The Akron Area School Superintendents' Association this past week offered recommendations on how to improve the state's education plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Recommendations were proposed under the categories of testing, accountability, subgroups, K-3 literacy improvement, school quality, educator effectiveness and early childhood programming.
Woodridge Local School District Superintendent Walter Davis is President of the Akron Area School Superintendents' Association and Cuyahoga Falls City School Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols is also a member of the association. Both offered their thoughts on the recommendations being made.
Davis noted he felt all of the recommendations are "important."
"Each would impact our districts and would improve conditions for our students," he added.
The recommendation to reduce testing "has taken center stage," said Davis. During meetings with stakeholders at regional meetings throughout the state, Davis said "the response was almost deafening. Reduce testing. That is what nearly everyone wanted. Then, the state released their draft plan and the levels of testing remained unchanged, despite the fact that the federal legislation would allow for much less testing."
Davis said he feels school districts can assess students' growth and progress without using "expensive state assessments."
"Using our own assessments, vendor created or home grown, our teachers gauge student understanding and use those immediate results to impact what they teach and how they teach it," said Davis. "This is called 'formative assessment.' Using assessment to guide instruction is a far better, more efficient (and cost effective) way to assess students over time.
Davis added he felt policy makers "should trust professional educators to provide real classroom data collected every day in their classrooms to provide the insights they need into what is really happening in our schools."
Nichols said he felt the state should "use savings from the reduction of standardized tests to the federal minimum requirements to help fund early childhood education." He noted "ample research" supports the benefits of providing access to "high quality" preschool programs, particularly for students who are in impoverished situations.
"The demographics of Cuyahoga Falls has changed over the years; we now experience economic disadvantaged rates near 50 percent and higher in some sectors of our community," said Nichols "Providing access to high-quality pre-school programs for all students will provide long-term economic returns."
Nichols added he felt more funding was needed for wrap-around services. "We have seen a dramatic increase in students with mental and emotional needs for which we are under-equipped to handle," he said.
Davis noted that the state report card was "another example of over-reach."
"Based entirely on state assessments and calculations that are themselves somewhat questionable, these report cards continue to change nearly every year," said Davis, who added he receives little feedback from the community about the district's performance on the state report card.
He said he favors a "less complicated, more appropriate way" to report a school district's progress and suggested "some iteration" of the Quality Profile document highlighting programs and services that the district provides.
"Using a tool like this, districts have the opportunity to share their own stories, results and practices," said Davis.