Saturday, July 21, 2018
Education

Workshop set to discuss teacher concerns with end-of-year exams

In the final days of classes, Pasco County students took district-designed course finals, tests that exist primarily because state law requires data to help evaluate teacher effectiveness.

As they trickle in, the results haven't been pretty. Similar to first-semester district finals, the exams are bringing in average scores in the 60s and lower, according to teachers who have seen the information.

And they think they know why. The tests, they are telling officials, do not measure what students are learning.

The officials are listening. They called for a workshop on the district finals to examine the teachers' concerns and discuss whether a new approach or philosophy is needed. But they declined to criticize the model, saying they wanted more information first.

The criticisms have been stark.

"The test results (when even available) have never informed my instruction the following year," Sunlake High creative writing and English teacher Amy Ramos wrote to the superintendent. "It's just been a reality we have endured. Never have my students felt it was a fair measure of their growth and achievements. Never have these tests asked them to write a single word."

Others had similar complaints.

Superintendent Kurt Browning said he would not minimize the concerns. But he also said the district had taken several steps to validate the tests and ensure that teachers know what standards will be assessed.

"We are not telling teachers how to teach," he said. "We are telling them what standards their kids have got to master."

BUDGET CUTS: After warning that the Legislature's proposed education budget would "cast a chilling effect" on Pasco County schools, district officials have begun taking steps to offset what they projected to be an $8.7 million shortfall between anticipated revenue and expenses.

The human resources department put an immediate freeze on instructional trainer and learning design coach jobs.

"Although hiring is frozen, these positions remain a priority, and district departments will begin running pool advertisements for these positions. This will allow the district to proceed with maintaining a robust pool of qualified candidates for your future advertisements," HR department director Christine Pejot wrote to principals.

With the use of Title I funds potentially changing, the School Board last week also decided to scale back several summer programs so they do not extend into the next budget cycle.

As a result, all district-funded Title I extended-year programs, all middle and high school Title I summer allocations, and the popular summer environmental and science camps for Title I schools will be cut back to four weeks, ending June 30.

Browning has been meeting with department heads, looking for ways to cut costs or increase revenue. One idea that has come up involves getting more free breakfasts to eligible students, which could bring the district more than $1 million per year in federal reimbursements.

The School Board plans several budget workshops as it works to adopt a spending plan by fall.

SCHOOL ZONES: Having lost their case challenging the Pasco County School Board's revised west-side middle and high school attendance zones, the complaining parents asked administrative judge D.R. Alexander to delay the implementation while they appeal his decision in court.

Without explanation, Alexander has ruled against the request.

In his brief order, he noted only that he had reviewed the plaintiff's petition and the school district's response before making a decision.

The district opposed the motion for six reasons, not the least of which was that its budget and student assignment efforts for the new school year would be threatened by a stay.

LEADERSHIP: Melissa Bidgood, currently assistant principal of Wiregrass Elementary School, has been picked to lead Veterans Elementary School for the next school year.

Bidgood replaces Gretchen Rudolph-Fladd, who recently transferred to Centennial Elementary School.

Bidgood joined the district in 2004, teaching at Sunray and later Sand Pine elementary schools. She became a literacy coach in 2012 and moved into an assistant principal job in 2014.

Her promotion marks the completion of a shifting of school leaders throughout the district. More than a dozen schools now have new people in charge.

The moves require School Board approval, which could come in June.

DONE DEAL: Pasco County's teachers and school-related personnel ended a yearlong contract dispute last week with near unanimous support of an agreement that gives them 3 percent raises, retroactive to the start of the school year.

The United School Employees of Pasco announced that 96 percent of teachers who voted, and 98 percent of school-related personnel, backed the plan that district and union representatives hashed out in late April. The School Board approved the agreement on May 2.

The union did not get its way on its request to guarantee teachers on annual contract an added year of employment if they get an evaluation rating of "effective" or better and have no disciplinary problems on their record.

Teachers and school-related personnel should get a single check of the full amount owed on June 30. Non-bargaining employees, who received 2.65 percent raises in the fall, will get a check for the balance up to 3 percent on July 14.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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