It is my pleasure to bring you the Spring edition of Key Notes. This month's lead article is written by Ray McNulty and focuses on how assessment, if used as a continual process, can raise student performance and be a tool for sustainable improvement.
This timely topic is critical for educators, especially as more information on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)
emerges. One thing is clear: administrators will have to make quick but wise decisions that will increase student performance and ensure transparency in reporting and accountability.
Ray is a frequent keynote presenter on the need for school systems to accept the challenges that lie ahead. He dedicated his career to raising performance standards for both teachers and students and to building solid connections between schools and their communities. Ray strongly believes that education systems cannot wait for the children and challenges to arrive at school; rather, schools need to reach out and help forge solutions.
Ray is available to speak at your district, state or national conferences. For scheduling information, please contact me at (518) 723-2057 or Karen@LeaderEd.com
Karen Wilkins, Executive Vice President
Education for All Learners
by Ray McNulty, Senior Vice President, International Center for Leadership in Education
For many, assessment conjures up images of students sitting in straight rows taking timed, standardized tests - a force being exerted against students and teachers. But assessment is an important component of the story of education, albeit only one piece of the story. Assessment, in the best sense, is a continuous, multilayered process that goes far beyond what can be gleaned from a single test.
If educators accept that assessment is the end point, and schools scramble to produce top scores, then educators become passive objects of change. If, however, educators accept that assessment has a place in the ongoing evaluation of education and see the value of data as a tool rather than a destination, then they are positioned to be agents of change.
To educators who are agents of change, assessment means a full range of evaluation, beyond formal testing. They use results to inform their decision making and to evaluate progress over time. Among its benefits, the data helps schools determine if goals are being met or need to be adjusted.
When educators use assessment as a tool rather than an end point, they're able to make education relevant, lively, and appealing. They can take education and students in many directions instead of down a single, linear track in which the goal is to bring everyone more or less into a narrowly defined range of "success."
This is challenging because there are enough stories of triumph to make a case for the success of the education system as it is, even though we know that many students are not thriving in school or making solid transitions into productive lives once they leave school. Of course, it's easier to listen to our satisfied customers, to focus on tales of achievement. But listening only to the success stories keeps educators as objects of change. Moreover, it makes it too easy to label those who struggle in the system or for whom the system hasn't worked as disgruntled or lazy.
Our system is stuck in a model of mass producing students filled with knowledge rather than using a model that meets learners where they are and develops each one to be ready for further learning, work, and life. Instead of worrying that kids don't fit the system or that the test scores aren't what they should be, perhaps we should wonder how the system can change to accommodate these learners and enhance the unique qualities that each individual student has to offer.
This is an excerpt from Ray's forthcoming book, It's Not Us Against Them: Creating the Schools We Need.
Get to Know Sue Szachowicz
Interview with Sue Szachowicz,
Principal of Brockton High School
Brockton has been a model school at the past 5 annual Model Schools Conferences and is a case study in whole school reform.
The story of Brockton High School's transformation is amazing. Please tell us more.
Yes it is quite amazing! Not so long ago, Brockton was a school focused on athletic accomplishments. The leadership philosophy was that as long as the school was quiet, it was successful. It was no surprise that in 1998, when Massachusetts instituted a high-stakes testing program, we ranked as one of the lowest scoring schools in the state. Fast forward to 2007. We dramatically increased the number of students passing the state tests. We went from a pass rate in ELA of 55% to above 90% and in math from 22% to 80%. We were even recognized in 2008 by U.S. News and World Report as one of America's Best High Schools.
How were you able to make such a dramatic transformation?
Well, it wasn't easy and it wasn't quick, but we realized that the students deserved a better opportunity for success than what they were getting. In a school where 70% of students are minority and living in poverty and nearly 40% have a first language that is not English, we needed to begin by changing the culture of low expectations. We committed as a faculty to personalize the educational experience for every student and took a hard look at ourselves. Through data analysis, we concluded that the way to begin was to implement a school-wide literacy initiative.
What would you tell educators that are starting or in the middle of school reinvention?
Don't ever give up. Creating a culture of high expectations is about having a continuous focus on the success of every student. It is a challenge, and you will face resistance. But by focusing on improving student achievement through rigor/relevance/relationships, empowering staff, and accepting no more excuses, reinvention can be accomplished.
I am so very proud of my school! School spirit and pride have never been stronger. I believe the experiences Brockton High School has had and our change process can be very helpful to every school ready to move forward.