October 27, 2020

Dear Farragut Middle School and Hastings High School Families, 

This past March, during the early days of the pandemic, we experienced a rapid, unexpected, and prolonged school closure. The District needed to pivot quickly in order to provide continuous instruction to students. The content and standards addressed through the curriculum had to be substantially modified and teachers changed their lesson plans to adapt to the new conditions of remote learning. Given the unprecedented circumstances associated with the school closure and the resulting effects on our program, we need a sense of the standards and content needed to supplement instruction. Diagnostic screeners in the areas of English Language Arts and mathematics will be used for this purpose. These screeners will help us to identify students’ strengths and areas of need and potential gaps that individual students may have experienced this past year. It also enables us to see patterns of student need within and across grade levels that can serve to inform important curricular decisions.

In addition to our commitment to ensuring that students’ learning needs are met, the District has also received direct guidance from the State requiring us to determine learning gaps that may have developed as a result of the prolonged closure in the spring. The NYSED School Reopening Guidance has advised districts to 

Use a locally determined formative or diagnostic assessment to determine individual student needs and target extra help to ensure both academic and social-emotional needs are addressed (p.90).

As students returned to school in the fall, we were aware of the need to focus on their social emotional well-being to ensure a strong, supportive transition. We anticipated that while children were out of school, they were experiencing a variety of emotions related to the virus and the racial turmoil happening in the country. Jeanette Kocur, Director of School Counseling, worked with the school counselors in each building to design developmentally appropriate social-emotional screeners to ensure the identification of children in need of additional support and to inform planned learning outcomes for student advisory in the middle school and high school. These screeners were administered in September in the form of student surveys within students’ classrooms. The monitoring of student well-being continues to be an ongoing collaboration between school counselors, teachers, and parents. Pages 129 and 130 of the Hastings-on-Hudson School Reopening Plan provides additional detail about how we are actively nurturing self- and social awareness and supporting students to develop strategies for navigating their emotions.

Now that students have transitioned to the new school year, plans for academic screening are underway. Hillside recently screened students’ reading fluency and decoding using the DIBELS and screened students in the area of mathematics using a locally developed math assessment aligned to the standards. These particular screeners have been used in the past by the elementary academic interventionists to understand the reading difficulties experienced by some students. This year, they were administered to all students across kindergarten through fourth grade by each child’s classroom teacher. 

On the morning of our final Flex Wednesday, October 28th, all Farragut Middle School and Hastings High School students in grades six through twelve will now complete standards-aligned diagnostic screeners in English Language Arts and mathematics. Students in these grades will be receiving two video conference links from their teachers, one link for English Language Arts at 9:30am and one link for mathematics at 10:30am, as they would for joining a class. Once students join their scheduled Meet or Zoom session, teachers will support students to log into an instructional platform to access their grade-specific, web-based diagnostic screeners. 

Students in fifth grade will be screened the following day on Thursday, October 29th, providing our youngest middle schoolers a higher level of support with the login process, since Thursday is an instructional day where half the students will be present in the physical building. Fifth grade teachers will follow a similar process to support students who are learning remotely to log in, while also directly helping students in the Green cohort within their classrooms. Each screener is expected to take approximately 30 minutes to complete, though students will have an additional 15 minutes to use if they would like. Because this is a diagnostic screener that will enable us to identify potential areas of need, and not a test, student testing accommodations will not be provided. This is aligned to how the DIBELS and Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark screeners have been administered in previous years at Hillside.

As outlined on page 93 of the Hastings-on-Hudson School Reopening Plan, the Grade 5 and Grade 6 screener will be given through the Odysseyware platform. The Grades 7 through 12 screeners will be given through the Courseware platform. These web-based resources were chosen for our screeners as they are already part of teachers’ instructional toolkits, they are aligned to the New York State learning standards, and lessons are available in a variety of content areas to support student needs. The lessons provided in Odysseyware have standards-aligned learning objectives and are organized into small learning units of study. Students are able to receive immediate feedback, while teachers are able to use data from formative assessments to drive their instruction. Similarly, Courseware offers a digital curriculum for a variety of different content areas, as well as learning activities and assessments. 

The diagnostic screeners require no preparation. They are designed solely for the purpose of identifying strengths and areas for growth relative to academic standards from the previous grade level. Once the screeners have been administered, they will be automatically scored. In early November, once all students have completed the screening process, teachers and administrators will analyze the scores alongside current evidence of student learning to determine whether a student may be in need of referral to the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) team. The Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a framework for providing early academic or social-emotional interventions. I will be working together with the building principals and department chairs to support a consistent process across the district. 

If you have any questions regarding the diagnostic screeners, please feel welcome to contact me, a building principal, or a building assistant principal.

Best regards,

Melissa Szymanski
Assistant Superintendent, Curriculum & Instruction