Archive for Thursday, August 18, 2005

District not resting on assessment test success

August 18, 2005

In short visits with the principals of Lexington Trails Middle School and De Soto High School this week, we learned the middle school students attained standards of excellence in four of the five state assessment tests taken last school year and that the high school made that standard in two subjects and narrowly missed a third.

Considering that only 10 percent of state schools obtain one standard of excellence, it is clear something good is happening in De Soto schools. Measurable improvement that noteworthy took a districtwide effort of administrators, teachers, parents and, most importantly, students.

Two criticisms are often leveled at assessment tests: they force schools to "teach to" them and they take time more properly given instruction. In response, their defenders insist properly designed assessments do test what students should be learning and that some uniform yardstick is needed if schools are to be accountable for performance.

But whatever the concerns, there can be no doubt of their importance in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which ties future federal aid to student performance on reading and math.

Facing that future, the district isn't resting on the success that produced 24 standards of excellence districtwide, 14 in the important subjects of reading and writing. This year, the district has hired teaching coaches to help teachers become better classroom instructors. And Lexington Trails Middle School Principal Mark Schmidt and De Soto High School Principal David Morford have found innovative ways of adding more instructional time for students in need of help and providing more challenging material for those students making good progress. They did this at no additional cost through scheduling changes.

Future No Child Left Behind mandates that all students, no matter their limitations, test at proficiency levels may be unattainable, but the innovative thinking of the kind Schmidt and Morford demonstrated will help the district realize what is possible.

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