What School Districts Need to Change


Johnny is 10 years old.  On this morning, he woke up with a little bit of a headache and very tired from the night before.  He knows that he has missed a few days of school this year and his family will get a letter home if he misses too many more.  He decides to really bear down and get on the bus to give school a shot today.

He ends up in front of a computer taking a test.  Johnny has taken a few tests on a computer, but not very often.  The headache is not getting any better and he tries to keep his tired eyes open.  His teacher has talked to him about a growth mindset, the importance of grit, and to always persist.  He has all of those things in mind as he grinds thru a 3 hour testing session.  He finishes the test and is proud of that.

You see, learning is hard for Johnny.  His pretest scores are routinely in the 20% range.  However, he is a hard worker who strives to get better.  Learning is important to him.  By the time he gets to a post-test, he has mastered much of the material and scores in the 85% range.

Johnny’s standardized test score comes back, a few months later.  He is labeled as “not yet proficient” by the state.

Here in lies the dilemma, in my opinion.  The state test, which is important for many reasons, shows NOT YET PROFICIENT.  The teacher, student, and parents who view what Johnny has learned that school year see a student who has not only hit proficiency targets as set by the district, by from pretest to post-test has shown tremendous growth.  As a school district, at the end of the day, which of those two scenarios should we put more emphasis on?  Which should we spend more time analyzing?   I think the answer is clear, yet why is what is happening now so backwards?

Who Defines Student Achievement?

All of us agree that student achievement is important.  Teaching and learning, growing the minds of our students, will always be a central piece to education.

The issue is that school districts, school boards, and administrators have in today’s day and age, is how they are allowing outside entities to measure that student achievement.  We are allowing the state and federal government, who work regularly outside of the educational world, to define the rules and regulations regarding student achievement.  When in reality, they are not qualified to do so.  They believe you can rank and score the ability of Johnny’s teacher, principal, curriculum director, and superintendent to those 3 hours in front of the computer.  They are wrong in that thinking and we are wrong for following.  Johnny’s mastery of the learning targets in his grade is part of what we need to measure.  His growth over the course of the year is another important factor.  Yet, we are ranking schools and districts on those 3 hours?  I think 20 years from now we will look upon this as a very foolish way to judge students, educators, and school districts.

What School Districts Need to Change

You are not hearing complaints from someone who works at a school performing near the bottom.  This isn’t sour grapes.  The school in which I’m fortunate enough to work consistently is “ranked” in the 70-80th percentile.  Yet, I know it does not encompass all that I value in our school and what takes place here on a daily basis.

I understand why a school district would play within the rules being set for them.  When someone else controls your funding, the natural instinct is to follow their rules.  Who doesn’t want the money that supports their kids?  Also, peer pressure exists on all types of levels.  Who wants to be the only one in their county, region, or state that is doing something different?        


So how else do you measure the learning and experience a student has over their 180 days of school?  I contend we should be setting our own rules, standards, and expectations. Who better knows what those goals should be than a teacher, community member, parent, school board member, or administrator that is tied to learning in that community?

One Step Further

I believe we need to go one step further than just the adjustment to how student achievement is viewed.

The state imposes scores and rankings on us.  They require endless pages of school and district improvement plans.  Those scores and requirements are not going away and I’m not suggesting a school district should stop meeting those standards.  What I believe is that a district should set up their own measures of success.  An internal set of expectations and goals.  That is what should be communicated to the community.  That should be the focus with the teaching staff.  It is what students should hear.  Ultimately, it is that scale, decided upon by those in the school district, which determines success and carries a meaningful ranking.

My suggestion for a scale would fall upon 10 factors.  These factors encompass the most essential characteristics to the success of a school district.  Use this as your scale and determination as to levels of success your school system has achieved, not what the state is suggesting as measures.

  1. Student scores on district assessments
  2. The growth of student scores on district assessments
  3. The culture of the staff
  4. Student scores on the state assessment
  5. Financial standing
  6. Effectiveness of educators
  7. Social and emotional care of students
  8. Safety and security
  9. The rating of the school district by parents
  10. The rating of the school district by students

Let’s work to improve how we view Johnny as a student and as a learner.  Let’s work to improve the way we “rank” Johnny’s teacher, principal, and school district.  Let’s be sure to internally develop what is important to us, how that progress will be monitored, and how we did at achieving those standards.  After all, we are most qualified to do so.  #WeDecide


One thought on “What School Districts Need to Change

  1. As a mom of dyslexic kids who are smart but don’t test well-I agree. The state/Feds have actually set forth discrimination by these standardized tests. Thank you Andy for the post.


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