SUPERINTENDENT WEIGHS TRACKING AND TESTING IN COLUMBUS SCHOOLS

Patricia Hawke for www.schoolsk-12.com

The current Superintendent of Columbus Schools has some strong ideas on how children should be assessed and placed. In an era of constant testing and “no child left behind” there is some touchiness between those who are in favor of strongly mandated state testing, and those who oppose it.
 
Proponents feel that Columbus Schools need to have uniform statewide tests in order to hold both students and teachers to a higher standard. This side also feels that statewide tests provide parents and administrators with a measure to gauge how schools and children measure up, and areas for improvement.
 
Opponents complain that teachers waste valuable learning time “teaching to the test”, or teaching test taking skills rather than academic skills. Testing opponents also feel that the focus on testing impedes a teacher’s ability to use alternative methods of assessing a child’s comprehension like, creating a diorama to convey a story plot, or using drama to teach tone in literature.
 
Columbus schools face a huge academic gap among diverse socioeconomic groups. Students in Columbus schools also have a high drop out rate and low test scores on currently used assessments. So how does Superintendent Dr. Gene Harris feel about testing?
 
She has said publicly that Columbus Schools need testing to be accountable. But she has also been very vocal in pointing out that test scores should not be the only measure used to measure the success of a school or district. Given the large gap between the affluent and poverty level children in Columbus Schools, its no surprise that schools in those “better” neighborhoods have better test scores. How can an administrator or teacher combat those effects?
 
Part of Harris’ answer for Columbus Schools is to focus on putting quality teachers in the elementary and middle schools to prepare students for the rigorous high school expectations. Teacher training and incentives for math and science teachers are both ways that Harris is trying to lure more quality teachers into Columbus schools.
 
The other part of Harris’ goal is to keep “opt-out” options out of the high school curriculum. An opt-out option is the choice for a student to substitute other courses for those in the basic curriculum. Harris feels that would vault Columbus Schools back into the decades when tracking methods were used to separate the capable students from those who weren’t really expected to learn.
 
Harris says that the motto of Columbus Schools is “All Means All.” This is meant to highlight the belief that all students are capable of learning if given the opportunity. Now she must figure out how to ensure that all students at Columbus Schools are able to meet these high expectations. Once test scores are available, does anyone really view them as only one part of the equation? Or does the current leader of Columbus Schools have to deal with a Pandora’s box that won’t close anytime soon?

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