Archive for March, 2012

STANDARDIZED TESTING OVER-USED

When I first became a school superintendent (1992), I embraced the Texas emphasis on accountability – as expressed through newly developed standardized tests and other measures.  I reasoned that I would rather be evaluated on hard, cold data with regard to student achievement – than on such fleeting vapors as popularity or politics.  Thus, I set in motion various measurable goals that tracked student achievement each year – and took individual and collective pride in yearly advancements.  That has been my mantra for 20 years.

Fast forward to 2012:  The state of Texas has implemented so many standardized tests in grades 3-12 that every important learning not directly connected to the tests is over-shadowed, under-appreciated, and often set aside.  Not only have the blizzard of new tests multiplied since the legislature met in 2011, but now include multiple versions of the tests for various special education populations.

In order to address the national publicity about isolated instances of cheating, there are now so many rules and regulations regarding the administration of the tests that the entire testing system is a monster eating away at what little time is left over for other things.  Texas parents  have recognized this one-eyed behemoth and are beginning to demand change.

Interestingly, those nations whose children score at the very highest on international benchmarks are less enamored with standardized testing.  For example,  the Finland educational system is now ranked as among the best in the world based on international benchmark scores.  Yet they do not issue external assessments (standardized tests) until the high school leaving exam in grade 12.  Instead, instruction in the earlier grades focuses on the development of creativity, problem solving, and on the fundamental skill of literacy.   Class sizes are small and great emphasis is placed on teacher preparation and ongoing staff development.  Teachers are trained on diagnosing learning difficulties and there is a strong focus on early intervention when kids are having difficulties.  Teaching is considered a prestigious and honored profession.  Oh and one other thing:  Finnish students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning from an early age.  (American parents – pay attention!)

As with all of the nations whose children lead the world in high school achievement, Finland spends less per student than in American schools.

It is one thing to complain; another to propose a solution.  Here’s mine:  Texas has appropriately begun placing a greater emphasis on college readiness.  The SAT, ACT, AP, and THEA tests are all well established, already in place, and produce a high volume of useful information for determining the educational progress/success of our students.  In addition, we can certainly incorporate widespread adoption of the international benchmark tests for high school science and math – hoping to re-establish the U.S. as among the best educational systems in the world.  We should base much of our accountability on those tests – and much less on others.

At earlier grade levels, we can eliminate statewide exams and substitute locally developed benchmarks to measure progress.  These benchmarks will be subject to local school leader decisions (i.e. teachers, administrators, elected board members), not state politics.  Obviously those schools/districts who fail to produce good results at the elementary/middle school level will reap what they sow when the students are tested on the college prep indicators I’ve referred to above.   Thus, accountability remains in place – and with power.   Early grade levels can then focus more than they do now on creativity, problem solving, fine arts, and other ways of developing the multiple intelligences found in students.

At the April 10 Board meeting, we’re  introducing a Board resolution aimed at convincing Texas legislators, when they meet again in January 2013, to put an end to the over-reliance on standardized testing.  The state and local school districts can spend less on tests – and more time on greater things.  More than 200 districts have already adopted this resolution.   I invite parents across Texas to take up this banner – and wave it high in Austin!

INHERITED FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP

Here is a link to a recent column I wrote for the local papers and our website on the financial stewardship of the district. In it, I’m expressing thankfulness for the sound financial situation I’ve inherited here as superintendent – and a little history of state/local funding challenges faced by the district over the past decade:
http://www.pearlandisd.org/information.cfm?subpage=17133

RESPONSE TO MY COMMENTS ON CRUCIAL ROLE OF PARENTS

First, I want to thank Dionne for commenting on my blog posting with regard to the crucial role of parents.  She wrote as follows:

“I am a parent who had a child in private school for two years. I noticed the difference in the curriculum right way when we had our first experience with the public school. It was quite concerning to learn that there are so many teachers teaching to the state test and there are not enough textbooks in the class for every student. We need more than just students being given worksheets to bubble in to increase their stamina for taking a state test and giving the lowest grade of only 70 when a student fails a test.. This is not a real education. This is creating a false sense of acheivement.This seems to be happening more frequently in Pearland ISD. I teach college courses. It troubles me to discover that so many adults entering college are not prepared. This problem has to be corrected starting at the elementary level. Yes, parents should be accountable just as much as teachers, but it is difficult to fight for a higher standard of education when you are alone. Parents working with teachers should be a 50/50 partnership.”

Here are my thoughts in response to Dionne’s comments:

-Yes, I fully acknowledge that the vast majority of public school work in Texas is now bound up with state testing.  It is an incredible over-reach by the state and needs to be addressed in 2013 when the legislature meets again.  The 50/50 partnership of parents/teachers can begin there – with parents en masse protesting the current situation.  Until then, and unlike the private schools, we are obligated to follow the state’s curriculum/testing regimen.

-Textbooks are underfunded.  They used to be provided by the state at no cost.  As state budgets have tightened, they’ve given individual districts an “allotment” extremely insufficient to cover the need – and combined it with spending on instructional technology.  This is another area for concerned parents to protest – with their state legislators.

-Worksheets are sometimes necessary; many times not.  Having taught and served as Principal in a high achieving private school, I believe that worksheets are equally burdensome in both places.  Having 7 children of my own in the public schools, I believe that such worksheets are less prevalent than in past generations – but are still over-used by those teachers whose work ethic needs adjustment.  I encourage parents who see this problem with particular teachers, to address it first with those teachers.

-We do not give a lowest grade of 70 in the public schools.  In accordance with state law and local policy, school districts cannot impose a minimum grade requirement upon teachers which would have the effect of requiring teachers to give a grade higher than earned.  We can allow make-ups within a short window that can raise one’s grade to passing if the student does in fact pass the make-up test/quiz/assignment.  Our school district allows such a make-up period.

-While it troubles many professors in college that students are unprepared, I would also like to add my own pet peeve:  College professors have almost no accountability whatsoever.  They defend this under the banner of “academic freedom”.  In the K-12 public schools, the opposite is true.  All core academics are under heavy scrutiny on everything from STAAR/EOC tests in grades 3-12 to SAT, ACT, AP, THEA, and a host of others.  A middle ground is needed where college professors stop bemoaning what they receive – and become accountable for what they do thereafter.

-I agree that partnerships with teachers/parents ought to be 50/50.  I interpret that to mean, among other things, that parents do not abandon their children to the public school alone.  Those parents capable of teaching their children should also be doing so at home- so that the over-reliance on standardized testing we have to deal with – is at least partially compensated by parent instruction.  My wife and I share decidedly different views than many in our society –  on some material taught within the public schools.  Therefore, we teach our children to be discerning about what they learn – and to freely point out their own opinion on matters of debate within  (for example) the science/social studies/fine arts curriculum.

I applaud Dionne’s willingness to speak up – and her willingness to help!  I would ask that our parents judge us by our results – as indicated on the various accountability measures that public schools are presently subject to.  Especially those related to college readiness…  And I make my plea that parents will influence our state legislators to stop patting themselves on the back for so called “higher standards” – while simultaneously crushing us all with the growing monster of excessive standardized testing.  (And some funding for ever-escalating mandates would also be quite helpful.)

Our collective influence as parents/teachers:  More powerful than any worksheet – able to leap over tall mandates in a single bound…

JPK

 

Parent’s role crucial

Not every post to this blog can or will be sunshine or syrup.  I like telling it like it is.  I need to identify and discuss issues that are hard to talk about…

As our school district works hard to develop “world class schools”, I’ve begun to address obstacles and opportunities lying in our path. My current worry is not so much about what we can create and sustain. There is tremendous human capital here that is ready to rise to the challenge.

My real worry is this: Will the students and their parents respond to the challenge of much higher expectations?

I thought about this recently when I heard a presentation by David Anthony, who is now the head of an organization called “Raise Your Hand Texas” dedicated to advocating for the advancement of public schools. In his presentation, the following statement was made: “Children have a right to an educational environment where adults are accountable for their achievement!” He went on to focus on the word “adults” and commented that this involves not only educators – but parents.  Right on!

During the 20 years I’ve served as superintendent, I’ve seen some signs of a general deterioration in the quality of parenting.  More and more parents are simply turning over the education of their child to the schools, and simultaneously demanding more and more services, while providing less and less effective guidance to their own.

Parents often speak of high expectations for their child – and then seek every way around them when circumstances interfere with their child’s wishes or when their child mis-behaves or under-performs.  Our dilemma might be expressed by the adage “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” If we are truly to produce world class schools, we must expect much more of students – and of parents.

I believe we’ll continue to hear from parents about their high expectations for us – but I worry they won’t hear anyone telling parents about their own obligations. This is a major difference between public schools and Charter/Private Schools.  In those alternative environments, the schools can require certain things of parents and students – and tell parents that if they aren’t met, they may not continue to enroll.   In contrast, the regular public schools must educate everyone – and short of a very serious criminal offense – continue to educate them.   Parent cooperation and participation cannot be required, though both are needed.

Nevertheless, our great experiment continues  – with nothing short of world class schools in mind!

State Champs – As predicted!

PHS AcaDec TrophyI’m even prouder to follow-up on my previous post with regard to Academic Decathlon.   Pearland  High School is newly crowned as the state champion This is, in my opinion, the highest honor bestowed on Pearland ISD students this school year – since it reflects incredibly hard work combined with advanced academic knowledge in a very wide variety of areas.

I render special tribute to Robert Layne, the high school teacher who leads our Academic Decathlon efforts. In the latest honor accompanying this fine teacher, he has been selected as the Academic Decathlon Coach of the Year here in Texas.  His Academic Decathlon teams have won two state championships, placed fifth in State twice and placed 2nd and 5th in national competition.  All of this has happened in the last 4 years.   He is an inspiration to all educators!