Fluvanna schools fully accredited

Committee will examine reducing testing

By Ruthann Carr, Correspondent

For the fifth year in a row, Fluvanna County Public Schools are fully accredited.

That was just one piece of news delivered to the School Board at its meeting Wednesday (Oct. 10).

The Board voted to approve hiring a coordinator of federal and instructional programs who would take over many of the duties of Jill Dahl, who left her position as director of elementary instruction and federal programs to take a new job in Charlottesville.

By downgrading that position from director to coordinator, it makes room in the budget to add an administrative assistant position to help with finance and instructional needs, said Superintendent Chuck Winkler.

The Board will also do a self-evaluation and hand it in by the end of October. They will discuss the results in open session at the November meeting.

Andrew Pullen (Columbia) asked Winkler to collaborate with County Administrator Steve Nichols on purchasing. “It’s time we started working together with the county,” Pullen said.

Winkler said he and Nichols will look into economies of scale with combining some school and county purchases at their next meeting.

Director of Instruction and Finance Brenda Gilliam reported closing out the 2018 budget with a $1.5 million surplus.
A half million that can legally be moved onto the 2019 budget will be and close to a half million will be given back to the county.

The rest is money that can’t be used in any other way than what it’s earmarked for, she said.

Gilliam said in the current budget one month’s payroll is about $2.6 million.

The governor has proposed a 3 percent raise for Standards of Quality positions only, Gilliam said.

“We are grateful for the 3 percent but it’s based on outdated salary guidelines and there are no plans to adjust those salary calculations,”’ Gilliam said.

She anticipated getting about $1 million to cover the raises, but it will cost localities $375,937.

The Board approved setting up a textbook adoption committee for high school social studies textbooks.

Board Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) began the discussion on testing with the following statement:

“One of the reasons I was elected to the School Board was to share my perspective as a classroom teacher. My motivation for pursuing a policy of less testing is my own experience, along with feedback from teachers, parents, and students, particularly in grades K-3. I ask the Board to consider if our testing program has reached the point of diminishing returns, especially regarding our youngest students. I believe, in its current form, the negatives expressed by some students and staff, outweigh the benefits. I also believe the loss of instructional time associated with our level of testing is significant.
Besides reducing stress on our students and increasing instructional time, I think less testing would improve the staff survey results that over the last three years, the single biggest item in decline has been the visibility of building administrators among students and staff. I greatly respect the job our administrators do, and attribute the survey results partly to demands on their time required by test reporting and test data meetings.

I understand the reasoning of our administrators for requiring each test, but I also wondered what teachers, who give the tests and use the results, had to say. I talked to many, concentrating on classroom teachers, thinking theirs was the more typical experience with testing. I spoke to over half of the classroom teachers in kindergarten through third grade, and all but two, at this primary level, said we test too much. They had specific recommendations of what to stop and what to keep, but their main message was don’t replace any testing, truly reduce it. Almost every teacher I spoke to suggested we stop giving the Measures of Academic Achievement test (MAP) and use data already available by other means to determine student growth, similar to what we do in grades 8-12.

The VSBA recently shared information that starting with this year’s freshman class at the high school, new state standards allow students to take fewer SOL tests to obtain their diploma. In fact, advanced diplomas will require only five SOL tests, down from the current standard of nine.

I’d like to see Fluvanna follow the state’s example, and require significantly less testing, soliciting the professional opinion of teachers as we make the transition.”

Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) said fourth grade teachers wrote a letter to the board supporting testing but cutting back on the MAP test to once per year. MAP tests measure students’ growth and performance.

Brenda Pace (Palmyra) said some teachers feel a need for tests.

Pullen said he wanted to get a committee of teachers together to get their input. “I’d like to see us set the standard for others, “he said.

Winkler agreed and said he would get a committee together to “pursue a policy of less testing.”

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