Last Monday, the Region 1 Board of Education held a marathon meeting to start the school year. At the beginning, two teachers from Housatonic spent some time describing the development of Student Led Conferences, an effort now being spearheaded by the teachers. This builds on the effort to improve student ownership of their education and communication between the school and the parents. Then Housatonic Principal Jose Martinez, with assistance from the guidance department, described the outcomes of the class of 2016 (where they went after graduation) and the outcome of the SAT tests for last year’s juniors. Once again, the Board discussed the academic eligibility of athletes at Housatonic with Athletic Director Anne MacNeil. And they decided that there was no need to apologize to the Kent teachers’ union for the video shown to all teachers at the beginning of the school year.
Housatonic teachers Damon Osora and John Lizzi described the use of Student Led Conferences throughout the high school. Beginning this year, all students will build a portfolio of their work in association with a group of 8-9 other students and a teacher acting as a mentor. Because the students range across all grades, they will also get peer-to-peer support that builds collaboration and maturity. Toward the end of each semester, the students will present their portfolios to a parent or invited guest with the teacher/mentor present. (Note that such conferences will replace parent-teacher conferences unless the parents specifically request a conference with a teacher.)
The student portfolios, as described in the handbook, are very much driven by the students themselves. They start with a goal, which may or may not be academic, but must be attainable and challenging. Other sections of the portfolio include ties to the academic environment and the ability of the student to work effectively in school. For instance, the freshman portfolio consists of:
- Personal Goal
- Contributions to School or Local Community
- Reading and Responding
- Effective Communication
- Organization Skills and Time Management
- Collaboration with Peers
- Technology Use and Applications
The portfolio progresses with each year in high school. More information is contained in the student handbook. The teachers wrote, “This process will lead to increased student choice, greater student involvement in the assessment process, heightened motivation, and more personalized learning experiences that are rooted in student interest.”
Later in the meeting, Martinez noted that many of the Housatonic students went on to further their education, specifically 81% of all graduates of 2016 are going to college (2 year or 4 year) or other training. Some graduates, 13%, are working including one in the military. The remaining graduates, 6%, are missing in action. Sharon Veatch, a guidance counselor at Housatonic, said that communication with students falls off after graduation so the school does not get as many later updates.
Martinez then gave the SAT results for last year’s junior class. This is the first year, in Connecticut, that all students are required to take the SAT test. This is also the first year that the SAT test was rebuilt. The results in Housatonic were not far different from the state average. The average English SAT result at Housatonic was 537 (Connecticut 520) on a scale of 200-800. The average Math SAT result at Housatonic was 503 (Connecticut 502). The overall results are disappointingly low.
Of far greater interest was the distribution of test scores which shows at least two distinct groups.
Housatonic has, for a long time, operated as a small semi-private school within a larger public school. The group of favored students are separated from the rest in classes and in the test scores, and are roughly in the top 25% nationally. None of the students had exceptional results, with the highest score being 1380 out of 1600. For reference, even the top score is not expected be in the top 25% at the University of Connecticut next year.
Part of the large variation in test scores lies in the math curriculum. The SAT scores for math show a three tiered structure.
Seemingly, math at Housatonic is taught with three distinct standards, rather than a continuous standard. For the math SAT, roughly anything below 440 in unacceptable.
In English, the standard appears to be the same, only the variation in achievement appears to be large.
Again, any score below about 440 is unacceptable.
Martinez said that the school is just starting to get detailed information in order to ascertain where specific instruction is needed. This is where the feedback to the teachers occurs. Previously, when Connecticut administered the standards CAPT test, the state would provide such information. Now the school must rely on a more removed and independent administrative board.
With regard to athletic eligibility, MacNeil had compared Housatonic to five other schools. Housatonic requires all the CIAC requirements, plus a grade point average (GPA) of at least 1.7 and an athlete failing no more than one course at the beginning of and during the sport season. Several schools used only the CIAC requirements; only Gilbert was stricter using a 2.0 GPA.
Region 1 Chairman Andrea Downs thought that Housatonic requirements should be stricter. She said, “We are here to learn.” Board member John Sanders thought that participation in sports would bring grades up, that the school should encourage participation even with the poorer students. Assistant Superintendent Pam Vogel noted that the new grading practices would require that the students meet certain standards before proceeding, but was unsure how that would apply here for students who lagged behind. MacNeil said that the school had already instituted an athletic study hall at the end of the school day for athletes at risk and had lost only one student last year. This discussion is ongoing.
At the end of the meeting Board member Jonathan Moore, from Kent, provided a letter from the Kent Education Association (teachers’ union) to the Kent Board of Education claiming that the video from the Region 1 Board was “offensive” and did not represent the standards of the elementary school teachers. The Kent Board of Education, without any due diligence whatsoever, asked the Region 1 Board for an apology.
The video was presented to all of the teachers in Region 1 at the beginning of the school year. In the video, the board members took turns explaining the outcomes of the Lighthouse project that they are undertaking to focus their attention on education. None of the Region 1 Board thought an apology was necessary or deserved. Vogel, who had attended the meeting in Kent, said, “The Region 1 Board is to be commended. We do believe that all kids can learn.”
Board member Bob Whelan said, “We are holding all of ourselves accountable. This is a group effort.” Downs noted that we [board, administrators, and teachers] are not as effective as we should be. Board member Ned Gow indicated that the board’s intentions were not to take it [the conversation] to the extremes that they [the union] took it. Vogel added, “If they took offense, so be it. Accountability is not a bad word.”
And, once again, the coverage of this meeting [paywall] by the Waterbury Republican American involved only a biased description of teacher issues and nothing about students and their education. Their lack of true interest in education is the major issue in this region. Their poor coverage has harmed the education in Region 1 for years.