On October 1, 2009 Bob Cox published and listed an in-depth report on Mr. Korostoff’s report to the New Rochelle School Board on what appeared to be a presentation on a growing trend towards parity and related matters concerning the New Rochelle middle schools; Albert Leonard and Isaac Young. His assertion is that Isaac Young, through what have been significant interventions, are reaching parity with its sister north end school, Albert Leonard. He also goes on to assert that the gaps between African American and white students as well as Hispanic and white students is closing to some appreciable degree. He does not explain what has led to this and, as far as I can tell, his rationale centers around some questionable assumptions as well as an overreliance on 2008/09 data.
Bob Cox painstakingly, sometimes emotionally, questioned the findings and indeed, found numerous content errors in the presentation. This very fact, along with the aforementioned questionable assumption; along with what I judge to be a poor and selective choice of presentation methodology, tell me that (1) this report is vague and selective in research and findings, (2) unacceptable to any analytic parent or voter, and (3), points out the lack of skill and purpose on the part of the designated oversight source, the Board of Directors. If they find this report to be both inclusive of the progress of the middle school issues and performance in New Rochelle as well as professionally prepared and technically sound, they have damaged the faith placed in them by taxpayers and parents and as important, leave Mr.Korosoff and his superior, Dr. Organisciak, convinced that they can continue to provide sub-standard and ineffective reporting on one of the most significant issues facing the parent and taxpayer in New Rochelle.
I will not replicate Bob Cox’s findings, conclusions or echo his distrust and anger. Frankly, I will make no claim bordering on misinformation or any form of malfeasance. I will not comment substantially on errors of commission; Bob Cox has done this already and the reader can review his report and see his findings for h/herself. Since I lack even the most rudimentary computer data presentation or power point system, I will present a narrative set of thoughts and, to quote Mr. Thoreau, I will attempt to “simplify, simplify.” My major concern as someone who has sponsored and reviewed similar presentations to a board of directors is to never allow an error of commission (i.e. 2+2=7) and to be careful not to let errors of omission (i.e. a report on parity where you do not define your terms properly and leave out (the essence of omission is to consciously or unconsciously leave key data out) important information. One piece of such information is simply this, “what is parity and to what degree have you systematically tested a hypothesis that should represent agreement among key District stakeholders, and has it satisfied your premise or hypothesis? The simple answer to me is that the Korostoff report is a “dog’s breakfast” of data, ranging from demographic, to regent, and, frankly, many meaningless data display that cloud rather than enlighten. Bob Cox has had a merry adventure with errors of commission in this area along.
Here are some data that the reader should consider.
1. The demographic data presentation around parity is flawed. Simply put, it is literally a dangerous rationale. Of course white scores will increase to a lesser degree given the range that they were at prior to the report year in question. It is like saying that a bottle filled up to three quarter volume fills up with less water be added than one filled at one third level. It is also divisive, misleading and patently insulting, maybe even condescending. If it is true, and the NYS data I am providing to Bob will tell its own story, then a simple way of corroborating this is to independently check for knowledge attainment; for example a series of unannounced tests during the year with progress carefully measured and recorded. To me, it is far less important to claim parity than it is to demonstrate it. Korostoff has not to my knowledge indicated how this was achieved and, from my point of view in examining the data, it is both misleading and premature to say that it is.
2. Very little reliance should be placed on NYS tests 2008/9. They are atypical; both the new Regents and Education Department Heads have made it a priority to compare and contrast rather startling state and county wide results against prior year results. I have spot checked county results and they replicate what we have seen in New Rochelle. Korostoff makes no mention of this; rather he takes the easy way out by using State results as his base of comparison. I would not accept this as a trustee. Frankly, I do not want big city results; highly concentrated urban centers like New York City or Buffalo in my comparative base. It is not a true reflection.
3. I am disturbed that the tenor of this report seems to echo Organisciak’s “low hurdles” approach to systemic productivity and student performance. He seems to be fixated on searching for a low hurdle to overcome. Linda Kelly might have been a little off the mark with her Scarsdale comparison, but choosing White Plains is not our best choice. I have no issue with White Plains, but toss in Mamaroneck, Pelham, Larchmont, Bronxville – our neighboring communities. Is he denying for one moment that we have a significant population “up north” and elsewhere of high net worth families? I hope he is not suggested that communities with fairly large numbers of African American or Hispanic youngsters should be marginalized in some “low hurdle” grouping. That is the typical easy way out; such youngsters are eminently productive given the proper education and management techniques as well as supplemental instruction and services is such are warranted.
4. I mentioned the issues with 2008/09 state tests. Bob Cox has the data results and he will see that it is atypical and whatever the cause for it; be it the construction of the tests, the balance between short answers and essays, the scaling employed, or the level threshold --- whatever it turns out to be --- it will be changed and very soon so I am informed by the state and the federal departments involved.
5. I am very curious at the approach to essentially exclude findings from the entire middle school structure. I want to see more on 6th and 7th grade performance especially given some of the advances made in our TESOL schools. What I also don’t like is the failure to provide proper learning climates and experience school professionals to our most at risk kids. Unless it has changed, Kaleidoscope was meant for the best and brightest; they were pulled out of a normal classroom setting and exposed to more advanced learning applications. That is wrong-headed on many levels – the opposite should have been put in effect. The kids in most need should have been pulled out and placed with skilled and experience educators and drilled on fundamentals and so forth. The acceptable performers should have stayed in home room and I am sure that the typical New Rochelle teacher would not have too much difficulty dealing with brighter children. A similar approach; one stressing remediation – should be employed in middle school to address the needs of the most needy children – raging hormones combined with being lost or neglected in a classroom setting is a recipe for failure if not disaster.
6. I don’t understand why so little attention is paid to the “level 2 achiever. This is a particular pet peeve of mine. Level 2 means essentially satisfying part of the core requirements. An interesting exercise for Bob or anyone else interested in this sort of thing is to look at the percentage of kids in Level 2 especially comparing Isaac to Leonard. These are “at risk” kids; not as bad as Level 1, but in some trouble and amenable with proper corrective action, to be turned in a more positive direction. The “dumbing down” of passing scores on NYS tests is, to my way of thinking, a great disservice to our students. The pressure of “No Child Left Behind” funding, for example, has led to simplistic actions on the part of many school districts, New Rochelle included, and even with this lowering of expectations, too many students find a home in Level 2.
7. Our District does not do near enough to look at “best practices” in other Districts. I think that Arne Duncan has the proper terminal objective – keep as many kids in school as possible and get them to graduate and have sufficient performance indicators to get into university. I realize the nurture and nature problems, the negative impact of technology on kids, peer pressure and the like. But each of these constraints has an upside or a half full glass if we search for it. New Rochelle has more than its share of good teachers who understand this and not enough good administrators to build this into the educational infrastructure. Again, check into best practices.
8. I have personally checked into another area to eliminate the overly glib response you often get from districts – we are forced to “teach to the test” and not be creative in teaching our youngsters. This is patent nonsense! I have examined NYS tests and did a comparative analysis to course curricula for the grade and subject matter. Guess what! They pretty much match as they should. Any curriculum specialist worth h/her salt ought to be able to set terminal and interim learning objectives to meet year-end expectations. Of course you need to sacrifice some of the so-called creativity which is often using videos, politically correct construction of some content area and an unwillingness or inability to discern difference and similarities within a classroom in terms of individual capability. Korostoff’s presentation paradigmatically suggests its classroom parallel and, as I understand it, he is in charge of elementary level curricula. I can only hope his efforts there are much more straightforward, clear, and supportive of behavioral change as opposed to attitude adjustment.
I am disappointed, no upset at what I have seen in the Korostoff Report. It is unfocused, often incorrect, more often shows unwarranted intrusions into uncharted waters. As Voltaire put it, “define your terms” and I see little of that.
I am also not at all certain of why this report was undertaken in the first place. Is this a mandate from the trustees? Is this really what they expect in terms of a “how are we doing” in our middle schools.
Before he left office, Dick Mills had to respond from many media and professional inquiries into the serendipitous findings of 2008/09 versus prior years as well as the questionable tests employed. One critic demonstrated that the ELA construction was such that you could literally guess on short answers, pretty much ignore essays and get a passing grade. I am not sure that is true, but I have seen the tests and they are poorly themed, constructed, and simply, unacceptable for preparing our kids for upcoming SATS, even Regents.
The Korostoff Report is rife with errors of Commission as well as Omission. In sum, not a job one expects from a senior manager in the Education system here.
I am satisfied with the improvements in NYS’s efforts to communicate to all districts the need to align their instruction to grade by grade curriculum. I am not at all satisfied with test construction and methodology. I would like to get much more information on the method employed by the New Rochelle District on test marking process.
Given the history of our District, I wonder whether there has been any forced transfer system in the middle schools. The total populations have pretty much equaled out; I would like to know if, for whatever reason, “at risk”, lower scoring demographics, or whatever the case, kids were transferred from Isaac Young to Albert Leonard.
I have heard anecdotally that improvements in recent years at Isaac Young were attributable to classes on Saturday. Is that it? If so, or even if not so, what has been the outcomes in terms of numbers attending, expectations codified at the beginning of the summer, how measured at the end of the summer and so forth. More, I would hope, than a grunt from the principle on this key area.
Thank you Bob Cox for your work and I hope this adds a little to your efforts on all of our behalf.