Sunday, March 15, 2015

Not all will have to pay for all-day kindergarten

Read it online here at ThisWeekNews.com

Tuesday March 3, 2015 8:54 PM

Superintendent John Kellogg updated Westerville school board members last week on the district's plans for all-day kindergarten, which will start this fall.

A lottery to determine enrollment in the 260 spots to be offered in the program's first year likely will mirror the district's current magnet school lottery.

For example, the first student selected from the lottery will choose which school they will go to for all-day kindergarten. The all-day program will be offered in six elementary school buildings that have the space, plus six classroom units at the now-shuttered Longfellow Elementary School.

Transportation will be provided but that will not automatically become the child's future home school.

Kellogg also clarified the sliding scale of tuition that was agreed upon at the last board meeting.

The scale will be very similar to the one that is already in place for the free or reduced-price lunch program.

Meaning, those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch will not have to pay tuition for all-day kindergarten. Other families will pay up to $300 a month for the all-day kindergarten program.

"This will hopefully be easy for families to understand because of the familiar forms that will be required and it's an easily understood benchmark," Kellogg said.

He reported that there have been two core planning committee meetings since the last board meeting, Feb. 9.

At the planning meetings, issues including staffing, facility maintenance, food service and transportation were discussed.

Kellogg said the most complicated part of preparing for all-day kindergarten has been filling staffing needs.

He told board members at their meeting Feb. 23 that the district is looking at posting a principal position soon and hopes to fill the 10 teaching positions with internal transfer applicants as well as new hires.

Testing update

Also at the Feb 23 meeting, Scott Ebbrecht, the district's director of alternative education and assessment, shared a report on 2015 state and district assessments with the school board.

He explained how spring standardized testing was supposed to start Feb. 20 but was delayed because of a snow day that Friday.

Teachers and staff came together and made the necessary accommodations to delay the start of testing until the following Monday, Feb. 23.

Unlike in previous years, some of this spring's standardized tests are computer-based.

From what he observed, students did not seem to be mind taking tests using computers, he said.

"About 80 percent of the classrooms I went in preferred using computers," Ebbrecht said.

Students are primarily using the district's 2,700 Google Chromebooks.

Ebbrecht said he was pleased to report that on the first day of testing, there was not a single technology issue that could not be overcome.

In addition to being taken on a computer, the new test features questions that could have multiple correct answers, depending on how students justify their answers.

Adjusting to the new standardized tests brought several obstacles, such as acquiring enough computers, finding available rooms, training staff, accommodating IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), and receiving delayed test results.

He said that officials originally expected to get results back from the computer-based tests in June but recently were told that they would not be available until November.

After reporting on how the new testing is going so far, Ebbrecht said the state is requiring districts to complete too much standardized testing -- a sentiment expressed by school board members over the past few months.

"I believe we need to reduce how much time is spent testing. I think it's ridiculous and I appreciate the efforts to reduce that time. We believe in assessment but not to this extent," he said.

Board member Richard Bird echoed Ebbrecht's frustration with the standardized tests.

"I'm frustrated at the lack of consistent communication from the Ohio Department of Education and how they continue to blame local districts," he said. "To our teachers, thank you for struggling through this for our kids."

Board member Carol French asked whether students could opt out of the standardized tests and Ebbrecht explained that under current law -- though there have been legislative efforts to make a change -- that is not an option.

However, 64 students, less than 1 percent of students taking the tests, did choose not to take the tests, he said.

School officials explained to those parents that since this is a new test, the consequences of not taking an exam required for graduation cannot be known for sure.

The students who opted out of the test will count as zeros, which could negatively affect the district in the future.

Board member Nancy Nestor-Baker said the board will continue to do whatever it can to minimize the burden of standardized testing.

"I'm angry about the position the state has put us in. I am awed by what teachers have done to prepare for this with such short notice. This is not an argument that any of us should back down from," she said.

Despite the new standardized tests and the accompanying obstacles, Ebbrecht remained positive.

"We have executed very well under these circumstances, dealing with a new test and new conditions," he said. "Our students are not guinea pigs. They are pioneers."