This week, Texas public school districts were notified of "preliminary" results of the new A-F rating system that was created by the 84th Legislature. Although these results have been labeled a "work in progress" and ratings will not become effective until August 2018, it was required by the Legislature that they be presented in January 2017. These ratings take pages and pages of explanation to understand and rate campuses on four different domains at this time (there will be five in the final system) - Student Achievement, Student Progress, Closing Performance Gap and Post Secondary Readiness. There is information available on TEA's Webpage and on TASA's Webpage if you would like to read more about it.
I will not try to explain this rating system, as it certainly seems like it has flaws and that it is far from easy to understand. My question though, is where does "preparing students for their future" fit in here? Where do the 4 C's (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Creativity) fit in? Where do global connections fit in? Where does innovation & student-centered learning fit in? How can we move forward in the 21st century when our legislature keeps pulling us back into the 20th century?
In our district, we are preparing for a 1:1 roll out at the 7th grade, a grade level that is responsible for preparing students for Reading, Math & Writing STAAR tests. During this school year, we have been working on integrating technology into classroom instruction, working through becoming proficient with our LMS (Canvas) and understanding how the 4 C's, SAMR & personalized learning all fit in. Every 7th grader will be issued a Chromebook for the 2017-2018 school year and learning should look different in these classrooms. Unfortunately, the new rating system will not take into account any of this. Much of the rating consists of how students perform on their standardized tests. So I wonder, will we lose momentum with this "preliminary" rating? Will educators and administrators become more focused on test prep and less focused on personalized learning for their students? As I read blogposts and letters from administrators all over Texas, I have come across people talking about "getting back to the basics" and "structured learning" for 4 year-olds. Is this truly what is best for our students? Might this just be what is wrong and why we don't seem to be making the strides we should be making? We are 17 years into the 21st century... when will our education system catch up?
I don't have answers to this right now, but I truly feel that it is TIME FOR CHANGE. I have not heard people in education arguing against accountability. That is not the change that we need, but should we be looking at different measures? Measures that ensure our students leave us with the skills that will help them be prepared for whatever their future holds? Can standardized tests be just ONE way that we look at our schools instead of the bulk of how we measure our schools? Can our Texas Legislators visit classrooms and talk to educators before they add another 50-60 pages to our already overloaded Texas Education Code (it has over 3,000 pages right now) this Legislative session?
Thankfully for the students of Texas and beyond, groups are working to make and support a shift in education. The Office of Educational Technology created Future Ready Schools. Here superintendents pledge to focus on digital learning, empowering educators, and supporting other district leaders as they embark on this journey. Hopefully the new administration will continue the forward progress made by this organization. In addition, Digital Promise is another group working to promote and support innovation in education. In Texas, we have Raise Your Hand Texas, an organization that "focuses on identifying breakthrough ideas to improve education, piloting them in our public schools and supporting the conditions and public policies that allow them to scale to reach all Texas students." Our district has used the Texas Visioning Document to create our belief statements and to focus our journey. There is certainly support for transformation in education, if educators are open to it and not penalized for moving in that direction.
Thinking about all of this, what comes to mind is that we must stay the course. The journey is sure to be rough, and we will want to turn back to safer shores, but we must continue to focus on transforming education. The Texas Legislature could focus on helping to bring our public education system into the 21st century and not slowing progress with 20th century accountability ratings. We owe it to our students, our families and our communities.
Stay strong educators!