To Tracy Novick and Company: Let the Goddard School move on

By John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee

Goddard Elementary School has been in the news for several months due to their MCAS scores. Following a four month joint investigation conducted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Worcester Public Schools a press release from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was released. It stated, ”State officials have invalidated the 2010 MCAS results for the Goddard School in Worcester following a joint investigation conducted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Worcester Public Schools that found educators provided students with inappropriate coaching during testing.”

As stated in their press release and reiterated by Dr. Boone the department found through investigatory interviews with school personnel that staff who administered the 2010 MCAS tests reviewed students work on the test, coached students to add to their responses and scribed answers or portions of answers that were not worded by students. According to the guidelines no test administrator or other school personnel may coach a student during testing or alter or interfere with a student’s response in any way.

In essence, according to the State, the school broke the protocol guidelines, but keep in mind that this was not a case of someone cheating to inflate the MCAS scores of the children. As Commissioner Chester stated in a letter to Dr. Boone …”irregularities occurred at the Goddard Science and Technology School and those guidelines were not adhered to in this instance.”
As part of the remedy, Superintendent Boone was asked to prepare a report to outline how the district will train staff in proper testing procedures and how it will oversee the proper administration of the spring of 2011 MCAS tests. Dr. Boone has already completed the plan and has submitted it to the Department of Education. In addition, Dr. Boone went beyond what the State had asked for in her plan.

Dr. Boone stated, “I have pledged to the Commissioner that the district will continue to work cooperatively with the Department to ensure that all educators in Worcester are trained in proper MCAS testing procedures and will follow those procedures explicitly at all times. Despite the irregularities during the last year’s testing, I am confident that the instructional practices at Goddard are sound and represent the best practices nationally to raise student achievement.”

The school and the principal have been penalized by the state and now it’s time to move on while learning from mistakes that were made. The School Committee in a 4-3 vote did just that and voted for administration to move on and accept the findings of the State. However, there are many in this community who are still not willing to allow Goddard to “move on.” We live in such time where individuals want to be punitive and want “heads” to roll. Just listen to the talk shows or read the blogs and you’ll know what I mean. Even after all this disclosure talk show hosts are still complaining about the lack of transparency.

Many of these people making such outlandish accusations know nothing about this school. I have visited this school many times and have been impressed with Principal Marion Guerra who brings passion and a sense of purpose to the job and in addition surrounds herself with a very competent staff. There is a warm and caring environment in the building and everywhere you go you see data walls telling of where the children are in their Measurement of Academic Progress, you see students goals being written and you see lots of evidence of good teaching practices. The school believes that it takes a “village to raise a child” and therefore there are many neighborhood partnerships with church groups and social agencies. All the groups speak very highly about the school!

At last week’s school committee meeting over 100 parents, community members and student came to support Goddard! Many walked up to the microphone at City Hall and spoke about the school and the respect that they have for their principal.

You could hear statements such as ..”Mrs. Guerra loves the children for she is out in the morning greeting parents and students with a smile.”… “She encourages us all to read together as a family.”… “We see her working with students in the summer time developing a neighborhood garden.”… “I attribute my child’s success to the leadership of Mrs. Guerra.” Parent Khedeja Al-Iman spoke to me about how her son was in a charter school but after talking to other parents enrolled her son at Goddard. She stated that it was a great move for she is very satisfied with the caring and education that goes on in the school.

School Nurse, Catherine Robotis perhaps said it best, “Mrs. Guerra is deeply committed to the education of the children at Goddard. She works with children, their families, and the teachers to remove barriers to learning and promote achievement.  I can think of countless instances where her input and assistance directly helped children in need.  She is truly loved and respected by the children and their families for all she does throughout the year for them.  Several have voiced to me a wish for this process to end so they can get on with the business of learning without further distraction.”

Let’s look at some facts about this school. It is located in the main south area of our city. Goddard School is home to over 600 students and 98% of the families qualify for free and reduced lunch. The families at the school originate from all over the globe with 85% of students and families non-native speakers. There are more than 22 languages spoken at the school and these students are supported by English Learning labs. The school houses Special Education programs for Spanish speaking students and has a number of support programs for students with behavioral disabilities. The poverty level in the last nine years has increased from 65% to 98%.

Despite these odds the school has shown academic growth but not enough to close the achievement gap and to support all students to be college ready. Thus, they have taken the initiative and have applied to become an Innovation School. The Innovation School concept is a component of the educational reform agenda and has the potential to dramatically increase opportunities to improve student achievement.

Goddard School has an exciting future. In their innovation application the introductory page stated, “Research tells us that highly effective schools that beat the odds are effective because the staff has a strong culture of shared expectations for student achievement and a shared belief system built around commitment, responsibilities, and expectations…Decisions around curriculum, instruction, scheduling and resources both human and material are made collaboratively based upon data.”
Their idea is to move the culture of the school to the next level of commitment and responsibility where everyone is involved the complex issues around student achievement.

I believe it is time to move on and concentrate on ensuring that students at Goddard continue to receive an excellent education. Mistakes that were made are being addressed and now it’s time to support their efforts as they focus on meeting the needs of their students.

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