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Schools superintendent updates community on curriculum, student testing & more

By Staff | Jan 22, 2016

Updates on curriculum, testing, assessment and progress monitoring and the need for changes were among the topics discussed this week by School Superintendent Dr. Gregory Adkins and district staffers at a community forum was held Wednesday night at South Fort Myers High School.

Adkins encouraged the community to get involved in the district’s journey, so they can be the best district in the United States.

Adkins began the forum by sharing why they decided to host the event.

“The first answer to that question is really this is something our public has asked, our board members have asked for this, people that come to board meetings have made the request for this, so we wanted to certainly honor that request,” he said. “The other reason we are doing this is because we really believe that we really need to see some change. Change in our system as it relates to the standards in which we teach our children. Change in terms of how we look and monitor the progress of our students and gage the progress of our schools in terms of how the schools are evaluated and graded.”

He said there are a number of reasons why the district wants to look at standards. Adkins provided an example of an assessment administered to 15 year olds all over the world with 65 economies and 34 countries participating.

The results showcased that the United States, in general, is not fairing well with math ranking 27th, science ranking 20th and reading ranking 17th.

“These are certainly not the results we would want to see for our kids,” he said.

Other national figures shared included 50 percent of high school graduates self reported they were not ready for college; 60 percent of college freshmen had to take remedial courses and 18 percent of ninth grade students will compete college by age 25. Adkins said the study also showed that only 56 percent of college students finish their bachelor’s degree in six years.

“When we talk about college and career ready and a student graduates from a high school in the School District of Lee County and half of them are dropping out from a college, or university, maybe they are not ready,” Adkins said. “Maybe they met our standard, but they were not ready for the standard of the rigorous work.”

Career readiness was also touched upon with how many jobs will be available for the 2016-2017 year in the area. Some of those included 513 jobs for computer network architects and 638 for industrial machinery mechanics.

“These numbers are not declining, they are actually increasing in terms of demand. This whole report shows that there are all of these positions, however what we are finding is we are not able to meet the demand,” Adkins said. “We don’t have enough students prepared to step right into these jobs.”

In regards to standards, Adkins said they are almost forced to move at a pace that is too fast for their students.

For example, he said a sixth grade math student is expected to meet 37 standards in the course of a year. The range includes such standards as fractions, decimals, algebraic equations, surface area and volume.

“What happens is these students don’t gain a deep understanding of these concepts. They move to the next level and we have to teach it again,” Adkins said.

The district is looking at standards that will allow them to teach their students well and reinforce it for just a few years.

“We want to reexamine our standards and academic plans and recommend changes as a result and we do want our community to be a part of that,” Adkins said. “We have many challenges here in Lee County where many of our students are not meeting the standards at the end of the year of instruction.”

It comes down to measuring student progress appropriately, he said.

Another challenge is how long it takes for the district to receive information from the Department of Education.

“How do you make decisions about student progress, if you don’t have the data?” Adkins asked. “We have to make decisions about our students now. So we have to have a system that does that for us. We have to have a consistent way to measure. If you keep changing the system, how are you sure you are truly making progress? By our estimation, the state has changed the accountability system over 60 times.”

The balance score card has enabled the district to identify what schools are making progress in a timely fashion. The technique is allowing the district to measure against themselves compared to the average of how the district is doing.

“It’s a fair, equitable way of doing it,” Adkins said of the scorecard. “Our goal is to make sure every neighborhood, every school is in the highest, best quality. If we truly want to be the best school district in the United States we have to know how well we are doing in our standards.”

The topic of testing was also covered, which Adkins said includes a lot of problems – too many tests, too much time.

The district changed its assessment calendar from 140 days to zero this year.

“I have be candid about that particular number. We have district assessments that had previously been required that schools are still to this day giving students. When I say zero, again to be candid, zero is what I am requiring principals to do. What principals and staff are doing in many cases is different.”

Adkins said he could have done a better job by providing more guidance to schools in terms of what could be a reasonable expectation around the testing calendar.

Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Soretta Ralph said their work is about the district’s strategic plan and how to stay focused around that. When applying the plan, she said they want to focus on inspiring students to think and learn, as well as data driven decisions when dealing with progress monitoring.

“Progress monitoring in the classroom does not have to be a test, it does not have to be a quiz. It can be a project. It can be an observation. It can be reading a paragraph. It can be asking questions,” Ralph said. “We need to progress monitor so that we can accelerate learning. We want our students to learn. If our students are having difficulty, we want to provide intervention. If they are being successful, we want to enrich them. We want to provide individualized instruction.”

After presentations were made, the forum was open up to those in attendance to ask questions.

Individuals were also told they could send their comments, or thoughts, to standards@leeschools.net.

Adkins said they plan on scheduling future forums.