Journey of a Superintendent: Moving Toward the Next Level of Success

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Recently a teacher handed me a copy of Dennis Littky’s book, The Big Picture:  Education is Everyone’s Business. The book describes schools as, “The Met,” where learning is truly personalized, based on authentic experiences, and where students and teachers come every day excited to learn with and from each other. My comments are not to promote the book, although every parent, teacher, administrator, and policymaker would greatly benefit from reading and seriously considering the implications of what Littky is sharing. What strikes me more is that even with plenty of evidence from our No Child Left Behind (NCLB) experience, which shows that testing is not the key to improving outcomes for students, our policymakers, educators and educational leaders continue down that same path.

Staff in my district may say, “Hey, look in the mirror: As superintendent, you are leading us down that same path with formative assessments every 4.5 weeks and a tightly controlled curriculum.” I admit that if one sees our current work as the end of the journey, and is not part of the discussions of what we need to do to continue to learn and improve, he or she might reach that conclusion. What I see is that our rigorous college and career preparatory curriculum (beginning at pre-school) is essential in order to provide students with the basis from which they can become learners, thinkers, and creative problem solvers. We have moved away from the Kansas Assessment, a ratings system that has laden us with sanctions and the fear of being labeled as failing based on a single test score (one that will never change outcomes for students.) We have moved toward teaching and learning with measures that truly help prepare our students to compete on a global playing field (for college or careers). However, if we were to stop with these changes, we would be failing our students, and our teachers, just like the single test-driven system of NCLB. Thankfully, we are not.

Teachers, like the individual who handed me Littky’s book, will take us to the next level of success for our students. I am counting on these committed and creative educators to help us learn how to transform our schools into places where teaching is more like that of a coach, role model, motivator and guide. I believe so much in the work of our tremendous teachers and administrators. We have laid the foundation for an education that will allow our students to compete in a global economy.  Students, as Littky notes, loving to learn and “continuing to learn even without school, applying knowledge to real life, measure the true success of a school and school systems.” It’s Up to Us.

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One Response to Journey of a Superintendent: Moving Toward the Next Level of Success

  1. Tyler Watts says:

    I think the biggest fallacy with our current testing system is that it is adult-centered. For example, when you compare the class average test scores of 6th grade science 2011-2012 to 2010-2011, it is incorrect. We are comparing different children, which is unfair and an unreliable measurement. Each child is unique, so comparing against each other is useless.

    We could be doing better by analyzing a student’s growth in a grade level, similar to our MAP testing. I say we compare a student’s test score in the fall to their ending spring score. We need to create some parameters that define a successful educational year by their level of positive growth. This system is more realistic and positive for several reasons. First, a student that enters the 6th grade with 2nd grade skills in math and reading is not going to be on grade level by the end of one year without extreme intervention. Second, using test data as the state requires us only discourages both teacher and student. Third, analyzing individual growth would place more value on every child. Class average scores encourage teaching to the middle skill level. Individualizing test scores would push teachers to help students below grade level since they have the greatest potential for growth. Also, we would be pushed to challenge our higher level students since we need to see positive growth out of them, as well.

    This way of viewing data seems to be great opportunity for adults and children. It also would be a way to help us on our path as a Top 10 school district. Goals cannot be valued if you do not own them. I much rather tell a child that you need to raise your test score by 12% than tell them to score a 70% or above. I have witnessed students benefit from this individualized system during goal setting for the MAP. Also, teachers would feel better about their work, when they can see all of the successes that they had, rather than lumping all of their students into a single score. Also, it supports intrinsic motivation.

    I agree with you stepping away from the Kansas test, but we need to continue to a system that values every child rather than viewing them as a single entity by year. I also have problems with analyzing the data by ethnicity. I think that only supports assumptions and stereotyping. I can understand viewing subcategories like ESL and SPED. This is another change I would like to see happen, but it is a whole different discussion.

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