(Continued from previous post)
Even if STAAR works as a thermometer, if all we ever knew about our health was body temperature, we would be in the dark on a whole host of measures that would lead to better health. Meanwhile, students and teachers are more disengaged with school and learning. Colleges and businesses continue to report students and young employees who are ill-equipped, especially in terms of their technical, professional and social-emotional skills.
And it’s about to get worse as Texas adopts an A-F rating system for it’s schools. In this system, each school will receive a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F based on the following:
55% for STAAR Performance
35% for PostSecondary Readiness (Graduation Rate, Dropout Rate, Dual/AP Credit, CTE courses, attendance)
10% for Community Engagement (self-reported assessment on 3 indicators chosen by the district)
On the face of it, this simple label seems like a clear indicator of success. You either have an A or you don’t. The problem is what happens to our behavior as schools and educators under this type of system. We prioritize getting an A over other aspects of our mission, vision or values. In order to do that, we centralize our curriculum, take decisions out of the hands of the teachers, and ensure that all grades and all classes are following the calendar to the class period and in some cases, the minute. For college educated, master craftsmen (i.e. teachers), this is not only disengaging, it can be humiliating as well. The job of the principal is to ensure compliance with district directives aimed at the sole goal of increasing test scores. This factory-based approach celebrates and promotes one type of student over another – those who can perform on these exams and those who cannot.
For the most part, the schools that will score the best under this system throughout the state are those that draw the best students. These are the application based programs (formerly thought of as magnet schools) that many districts are adopting today. These are often labeled college prep and attract the best and brightest in the district. Their test scores are through the roof and by high school, 100% of these students are earning dual credit in college or taking numerous Advanced Placement courses. Students who cannot cut it are transferred to other schools.
These schools are great opportunities for top students or students who could be in the top but might be distracted by social or economic factors. There is nothing wrong with celebrating their success. However, if we only highlight this type of experience, we continue to support a narrow view of success in public education.
Also, while there are considerations for safeguards and calibrating the rating based on percentage of students in free and reduced lunch, we are still missing the mark. But to be fair, there are schools that are failing their students on multiple levels from safety and security to academic achievement to fiscal responsibility and educational opportunity. This type of rating system may stir the parent and community pot enough to demand change and petition for better schools.
But on the whole, there are likely to be inter-district battles over a B rating versus a C rating. And with the first year being reported on a bell curve, each letter rating will be represented. Competition in public education is a good thing as long as we continue to remember that in the end, we are after the same goal – creating students who are competent, caring and courageous adults. If we miss this and get bogged down in an A-F marketing war, who wins?
At Village Tech, we are clear about who we are and what we value. This understanding has deepened and evolved since our application was approved four years ago. It’s been built upon by trial and error, deep listening to students, teachers and parents, and continued conversation as a community around our principles and practices. And at the heart, we are still committed to providing students with great teachers working together. Great teachers are people who are experts in the craft of teaching, the content matter, their classroom and the current trends in their field and in education. Great teachers operate with integrity and empathy, are masters of design who can craft deep learning experiences, connect subjects and skills to the world beyond school, create environments where all students can contribute and they also know their students well. We fulfill this through our 3 C mission of character, challenge and community. When schools become places where students can learn who they are, learn things that last and learn they belong, then the stage is set for growth. This becomes an incubator for future success.
Schools, after all, are living systems. They are much more like gardens than factories. It is not simply a matter of inputs and outputs. The more we reduce students and schools to industrial ideals (quality controlled products), the more likely we will continue to get graduates who can perform in tightly controlled systems, but when left to make decisions, be creative, take a risk, learn from failure, communicate an idea or collaborate with others, they will continue to struggle.
Instead of the factory, consider the garden. In a garden, the gardener can set the conditions with quality soil, positioning for optimum light, and a schedule for watering and nutrients. But what the gardener cannot do is make the plant grow. Only the plant can do that. And certain plants grow better under different conditions and in different climates. The same is true for adults and for students. And each plant will bear it’s own fruit or flower, some that will be appreciated and celebrated by our society, it’s culture and norms and performance measures, while others will be less noticed and still others even derided or teased or diminished.
In some ways, this is the nature of things. We simplify and codify and classify. Let’s just not fool ourselves into thinking that students can be defined by a single test or that schools can be defined by a single letter. Where the A-F system allows us to identify weaknesses and improve upon performance, then we should listen. Where it distracts us from the purpose of education and from creating a Texas filled with competent, caring and courageous adults, then we should ignore it. We can be feverish for certainty at times, but as any good doctor will tell you, certainty is hard to come by. Instead, let’s keep an eye on the educational health of our students and teachers in the systems we create by using more than a temperature reading to determine our success.
-see what others are saying around the state-