The overall news was positive as Scarsdale Schools released its third grade through high school testing data from 2022 on Tuesday, Oct. 25, and presented it the next night during an education report.
“The interpretation of these snapshot measures, which lead to generalizations about schools, grades and instruction is misguided,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Dr. Edgar McIntosh. “We are reassured that our students continue to demonstrate high proficiency despite the mitigations from the last two years; that is certainly not the case in many places throughout the country and the nation.”
Most of the questions asked by board of education members were punted until two upcoming presentations, which are expected to be comprehensive and either answer those questions or provide a better forum for discussion.
With third grade math and ELA state test scores overall similar to pre-pandemic times — perhaps a sign that major learning loss did not take place in the district as it has for others during COVID-19 — the questions focused more on college admissions and the resurfaced debate over Advanced Topics vs. Advanced Placement exams.
High school counseling department chair Oren Iosepovici will lead “The Evolving College Admissions Landscape: Trends and Thoughts from the SHS Counseling Department,” a forum for parents on Dec. 5, which will include a Q&A period, while AT/AP will be part of a presentation at a board meeting on May 22, 2023.
Prior to the education report, school board president Amber Yusuf said, “As a board we create policy with the intention of supporting the mission and vision of Scarsdale Schools. These reports inform and educate both the board and the community about how this vision is operationalized and brought to life on behalf of all of our students.”
Interim superintendent Dr. Drew Patrick said, “As a reminder we differentiate education reports from our business meeting in order to place a sharper focus on our core mission of teaching and learning. This year’s education reports are organized more thematically than in the past and are designed to help articulate our priorities for teaching and learning, and also to illustrate how our approaches to the work are visible across programs, disciplines and levels of education.”
McIntosh prefaced his run-through of the numbers by calling the tests a “relatively narrow band of academic measures that are either mandated by the state or preferred by colleges and universities.”
“These moment-in-time assessments are important, but they do not explain the fullness of any child’s experience, any educator’s capacity, any school’s performance or any district standing,” McIntosh said. “The stories of the growth and achievement that our students demonstrate are individual and nuanced and could not and should not be reduced to a single score.”
That doesn’t mean the educators ignore the results. They just want people to “resist drawing sweeping conclusions from this information, however tempting it might be.”
“What will be evident is that Scarsdale continues to maintain and demonstrate high levels of achievement through several standardized means consistent with previous years,” McIntosh said. He added, “We are aware that our students have been impacted in areas that cannot be assessed using the highlighted evaluation tools.”
There were no state tests in 2020 due to the pandemic and the 2021 tests that took place don’t offer reliable data, so the 2022 results are compared to 2019 and earlier years.
McIntosh started with college data that shows 61% of students in 2022 were accepted into Barron’s most competitive colleges and universities, as compared to 63% in 2021, 67% in 2020, but above the 59% from 2017.
Median total SAT scores have ranged from 1337 to 1397 from 2017-22, with 1374 in 2022. National averages are under 1100. The tests had undergone a change in 2017, so previous data isn’t comparable. Scarsdale students performed well on ACTs, with 89% meeting the standards for all four exams (college English composition, college algebra, college social studies and college biology), and well above state comparisons (55%).
Compared to comparable districts (Chappaqua, Bronxville, Byram Hills, Edgemont, Blind Brook, Great Neck South and Great Neck North), Scarsdale had higher SAT and ACT scores. “In 2022, Scarsdale continues to be a leader in the region,” McIntosh said.
Though Scarsdale no longer offers AP courses, many students still prepare for and take the exams. The AP test scores were within range of the previous six years, though it was interesting that 2022 saw a peak number of tests taken since 2016 at 583. In 2016 only 392 were taken.
The Regents exam chart listed passing grades of 65 or higher for the seven exams that have been offered over the last decade, but not all are still offered. Of the four exams from 2022 (common core algebra, common core ELA, living environment and global history), 98% and 99% passed.
The once heavily boycotted New York State standardized test results for grades 3-8 were perhaps the most anticipated of the bunch.
The ELA test results showed proficiency Level 3 and 4 improvements over 2019 in third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades. In eighth grade the result dropped form 86% to 80%, though in 2018 that number was 71%.
In math, Scarsdale’s scores were overall higher than ELA. The only major change from 2019 was a drop in seventh grade from 85% to 79% and the overall scores were much better than 2016 and 2017.
In both math and ELA, Scarsdale slightly outperformed similar districts, and the Lower Hudson Region and the state by far.
Included in the presentation were charts comparing the five elementary schools and over time those leaders have changed.
“The reason for fluctuations that have happened predictively from year to year can be explained by the learning needs of a particular cohort, the number of students assessed and other factors,” McIntosh said.
While the report lists “percentages and averages” for individuals who struggled with exams, the district does “more nuanced assessments” and a “team review” to see what areas need to be addressed. Often when results are poor it’s “not a surprise” and the student is already receiving services.
“In cases where the score contradicts the students’ in-class demonstrated achievement, inquiry reveals a range of reasons from a student who missed a page or even a day of testing to a student with impactful testing anxiety,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh also said the difference between a Level 3 and 4 “can be a question or two.” While the state data groups 3 and 4, the district provided a breakdown in its supporting materials.
McIntosh used an iceberg comparison that seeing the top of the iceberg doesn’t tell the true story of what’s going on below the surface. He said the district assesses students in a “multitude of ways … through common benchmark assessments, through formative assessments and progress monitoring tools.” McIntosh said, “These assessments are much more meaningful than the snapshot state tests provide.”
Bob Klein wondered if any test results were impacted by an influx of families coming from abroad who need time to get their ELA skills up to speed. McIntosh said that “international students do tend to quickly acquire language,” but while it’s not something the district tracks when it comes to testing results, it’s looked at in terms of “classroom data.”
Jessica Resnick-Ault noted many other districts are dealing with “falling scores and negative pressures,” and was impressed with Scarsdale’s “remarkable rises.” She was wondering what accounts for that.
“I do believe there is a great deal of support for our students and that there were structures that were built in to make sure that we were attending to the content and the skills that we knew were essential at each grade,” McIntosh said of the pandemic years. “There was a real focus on that.”
He said fluctuations “can be very mercurial from year to year,” and noted the communities that had the biggest drops are those with “higher levels of poverty and less access and resources.”
James Dugan talked about the anecdotal trend of parents saying it’s been harder for students to get into the most competitive schools.
“I do have a perception that there are certain trends and there are factors at work and this is my huge plug to all of you in the community about Oren’s presentation,” McIntosh said.
The administrative cabinet had a preview of the presentation, which will “unpack a lot of that complexity.”
“I do think that when you look at the Barron’s number and you look at the percentage, it is just one data point from those 87 schools,” McIntosh said. “It doesn’t speak to the different levels of kids’ first choice, second choice, third choice. It’s about the percentage of students who were accepted, who applied for those schools. I don’t mean to punt, but I am going to say that Oren has a lot, a lot of information to share that is going to reflect some of the feeling that’s in the community.”
Board of ed vice president Ron Schulhof, knowing the answer that was coming, was interested in the trend of more students taking APs. McIntosh said there could be some talk at the Dec. 5 presentation, but certainly more to come next spring.
Suzie Hahn Pascutti wanted to view the results through a “mental health lens” and said it was “amazing” students were “doing so great.”
“How are they doing mentally to get those scores, especially with COVID and the pandemic?” Hahn Pascutti asked, adding, “Do we need more resources and support?”
Colleen Brown said as far as college acceptance she’s more interested in knowing if students got their top choice, rather than if it was on a list of competitive schools. She’s also interested in the rise in popularity of APs with SATs and ACTs becoming optional for many schools. She commended the district on the overall test scores not dropping.
Testing public comment
Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez had a long list of comments and questions about current and past data, but led with, “Please tell us what are the quantitative and qualitative metrics that parents and taxpayers should refer to in order to establish if our children are receiving a world class education.”
Of the rise in AP popularity, Sarah Hopkins said, “I would suspect that students are realizing they want to be competitive and that the kids who go to peer schools in the county, around the country that are public schools, those top students take like five, 10 APs. And especially with optional testing of ACT and SAT those AP scores get even more important. I am hoping the district considers bringing these AP classes back, not only for the kids who get into the classes, who get into ATs, but for any kid who is interested. I think it’s really important that this is available for kids who want to do it, who want to challenge themselves.”
The board’s meeting had been moved from Monday the 24th to Wednesday the 26th because Monday was the Hindu festival of lights Diwali.
“The board values community engagement and to this end the board will strive to avoid conflicts for members of the community as we create next year’s board meeting schedule,” Yusuf said.
During public comment, freshman Charlene Dong made a plea to have Lunar New Year recognized as a school holiday. At the previous meeting, two Muslim students asked that the board recognize at least one major Muslim holiday per year.
Dong called Lunar New Years “the most important holiday in many Asian cultures,” one many students miss out on celebrating because they either have school or become too stressed out because of it. Dong is the daughter of Chinese immigrants, so the holiday is a “huge part” of her “culture” and “life.” On the first day of the 15-day celebration, families and friends gather, but Dong and her brother were in school. One year their parents allowed them to stay home, but that became stressful.
“Instead of having fun and celebrating for the whole day, my mind was on the schoolwork I had to make up for,” Dong said. “I was very worried that I might have missed something in class that I would get tested on later. I just wish there was a true day off where I can fully enjoy being with my family and not having to think about schoolwork and tests.”
The seven-year Scarsdale resident had never heard of Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, but Googled them to learn more.
“In the past few years Scarsdale has seen a big increase in Asian families,” Dong said. “I am imploring the board to seriously consider adding Lunar New Year to the school calendar. That way for those who celebrate the holiday kids can truly enjoy that day and for those who don’t celebrate it they have an opportunity to appreciate other cultures as well.”
Dong presented the board with a petition in support of her request.
Parent Laura Liu thanked the board for rescheduling the meeting and to support Dong and the students that had spoken at past meetings about their own experience being stressed out about holidays. Liu suggested adding Diwali to the holiday list as well, along with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr.
“I recognize that these changes are very significant and carry many operational challenges,” Liu said. “These changes may also feel like departures from tradition and old habits, and may cause some discomforts. But I believe that our school community as a whole is at the point where we are ready to engage in this work as a real project. It should no longer just be a concept or a wish for down the road.”
Liu noted making these changes to the calendar would be in line with the district’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Patrick said he was grateful for students and community members bringing up these proposals well in advance of the 2023-24 school calendar discussions. Patrick reiterated that there are many factors to be considered when creating the calendar, including working with unions, observing state-mandated holidays, when the first and last day of school falls, when regents exam week is and how many days — if any — the district has to play around with.
Yusuf said “more robust conversations” will follow.
Patrick gave a short update saying that on Thursday, Oct. 13, the district received its final refund check from the IRS following the payroll tax submission errors. The check for $106, 990.12 raised the total received to $851,186.56 after the board of education released $843,558 in funds to pay the IRS back in March, just days after the board was made aware that there had been issues going back to 2020. The extra $7,628.56 was interest earned.
Patrick also reported that the tax lien from August that was supposed to self-release with no notification after 30 days is, according to the district’s tax attorneys, released. A records search found no lien on the district at the state or county level.
T.A.s seek health insurance
Earlier this year in February, Association of Scarsdale Teacher Aides and Assistants president Joy Rotker, a teacher aide in Scarsdale since 1999, addressed the board during public comment requesting the district consider offering the employees in her union the option to enroll in the district’s health insurance plans. She was cut off by then-BOE president Karen Ceske, who said her comments had to be “non-personnel” in nature and told her to send her comments to the board.
Rotker returned on Wednesday to give her speech once again and was allowed to do just that. Rotker called T.A.s the “front line in our school district,” being relied on heavily in the educational process, even more so during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The aides have had to “shoulder more responsibilities so that the district can excel and offer our students a progressive education.”
During the reopening of schools, the aides, Rotker said, were key in bringing elementary students back full time with extra duties, supervising cohorts, doing extra shifts, packing classrooms and distributing materials. They learned Zoom and other relevant technologies in short order and participated in professional development.
The aides have been integral in special education support as well.
“Quite often we are the ones that are charged with helping a child navigate their day,” she said. “We support our students under the supervision of our teachers with how to manage executive functioning challenges. We assist students with social cueing and forging connections with peers. We assist with transitions and reinforce goals that various related service providers are working on with our students. We comfort them when they experience an emotional upset. We problem solve and we are constantly communicating with the classroom teacher. We demonstrate our commitment to supporting our students daily.”
With a substitute teacher shortage, the aides are relied on to help out. With a teacher aide shortage they are also asked to pick up the slack and are often supporting students in different grades, which means a different skillset is required. Rotker said that job candidates want health coverage.
Rotker called the teacher aides a “critical part of our school community,” which administrators, board members and community members had often said in 2020 and 2021.
Rotker said the T.A.s “take care of students and staff,” and want the “same kind of care” for themselves. “We love that job that we do and we would like our own health and well-being to be considered equally important,” she said.