At the October 15 meeting of the Highland Board of Education, members of the Board reviewed the results of the New York State Test scores in English Language Arts (ELA) and math for 2019. Superintendent Thomas Bongiovi was pleased to report that the district test results are heading in the right direction, but reminded the Board that the process of improving state scores throughout the district is not a sprint, but a marathon. New York State conducts tests for students in grades 3-8 to determine language and math comprehension. The two-day exam has been widely debated throughout the state, with a large number of students opting out of the exam each year. The high opt-out rate is frustrating to district educators. Teachers and administrators find it difficult to find the weaknesses and strengths in the ELA and math curriculums when only a small number of the total students in each grade is tested.
Despite opt-outs, Highland Central Schools are holding their own comparatively. Participation in the examinations, which hit its lowest levels during the 2013/14 school year, is now on the rise. Of the Highland students who participated in the exams, 42% scored proficient in ELA and 39% in math. These percentages are in line with the State of New York’s overall proficiency percentages of 45% in ELA and 47% in math.
One area that continues to bring district scores down is at the middle school level. As Assistant Superintendent Sarah Dudley-Lemek explained, the drop in overall scores, along with dwindling participation in the exam by middle school students is concerning. In 2019, only 42 out of 141 eligible eighth-grade students sat for the ELA exam compared to 86 out of 123 eligible 3rd graders.
Proficiency in math, according to the 2019 scores, was low at the eighth grade level, with only 3.2% of the total participants scoring a 3 or higher.
Both the elementary and middle schools have developed plans to meet the needs of its students based on the test results. Highland Elementary Principal Joel Freer was excited to report the adoption of the Teachers College Reading and Writing program, which allows students to dive deeper into English studies, and leveled book rooms that give students more literature choices. Highland Middle School Principal Dan Wetzel has increased monitoring of student progress with locally designed tests and the STAR assessments held three times a year. The middle school has also incorporated reading into each school day with a rotating schedule of Stop and Read times. Both schools will be investigating new math programs to give students a greater comprehension of mathematics.
Highland Honors Students of the Month for October
Highland Elementary School is pleased to present 5th grader Scarlett Lovell as their Student of the Month for October 2019. Lovell is honored for her work ethic, her willingness to help her peers, and her love of gardening. Scarlett is active in maintaining and planting the Highland Elementary School garden.
Highland Middle School presented two students as their October Students of the Month. Principal Wetzel honored Luca Rizzo and Pavanti Parikh. The two students showed great courage by stepping up and alerting the middle school administration to a possible social media issue. As a result, their actions directly improved the life of another student.
Highland High School also honored two students for the month of October. Ishanti Bansal and Minh Tran, both seniors, are finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Competitions. The competition includes 16,000 high school students from across the country. Both students also currently have the highest and second highest GPAs in the class of 2020. Along with their academic achievements, their teachers describe them as well rounded, intelligent and humble.
Highland’s Guidance Department Focuses on Student’s Futures
Members of the Highland Central School District Guidance Department presented their goals for the upcoming school year, with a focus on career counseling. Currently, each high school student meets with a member of the guidance team once a year to map out his or her educational path. Board president, Alan Barone, showed an interest in the districts efforts to expose and councel students in non-college paths, such as careers in the trades.
Though 10th grade students have a chance to explore tech paths, the Board expressed concern that the High School may not offer enough electives to prepare students for non-traditional paths. Highland High School Principal William Zimmer, sited five new elective courses available to students this year. However, the ability to offer more courses is limited by the amount of staff available. The Board agreed that time and staffing may hinder efforts in this area. Highland Central School District will need to find creative and innovative ways to give students real world experiences. For example, a new program at Highland High School gives students exposure to local businesses and careers in the trades through a monthly Lunch and Learn. Over lunch, students ask questions to a local business owner or community member. Last month, students sat down with Herb Litts to discuss local government and business ownership.