Posted Date: 05/14/2021
Humans need accountability… we need it and we are usually better because of it. I truly believe this and have always worked to create a culture of high expectations with support to meet my expectations. As educators, we must be held accountable for our work with the children in our classrooms. But, to whom are we accountable, and for what are we accountable? As an educator, I have asked myself this question for many years.
In fact, Pampa ISD asked this question of our stakeholders in the spring at our Stakeholder Summit meetings held over four sessions during the month of April. Over 75 parents, business owners, community members, teachers, administrators, school board members, and students gathered to have conversations about what we want for our students and what they will need to be future-ready. Stakeholders responded through surveys, conversations, and emails about how they want our schools to prepare our students academically, of course, but additionally, they expressed a desire for our schools to provide our students with opportunities to develop life-long skills that prepare them for their future—more than just how to pass a test.
So, what skills will our children need in the future? In order to narrow our focus and give us a tangible example, we envisioned what the Kindergarten students in our classrooms would need when they graduate in the year 2030. The fact is that we do not know what jobs will be waiting for our 2030 graduates. We do not know what academic tests will entail or what the standards will be in 2030. However, what we do know is that our students must have a set of life skills that will equip them to be successful regardless of time, circumstance, and regardless of what accountability system is in place at the state and national level.
As a result, we spent a significant amount of time researching, debating, and articulating seven competencies that we call the Profile of a Future-Ready Graduate. These competencies include being self-directed, a communicator and collaborator, practicing creative and complex thinking to solve problems and seek solutions, and being an ethical decision-maker. Although these skills are critical to overall student success, they are difficult to assess---especially using a multiple-choice standardized test. Over the next several months, stakeholders and staff will be working together to articulate how we will provide experiences for our students to learn about and practice acquiring these skills in addition to academic skills. Moreover, we will develop ways to assess how our students are doing in acquiring these skills. Our ultimate goal is to develop a community reporting system that provides our stakeholders with information about how we are doing in this endeavor. We want to hold ourselves accountable for teaching our students academics AND life-long skills that we know they will need. We should be accountable for and discuss with our stakeholders how we are doing in educating the WHOLE child for their future.
Unfortunately, the only reporting system we have now is the new A-F system that reports on the academic success of students and is primarily focused on only certain academic areas that are assessed through standardized tests and require students to demonstrate their learning in one way on one day. This is the only way we have ever looked at schools. Are we valuing what we measure or should we measure what we value? It is time we think beyond traditional assessments and beyond traditional accountability systems. This information is important, but it is only one part of the WHOLE school system. Just as one letter grade cannot possibly define a student, one letter grade cannot possibly define a district. That is a fact that I believe most people will agree with throughout this debate.
This week, school districts all over the state will receive letter grades that will be used to define for parents and stakeholders how a school is doing. Educational leaders, legislators, and other special interest groups have debated this system greatly. Tensions are growing at the state level and all over the region about what will happen with these letter grades. The legislators are ensuring parents that the letter grade will be easy to understand. This, I will say, has not been my experience with the system. It is confusing and complex. However, what will be easy to do is to “interpret” what people traditionally believe about letter grades. The letter grade is an oversimplified evaluation of a very complex system. As a result, people are likely to over-simplify what the letter grade tells them about the quality of the public schools. There is a lot of difference between a grade of 70 and a 79; however, both are C’s. Think about that.
Until we as stakeholders and educators work together to have an honest conversation about what we are accountable for and to whom, we will continue to over-simplify the system and in doing so, will do a disservice to our children. Our children are wonderfully made and have complex brains. They come to us with varying gifts, talents, strengths, and needs. Isn’t it time we recognize that and do what is right?
Having said that, Pampa ISD will receive its ratings this week. We will use the information, as we have with all other accountability systems, to examine our strengths and weaknesses. We will use the information to help guide our work, as we should. However, I need our community to understand that we do not wait for an outside accountability system to create a sense of urgency for us. We create our own urgency and gather information immediately to inform our decisions and guide our work. We strive for continuous improvement now and will tomorrow. Isn’t that what we should do regardless of whether we get a D or an A? The work of educating students is never easy and it is never over. In PISD, we will continue to strive for excellence academically. Additionally, we will continue to do more in developing a reporting mechanism that is more comprehensive and reflects our community values. Most importantly, we will continue to engage in the hard but noble work of educating the WHOLE child.
Published on 08/15/2018