The Case for Change in Our Schools

These days everyone is weighing in on what it is going to take to fix our failing schools. More money? Better teachers? A national curriculum? More testing? The list goes on and on. Oddly enough, what people seem to agree on most is that the system we have used for decades is just not working anymore. We need a new system. Our students achievement in core academic subjects such as math and science continue to lag behind many other countries. Furthermore, our system is flawed in that is does not guarantee learning for all - something I would bet our founding fathers with their "all men are created equal" philosophy would not be happy to hear. The good news is, I suspect you will see dramatic improvements in our educational system over the next several years, but they will come with a price - and that price's name is "change.'

At Sanborn, change is coming as we shift our focus from "teaching" to "student learning." At the high school this year, your child's final grades will be calculated based on a set of course-based competencies. There will be an increased focus on intervention - for students who are not learning, and enrichment - for those who already learned.

To help you understand how this shift works, consider the following FICTIONAL interview with two teachers: Mr. Traditional and Mrs. Twenty-First Century.

Mr. Traditional, how do you organize your lessons each day? Well Mr. Stack, I start by looking at the state and local standards - to topics I must teach to my students. I develop a lesson that I believe meets the needs of all of my students, and when it is all over I give them homework to reinforce their learning. At the end of the week I give them some type of a summative assessment (usually a quiz or test).

Mrs. Twenty-First Century, same question: Mr. Stack, I also start by looking at the state and local standards for my course. From there, I develop a list of what it is my students need to be able to know and do by the end of my lesson (competencies). I give them a pre-assessment to measure where they are at the beginning of my lesson, and a post-assessment at the end to measure what they learned. Throughout my lesson I change and adapt to meet my student's needs. Based on the results of my post-assessment, my next steps may involve reteaching, intervention, or remediation for students who didn't learn enough and enrichment for those who did. Homework can take many forms in my class, and in many cases is specific for each students' needs.

Mr. Traditional, how do you calculate grades for your students and what does it take for a student to get an A? Mr. stack, my grades are based on the following formula: 40% for tests, 20% for quizzes, 35% for homework, and 5% for participation. I calculate grades each quarter and each quarter grade is worth 20% of the final grade. I also give a midterm and a final exam each worth 10% towards the final grade. For a student to get an A in my class, they must do well on tests and quizzes, they must be highly motivated, and they must do their homework.

Mrs. Twenty-First Century, same question: Mr. Stack, my course is based on six course-based competencies. Throughout the year, I give various "summative" assessments (quizzes, tests, projects, research papers, presentations) to determine whether or not students are mastering each of these competencies. Along the way, I also give several smaller "formative" assessments to check for understanding and help motivate students on a day-to-day basis (homework, class work, mini-assignments). At the end of the course, my grade is based on the following: 15% for each of the six competencies (that makes 90% of the grade), and 10% for all the formative assessments. For a student to get an A in my class, they must demonstrate mastery for each of the competencies for the class - no exceptions.

Mr. Traditional, what happens to a student who fails your class? Mr. Stack, it is my job to teach, it is the student's job to learn. If they failed my class it is because they chose not to learn. I am available every day after school to work with students but they have to take advantage of the extra help. I hope that if they fail, having to repeat the class in summer school or next year will teach them a valuable lesson - they must take responsibility for their learning!

Mrs. Twenty-First Century, same question: Mr. Stack, failure is not an option in my class. I put so many support systems to keep students from failing that I would hope it never comes to that point. Throughout my course, students are given opportunities to demonstrate whether or not they have mastered the course competencies. Since my grade is a "rolling grade" all year, students who don't have a great start to the year but steadily improve will do well. If a student does not quite have a passing grade by the end of the course, they will work on credit/competency recovery until they have successfully demonstrated each course competency and passed the class.

I hope this mini-interview, although a bit tongue-and-cheek and in some cases extreme, will help you understand how we are trying to adjust our focus from teaching to learning. This change won't happen overnight, but it will happen over the next few years. The policies and procedures that we are putting in place at our school will help us further our vision of "Learning for All, Whatever it Takes" and help us realize our goal of becoming a top 10% performing school.

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