Farwell BOE blames MEAP scores on finances

By Cathy Taylor

Review Correspondent

Student MEAP scores were the topic of concern at the April 1st Farwell Board of Education meeting.

Farwell Middle School Principal Catheryn Gross addressed the BOE at their Monday night meeting to express her dismay over the lack of progress that her third through eighth grade students have made over the course of the school year.

According to Gross, proficiency targets are very important to maintain, and ideally students’ scores should exceed the recommended proficiency levels and increase each year.

While most grade levels hit their respective proficiency targets in Mathematics, some were slightly under in Reading. Very few scores across the board reflected significant improvement.

“Of course, when you take a look at the MEAP data, it only reflects part of the story,” commented Gross. “While we do have the AMO target information for all students at this point, we still don’t have the targets for our subgroups. And unfortunately, we may never get them.”

Farwell Schools Superintendent Carl Seiter expressed his dismay over the circumstances surrounding the lackluster proficiency results. He linked the MEAP performances to the continually disintegrating school budget along with the lack of clear instruction from the state as to the new evaluation regulations.

According to Seiter, “The state currently pilots four separate evaluation systems for our teachers. Back when they made changes to the new laws, they were supposed to recommend a single evaluation system within a year’s time. That deadline has long come and gone and we are still left with those four separate systems. So we still don’t have clear direction from the state as to what is expected of us.”

In a rather emotional tone of voice, Gross announced, “Our teachers are beat up and stressed out. When they are constantly worried about what may happen and the uncertainty of their employment, it ultimately affects our kids.”

Gross added, “When we go into this next school year, our teachers need to have a clear understanding of our evaluation system. The new changes are extremely overwhelming and they need to know up front what exactly is expected of them. No surprises.”

“Every year we sit here thinking desperately about how we can be creative and provide our staff with the tools they need to give our students an adequate education,” Seiter replied. “And every year we end up having to go to the staff and ask them for more ways to cut back.”

Seiter continued, “The media comes out with headlines announcing a 2 percent increase in school funding—what a bunch of malarkey! Farwell’s foundation allowance is being decreased for the next school year—again!”

Frustrated, Seiter concluded, “The more I think about it, the more I think we should run this place the way it should be ran and then shut the doors when we are all done! All because of money, the quality is just not there for our students because of what we are forced to do to survive as a school system.”

According to Gross, one of the hardest hit groups in the K through 8 grades is Special Education. Mostly due to the inequity of funding between Michi-fundschool districts, the department no longer can afford the staffing it needs to function adequately. Farwell no longer has access to the resources it so desperately needs to successfully educate their special needs students, yet they are expected to attain the same level achievement as any other school in the state.

Ms. Gross announced to the Board that she is fiercely determined to turn all of these deficiencies around.

“Each department has reviewed the MEAP data and have identified specific objectives and what some of the things are that may have been missed in the education of our kids,” Gross stated. “We are not only considering the proficiency targets, but also looking at what specifi cally our students are not mastering.”

Gross plans to schedule data meetings next month for the purpose of grouping some students in academic enrichment programs for review. She feels this will enable these students who are deficient in certain areas to hit the ground running when school begins this fall.

After the start of the 2013-14 school year, Gross plans to place students who are struggling into academic enrichment groups where they will receive intensely focused instruction. By keeping the student engaged for the entire hour, Gross believes that they will be able to effectively overcome their deficiencies.

Gross also plans to approach the Board at a later date to ask for additional Special Ed staffing. “I don’t know how we could accomplish the hiring of more staff,” she stated. “But I do know that what we are doing now is just not working for our kids.”

Other suggestions made by Gross included educating students about the importance of the MEAP tests. She stated that the majority of students she has spoken to said they do not take the tests seriously. Also, Gross emphasized the importance of teachers being placed in their appropriate grade level as well as teaching the subject matter for which they were trained. Due to lack of adequate staffi ng, this sometimes is not the case.

In other Board business, the retirement/resignation of DeeAnn Eichorn was accepted with much regret. Also, the motion was made and unanimously approved to push forward with plans to renovate the Timberland Alternative Education facility.

The Board agreed that further discussion concerning the project was unnecessary. They plan to continue with the design submitted by DK Design Group, with the exception of eliminating the overhead storage space. This will reduce the estimated cost of the project to $84,340.00.

The plans will be sent to the state for approval. Upon approval, they will then begin accepting bids for the actual construction project.

Board President Rose Sharp adjourned the meeting at 8:05 PM.

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