Monday, January 20, 2014


Our current school board, in office for two years, is a hardworking and thoughtful body. School board meetings are no longer bobble head nod fests, but rather high level discussions on every facet of the local school division. This board works well together and with school division staff.

An excellent example of this is the op-ed piece that appeared in the January 19 Richmond Times-Dispatch. Rather than join the knee jerk hand wringing that emanated from reports about how poorly American students ranked in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, our school board looked at the entire methodology and drew conclusions of its own.

Gently pushing back against the specter of yet another state mandated test, our school board instead suggested better, more meaningful ways to measure student achievement, and argued for fewer, more significant standard of learning (SOL) tests.
Although put in place with the best intentions, it seems that over the years, the SOLs have morphed into a “teaching for the test” mentality that does more to enhance the educational establishment than help students.

The Goochland School Board is working hard to ensure that every student in county schools leave with the tools to succeed in the next place be it work, the military, or college.

To that end, our schools seek greater local discretion in the number and timing of required tests. The focus, they believe, should be on measuring a student’s progress. This enables timely intervention for struggling students and, perhaps, enrichment for those at the other end of the spectrum.

This carefully crafted and eloquent essay concludes with the common sense conclusion that concentrating resources in teaching, rather than testing, is a better way to proceed.

Goochland schools are blessed to have leadership endowed with a gracious plenty of common sense and the courage to offer innovative approaches to challenges.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014 12:00 am
In an environment of apparent bipartisan support for reconsidering the nature, timing and extent of standardized testing of Virginia’s public school students, we took notice when the Virginia Board of Education (BOE) recently suggested the General Assembly allocate funds to benchmark Virginia students against students from around the globe via yet another standardized test.
Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) administers an exam to 15-year-olds around the world to measure their knowledge of basic reading, mathematics and science. In early December, PISA released its 2012 scores and the results were reported as rather humbling for the American public schools system.
In the flurry of commentary that ensued, National Public Radio described the results for U.S. students as “sobering,” noting that in mathematics, our students ranked 36th among 65 countries/economic centers — somewhere between Lithuania and the Slovak Republic. The tests also showed that the U.S. ranked 28th in science and 24th in reading.
About 6,000 American students took the 2012 PISA exam. Three states — Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida — participated at a level that provided them with statistically meaningful results that permitted them to compare results. In Richmond, among the responses to the PISA results, the state BOE called for $600,000 in new funding so that Virginia might receive individualized test results from PISA in 2015.
As the School Board members in Goochland County, we have some thoughts on how our education policymakers might cope with the latest PISA scores. In a phrase, they should focus on issues that will help teachers maximize the potential of each student. As achievement tests go, the PISA assessment is by all accounts well-crafted and properly administered. Indeed, the more we studied the PISA assessment, the more it appears superior to much of our Standards of Learning (SOL) testing.

We believe Virginia can learn more studying the PISA test versus studying the PISA test results. Supporters of PISA argue that the test is a global “apples-to-apples” comparison. We are not buying that. First, the sampling sizes are so small that common sense dictates caution. The Wall Street Journal reported that PISA has large margins of error that mean 21st place in science could, statistically, be anywhere from 17th to 25th.

Second, the education systems in the different regions and countries vary widely. Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, wrote recently of the efforts by Teach for China to bring better quality instruction to China’s rural provinces. She noted that in rural China fewer than 30 percent of Chinese students make it to high school. In large parts of China, therefore, the PISA scores only include the best-performing students. What would American PISA scores be if we tested only the top third of the high school students?

Virginia is positioned to stretch its lead in K-12 education. Having more Virginia 15-year-olds take the next PISA test would contribute nothing to making gains. To stretch our lead, in terms of testing, we need to: 1) reduce the number of SOL tests, 2) improve the SOL tests that we keep and 3) make use of effective growth testing.

A consistent message from local school divisions to Richmond over the past several years has been that the roughly 34 SOL tests that a student takes is a burden and unproductive at best. We believe that nearly one-quarter of SOL tests could be eliminated with no negative impact on Virginia’s public education system.

To be clear, achievement tests like the SOLs and PISA serve a purpose. It’s good to know, for example, that 90 percent of the students have a minimal level of competency in mathematics. Administrators can use a number like that to make judgments about the mathematics curriculum being used.

But could the parents or the teachers of a student in the failing 10 percent look at the results of an SOL test and know what to do about the failure? Moreover, since these tests measure minimum acceptable competency, could any of those in the passing 90 percent glean anything from the results to move toward mastery of the subject? The resounding answer to these two questions is “no.”

We believe that money saved in testing reduction could be used to help Virginia school divisions mature their growth-testing capabilities. Growth testing adds real value for teachers and students. In Goochland County, we’ve already replaced a handful of achievement-type tests with computer adaptive growth assessments.

The Measures of Academic Progress from the Northwest Evaluation Association is an adaptive test that pushes a student to her limits. By homing in on a student’s individual growth while comparing those results to the student’s achievement, teachers can determine how best to serve each student whatever his competency level might be in a given subject. Furthermore, by analyzing a student’s growth over time, we can better assess how to intervene with our struggling students.

Let’s seek to test students less often with more meaningful results. Imagine: less testing with results that are far more valuable to teachers, students, parents and administrators. We believe that measuring the individual academic growth of each student is a critically important step in reforming Virginia’s public school system. Moreover, real academic growth is vital for preparing our students to live happy, productive lives. Isn’t that our ultimate goal? The best way to achieve real academic growth is through teaching and learning, not more time spent on achievement testing.
(This text is also posted on the school board agenda for January 14, 2014)

We can only hope that the General Assembly will listen to this reason and act in the best interests of all students in the Commonwealth. Take a peek at the live stream of school board meetings, or any agenda of their meetings available on the school board tab of website

No comments: