School Committee adopts STAR K-12 assessment system


In an effort to support core instruction in reading and mathematics and to incorporate Response to Intervention (RTI), as required by federal and state regulations as part of the Basic Education Program (BEP), the School Committee approved Tuesday night the adoption of a universal screening and assessment tool known as STAR Enterprise. The system will be used district-wide K through 12 and features three components, STAR Reading, STAR Math and STAR Early Literacy.

Sara Monaco, federal grant program coordinator for Warwick schools, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the STAR system to explain what’s involved with the system and how it works.

“Teachers and administrators need to identify and understand student performance levels and student needs,” she said. “Screenings will be conducted three times a year for all students during September, January and May. Students will engage in systematic problem solving after the screenings and will be progress monitored to determine if they are meeting their goals.”

Monaco said problem solving would occur at all levels, including district, school, grade and individual student levels. The multi-level intervention system, depicted as a pyramid in one of the PowerPoint panels, breaks down into three tiers, which she explained.

“The first tier [base of the pyramid] consists of research-based core instruction, strategies and classroom management, universal screening of all students and progress monitoring of at-risk students,” she said. “The second tier consists of effective research-based interventions, frequent progress monitoring and adjustments as needed based upon data. The third tier consists of intensive intervention.”

Monaco explained that the intensity and frequency of progress monitoring and interventions increases as the size of the instructional group decreases. Therefore, the group of students receiving intensive intervention will be the smallest group and will have more frequent interventions.

Monaco said STAR assessments will be taken on computers, which will be consistent with Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the test the district will adopt as it moves away from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). There will be 10 to 15 minutes per assessment. At the secondary level, students will use the computer labs; while at the elementary level, assessments will be part of classroom administration.

“Currently, the NECAP is a pencil and paper test, but PARCC will be an online test,” Monaco said. “[STAR] is a computer-adapted test, so as students answer the questions correctly, they get harder. Students will get a different assessment each time.”

“I’m glad this initiative has finally hit Warwick, but do we have the capacity to administer it,” asked Jennifer Ahearn, one of two new members elected to the School Committee.

Monaco said the district does have the capacity for students to use computers for assessments and tests but said because there aren’t any computer labs at the elementary level, students would have to take turns a few at a time on the computers.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Darlene Netcoh, an English teacher at Toll Gate, said not all of the buildings are equipped to handle the initiative.

“Computers are a huge issue in the schools,” she said. “There is no [computer] lab at Winman right now, and some of the labs that we do have are inadequate for the intended uses.”

She said even though math labs exist at Toll Gate, the schedule is already full, which doesn’t allow time for other students to come in and use them.

“It seems like a wonderful program to have and use, but if we don’t have the technology to support it, it won’t work. So, we need to get the ball rolling,” she said.

Monaco said the system will cost $150,000 for the first year, which includes setup and hosting fees as well as the cost per pupil, then $62,000 per year to maintain the system. She said the money is budgeted as the system was included in the fiscal year 2013 budget.

“The STAR system will also interface with the Aspen student information system that we’re currently using,” Monaco said, adding STAR is highly valid and reliable. “Some students are ready to move on after learning, but others need more time and additional instruction, which takes place in the classroom. STAR will also enable us to follow cohorts of students to see how they’re progressing from year to year.”

Monaco said STAR is not a new initiative, but rather supports existing initiatives.

“It will also support past and current professional development in the district,” she said. “The plan is to start the first phase of professional development around March with initial training for teachers through half-day sessions. Then the second part will focus in on various departments and training for specific subject areas, which we’re hoping to do at the end of the school year and all next year.”

Monaco said she’s hoping to use Race to the Top funding to cover the training fees for this year. She said data-use of the system is supported through the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and Race to the Top.

One of the parents that spoke during public comment said he applauded the district and the School Committee for looking into the STAR initiative, especially since it will interface with Aspen, but suggested using a number key for login purposes as opposed to names.

Acting Superintendent Dr. Richard D’Agostino, who also serves as the director of special education, said the district has been looking for a screening tool for a number of years and has taken its time in order to get “the right tool for the right job.”

“STAR has everything we’ve been looking for and I strongly urge you to approve this,” he said prior to the committee vote.

In other action, the committee approved the creation of a District Safety and Security Committee to develop a school safety plan and determine what measures should be taken to protect students and staff, as required by state law. The team should be comprised of representatives of the school committee, student, teacher and parent organizations, school safety personnel, school administration and members of local law enforcement, fire and emergency personnel. In addition to creating the safety committee, School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado and Ahearn volunteered to represent the School Committee on the safety committee. Remaining team members will be solicited and then appointed at next month’s School Committee meeting.

For anyone interested in what security measures the district is taking in light of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy, Robert Bushell, director of elementary education, said the public is invited to attend a security presentation and demonstration at John Brown Francis tonight at 7. It will be held in the gym and feature speakers and a brief demonstration of how doors and cameras will be used for security purposes. Bushell said Francis will be used as a pilot model that will extend to all schools in the district.


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