School Board hits brakes on testing discussions

By Ruthann Carr, correspondent

In many ways the Fluvanna School Board meeting Wednesday (July 10) was a study in frustration.

After lengthy discussions on testing, the cost of getting audiotapes of meetings and the fiscal year 2019 (FY19) budget, no action was taken on those topics.

Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) brought up her concerns about testing for what seemed like the umpteenth time.

“I agree with Virginia’s secretary of education who went on record this spring saying he wants to move away from what he called toxic standardized tests,” Johnson said. “I agree with Ted Dintersmith, an author we brought in to speak to our students, who included in his book five pages of negative comments about standardized tests and test preparation. I agree with parents who’ve contacted me about testing, every one of them concerned about the negative effect a high level of testing has on their children.”

Johnson then said Andrew Pullen (Columbia) early on made a motion to eliminate the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test because it’s not required by the state.

“I understand that we’re required to measure student growth, but after hearing from the testing committee about the assessments they prefer, I agree with Mr. Pullen and propose we reduce testing by discontinuing MAP and follow the example of the high school, which uses existing pre- and post-tests tied directly to classroom instruction to determine student growth,” she said.

Pullen said he still felt eliminating the MAP test was a step in the right direction, but that he considers it “just a start.”

Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) said she was uncomfortable zeroing in on testing without a clear instructional aim. “We need to make sure the tests we’re giving are measuring what we want to measure and what we want them to learn,” she said.

Stewart also said people complain about the use of technology and she’d rather look at that than eliminating a piece of testing.

Brenda Pace (Palmyra) said she noticed in the staff survey comments many said they preferred MAP testing.

Superintendent Chuck Winkler said the testing committee suggested cutting back on testing.

“I know we’re testing too much and the recommendations of the testing committee do reduce testing,” Winkler said. “We have to listen to parents, yes. We are the experts and we have to trust the experts.”

In the end, there was no consensus, so Johnson said she’d quit bringing up the issue during the unfinished business section of meetings.

Meeting recordings

A year ago the board asked Winker to audiotape the meetings and make the recording available to the public. He discussed it with the school’s legal team who advised him posting the recording on the school website would open the board up to a possible lawsuit for violating the American with Disabilities Act.

At that time, he told the board it would take up clerk Brandi Critzer’s time to copy the recording onto a CD because she’d have to sit and watch the recording to make sure it didn’t stop and if it did, she would need to start it back up at the right place.

Winkler suggested a cost of $75 for a request for a CD meeting recording. In the fall, the board approved that.

People are free to come in at no cost and listen to the meeting recording at the School Board office.

Johnson opened the discussion Wednesday by saying she was in favor of lowering the cost.

Pullen said he’d rather see recordings more accessible. “I’d like to eliminate the cost altogether and post them online and not charge anything,” he said, noting that’s what the county does with its Board of Supervisors meetings.

Winkler said if someone wanted them posted in Spanish or Braille, they’d have to do that to be equitable. Satisfying that requirement could be costly.

He didn’t explain why a sight-impaired person couldn’t listen to the recording.

County Administrator Eric Dahl told the Fluvanna Review that the county has been posting recordings of the Board of Supervisors meetings online since 2010, and that there has been no request to have the recordings translated since at least 2015.

At one time high school media students videotaped the meetings, but it became too time-consuming.

Stewart asked Winkler to research what it would cost to make the recordings available online. Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) agreed.

Year-end budget

Talking about the year-end FY19 budget, Winkler and Brenda Gilliam, executive director of finance and curriculum, said June’s bills were higher than expected.

At the June meeting, Winkler said he felt comfortable they would end the year with a $1.4 million surplus.

However, on Wednesday he said the surplus will be $851,607, in part because of $1,125,000 more spent in June than budgeted.

Gilliam said there is still unrealized revenue coming in from state, federal and other local money that amounts to a little more than $1.2 million.

That anticipated revenue should balance out the amount overspent in June, leaving the anticipated FY19 surplus to be $851,607.

Pullen and Johnson both questioned the amount spent on technology in June.

Winkler said they bought Chrome books for students and laptops and other equipment for teachers. Johnson said she still didn’t understand the numbers and how it appears what was spent came close to $3 million.

If the carryover in June was projected to be $1.4 million, Johnson asked, how did they get the $3 million it appears was spent in June?

No one else on the Board expressed similar concern.

Gilliam didn’t have the same numbers Johnson was looking at and promised to go over her records to find the discrepancy.

Johnson said she eventually wanted a better explanation of the technology budget.

“And if you’re looking for direction, I’d say gather as much money in carryover as you can to return to the Board of Supervisors,” Johnson said.


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