I monitored the twitter stream on the #vass hashtag all afternoon. Today, January 13, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) officers met in Richmond with educational associations from across Virginia – parents, teachers, school administrators, VASCD – to create a coalition in support of a forward-looking vision and accompanying actions for appropriate, multi-dimensional assessments of learning. The Summit coalition discussed key areas of shared focus for what makes assessment sense for young people and the educators who serve them.
The Virginia Association of School Superintendents two years ago drafted The Blueprint for Virginia Education Reform: Bringing Reason to Reform. While Virginia’s educational associations may not always agree with each other when it comes to educational issues, we do share a common commitment to educating young people well, to supporting teachers in our classrooms, and to building partnerships with parents and educators so we can serve our common mission to keep children at the center of our educational decisions.
The Blueprint defines a road map to changes the association of Virginia superintendents believes critically outline the direction that the Commonwealth needs to pursue to educate contemporary learners well. In this document, the superintendents recognize the power of professional learning, multiple assessment indicators of contemporary learning competencies, and the necessity for full funding of the range of diverse educational needs among school divisions that differ widely in size, demographics, and location.
Virginia superintendents recognize that young people can pass tough state tests and still not be educated well to enter adulthood in this century. As a parent said recently, “My child is not a test score.” Family life, community participation, and career success demand competencies that extend far beyond doing well on tests of content-driven standards.
Students in Schools Today Need to Evolve Capabilities So They Can:
Communicate: Communication in 2013 and beyond requires proficiency with different skills and technologies than those of the 20th century. We live in a “rising culture of participation and the networks and technologies” change communication in homes and careers.
Create: America’s future lives in the gifts of creative, inventive genius residing, often silently, in young people in our schools today. Our children need the educational chance to further develop and refine those gifts. They can not be passive recipients of limiting mass educational standardization and build the capacity to invent, design, build, and engineer new ideas.
Think critically: Local and global problems won’t be solved with 20th century factory school skill sets but by critical thinkers who can visualize non-standard solutions to non-standard problems.
Work together: It doesn’t matter where you work or where you live, the capability to work well with others, particularly diverse team members, is an essential in today’s workforce.
The 2013 Press Conference:
On January 14, Virginia’s superintendents gather in Richmond for a press conference to state for the record our position on what’s important for Virginia’s future. As a group, we uniquely serve the learning needs of 1.3 million school children from Pk-12. We are responsible for the work of thousands of teachers, bus drivers, school administrators, teaching assistants, and support staff who maintain and sustain our schools. We are accountable to hundreds of thousands of parents who hold us accountable for their children’s safety, care, and learning. Here are some of the comments excerpted from speeches that the press will hear from our officers and key superintendents from across Virginia:
The Power of Teachers to Make a Difference
@ben_kiser, VASS president: “VASS believes that an effective teacher is the most significant factor affecting student performance during the school day. This rhetoric about teachers in Virginia has been missing over recent years. We ask the Governor and the General Assembly to use this standard to rationalize legislation over the weeks ahead. We cannot speak about the value of teachers publicly and then support policies that diminish their value and narrow the means by which teachers and schools are judged.?”
Creativity and Flexibility through Local Educational Control
Pat Russo, VASS Vice President: “At a time when Americans place a premium on creativity and flexibility, Virginia’s education system remains tightly bound in regulations and staffing formulas dictating how schools are to be run, regardless of what the genuine need of a local school or school division might be. Does this make sense in the 21st Century when we are trying to prepare students of different abilities to become career and college ready and globally competitive?”
Breaking Ranks with the SOL Accountability System
@haseibert, Alan Seibert, VASS secretary-treasurer: “Let me be clear here – VASS believes that the current SOL accountability system prevents schools from engaging in the teaching & learning strategies that prepare our students for 21st century skills….and it appears that many of the organizations in our discussion last night agree with us.”
This problem has been worsened by recent efforts to use SOL tests for purposes they were never intended for, such as: 1) to provide statistical projections purported to represent student growth; 2) provide a means to measure performance gaps for the recent ESEA waiver; and 3) changing the purpose of SOL tests from measures of a minimum standard to a measure of college and career readiness. These additions have highlighted what we who serve Virginia’s children in schools have long known….an achievement-only assessment system is no longer valid and should no longer form the basis of the Commonwealth’s accountability system. Our students and our schools deserve better.
The Teacher as Professional
Jennifer Parish, Legislative Co-Chair, “VASS believes that it is critical to evaluate teachers fairly and carefully especially when evaluations may ultimately determine competence. VASS believes that, in the end, it is important that we treat all teachers as professionals as we continue to work to ensure high quality instruction for all of our classrooms. But it is also important that we begin to compensate all of our teachers in the manner that says we value their profession just as we have demonstrated that we value other state workers.”
Quality Learning Begins in Our Schools, Not a Corporate Office
Rosa Atkins, Region V superintendents, “The Governor’s statement in his recent State of the State address that we need to change Virginia’s charter school law so that charter school providers can more easily come into Virginia, is alarming. VASS does not believe the mission of public education is to make it easier for external providers to make money in our state. We do not agree that the needs of private businesses and non-profit entities outside of Virginia should take precedent over the commitments to quality instruction for all students in Virginia.”
Our Real Return on Investment
These statements, in brief, represent a clarity of understanding of the schism between those who look to the past to determine what contemporary learners need, rather than to our children’s future to make those decisions. These statements represent the battle between those who see education as a revenue-generator for the private sector and those who believe that public education sustains our hopes and dreams for who we are as “we the people” of the United States of America. These statements represent the critical nature of the differences in how politicians see education accountability versus educators who live every day feeling the weight of responsibility for the safety, care, and learning of 1.3 million children in Virginia’s public schools.
Virginia has a reputation for educating its children well according to our test results. However, our most important return on investment will not be measured in high test scores or the profit margins of the corporate sector who make money off of the tests, the technologies, and the test prep resources they sell.
Instead, Virginia’s most important return on investment will come from making the right educational decisions for today’s children who will create the families, build the communities, and solve the problems of tomorrow’s world.