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PMHS principal details Math plan

Strategies for boosting NECAP scores include new, grant-funded teacher

June 08, 2010
ALTON — A new grant-funded teaching position and a new focus on assessments highlighted the aggressive two-year Math plan unveiled last week by Prospect Mountain High School Principal Jay Fitzpatrick.

With Prospect Mountain now designated by the state as a School in Need of Improvement, or SINI, after not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on the Math portion of the statewide NECAP exam for the past two years, Fitzpatrick and his fellow administrators were asked to develop an action plan for improving students' Math scores that will be submitted to the Department of Education.

Presenting the plan to the JMA board during its June 1 meeting, Fitzpatrick explained that the administration has two main goals in mind — increasing overall student performance in Math, and increasing the percentage of juniors who score within the top two categories on the NECAP Math exam (Proficient and Proficient with Distinction).

Accomplishing those goals, he said, will mean implementing a series of new strategies aimed at boosting Math scores.

The first key strategy, he explained, will be to ensure that by the end of the 2010-11 school year, all Math courses offered at Prospect Mountain use the same assessments (such as mid-year and final exams).

The development of common assessments, Fitzpatrick said, will give Math teachers "simple, baseline data" they can use to compare notes and help each other address problems that might arise.

If, for example, a teacher found that 60 percent of his or her students did not answer a particular question correctly, he added, that teacher could go to another faculty member whose class fared better on the test and ask for advice on presenting the concept in a different way.

The process of developing common assessments, he said, will also involve efforts to make all formative assessments (periodic tests given by teachers throughout the year) "100 percent common" during the 2011-12 school year, and archive the results in the main office for reference by teachers.

By the end of the 2011-12 school year, Fitzpatrick said, all formative assessments will also contain at least one NECAP-style question, preferably content-specific.

Board Vice Chair Eunice Landry questioned the new focus on assessments, suggesting that what takes place in the classroom might also be playing into students' NECAP scores.

"Shouldn't what you're teaching come first?" she asked.

Fitzpatrick assured Landry that the high school's Math curriculum is "solid."

The problem, he said, lies in the fact that the assessment methods used by Math teachers haven't been aligned as closely to the curriculum as they should have.

Board member Diane Beijer asked who at Prospect Mountain is responsible for analyzing NECAP results to determine why, for example, a large percentage of students might have answered a particular question incorrectly.

Fitzpatrick replied that while Math teachers do look at their students' results, "what we do is not all about the NECAPs."

Beijer suggested, however, that a closer look at the results might help teachers improve their methodology in the classroom.

Suggesting that the remaining components of the action plan might address her concerns, Fitzpatrick returned to the presentation, explaining that the final step toward a new assessment system would be the implementation of quarterly assessments in addition to the mid-year and final exams teachers currently use to gauge student progress.

Along with a new emphasis on assessments, he said, improving NECAP scores will also involve a data-driven approach to instruction.

With that in mind, he explained, the plan calls for all Math teachers to receive basic-level training in NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) data analysis by the end of the 2010-11 school year.

NWEA training, he said, will enable teachers to pinpoint the areas in which students are weakest, and provide those students with more personalized instruction, such as homework assignments that are geared toward their particular problem area.

Reduction in class sizes will be another key aspect of the plan to improve NECAP scores, Fitzpatrick said, proposing that a new Math teacher be hired for the 2010-11 school year using federal Rural Education Achievement Program (or REAP) funding in order to reduce class sizes in "high demand areas" like Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.

The smaller class sizes, he explained, would enable teachers to devote more time to personalized instruction using data from NWEA or other common assessments.

Superintendent Paul Bartolomucci commented that he and Business Administrator Chuck Stuart had investigated the availability of REAP funding, and were recently informed that Prospect Mountain is eligible to receive funding for at least the next two years.

Another facet of the action plan presented by Fitzpatrick was to give students more exposure to Math through a new Math computer lab that would be open daily during and after school.

He has also considered the idea of having students report to the Math lab for practice or tutoring as an alternative to Saturday detentions, he said.

The final component of the action plan, he said, would involve streamlining Math resources by using a portion of the school's FY10 end-of-year funds to purchase a new textbook series for Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry.

Pointing out that the textbook currently being used by Geometry classes at Prospect Mountain was published in 1998, Fitzpatrick explained that more up-to-date books would provide teachers and students with access to online lesson plans, activities, and assessment tools they could use to augment what takes place in the classroom.

Using textbooks in the same series, he said, would also help to avoid confusion on the part of students by keeping language and terminology consistent.

"The goal is to make it seamless," he said, explaining that the series administrators at Prospect Mountain have been looking at would work well with the Math programs at both the Alton Central School and Barnstead Elementary School.

"I want to make sure, at the end of the day, that I can put forth every opportunity and I want to make sure that we use every resource available," he said, adding that while the action plan might seem aggressive, he felt it was "important for us to get aggressive" over the next two years.

If all goes well, he added, NECAP scores should start to show signs of improvement within three years.

At the conclusion of last week's meeting, the board members present voted 8-1, with Landry dissenting, to approve the purchase of the new textbooks at a cost of $26,000.

The board also voted unanimously to support the hiring of the new Math teacher, pending final approval of the candidate selected by the administration and receipt of sufficient REAP funding.

Funding request prompts new policy

A request from Fitzpatrick for funding in support of a vocational student's upcoming trip to the national Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) conference prompted some board members to call for the creation of a new policy to cover such cases.

Fitzpatrick asked the board for a contribution of $930 to cover the student's airfare, hotel accommodations, and food during the upcoming competition, which will be held in Florida.

While she felt it was "wonderful" to see a rising number of students qualifying for national competitions or prestigious awards (three so far this year), Beijer suggested that if that trend continues, it might be time for the board's Policy subcommittee to put a new procedure in place capping the amount that can be spent to send students to competitions hosted by organizations like HOSA.

Apologizing for the sudden influx of funding requests over the past few months, Fitzpatrick explained that this is the first year multiple students from Prospect Mountain have "made it this far."

Voicing his agreement with Beijer, board member Keith Couch moved that the board contribute $750 toward the vocational student's airfare and hotel accommodations.

Food, he said, should come out of the student's own pocket, as was the case with trips the board approved earlier this year.

After voting unanimously in favor of Couch's motion, the board also voted to ask that the Policy committee put together a set of guidelines for extracurricular funding requests.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board approved the use of $4,200 in end-of-year funds to purchase new supplies, such as rock samples, diagrams of the earth, and maps, in support of the Physical Science program.

All remaining end-of-year funding requests have been forwarded to the Buildings and Grounds subcommittee for review.

The board also approved the disposal of several VHS videotapes recently deleted from the high school library's catalog, which will be sent to the town libraries in Alton and Barnstead; approved the class trip proposal submitted by the Class of 2011 (which will be going to The Great Escape amusement park in Lake George, N.Y.); and approved the hiring of a new Physical Science teacher.

Next meeting

The board's next meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday, June 15, at 6:30 p.m. in the high school media center.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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