In Durango, we’ve been working hard to transform from the traditional public school system to one that is focused on building competency in all students. While the old system worked well for many children, many were not able to achieve the same level of educational benefits because of factors beyond their control.
Defining the competency of students as they progress through our system has been a hallmark of our work during the past five years. In light of the national debate about testing, that conversation was often reduced to a “no more testing” debate. Instead, our journey has been to identify what evidence we will accept to show a student’s foundational understanding of key concepts.
The reality is that the skills our children need to know aren’t demonstrated in a multiple choice test or an essay. Today, students don’t demonstrate mastery by regurgitating memorized information; rather they apply foundational skills in a new way to demonstrate real understanding. Mastery of these skills must be aligned throughout our system to ensure that students experience a cohesive system as they progress through their prekindergarten-to-12th-grade career.
A successful education system needs to define what students need to know and be able to do as they progress through school. Our instruction at all levels must align so that we can build on prior learning. Teachers should expect students who arrive in their classrooms to have mastered earlier skills taught in previous grades. Today, our teachers are often faced with trying to fill critical learning gaps that prevent them from moving on to new content.
Students bring a variety of challenges to our classrooms that affect their ability to learn. Whether it is poverty, language needs or social-emotional challenges, these challenges require that we implement many different strategies if we are to ensure each student’s success. We must leave the old system of one-size-fits-all behind and be willing to truly transform our educational system. This new system requires the creative use of resources if we are to ensure that the gifted child is accelerated, the average learner is challenged and the learner who requires remediation in critical skills gets the support he or she needs and ultimately finds success.
The way students move and progress through our K-12 system must change if we are to truly ensure that no child is left, or held, behind. In the fall, our board took the first step of adopting competency-based graduation requirements for the class of 2021. Students will no longer simply take the right classes and graduate; they will also be required to demonstrate, through a variety of options, true mastery in foundational skills or graduate competencies in language arts, math, science and social studies.
As we continue to study competency-based practices in Durango, it will be clear that other parts of our system will need to shift to move forward. As you hear about changes in the future, please never hesitate to reach out to seek clarification. These are exciting times in public education, and we are lucky to have such a dedicated team of professionals working to serve our children.
Email Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger at DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.