I’m going to say the three words that make most educators today cringe…. HIGH… STAKES…. TESTING… Just when I was feeling relaxed and feeling pretty good about the past school year, I got a peek at our 2013 PSSA results (the Pennsylvania dreaded state tests). What a disappointment! From an overarching perspective as the Reading Specialist, I can say that we have put pieces into place that should have made an impact on student achievement. However, here we are in 2013 and for the past 8 years have been trending pretty darn flat no matter what we try. Let me give you a little background information and then maybe you can give me the silver bullet that will fix everything (wouldn’t that be awesome if there was such a thing?)
An overview of our district follows:
We are a district that has funding for adequate staffing. We have state of the art technology and newer facilities. We are not a rich district, but we are by no means poor either. We have a diverse student body including ESL, IEP, autistic support, life skills, emotional support, and multiple disabilities. (Keep in mind though that many of our more handicapped students do not take the PSSA) Our local Intermediate Unit stays current with educational topics, and offers a variety of additional workshops
Some of our district initiatives include:
Our district began implementing the RtII (Response to Instruction and Intervention) framework about six years ago and has been tweaking it ever since. Every grade level has additional support staff to help with Tier 2 and Tier 3 instruction. Our professional development has been more targeted to focus on specific needs. A new reading program was purchased for the 2012-13 school year for our K-6 buildings that align with the Common Core Standards. During the 2012-13 school year all grade levels met on a weekly basis with the Reading Specialist, ESL teacher, Title I staff, and Learning Support teacher. These meetings were geared toward tracking student progress and making instructional changes. This past year we worked with grade level teams to realign our curriculum with the Common Core Standards.
Where do we go from here?
It is almost impossible to talk about high stakes testing without also talking about accountability. Systems of accountability seem to have become more visible since the advent of NCLB, which has tied public funding to student academic achievement. By 2014 (yes, that’s next year… YIKES!), we are to have 100% of our students proficient on these tests. Also, next year our district (along with the other districts in PA) are implementing a new teacher evaluation model that’s partly tied to student achievement as measured by these high stakes tests. I’m sure we all wish high stakes testing would just go away. Unfortunately, it’s driving some educators to cheat on test administration, or some excellent educators to leave the profession altogether. Here is an article written by a Florida teacher who chose to quit: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20130414/OPINION03/130419828
Excuses…. Excuses…. I’m sure that when this achievement data is shared with all of the district staff on the August in-service day, we will be able to come up with a thousand and one excuses of what happened. It was too hot that day! The testing schedule was a nightmare! It’s this group of kids… their attitude stinks! These kids are so low! We don’t have enough support staff! Our class size is too large! It’s those darn ESL and IEP kids that keep pulling our scores down! And to be honest, I don’t know why our scores stay stagnant. We all are guilty of wanting to pull excuses out of the air because we feel that we’ve done the best we could do, so it must have been some other factor. I can just say that there will be many dejected teachers sitting there that day. What a way to build morale to start the school year.
One horrific solution! I’m not sure how many of you have read about Florida’s 2012 solution to this same problem. Many districts are struggling with student achievement of students in some of the subgroups. These would include Blacks, Latinos, IEP, Low Socioeconomic, etc. These are typically the subgroups that we need to be paying particularly close attention to during the entire school year to ensure they are making adequate progress. However, in Florida they came up with their own solution. Expectations for achievement are dependent upon a student’s race. Yes, you heard me correctly! If you are an Asian student you will be held to a much higher accountability than if you are Black or Latino. By lowering expectations, helping them or harming them? Obviously there are many people out there that agree with this solution or else it would have never been approved by the Florida State Department of Education. What are your thoughts? Here’s some more information on this situation in Florida: http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2012/10/12/florida-passes-plan-for-racially-based-academic-goals/
What is the solution? That is the question I pose to you… What is your school or district doing to try to increase student achievement? Should we hold different students to different levels of expectation? How are the teachers in your district held accountable? Is your state also implementing a new teacher evaluation system soon that is tied to student achievement and growth? How do we know our districts, schools, and teachers are doing everything they possibly can to ensure student academic success?