October 6, 2013

Dear Families:

It has been a very busy start to the new school year as we are all getting into the groove of being back at school.  We had a very productive and meaningful professional development experience as a school staff on Friday afternoon.  All of our new staff members have acclimated to Bishop Dunn Memorial School and feel very much a part of who we are as a school community.

We are working hard to align the curriculum with the Common Core Learning Standards in ELA and Math as well as integrating the curriculum across the content areas.  Since a significant shift in ELA instruction is placing greater emphasis on non-fiction reading and writing, this impacts the work that we are doing in social studies and science as well.  Our teachers are collaborating with their colleagues in developing assured reading and writing experiences for all of our students in Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade.  This will be a work in progress throughout year.  When we have parent conferences in November, teachers will be excited to share your child’s writing folder with you.  Please feel free to ask your child what they have been working on during Writer’s Workshop.  We are very proud of the work they are doing.  In our primary grades – Pre-K through Grade 1 – students are working on writing readiness skills and will gradually advance to more sophisticated writing opportunities as the year progresses.

At our Back to School Open House I briefly mentioned how Bishop Dunn students did on the spring assessments in ELA and Math.  Overall, we performed very well compared to our public school counterparts throughout the state.  We were well above these schools in ELA and slightly above in Math.  Arguably, the common core assessments were exceedingly rigorous, particularly in math.  That said, Bishop Dunn students held their own in math.  Nevertheless, we have a lot of work to do in order to better prepare our students for the college and career readiness skills they will need to compete in an ever-changing world as measured by the rigor of these new assessments.

Overall, we had a 45% passing rate (students scoring at a level 3 or 4) in ELA.  In Math, we were at a 38% passing rate compared to other public schools throughout the state.  The average pass rate among schools across New York State was approximately 30%, just to give you a frame of reference.  We compared favorably with our counterparts in the Catholic schools within our region (Orange, Ulster, Sullivan and Rockland counties.)  Although our math scores compared with the state were lower than our ELA scores, we consistently ranked at the top in math compared to the Catholic schools in our region.  While this is good news, we still have much work to do to get our students prepared for the shifts in mathematics instruction – deeper focus, dual intensity, more facility in problem solving and greater emphasis on computational skills.  To this end, we are joining our peers throughout the Archdiocese of New York in targeted instruction in Math – closer emphasis on the Common Core standards as per the Engage NY site, aligning our math curriculum with these standards and using mathematical resources that are more closely aligned with the Common Core, i.e. On Core Math.  Parent information letters regarding your child’s actual scores will be sent home as soon as these are available, which we hope will be very soon.

To give our teachers the tools they will need to adjust their instruction more effectively, we will be administering interim assessments throughout the year in both ELA and Math.  These assessments are designed to be diagnostic in nature and more closely aligned to the Common Core assessments students will take in the spring.  There will be no actual score, rather teachers will be able to analyze the results by looking at curriculum strands to determine the areas that their students performed well and where there were challenges.  By analyzing these interim assessments by strand of skills and concepts, teachers will be better able to target their instruction to meet the learning needs of each student.  These will not be part of any student’s permanent record.  The assessments are designed to be used as a classroom data tool to help teachers teach more effectively.  These interim assessments will help to measure program effectiveness (or not) and then provide teachers with meaningful information to adjust instructional practices to better support student learning.

We are no longer participating in the ITBS standardized assessments.  Instead, students will be taking these new interim assessments (that were designed by Catapult Learning in collaboration with curriculum specialists in the Archdiocese of New York.)  These will be administered in October (hopefully this coming week as early as Wednesday, October 9, or the following week) and again in December and once again in February.  Students do not need to prepare for these assessments in any way.  Teachers will be preparing students throughout the year by way of aligning the curriculum with the Common Core standards.

To more effectively compete with our counterparts in the public schools throughout the state, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York (ADNY) will be participating in the New York State Assessments in ELA and Math in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.  In years past, we participated in these assessments in grades 4, 6 and 8 only.  While this is a new development for Catholic schools, the reasoning behind this decision is to ensure that: 1) we are implementing the Common Core Learning Standards across our curriculum and 2) we will continue to perform favorably with students in the public schools.  Historically, students in Catholic schools have performed consistently better than our peers in the public schools.  Our goal has always been to prepare our students emotionally, spiritually and academically to meet the rigorous challenges of a global society.  This shift in focus toward the Common Core and the assessments that align to the Common Core will, hopefully, give us the tools needed to maintain our competitive academic advantage while holding onto the values that set Catholic schools apart from other schools.

I will be scheduling upcoming Parent Coffees to address topics like these in the months ahead.  If anyone is interested in hearing more about the ADNY focus in instruction, Dr. McNiff, Superintendent of the Schools in the Archdiocese of New York, will be traveling throughout the state to conduct parent information sessions.  The closest location for the Orange County schools will be Sacred Heart School, 26 Still Rd. in Monroe, NY on October 22 at 7pm.  Flier forthcoming.

We had a wonderful turn out at the first Parent Guild meeting of the season on September 16th.  The next Parent Guild meeting is tomorrow, October 7, 2013 at 9:00am in the BDMS Library.  We hope as many parents as possible can join us for this meeting.  If you have not done so already, please consider joining the Parent Guild.  All parents are welcome to attend the meetings and, of course, the wonderful activities that are planned throughout the school year.

My apologies for the length of this Newsletter.  I wanted to provide as much information as possible about our work with the Common Core Learning Standards.  As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments you’d like to share.  My door is always open, and I thank you for your continued support.  I’m looking forward to a great school year!

Kind regards,

 Karen 

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