These are clearly interesting times in public education.
Our systems continue to be the focus of national debate, most recently centered on testing and standards. Are we testing our children too much? Are these “new” standards a part of some ideological plot to transform our children into something outside the values of our community? Politics have clearly entered the schoolhouse, and the debate is flawed!
Many people are concerned about the amount of testing that occurs within our schools. I, personally, have never met a test that led students to learn more or achieve at higher rates. That being said, it is important to recognize that children are “assessed” each and every day of the school year. We observe students after instruction and know if they mastered a concept. Teachers administer quizzes and tests to check for understanding on a daily/weekly basis. With billions of taxpayer dollars spent on public education, is it wrong to expect that some level of assessment with a clear set of expectations will be administered to ensure the accountability and effectiveness of our schools?
This issue of standards is an interesting quandary. National talk show hosts are leading the way to ban what is known as the Common Core Standards and any test associated with them. They claim these standards are a plot to expose children to inappropriate content or to lower expectations for children. It is clear to me that most have never read them.
The standards focus on reading, writing and math skills only; they do not dictate science or social studies standards or content, despite popular belief. It is true that some organizations have published lists of texts that “support Common Core” that may include content contrary to the values of a community. In that case, the issue is not the “standards,” but the choices made by local school leaders. Common Core Standards in reading, writing and math set a high bar for students in an effort to move students to deeper understanding and application of skill. With the massive explosion of knowledge and content, we must teach our children to think and problem-solve as opposed to the mere memorization and regurgitation of facts or process.
The real issue that many are failing to address is the challenge of ensuring the success of all students in our public schools. Districts and schools where some kids attend hungry, struggle with second-language issues, have little home support for academics or struggle in home environments that fail to nurture them typically don’t do well. We can make lots of excuses, but research shows that a school and district can impact learning of students with such challenges. The real measure of an effective school system is the performance of the least successful student.
We are proud of our students who achieve and leave our district with successful futures ahead. We also have a relentless focus on students who aren’t achieving to that level. The goal for our district is to ensure that all students achieve a year’s worth of growth in a year’s time. That includes our high-achieving students who already may be above their current grade level in performance. The greater challenge is ensuring that students who are behind achieve even more. We also must ensure that all students are prepared with the character and skills necessary for success in school and upon graduation.
In the coming months, we will once again be reaching out to our community to share more about our vision and mission. While it’s easy to be critical of us, I invite all to join the discussion about how we achieve the vision – that all students will leave Durango 9-R ready to take on the challenges of college or career.
Dan Snowberger is the superintendent of the Durango School District. DSnowberger@durango.k12.co.us.