Scores improve, but funding could drop
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon City School District has been upgraded by the New York State Education Department from a district in need of attention to one in “good standing” based on improved test scores and graduation rates among students identified as having learning disabilities.
Beacon interim Superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi credited the district’s teaching and administrative staff with its success implementing new state initiatives into the schools’ curricula, as well as improving their engagement with students. School Board President Melissa Thompson also pointed to increased parental involvement as a critical factor. “Engaging and educating parents so they can better work with their children — that has and will only continue to help our district,” she said.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that doing a better job may cost the school system money. Quartironi said the district may no longer be able to participate in state-sponsored reviews to improve its effectiveness or be eligible for a $50,000 state grant available to what the state calls “focus” districts. In the past, she said, “transition” funding has been provided to newly upgraded districts, but the state has yet to determine if it will be available this year.
In addition, said Jeanne Beattie, a state education department spokesperson, the district will no longer be eligible for a $50,000 federal grant for school improvement. The state does expect to inform school districts by the end of this school year regarding the availability of transition funding, Beattie added.
Beacon is not alone. Across the state, 27 districts were upgraded from “focus” to “good standing.” The accountability system judges districts and their schools on the performance of students in various demographics such as race, low-income, English-language learners and students with learning disabilities. When too many of these groups fail to make “adequate” annual progress in English language arts (ELA) and math, a school or district’s standing may drop. The Beacon system was identified as a focus district during the 2011-12 year based on the test scores of its students with learning disabilities.
During the 2014-15 school year, however, the Beacon district’s elementary and middle-school performance indexes among students with learning disabilities were well above the cut-off for identification as a focus district, according to Beattie. In fact, its scores exceeded the performance of more than 300 of the total 700 districts in the state.
At the high school level, the test scores and graduation rates of students with learning disabilities were also above the cut-off, although the performance was not as strong as at the elementary and middle-school levels. Since the Beacon district was not identified as among the lowest-performing schools or those not showing improvement, Beattie explained, its status was upgraded.
Because the district’s status is based on 2014-15 statistics, one or more of its schools may still qualify for a Local Assistance Plan (LAP). These schools are identified by the state annually and given a framework for improvement. The Education Department has yet to inform districts of school designations.