Talking education for the 21st century

| 22 Feb 2012 | 02:10

    As state changes the rules, Monroe-Woodbury refocuses on students, By Bob Quinn Central Valley - For more than an hour, Monroe-Woodbury Middle School Principal Elsie Rodriguez outlined the district’s efforts to prepare young people for the future. Sure, some of the phrases and words have been bandied about for years in classrooms, board rooms and on editorial pages. Throw in test scores, assessments and “No Child Left Behind” and you’ve have a bureaucrat’s lexicon of education that’s defined public schooling in the last decade. Few if any of those phrases describe how one child learns. And that’s what made Wednesday night’s discussion different. It fell to Rodriquez to articulate for Superintendent Ed Mehrhof’s administration how the district is already reacting to new ground rules for testing students and assessing what they are learning. A new word to consider when talking about education will be mastery, as in how well does a student comprehends a subject, rather than simply being proficient in reciting a fact or two - or many - by rote. “The state wants to know if students understand what they are taught,” Rodriguez said. “This is not to teach to the test.” The old formulas, she added, won’t work anymore. But equally important, she added, is that students “are much more capable.” Some background In the last year or some, there has been a movement across the country to create national “Common Core Standards” as the guide post to prepare students for the economy of the 21st century. More than 40 states, including New York, already have signed on. What this has meant, however, is a re-calibration of standardized test scores, which have been the benchmark for educators for the last decade or so. The new standards from the state now show that nearly a quarter of the eighth-graders in Monroe-Woodbury are not proficient in math or English. Test scores, Rodriguez noted, provide “snap shots” on performance. Some children just test poorly, or they had a bad day when the exam was given. One test score is not a complete reflection, she added, “not an accurate reflection on a student’s ability.” Graduation rates are another area of concern. While state education officials have embargoed the exact graduation figures for all districts across New York, Monroe-Woodbury’s graduation has remained flat. However, Rodriguez said graduation rates among Hispanic students and poor students are disturbingly low. What’s being done State Education officials will not release the specific guidelines for the core curriculum they want until early in 2011. But Rodriguez and High School Principal David Bernsley discussed some of the changes already underway. The changes begin with assessing what a child needs to succeed, regardless of whether he or she is in the Honor Society, requires special assistance, remediation or help juggling classroom work with a job. These are conversations specific to each student because “children learn differently,” Rodriguez said. The conversations, the two principals said, take place between administrators and department heads, between department chairs and the teachers, between guidance counselors and students. And with parents. “As I told the parents at my (Middle School) open house,” Rodriguez said, “‘You moved to Monroe-Woodbury because we have good teachers and good schools.’” There are immediate goals, such as finding ways to help seniors who may not graduate. And there are longer-range efforts that connect what a child learns in first grade to what he or she understands on graduation day. School Board members offered their support, be it in lobbying on the local level or in Albany or assisting outreach efforts in the community to reach Hispanic families and their children. School Board President Dr. Michael DiGeronimo ended the meeting on this note: “What I am starting to hear,” he said, “is that this is all about students.”