MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Superintendent Ronald Taylor presented the annual review of the districts Comprehensive Equity Plan (CEP) at yesterday evening's South Orange Maplewood Board of Education meeting.
The plan is meant to identify and address the issues of inequity within the South Orange Maplewood School District. A self assessment done previously by the district concluded that SOMSD is non-compliant with state guidelines in two areas: staff development and training, and school and classroom practices.
To mitigate the non-compliances, the CEP put forth intervention strategies. To improve staff development and training, additional training will be provided to all non-certified staff members. This includes TEMCO custodial staff, Pompton Food Services, and Delta T paraprofessionals. The focus will center on seven main areas: code of conduct, restorative practices, LGBTQ issues, harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB), child abuse, suicide prevention, and special disabilities.
The issue of non-compliance in school and classroom practices was much broader and therefore requires more strategies, Taylor relayed. The issues that the intervention strategies attempted to address were fostering a safe and positive learning environment; access to technology/software and audiovisual materials for classwork; an end to underrepresentation of minority and female students in gifted and talented or accelerated/advanced courses including math and science; an end to the overrepresentation of minority and male students among suspensions, expulsions, dropouts and special needs courses; an update to the curriculum to include African-American history, race and tolerance, the history of genocides including the Holocaust, and additional training for the curriculum writers; and to make it possible for a student that requires full ADA access to attend SOMSD schools from K-12.
The largest intervention strategy is to desegregate the schools, particularly at the elementary level. The goal is to attain minority representation at every school that matches that of the overall district. Currently, the elementary schools are the least representative schools throughout the district. The district began using Star Renaissance Assessment Software in 2018 to track the growth of the students throughout an academic year and though their years in SOMSD.
Taylor presented the results of the assessment that is being used to track the progress of the students as well as the success of the district's initiatives. The test is only given to students in grades K-9. Sophomores, juniors and seniors at Columbia High School will be taking assessments developed by their respective curriculum supervisors.
The 2019-2020 school year was the second year the Star Renaissance assessment was given. The test is meant to be given once each in September, January, and May/June. This year, however, the May/June tests were not given due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were scored at four different groupings: over/at benchmark, on watch, intervention and urgent intervention.
The Superintendent noted that when there is an increase in the number of students tested the number of students above the benchmark falls. Since there have only been two years of testing, Board Member Robin Baker pointed out that there may be some issues trying to draw large conclusions from the data in the future.
“The only way to tell how one cohort is doing is to follow that cohort through the years,” said Baker. She added that it might be helpful for a third category to be created to show how incoming/outgoing students may affect the data.
In the future, the goal is that the Star Renaissance assessment will be used to track a student's growth over the school year, said Taylor. The test can also be used to catch students who are struggling before they get to a point where they have fallen too far behind.
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