To the Editor:
Recent editorials have appeared in The Wanderer, which focus on the alleged failures and shortcomings of the Old Rochester Regional School District. As a group of retired teachers of the Old Rochester Regional High School with over 150 years of teaching invested in the high school, we feel compelled to respond.
Data for the sake of data is ill advised and a waste of time. However, it can be useful for targeting areas of concern and acknowledging areas of strength. Indeed, data supports that Old Rochester is not lowering its standards, but meeting them and even exceeding them in some areas. In 2010, 100 percent of students taking the MCAS state exam passed both the English Language Arts and Science and Technology MCAS exams while 98 percent passed the Mathematics exam. In November of 2011, the College Board named 10 ORR students AP Scholars, having earned a three or better on five Advanced Placement exams. Additionally, the school district was distinguished as one of 367 schools in the nation and Canada for its AP programs, one of 30 cited in the state. These statistics indicate that students of all ability levels are mastering the skills and concepts needed to succeed.
Old Rochester embraces the philosophy that “to teach all students fairly, you have to teach all students differently.” Teachers differentiate instruction by presenting new material in a multi-modal environment, addressing the needs of students with diverse learning styles. Teachers also create a variety of assessment tools allowing and encouraging students to demonstrate their knowledge in different ways.
Old Rochester is one of the few truly inclusive high schools in the state, a result of the collaboration and support of administration, the Special Education Department, classroom teachers, students and parents. Consequently, the majority of Special Need students pass standardized tests, complete graduation requirements and often continue on to higher educational institutions.
There are students, who despite the supports that teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors have put in place, experience the frustration of repeated failure. NovaNet, a computer-based curriculum, is offered to students whose educational needs have not been met in the traditional classroom. Students in danger of failing or dropping out of school are offered the opportunity to complete courses through this program. The courses are not easy to pass; they require work and determination. One recent graduate used this program to become the first in his family to receive a high school diploma. NovaNet also offers students a wide range of courses that are not available at ORR. These include traditional introductory college bound courses as well as advanced placement courses. It is an option that successfully meets the needs of a few students.
The technological world in which we reside is one that requires more and higher education. As a nation, we know that this is fact and that the wide divergence in education across this country must be addressed. In an effort to set minimum educational standards across this nation, standardized tests were developed. They are a fact and they are not going to disappear. The reality is that schools will be judged on AYP and other statistics. Comparison between schools and among states will be made. We cannot escape standardized tests. We have to learn to live with the time that will be invested for the gathering and examination of the data. We may not like it, but “that’s the way it is.”
Good education embraces change. Some of the changes that we (as parents, teachers and administrators) fight the most become very effective learning tools, while others fail and are discarded. It is important that we keep trying new ideas.
There is so much GOOD at Old Rochester. Students are learning skills and mastering concepts. They meet and exceed many state standards. Many matriculate at very competitive colleges and universities. There are always things that we would or should change, or improve. But we should also focus on all of the children who have become responsible, well-educated adults because of the dedication of the teachers, administrators, parents and students of the Old Rochester Regional School District.
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