Haverhill Education Association President Lisa R. Begley.
Haverhill is up for a $300,000 grant to help “turnaround” test scores at Tilton School, but both the administration and teachers’ union agree students’ continuing progress can’t be recognized unless other schools decline.
That’s because of a peculiarity of the state’s ranking system that forces 20 percent of the state schools to remain at or near the bottom of scores. Haverhill Education Association President Lisa R. Begley told WHAV the state system is flawed.
“We realize that the only way we’re really going to be able to get out of it is hoping that someone else fails. And that’s a really sad attitude because we want all students to be successful whether they’re in our district or not.”
Begley explains the state doesn’t assign average scores to its system of levels, but rather moves the floor up, meaning there will always be a bottom even if every student in the state improves.
Superintendent James F. Scully agrees and adds, misunderstanding of the state’s system has led certain politicians to unfairly grandstand.
“It’s not fair to the teachers and students of the city when people put a spin on the percentages. As the union says, it is not a fair comparison. Every year Haverhill continues to go up. We’d like to go up more than we are, but we are going up.”
Worse, said Begley, the state could force a well-performing school down a notch.
“The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education can still choose to put you to a Level Four school even if your scores do not show you as a Level Four.”
The grant the city is seeking is somewhat dependent on an evaluation conducted during the late fall by the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research. Researchers visited Tilton School with a checklist that included leadership, shared responsibility and professional collaboration; intentional practices for improving instruction; student-specific instruction support to all students; and school climate and culture. Depending on the findings, evaluators will determine whether a grant will help elevate Tilton out of Level Three status.
Begley said the use of the word “turnaround” usually refers to schools at a level lower than Tilton. She is worried receipt of the grant could force drastic staff changes.
“I wish they had chosen a different phrase because Level Four suggests that they’re going to come in, they’re going to let go of half the teaching staff and any administrator that has less than two years at that school.”
Begley added the grant could give Tilton Principal Bonnie Antkowiak sweeping powers that could violate current terms of the teachers’ contract.
Scully said the turnaround term is merely semantics. “This is all premature. We are a significant distance from that discussion. Very few cities have been selected. It’s an honor to be part of it.”