Board frustrated with new state mandates

Members of the Fredonia Board of Education at Tuesday night’s meeting were not impressed with new state mandates that are being required of them and all other schools within the state.

Director of Instruction Joseph Reyda presented to the board a summary of the recent changes to the way New York state evaluates school district performance, especially when it comes to student performance on standardized tests in grades three through eight. Reyda said this is all the state is concerned about when it comes to rating schools as “proficient” or not.

“Now, the state is going with a growth to proficiency model, and what that means is the state is statistically predicting the amount of growth needed to be proficient in three years, or by grade eight,” Reyda said. “The state is collecting a tremendous amount of data on every child in New York state, statistically creating roles with groups of kids and then establishing growth scores … to measure how well they’re doing.”

High School Principal Andrew Ludwig said that while the new assessment process breaks down how students scored in various performance indicators, it does not allow teachers to go back and look at the questions in order to see what it is the students were being graded on.

“We’re not allowed to use a question for instructional purposes and we aren’t allowed to use the test for instructional purposes,” he said. “We can look at the trend and the name of the standard, but we can’t look at the question.”

“I don’t understand how you’re supposed to teach then,” said board member Edith Byrne.

School Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said that while the board needs to comply with these state mandates for the time being, he is proud of the high graduation rate and successful program Fredonia already has. He then introduced a possible resolution that will express concern with the state’s standardized testing program, should the board agree to pass it.

“The resolution calls for state education, and really for our legislators, to look at the standardized testing situation that we’re all facing right now that our students across the state face at almost every grade level now,” DiFonzo said. “We support the core curriculum standards, the changes to curriculum, but we want to make sure before we start testing the students … that the tests are reliable and that they’re valid. The resolution is asking for a little more work regarding the tests and a little more study before we put them in place because they do take up a tremendous amount of time.”

Reyda said at a recent event he attended for teachers who wanted to learn how to incorporate these new standards, the presenter told him that those in attendance should expect to feel like a first-year teacher again.

“We are all afraid of loss, and these numbers show me that we have a fear that we’re losing the high expectations we have, the progress we’ve made, the individual units and the lessons that we’ve spent years putting together and for years have been very effective. I feel that we are losing those things that make Fredonia unique in order to accommodate this testing.”

DiFonzo said the process involving the necessary changes will be long and arduous.

“All the new rules and unfunded mandates cost our district money because we have to train people – the testing costs money and involves teachers preparing over the course of the school year,” he said. “I think it’s very difficult because each year we try to improve on what we do in the classroom. When you get a baseline of testing that is done over six years, and then all the tests start to change and you have to start over, it does get very frustrating.”

Reyda echoed DiFonzo’s sentiment, saying he believes the board is frustrated with the number of changes required of them by the state for the past couple of years. However, for now, they have to comply with state mandate.

“[The new assessment procedure] gives us an idea of what we need to look at, so we’re going to go to our instructional leaders and building principals and look at those areas that need attention and come up with a plan,” he said.

The next regular board of education meeting will be held June 25 at 6:30 p.m. in Room 636 of the Fredonia High School.

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