Which school do you want to support?
Picture the first day of kindergarten. Parents and children unclasp, with fears and tears, but also with excitement and hope.
Nearly all parents express confidence that their children will succeed in school and graduate from college one day. At the kindergarten door, this faith is uplifting and right. Every child can succeed in school with with effort and support. As children advance through school, however, an unsettling portion of that confidence smacks of wishful thinking. There is nothing automatic about academic success in school.
Students and their parents really want to believe that school is going to work out OK. Teachers and administrators really want to believe that their schools can give kids the education they need, even when they are coming to them from behind. But there is only so much any one teacher can do.
Schools are compex organizations. As students move from grade to grade, weaknesses in the system pile up. Distractions steal a little time here and a little there. It's easy for the definition of "good work" to vary from one class to the next. Students that fall behind often do so gradually, unnoticed, making grades that don't ring alarm bells. If parents complain, it's natural for teachers and administrators to reassure them.
How does a functional school system deliver the kind of results that students deserve? And how can parents tell if the results aren't good enough?
California's grade-level educational standards, based on the Common Core, are more than lists of facts to be memorized and regurgitated. They describe what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level in order for college to be a clear option for them.
Three sources of information can tell you whether your son or daughter is on track: Teacher conferences, report cards, and standardized tests.
Standardized tests are the system's most objective feedback for parents. Don't ignore them.
Teacher conferences can give you useful insight into how your child behaves at school, and how he or she approaches academic work. Teachers can also help you get a feel for what students are learning in class and how you might be able to help your child succeed. But teachers aren't always blunt in their feedback, and it can be easy to hear what you want to hear.
Report cards provide evaluative feedback from teachers, focusing on academic achievement. If your student's report card is just a grade, without additional information, ask why. (More on report cards in Lesson 9.2)
Standardized tests provide the most objective feedback you will get about your child's academic progress. Each year, students in California take the CAASPP tests (also known as the "Smarter Balanced" tests). These tests, which are based on the standards, are an antidote to wishful thinking. If your son or daughter is showing a pattern of low scores on the CAASPP tests, hear the alarm bell. Don't ignore it. Don't be easily reassured. Few students make it to college with a pattern of low standardized test scores, even if their grades are OK.
In 2017, with the rollout of the California School Dashboard, the state introduced a new level of nuance to measuring the success of its ~10,000 schools. Schools don't get grades, exactly. For a school, success is a reflection of the success of its students, both in the short-term and the long term. Successful schools should advance or accelerate the academic achievement of each student, with particular focus on ensuring that definable groups of students are not falling behind.
The Dashboard also introduced new indicators to monitor the success of California's ~1,000 school districts. The definitions of success include short-term metrics like test scores, but also long-term ones like graduation rates, college readiness and rates of school suspension.
But let's take it a step at a time. The next lesson focuses on the success of students.
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