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School committee, local legislators talk funding

December 23, 2013

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The school committee and administrators met with state legislators Teresa Tanzi and Dawson Hodgson Tuesday to discuss funding options and keep current with legislation and discussion in the state house regarding education.

Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow began by presenting the three items that the group decided to focus its attention on: inclusion of group home aid in the state, PARCC assessment readiness, and transportation.

“The money that we get now doesn’t even slightly cover our costs,” said Stringfellow regarding group home aid. “Right now, most of those youngsters are not being educated in our school department. It is the intent to always educate all youngsters at a general education setting. We really require some help from the state. What we do receive, although declining, is necessary.”

She continued to discuss PARCC assessment readiness – specifically, the hardware that would be required to administer the online portion of the test without requiring students to bring in their own devices.
“The PARCC assessment measures student progress and growth,” said Stringfellow. “We have chosen to participate as a pilot district, as we were in a very good position. Other districts were not as fortunate or not as thoughtful planners”.

Despite this notion, others did not believe that the district was in a very good position for the PARCC assessment at all.

“I am still in disbelief that we can pull this off,” said Tanzi. “I can’t imagine this coming off without additional funding. What is the actual cost?”

Stringfellow, after making some calculations, provided a figure of $400,000 to provide 25 laptops to each core teacher at Curtis Corner Middle School, which wouldn’t cover all of the students.

“The high school would be significantly more,” she said. “We can only hope to partially fund technology in laptop form. We have been shown that tablets will not be usable for PARCC.”

The conversation turned toward general standardized testing when Councilperson Jonathan Daly-LaBelle voiced his frustrations.

“A lot of this stems from Race to the Top,” he said. “How much of these costs are covered by those funds? What does it cost? Is anybody tracking it? It seems that nobody wants to talk about it. We are using a lot of money and a lot of resources implementing these things. This test is pulling away from student learning in general.”

He continued, aiming a question toward Tanzi. “Is there anything that the legislature can do?”

After explaining her shared frustration and explaining that she has been approached by several groups and individuals with concerns about the NECAPs, she responded.

“We could pass a law that says (the NECAPs) will not be used. We would have the final say.”

“You are hearing a lot of concerns,” said Daly-LaBelle. “Do you see it going to that level?”

“The speaker is watching this incredibly closely. He shares our concern.” Tanzi responded. “Nearly half of the students are at risk of not graduating. There is a menu of choices that students who are not passing the NECAPs have to choose from, but it is not a realistic menu.”

She continued, “just from the work I have done, I can not even fathom the cost. I will never know the full costs of the NECAPs being the high-stakes test. We could never quantify the loss of freedom that teachers have. There are true costs to these policy changes.”

The conversation ended with a note from the superintendent.

“There are opportunities for youngsters to show growth outside of NECAP testing. Regardless of the high-stakes quality, PARCC will be the state assessment,” she said. “We need to budget for this.”

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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