Recently, we let our community know to expect a significant drop in our state test scores, the scores by which we are judged for academic achievement and compliance to the No Child Left Behind law.
This is a hard message and an uncomfortable one. However, within this situation lie opportunities for the district, our students and our community.
Why are scores falling? Schools statewide have been warned to expect this as the state’s grading criteria become harder and the test questions start to focus on more difficult new Common Core Standards material. Recently, the state “re-scored” last year’s tests against its new criteria to give schools a preview of what is ahead: District 41 went from 91.4 percent meeting or exceeding to 50 to 60 percent meeting or exceeding (and that is without the coming Common Core questions). It’s not that our students are suddenly doing worse than they did before; it’s that the standards are rising. That is a good thing, and something that all schools are facing together.
The idea of “teaching to the test” is anathema to many educators who believe it promotes a disregard of deep learning and a drive for external approval at the expense of a child’s individuality as a learner. But the new state tests that are coming in 2014-15 are expected to be higher quality than previous state tests. We are told they will measure things that matter, go beyond measuring rote learning, challenge critical thinking and expect students to demonstrate the ability to synthesize information, solve complex problems and comprehend difficult texts.
It’s all part of a broader overhaul of public education designed to ensure that all students are college or career ready upon graduation from high school. In District 41, we are taking many steps to ensure all students are on that path.
To name a few, we have aligned our curriculum to the new Common Core standards, are embedding our Learner Characteristics into everything we do, have recognized the need to put more emphasis on the sciences and are creating a STEAM approach (integrating the subjects of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math), and have adjusted the structure of the elementary school day. In addition, our work with student performance data is helping us to transform learning in our district. We have much more work ahead but are heartened by our shared recognition that the times, and our students, demand this work of us.
Why do I contend that falling scores mean opportunities? Because they are a visible reminder to us to be on guard against complacency, to be explicit in our expectations of ourselves as learners and to remember always who we are and what we can do on behalf of students.
Ann Riebock is superintendent of Glen Ellyn School District 41