Fall is the time we eagerly welcome back crisp air, comfy sweaters, and pumpkin-spice everything. This is also the time when districts receive their assessment scores from the previous school year. Teachers and administrators excitedly yet anxiously study the data, hoping the results show the tremendous efforts made by their students.
As a former teacher, I remember this time well. Although I could rest in the fact that I did my best each day, I was a nervous wreck when the scores hit my hands. I took each score personally. I celebrated when students did well and cringed when I knew some could do better.
High stakes accountability is the conventional structure of education. Each day, I taught my students skills that were essential to do well on and off the assessment. When my students scored high on their state tests, I felt like I just won the Super Bowl. I scrutinized the scores to determine if I was an effective teacher. The Kentucky Department of Education analyzed the results to see if the school met high quality standards. Now that I have been removed from the classroom for several years, my new experiences as an administrator have allowed me to gain a different perspective.
Test scores are important indicators of academic achievement. By measuring our students’ abilities in the core subjects of English, mathematics, reading, science, and writing, we as administrators and teachers can understand what our students have learned.
But standardized tests are just that-- standard. There are things scores don’t show. For example, it doesn’t show the commitment of a teacher attending a student’s basketball game because they asked themto be there. The scores don’t evaluate how many times a student reached out to a counselor because of issues at home. The scores don’t take into account the number of times a teacher worked with a driven student on a math problem or English paper. These assessments don’t measure musical or artistic abilities gained by being a part of a student organization. Lastly, test scores don’t measure the leadership and citizenship that is essential to flourish both in and out of the classroom. These test scores show a snapshot of students’ academic knowledge measured in one week.
Accountability is a wonderful and necessary component in any environment. Everyone needs to be held accountable to the words they say and the work they produce. As the superintendent, I hold myself and all of our staff members accountable to do their jobs in the best interest of students. Our teachers are accountable for student learning and outcomes. Our students are accountable for their learning and outcomes.
However, there is great difficulty in maintaining accountability among districts across the state. The 172 districts in Kentucky range in various sizes, regions, and affluence.
It is important to look past the printed scores and experience everything that is taking place in schools. Teachers are instructing students with valuable knowledge that will prepare them for the next grade level and life outside of school. Students are experiencing hands-on education and therefore apply learned concepts to real life situations. They are using technology to discover creative alternatives to traditional approaches. They are involved in extracurricular activities that will teach them to communicate well with team members.
When you truly look within a school district, you will see so much more than a number-- you will see determination, encouragement, learning, opportunities, success, challenge, and love. When you analyze your student’s test score, remember to focus on the individual and not the standard. At Williamstown Schools, we believe each student has the potential to succeed; I hope you view your student in the same way.