Sunday, February 15, 2015

Attendance Center Rankings

The Iowa Department of Education has developed a plan to hold schools accountable for test scores by publishing how they rank against other schools in the state.  Schools in Iowa will now be placed on a scale of achievement, to help educate families about the ranking of their child's school. Another school in our area gathered the details from the Iowa DOE website and posted it to the local newspaper. Therefore, the past few weeks Cardinal has faced some challenges based on those published achievement scores.  Many people in our surrounding community have been balking about the low scores our little district has received in the past. There are nasty responses posted on social media sites and negative comments being traded back and forth because of these test scores.  Some have even criticized our district for the positive press we have received. They feel we should not be highlighted in the local media as an amazing, and innovative district because our scores are too low. As an educator, who has seen education across the country and knows how wonderful it is to work in a district who prizes individuality and creativity, I can only respond to these complaints with, "We are Cardinal." 

This is our motto, as we do not marginalize or stifle the unique individuals who walk through our doors. Every child is loved, accepted, challenged and cherished no matter where they come from. We know that our test scores are low, and we are not running from this fact. We also know we have the highest free and reduced lunch rate in Wapello County as well, but we do not dwell on the challenges we face. Instead, we collaborate on ways we can tackle the problem and focus on the positives, which are the children. 

We have added supports to help our staff improve their practice, and to provide growth opportunities for all of our students. This school year alone we have made some big changes we hope will have an even greater impact on learning. We have hired two full time Instructional Coaches provided through a grant from the Ottumwa Legacy Foundation, along with a beautiful 21st Century Classroom. We have also hired a full time curriculum director.  Our district has created Professional Learning Communities, where teachers are given time to meet and make data driven decisions to help support our students. These PLC's are given time to meet during professional development days and take additional time outside of the normal duty day to work and collaborate. PLC teams plan units and lessons, focus on the Iowa Core, and use the data from assessments to implement meaningful interventions in the classroom. The middle school also has Student Learning Communities, which focus on literacy. All students in grades 6-8 receive specific instruction in reading strategies during their SLC course. We also have Genius Hour , which allows students to pursue a passion and to learn in a way that makes sense to them.  
I am not a test score, I am a doctor in training.
At Cardinal we educate the whole child, and do not look at individuals as test scores. We meet their needs, challenge them to reach their highest potential and provide them with more than just academic test preparation. Our goal as educators is to give our students connections to the world, provide opportunities for them to be who they were created to be and to rise above challenges they face in their lives. 

One hurdle we are working on as a district is the standardized test scores, which are used to measure the intellectual capacity of our children. However, at Cardinal, we believe our kids are greater than attendance center rankings, and their intelligence and potential are not purely quantifiable data.  We embrace the fact that we have work to do to improve our test scores. However, our kids are more than just statistics on a norm referenced exam. Therefore, we will continue to publicly celebrate the amazing things this district does because of the wonderful community, families, students and staff who make our positive culture possible. After all, we are Cardinal!