Leveling the “learning field” for all students

“Public education in America is the great equalizer, and ensuring that every student has a fair and equitable chance to succeed is central to our work in school,” said BKW Superintendent Dr.  Timothy Mundell.

Dr. Mundell said that this basic premise of fairness is the foundation for the changes taking place at BKW.

At the Oct. 9 board of education meeting, Director of Pupil Services Susan Sloma shared some of the work the district is tackling to provide greater equity in school. Some of that work was outlined in a Jan. 22 article on the district website.

“Our staff is boldly stepping out to address the needs of a subgroup of students who were historically overlooked, our students with disabilities,” said. Dr. Mundell.

Traditionally, students with disabilities were taught in self-contained classrooms—classrooms made up exclusively of students with disabilities. Research shows that students perform higher in inclusive classrooms—classrooms with a mix of higher and lower performing students. The improved outcomes result from students seeing the same content as their peers in combination with modifications to present that content to match each student’s learning style.

“Over the last couple of years, BKW has been at the forefront of area schools in our effort to move to inclusive classrooms.” he said.

“Our ELA data reflects that the change is beginning to take effect. Our 2017-18 grades 3-8 New York State assessments show a dramatic improvement. We attribute that improvement to changes we made, and continue to make, in how we teach language skills to our students.

Dr. Mundell said the district focused first on ELA. The next step will be to tackle math.

Performance of students with disabilities

The chart below tracks ELA test performance of grades 3-8 students with disabilities over the last six years. The percentage of students at each level (level 1 is not proficient; level 2 is partially proficient, level 3 is proficient) level 4 is highly proficient) was steady for the first five years. The district began moving to an inclusive model in 2016-17.

Student with disabilities performance on Gr. 3-8 NY ELA assessment

12-13 13-14 14-15 15-16 16-17 17-18
students tested 56 48 30 35 31 41
Level 1 89% 81% 80% 83% 81% 68%
Level 2 9% 17% 17% 14% 19% 22%
Level 3 2% 0% 0% 3% 0% 10%
Level 4 0% 0% 3% 0% 0% 0%

“We believe this improvement in performance is directly tied to the changes we have made in teaching and content through the inclusive instruction model,” Dr. Mundell said.

He added that changes of this kind are not easy.

“Our journey to transform our school system includes disrupting previously held norms, identifying and overcoming any and all inequities, engaging students in authentic learning, and persisting through the struggle to help all stakeholders understand the deeply held hopes and dreams we hold for kids and the new patterns that can launch them to success,” he said