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Superintendent offers update on school closure, standardized testing

March 24, 2020 | Payton North
payton@thereminder.com

LONGMEADOW – Superintendent of Longmeadow Public Schools Dr. Marty O’Shea came before the town in a Longmeadow TV update video filmed on March 20 in an effort to “update the learning community,” on where the district stands during these times in regard to the school closure, at-home learning and upcoming testing such as MCAS or advance placement (AP) exams.

First, O’Shea commended the community for their resilience and for their creativity and sense of community.

“What I’ve heard from regularly over the last week or so from our teachers is that they miss the students, that they miss the children in their classes. I think it’s caused all of us to further understand the reasons why we entered into education in the first place,” O’Shea explained.

“Likewise, I’ve heard that from families. Parents and guardians have indicated to us that the children are very interested in staying connected to their teachers, so that connectedness is critical for all of us at this juncture,” O’Shea stated. “I think some of us have heard the explanation that we shouldn’t call it ‘social distancing,’ that we ought to call it ‘physical distancing.’ It’s important to keep our social connections as alive as possible under these tough circumstances.”

As O’Shea delved into the meeting, he explained that he wanted to share the guidance that he has provided to families and educators in town.

“I think the guidance that we have at this time, it rests on three important assumptions. Number one, we recognize that students will not have access to the typical supports that they enjoy during a regular school day. We also recognize that we cannot possibly replicate all the good that happens in a regular school day when students have an opportunity to be with their peers and learn from their teachers,” he said.

Continuing, O’Shea noted that they want to be “respectful and mindful” of the schedules and routines that families are creating. He explained that they want to provide learning opportunities for students during this time, while also recognizing that there are new routines and schedules being created for families as a whole.

Finally, O’Shea noted that there must be the assumption that they trust the judgment and professionalism of Longmeadow teachers. “They’re compassionate people who want to support families and want to sustain learning through this closure period,” he said.

O’Shea explained that they want teachers to stay connected, teachers will continue to be timely and responsive in their communication with families, and finally, that the district would like to continue learning during this time.

“Again, understanding that we can’t possibly replicate a typical school day, the emphasis at this point is on enrichment, on school enhancement, on review, it is on perhaps revisiting material that is uncomfortable and familiar to students. We hope that as much as possible the work that is being provided is encouraging student self-direction as well,” he said.

O’Shea then reassured families that when students return to school, whether it be April 7 or at a later date, they will “meet students where they are.”

“Our obligation is to be flexible, to give students opportunities to revisit assignments and to create opportunities for growth when students return,” he said.

One of the main questions O’Shea said he has received from students and families is when school will resume. He explained that he doesn’t “pretend at the time of this taping to have any special insight on that,” and continued to note that his information on the closure is coming from the Department of Education and some of the media reports that are accessible to “all of us.”

He then noted that as of the taping on March 20, it did not look like students would have to attend school past the 185th scheduled school day. He explained further, that there is a 180 day school calendar and they built in 185. According to O’Shea, the Department of Education said schools will not have to go past the 185th scheduled day, which puts the calendar at June 24.

“If this were to continue longer I think it would be an opp for us to reframe our expectations for staff and families and students,” he then said they’d have to think “long and hard” about the work they’re requiring, the accessibility of the opportunities, and more.

O’Shea noted the state is exploring state–wide supports to allow for remote learning, however short of that he said they would look for district-wide and school-wide approaches as well.

When it comes to grading student work, O’Shea explained that they’ve given teachers some discretion to grade work for students in grades six through 12. He then noted that they want to give students the opportunities to show teachers what they can do.

“It might be that if this continues beyond April 6 that we will need to revisit our expectations in that area,” O’Shea added.

In regard to “end of year tests,” O’Shea indicated that they are “looking at and exploring all options when it comes to MCAS testing,” which he explained could include reducing the amount of tests students take, the testing windows, or potentially eliminating the standardized exams completely. Of course, he noted that this was the situation as of March 20 and the information could change by the time the video was made public.

For students who are taking AP exams, the way tests are delivered will be changed “significantly.” O’Shea noted that the district has hundreds of dedicated students enrolled in AP courses at Longmeadow High School.

“Traditional, face-to-face exams will not occur,” O’Shea said of the AP exams. Currently, the College Board is developing online options to replace the AP exams for this year. Moving forward, there will be two testing windows for students who are looking to take the exams, however those windows are not available yet.

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