Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Our School Board–and the 4th pathway

Yesterday our Superintendent and one of our school board members came by to the last faculty meeting before the first day of school. It was one of those meetings where we were going to go over bus schedules, lunch duties, who sits where in the cafeteria, etc. EVERY teacher’s favorite meeting, right?  But it began with our school board member talking.

Now you have to know how much I respect our school board.  Years ago, I blogged about them here, where I talk about them being a learning board.  They are thoughtful, question-asking thinkers who listen and learn and deeply care about the learners in our system.

Steve Koleszar, our Chair, came to our school yesterday, and I’d just like to share some quotes from what he said.

1. The poor quality of the VA SOL assessments is the biggest threat to education in Albemarle County Public Schools.

To hear it posed that strongly blew me away.  The biggest threat?  Yeah, it is–I completely resent the time wasted on test prep and getting kids to answer stupid questions, or do a dictated writing prompt weekly, or read books just to answer comprehension questions, or do math just to get the problem right…not for understanding. 

2. We, as a board, believe it is more important that our kids can DO, rather than pass a test.

Thus, the emphasis on maker curriculum (which, by the way, is the 4th pathway.) Our board has supported a maker summer school,  renovations in our schools to support making, and professional development that supports teacher understanding of making through doing it themselves! 

Let me be perfectly clear. Neither Mr. Koleszar nor our Superintendent are against assessment.  Nor is anyone else in our Central office, or, I believe, a leadership position in this system.  The overwhelming belief, though, is that assessment should be meaningful, make sense, inform the learner, make a difference and be based in reality–something that the learner will use and find useful in real life. 

3. Everything we do as a Board is focused on improving instruction.

Our board has supported a Math, Engineering and Science Academy, and Health and Sciences Medical Academy, and many, many other opportunities that support our learners in a variety of ways.  We have not reduced art, music and PE during the budget woes in our county.  We still have recess, and believe it is important that children be children while they learn–so they should be active and talk, not be silent  as they learn.

Then, Pam Moran, our Superintendent stood up and said “Creativity, curiosity, passion and engagement are all sucked out of kids with SOLs.”

Can people understand the craziness of high-stakes, standardized testing any better?

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5 thoughts on “Our School Board–and the 4th pathway

  1. Great post, Paula! Every meeting I have had with teachers in both Virginia and other states this summer seem to end with us all shaking our heads over the high stakes assessment and how they are keeping educators from creating strong learning environments where kids are engaged and challenged. Yet, Albemarle IS creating that environment. Can you talk about where the SOL fit? Are teachers doing test prep? Are you doing bench mark testing? What does high stakes test “talk” sound like and look like in a place that’s trying to be more progressive?

    • And, one more–our fourth grades teach geometry partly through a walk through our town to look at stained glass windows in the three nearby churches–talking about cultural landscapes as they do so (part of the VA Studies SOL). Then, when the kids return to school, they use their geometric skills to design and prototype a tissue paper “stained glass window” using design principles, geometric thinking, the arts skills they’ve been learning and literacy skills as they reflect on their piece.

  2. Karen-
    We are striving for “balanced assessment” in Albemarle – so, we have a Division “Assessment Matrix” that represents performance-based tasks at each grade level, a variety of external standardized tests (PALS, SOL, MAP, etc), observation-based assessments, etc. Here are some examples of the kinds of information our School Board receives about assessment –
    (1) http://esb.k12albemarle.org/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=4854&mtgId=458&mtgType=No
    (2) http://esb.k12albemarle.org/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=3794&mtgId=414&mtgType=No
    (3) http://esb.k12albemarle.org/public_itemview.aspx?ItemId=3743&mtgId=424&mtgType=No

    We generally talk about multiple measures, profiles, portfolios, “body of evidence,” etc. We tie EVERYTHING to our Lifelong learner competencies http://www2.k12albemarle.org/acps/division/Pages/Lifelong-Learner-Competencies.aspx

    • And, Karen, to back up/reiterate what Becky says, the balanced assessment model we are using emphasizes PBTs and authenticity. We’re talking in my school about the SAMR model of technology use as we get an infusion of new technologies. It becomes not about doing something with the tools, but doing something substantial that is potentially a game changer.

      For example, we are partnering with some community businesses this year, and on Tuesday our third grade will be participating in a “Book Brigade” to help move thousands of books from our tiny Crozet library to the newly built one around the corner. That’s the introduction to their year long collaboration where the projects they create (around the various genres required by the SOL) will be featured in the library every month or so. Part of our assessment of their work includes the library keeping track of that genre to see if circulation is affected by the kid’s work. That’s real life assessment of impact, hm?

      Our K kids are learning storytelling by interviewing people at one of our retirement homes and recording them, then retelling their stories for the web. In the spring, they’ll share their knowledge of past and present with a preschool nearby as they help transition those kids by supporting them when they visit our school and library. Stories will be a huge part of that spring visit from the preschoolers.

      SOL “talk” in grades 3, 4, and 5 center around kids’ competencies in our PLC meetings–yes, we look at data. Yes, we assess kids in a variety of ways, some of those traditionally. But it’s not our life, and we work hard so that the kids don’t feel like all they do is get ready for the tests.

      Hope that helps paint some pictures.

  3. After I posted that question, I headed on the road and worked in three very different schools in very different places that were trying go get beyond the testing culture in different ways. The hardest piece for them seems to be that cross curricular approach you describe in the stained glass project, getting beyond teaching the individual standards to seeing how those standards can be embedded in authentic learning, work and practices. A more holistic approach that sees test scores as only part of the goals for students and doesn’t teach with technology but embeds it in the learning.

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