Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Part 2

Have you kept up with the article and comments in LTM on the former LCPS Deaf and Hard of Hearing teacher? I mentioned this topic in a blog after I attended the last Special Ed Town Hall Mtg in May of 2009.

I find the whole story disturbing, but many of the comments really made me wonder about language and communication. Are deaf/hoh students eligible to receive services through the preschool program to learn ASL/ESL? How do hearing parents communicate with non-hearing children if they don't all learn to sign? Who helps parents decide if their child's first language is ASL or not? With all of the charts that are available for middle and high school students and their families to choose a diploma track, is there a similar chart available for deaf and hard of hearing students and their families to help them choose an academic future?

And aren't all students required to take the writing SOL? With all of the technology we use, the poor written communication skills of some of the posters was very surprising to me.

Do the music, art & PE teachers at this elementary school include these students? What is the least restrictive environment if none of the general education students in the school can communicate the most basic information to their peers?

It will be interesting to see if there are more comments at the next Special Ed Town Hall Mtg this coming April.

Know Your Audience

I got testy at the Special Ed Advisory Committee meeting last night.

First of all, the topic changed at the last minute from Before and After School Activities to Adequate Yearly Progress. I've been all over AYP, including watching the school board meeting where the results were discussed and noting the comment that Students with Disabilities "only" need to improve from a 76% to a 79% pass rate in reading next year to achieve safe harbor and make AYP for the district. The reading target last year for all students was 81%, and the reading target next year for all students is 89%.

Now I really like attending the SEAC meetings; I've learned an awful lot on a variety of topics including Precision Teaching, Differentiation of Instruction and Behavior Intervention Plans. It makes me a better parent and a better IEP team member. It also helped me to be a more effective SEAC PTA representative last year. But did someone expect me to forgot all of that and sit there and play nice?

Last night's presenter was Dr. Stephan Knobloch, Director of Research. I have no doubt that he knows these numbers inside and out. But when you are making a presentation to the parents of the lowest achieving subgroup in the district, you need to modify your remarks from what you would say to the school board. No child left behind is specifically our child - our son or daughter.

To me, when you have a 76% pass rate in reading, that means that almost 25% of students with disabilities are unable to demonstrate that they can read on grade level. Every other subgroup, including those with limited English and the disadvantaged, hit the target of a 81% pass rate. What is going on? And how, specifically, are you going to improve the performance of these students? I've learned how you can do this, but when are you actually going to do it? Or does it not matter unless and until we don't hit our mile marker? We have about 6,000 students with disabilities and a little over half of them took a reading SOL last year - that means that there are about 800 disabled students who failed the reading SOL. Most of these 800 students live with a parent who can read and with at least one sibling who can read.

Teach all of our children to read! You know, use precision teaching, differentiation, Stetson and a well formulated and implemented IEP. You have the tools, and you have gone to pains to let us know that you have the tools - use them!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Belmont What?

As if we don't have enough confusion in the county right now with the proposed conversion of Belmont Ridge middle school to a possible high school, The Washington Post added an new dimension with the front page article on The Loudoun Extra about a teacher from ... Belmont Ridge Elementary school.

They have changed the online article to read Belmont Station elementary, but here's a link to the picture that still says Belmont ridge.

Congratulations to Sean Griffin!

Read a local article here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Before We Move On...AYP Results

The Loudoun County School Board has a very full plate this school year, but I don't want to forget what the Commonwealth of Virginia expects of LCPS this year. Here are the Annual Yearly Progress charts that were recently presented to the board:

AYP Progress Safe Harbor

The reading scores are for all students in grades 3 - 8 and grade 11.
The math scores are for all students in grades 3 - 11 or until they have taken 3 high school level math courses (they could be in 9th or 10th grade - tests end with Algebra II).

The students who were in 3rd grade in 2004/05, were in 8th grade in 2009/10.

The reading scores are pretty easy to understand, but without more information it is difficult to interpret the math scores. Clearly math scores went down in all groups in 2005/06 and did not completely rebound until 2007/08.

On the reading chart:
  • Black and Hispanic students started out at the same level (71%) in 2004/05, took different paths, but ended up at the same level (85%) five years later.
  • Black students have demonstrated no improvement for three years.
  • Limited English students and Students with Disabilities started very close together, but Students with Disabilities are now lagging behind all other groups and are still scoring in the 70's. This is disheartening as disabled students who cannot perform at the grade level of their peers have had alternative tests available to indicate their improvement.

To put it another way, 24% of disabled students who are expected to read at grade level are unable to indicate that they can do so.

There is a whole lot of information not available from these charts. There are two questions that are uppermost in my mind:
  • How many children fall into more than one of the non-white subgroups; specifically how many disabled students are in each of the other groups?
  • How are disabled students performing by disability group; is there a particular disability that is either over or under-performing?

The gaps between non-white sub-groups have narrowed, as have the gaps between white students and all of the other sub-groups.

I'm wondering if this chart makes the case for the legitimacy of No Child Left Behind. Would school districts have made a concerted effort to raise the reading scores of poor, minority and disabled students by 15 to 20 percentage points if it hadn't been mandated by law?

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Get an Answer Tonight!

From the Agenda under Information Items:

The School Board and the Board of Supervisors agreed to fund engineering and design studies to explore locations for an elementary school (ES-22), a middle school (MS-6), and a high school (HS-8). Staff was tasked with the following assignments:

1. Locate an elementary school on the County-owned Farmwell property;
2. Construct a middle school on the Newton-Lee Elementary School site (with and without the additional five acres of land from Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, NVRPA);
3. Convert Belmont Ridge Middle School to a high school.

Professional architectural and engineering consultants have prepared a comprehensive report on the aforementioned tasks that will be shared with the public at the meeting.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Put a High School Here!

Remember the boundary war over Stone Bridge High School that ended with Freshman in Lansdowne going to Tuscarora until a new high school could be located and built? Remember how the Board of Supervisors is funding studies to see where schools in the north Ashburn area might go. Remember how these studies require outside consultants to tell us what, in some cases, is obvious - like the feasibility of turning Belmont Ridge Middle School into a high school is nil?

Put a high school here: One Loudoun!
The following articles each report that the One Loudoun property is in foreclosure and going to auction.

Maybe we (the taxpayers) could get a deal!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thoughts on the LCPS Budget

I have kept myself informed on this year's budget process as it has bounced back and forth between the Loudoun County School Board and the Board of Supervisors. I have either watched the proceedings live or on the webcast and have read the local papers and many of the local blogs. In my opinion, this article in Leesburg Today is the best summary of the most recent School Board meeting.

And here are my thoughts, in no particular order, on what has and hasn't happened:

FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary School) - Little Dude is finishing the fifth grade, so he has had the opportunity to experience the entirety of this enrichment program throughout his time in elementary school. And I'm glad that he has had this opportunity. Is the program perfect? No, it's not. I don't like not having the chance to meet his teacher or to have access to the syllabus; I don't know if they are learning the language and culture of Spain (a total waste) or of Mexico and Central America (a more practical application). But he denies that it has been the same every year: "We learned about insects this year." He came home with a test that none of us knows if it was a real test or a practice test and only got one answer incorrect. But the picture of the little girl holding a dog gave away the answer to one of the questions. I do wonder about the attention of the children, but it doesn't sound like they are misbehaving. He knows more of a second language at eleven years old than either of our older kids knew at fourteen. Fix it and keep it.

JV Lacrosse: If there is a varsity program, there should be a JV program.

Freshman sports: When did this become more important than high school summer school? If there is a choice between the two, the SB picked the wrong one, but I'll get to summer school in a few minutes. Am I the only one who sees that the natural compromise is to have freshman sports WITHIN THE COUNTY? Aren't we going to have 11 high schools this fall? Can't we keep the games in the county and eliminate all the transportation costs by having the players report to the various fields at specific times? Chairman Stevens may see this as micromanaging, but I see it as compromise.

Gifted and Talented and Special Education: I am sooooo relieved that these parents were not pitted against each other, especially since there are children who are in both. THANK YOU!

Shared Principals at the 4 smallest schools: It sounds like there are two principals who are retiring, so this might work out without some weird arrangement.

Reading Specialists: Now come on, how can anyone reasonably say that we are all about educating the county's children and then propose to cut reading specialists. Reading is the single most fundamental skill that our children are taught. Glad that common sense prevailed.

SAT Prep classes: Ms Giggles took this class, probably when she was a junior and the writing part of the SAT was new. It stunk! Half of getting an above average score is understanding how the test itself is scored and this information was never relayed to the students - you can't guess on this test as you are scored down for wrong answers. If you can't have a class that truly addresses the strategy of successfully taking this test then you have no business offering it AT ALL! You are only raising the hopes of students and parents to offer any class to any student that is only about content. Charging for this is sinful. DUMP IT!

Subsidizing School Lunch Costs: I am not talking about low income students who get free or reduced price lunches, every child needs a minimum level of calories to learn. But why are we reducing the cost of these high fat meals for students who can pay full price? OUR CHILDREN WOULD BE HEALTHIER IF THEY BROUGHT A BAG LUNCH!

Larger Class Sizes: There are particular schools and/or specific grades in even the crowded schools that this will not effect due to the numbers of students per grade. But at Seldens Landing, currently the largest elementary school in the county, this will be awful for some grade levels. Unless and until the decision makers have visited all of the classrooms that currently have 28 students, they should not be allowed to increase it to 29 students. Funny, I haven't seen ANY school board members at Seldens this year! THIS IS THE WORSE DECISION OF THE YEAR!

Assistant Athletic Trainers: Unfunding this was way overdue!

Summer School: First of all, let's get one thing straight - Extended School Year for special education students IS NOT SUMMER SCHOOL. ESY is legally required for specific individual students who will have very serious set backs with a twelve week break, or for that matter, it may even be the two weeks of winter break. I do not feel that it is required of me to give examples of the students who require these services as this is a very personal, confidential and necessary decision for the families involved. Little Dude has a learning disability and our team spent less than a minute deciding that he did not require this level of support. The majority of special ed students do not participate in ESY.

But that does not mean that there are not elementary students who are below grade level in a specific academic area (reading or math) that require extra academic assistance to enter the upcoming year on par with their peers. The elimination of the early back program will affect the reading and math scores of dozens of students in each elementary school. Or more students will be repeating grades than have in the past. Thanks for nothing.

Middle School Summer School: Well it was torturous how we finally got funding for this necessary program, but as the night wore on, it became clear that somehow it was going to be funded. Thank Heavens! But it shouldn't have been so hard.

High School Summer School: And the first citizens that need to enroll are sitting on the dais! Not funding and providing for high school summer school will affect our on time graduation rate, drop out rate and eventually our status among college admissions offices. How do you propose a student who fails a math or science or English class makes that up? If they have failed math or science as a sophomore they can't take both the 10th grade and the 11th grade levels the next year - they didn't learn enough the first time through to be successful taking both the following year! This requires another compromise: provide actual summer school classes for students who made D's or F's in their (non-elective) classes. Students who are taking classes for enrichment purposes can take them online.

I have more to add, but it's too late to do it tonight.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

School Board Boundary Policy

I attended the School Board meeting this week and spoke about the boundary changes. Then I went next door to hear a wonderful presentation on bullying at the Special Education Advisory Committee. When the presentation was complete, I went back to hear the discussion on the boundary policy.

It seems to me that this topic is becoming extremely difficult and time consuming, but I for one don't think it's better - just different.

So, I came home and wrote my own policy. And I'm posting it here. This is a link to board docs and the policy that is under consideration.

FYI - Blue text is my two cents!

§2-32 School Attendance Zones: Policy and Process

A. Authority

The Loudoun County Public Schools is vested with the authority to “provide for the consolidation of schools or redistricting of school boundaries or adopt pupil assignment plans whenever such procedure will contribute to the efficiency or the school division.” [Code of Virginia: Section §22.1-79 (4)]

B. Definitions

Permanent Attendance Zones – LCPS does not provide permanent attendance zones.

Stable Attendance Zones – The School Board strives to provide stable attendance zones for all of the students of LCPS. Stable attendance zones are those that are deemed unlikely to require revision for 5 years.

Temporary Attendance Zones – It may be necessary for the School Board to engage in attendance zone changes that are deemed temporary. This is likely due to the health, safety and instructional needs of students during a period of expanding attendance.

Cluster/Feeder System – LCPS utilizes the feeder system to promote cohesive operational clusters in which students remain with their educational cohorts and staff coordinate and communicate within the cluster. Generally, several elementary schools feed into one middle school, and the middle school feeds directly to the high school. Clusters are identified by the high school in the feed.

Split Feed – Any school that sends students, upon completion of the highest grade level, to more than one cluster or any school that receives students from more than one cluster is considered to have a split feed. All split feed attendance zones are considered to be temporary attendance zones.

Staggered Enrollment/Phasing – The School Board may decide to stagger an attendance zone change through the phasing of incoming classes.

C. Reasons for Considering Attendance Zone Adjustments

The School Board may change an attendance zone in order to maintain or improve operating efficiency and/or in order to maximize instructional effectiveness. In general, adjustments may relieve facility crowding, better utilize existing space, avoid underutilized facilities, mitigate the impact to schools created by demographic imbalances, and better allocate program resources, and/or reduce operating costs.

D. Attendance Zone Change Process

At least annually, the Superintendent will recommend to the School Board options for the transformation of all temporary attendance zones to stable attendance zones. In addition, the Superintendent will evaluate whether or not additional attendance zone changes are to be considered. Typically, the evaluation will take place within the context of the Capital Improvements Program process, but changes may also be recommended at any time to address safety, overcrowding or other concerns. Attendance zone changes may also be initiated at the direction of the School Board. When conditions exist for school attendance zone changes, the Superintendent will recommend to the School Board that options for change be developed. These options will identify schools potentially affected by the attendance zone changes, the means by which the public will be involved in the attendance zone change process and a calendar for the attendance zone change process. The School Board will seek to encourage public participation throughout this process and will hold at least one public hearing prior to the adoption of any attendance zone change recommendation. The School Board will act on the Superintendent’s recommendation, but may modify that recommendation. Finally, if an attendance zone is deemed to be a temporary attendance zone the time frame of the change and the means to transformation to a stable attendance zone will be determined at the time of the change.

E. Factors Considered in Attendance Zone Changes

When changing school attendance zones, the School Board and the Superintendent will consider, but not be limited to, the following criteria whenever possible (alphabetical order):

Demographic characteristics of the student population

Equitable distribution of programs and resources

Minimize future capital and operational budget costs

Minimize long-term use of mobile or modular classrooms

School capacities, new facilities and/or renovations to existing school facilities

School location


Student enrollment projections


The School Board may will consider each of these factors in making an attendance zone change. In the exercise of its authority, the School Board recognizes that it may not be reasonably practicable to reconcile each and every factor in any attendance zone change, but any attendance zone plan adopted by the School Board should be based on the above factors to the greatest extent possible.