willingness to do so is an indication of not only their confidence in the district and its teaching staff, but of their personal investment in the future of all students.