By Tessa Raebeck
Following the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards last year and the immediate alignment of student assessments to the new curriculum, Bridgehampton School saw its scores on standardized tests drop across the board.
The Common Core, which according to its philosophy, aims to enhance learning essentially by teaching students to be thinkers rather than memorizers, was largely criticized last year for its implementation, which many educators, parents and students said was haphazard and too fast.
“There’s a difference between pre-Common Core and post-Common Core,” Bridgehampton Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre told the school board at its monthly meeting on Wednesday, September 24.
“By all measures that we have here our kids are growing,” she said, adding that 96 percent of Bridgehampton students met local growth targets, which are measured by where students are in September “to where we expect they will be at the end of the year.”
For English Language Arts (ELA) tests in grades 3 to 5, less than half of students scored the higher scores of a 3 or a 4 on the new state assessments. Dr. Favre said what needs to happen now is for the district “to understand better what the state tests are asking,” adding “that’s the training that the teachers are going through now.”
“This year is the first year that the state is actually releasing some questions, so we finally have an idea of what the test looks like,” Dr. Favre said.
Dr. Favre said Bridgehampton’s numbers tend to appear worse than they actually are, because the school’s small class sizes make for more extreme percentages. If two students fail in a class of eight, for example, the pass rate goes from 100 percent to 75 percent, whereas those same two students failing in a larger class would have a much less significant effect.
The superintendent said in moving forward, a primary goal of the district is to look at vocabulary development and to “change strategies we use to teach so that kids start to think in a different way.”
“I couldn’t understand why they would change standards and the test at the same time,” Dr. Favre said of the New York State Department of Education, saying she would have preferred to “watch our kids grow on the tests we’re familiar with.”
Students performed better on the math assessments, which the district had made an “area of focus,” the superintendent said.
Dr. Favre announced her intention to team up with other small schools, such as the Amagansett School District in East Hampton, so that teachers have colleagues to strategize with. Many Bridgehampton teachers are the only instructors in their subjects at their grade level and she believes they would benefit from a relationship with others experiencing the same challenges. Dr. Favre is in talks with Amagansett Superintendent Eleanor Tritt to make such an alliance happen.
Despite the poor showing on many primary tests, Bridgehampton did “beautifully” on high school exams, she said.
“That’s why I have every faith we have a great curriculum. We have great teachers, it’s just a matter of getting to know this test,” Dr. Favre said of the Common Core assessments.
In an effort to address weaknesses, the district has established data teams, groups of teachers that will meet for two hours every month to “really talk about these things” and plan curriculum alignment across the board.