Message from the Superintendent

March 9, 2015

Dear Colleagues,
In 31 years working in public education in Washington, I have seen our state use the MAT, CTBS, ITBS, WASL, MSP, HSPE, COE, End of Course exams, and coming soon to a school near you, the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA).  Each new state test was preceded by a politically stimulated modification of state learning standards usually to address economic interests or concerns about global competitiveness.  Each testing era was accompanied by rational concerns about insufficient support/resources to help struggling learners in our state or country do well; and as one might expect, each assessment brought its own share of anxiety from students, parents, and for sure school staff who wondered if they would pass when the test results went “public.”  This latter emotion is fueled by the belief that the test is fair, accurate and reliable, and that schools and students have had adequate time to prepare. 

Please don’t misunderstand, I am not suggesting or advocating for a boycott of the SBA.  Actually, quite the opposite.  I think the most constructive response is to simply administer the test to the best of our ability, encourage parents to encourage their students to do their best, and along the way to remind each and all that this is new, different, and well…. we are all still learning in this process.  At some point, we will get feedback or results from the SBA and in turn and in time, we will review this information to try and make sense out of it and to see where we may need to make adjustments in the teaching and learning process to better align, prepare, and develop our school and district Improvement plans.  And then, after we have had a few years to dial it in better, and we have seen improved test score results because the system adjusted our educational pointing to hit the latest political target, guess what?  Yes, there will be some state or national political force that thinks the public school standards need to change once again.  That movement leading to another new state test, like all the previous movements, will be based on a political agenda about global competitiveness, economic interests, or some version thereof… in any event, there will be another new state test.  And when that happens? You got it, there will be “rational concerns about insufficient support/resources to help struggling learners in our state or country do well; and … anxiety from students, parents, and for sure school staff who wondered if they would pass when the test results went “public”, and so on.  Do you see a pattern here?

So, rather than give this new state test more emotional power over how we feel about it than it is due, my advice is for us in schools to just keep doing the great job we are doing!  Take this new test in stride and do our best to keep things in perspective, and encourage students and parents to do the same.  You know, appropriate motivation, enough test anxiety to try and do well, but not so much that it becomes counterproductive and results in a worse performance.  Yes, that emotional and intellectual place and perspective that is balanced.  It is a healthy perspective for life, not just testing.  And for sure, when the results come back, let’s take an honest and ethically responsible view to determine what we can learn from it all and use that to influence our actions going forward.  Let’s use those results to inform students and parents about how they can do better in school and life to pursue their own interests.  And that very same day, let’s be thankful for the opportunity we have to work with such neat students to help them learn and grow, and to give them the skills, attitude, and perspective they need to be successful in whatever career or vocation they aspire to after high school.  Because some day, these same students will be in our shoes or similar shoes trying to figure out how to make sense of something that doesn’t, while trying to give direction and advice to the next generation that may be their own children or, as they are responsible, for other peoples’ children.  We want tomorrow’s adults to have perspective and balance when the political wheels are spinning in that future era. So let’s model that balance and perspective now ourselves. Societal stability and success will come from within each student and that is where we are making the difference and the investment that will keep  people healthy, the economy strong, and the world spinning long into its future.

Your value as educators has never been, is not, nor will ever be determined by a state test or the next state test or the one after that.    For those who really understand what we do in schools, no explanation is necessary.  For those who don’t understand what we do in schools, well … no explanation is possible.



Last Modified on March 9, 2015