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New law’s effect on testing unclear

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At the Yellow Springs Board of Education meeting on Dec. 10, Yellow Springs Superintendent Mario Basora reported that, as of moments before the meeting, the Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law by President Obama, replacing the contentious No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001. While there are still national requirements governing standardized testing, for example, Basora reported that the law grants more power to individual states in determining their own standards and tests, and in determining the consequences if they are not met.

Although ESSA is a step in the right direction, Basora said, it is not perfect. States are given more power, but there is no evidence that local districts will be granted greater decision-making power under ESSA. But at least the district knows the people who are making the decisions and can go directly to them, he said, an opportunity not available under No Child Left Behind, which was under purely federal jurisdiction.

“I’m not going to cheerlead this bill, but it’s progress,” Basora said.
The autonomy of a local district has been an issue of concern to the local district. Earlier this year Yellow Springs applied for and received a waiver from the state that exempts local schools from nationally mandated standardized testing, replacing traditional tests with competency-based assessments. Yellow Springs was one of seven Ohio school districts and seven STEM schools to receive the waiver, which was granted in April. However, the district needed to also receive federal approval for the waiver, which has not yet been received. The waiver would reduce overall testing by about 50 to 70 percent, Basora said at a meeting last fall.

However, it is unclear what effects ESSA will have on the waiver application. Under ESSA, third and eighth graders will still have to take standardized tests, though states will have some leeway in determining what those tests look like.

The district will need to determine what strategies will be employed now that ESSA has passed, Basora said, as the legislation creates a new playing field for educational reforms.

In other school board business:
• Greene County Career Center superintendent Dave Gaskins asked the Yellow Springs Board of Education to pass a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the two entities in response to legislation passed by the state in 2013 that reworked technical schools’ boards of education to allow for more influence from industry partners.

Greene County’s seven districts each appoint a board member to GCCC’s board, and so the memorandum of understanding asks that the member school boards not appoint someone from out of town if GCCC’s seven-member board already has two non-local members. An out of town board member’s travel expenses were cited as a concern, as it is a cost borne by the district, but the ultimate goal, according to Basora, is to “protect schools and districts from losing a voice.”

• Brian Mayer, YSHS and Mills Lawn’s band and orchestra teacher, presented the schedule for an upcoming band and orchestra student excursion to Chicago, which will take place March 23–25. Mayer said that not only do many outgoing seniors credit the band excursion as being one of their “top memories” but the cohesion that results from traveling and learning together makes for a more productive classroom experience.

Students will do a little sightseeing in the Windy City, but the primary focus of the trip will be two musical stops. The group will stop in DeKalb to take part in a workshop at Northern Illinois University, Mayer’s alma mater, which is renowned for its steel drum program. Students will learn a bit about the history and culture of the instrument from instructors from Trinidad and Tobago. Once in Chicago, students will attend a performance of the Blue Man Group. Mayer said the Blue Man Group’s blend of music, engineering and performance was particularly inspiring to him — he built a PVC xylophone in his garage after seeing them — and he wants to demonstrate to students how their abilities can be applied across disciplines.

The trip will cost around $180–$220 per student. Fundraising done by the band boosters has offset much of the cost.

• Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh reported on a few of the activities students are doing at the elementary school, including the MLS Community Food Drive organized by the Student Council, during which students hope to collect 1,500 non-perishable food and toiletry items that will help families in need. Housh also mentioned the immense preparations that went into the all-school musical, noting that while the abovementioned projects aren’t PBL projects, they are very PBL-like in their aims and levels of student engagement.

• McKinney and YSHS principal Tim Krier presented a list of the numerous activities and “leadership events” that will have occurred by the meeting, including starting auditions for the Footloose musical, sophomore class visit to GCCC and the 65th annual School Forest Festival. Additionally, freshman Alex Ronnebaum and English teacher Desiree Nickell gave a presentation on the ninth-graders’ Food for Thought PBL project. Krier thanked the board for its “confidence in allowing us to make our own decisions” with regards to the activities and projects the schools undertake.

• In financial news, substitute teacher pay rates will increase to $90 per day effective Jan. 1, 2016. The Yellow Springs Educational Endowment has given a $26,000 grant to fund a Maker Space Project, and almost $20,000 for three Miller Fellows for the 2015-16 school year. The Miller Fellows have been working 10–20 hours a week in the middle school and high school, helping with projects such as the Food for Thought project. Basora said he and the board are “exceptionally grateful and appreciative of the generous spirit” of the community.


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