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In the 2008-2009 school year, Adams County (Colo.) School District 50, just north of Denver, did something only previously attempted by the small rural Chugach school system in Alaska. The struggling district with roughly 10,000 students abandoned the conventional concept of grade levels and implemented a standards-based system, which only advances students to the next level when they have mastered certain skills. Three years later, student achievement is lower than ever before, and the superintendent that guided the district through this reform is stepping down.

El Paso Independent School District (EPISD ) is the tenth-largest district in Texas and one of two in the city of El Paso, along with Ysleta ISD . At the start of the 21st century, the urban district was struggling. Scores on the 2003-2004 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) were disappointing, with 72 percent of students meeting the state standards for reading, 56 percent for math, and 53 percent for science, while just 50 percent of students passed all TAKS tests, some of the lowest scores of any urban district in the state.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made a plea for special education students at a March 15 conference of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD). He asked that they not only be included in the general education environment, but that their schools be held accountable for their performance. He said, "We can no longer celebrate the success of students if another group of students is still struggling.

The Obama administration has grand hopes for turning around the nation's lowest-performing schools, in part by allocating $3.5 billion for School Improvement Grants. Unfortunately, there simply aren't enough qualified principals to replace those mandated to be fired under two of the four school improvement models that the federal government says districts must follow to tap into that funding.

Raymond Pecheone believes that to fairly evaluate teachers, one must watch them teach and assess the artifacts—such as assignments, lesson plans, and reflections—they use daily. This form of assessment may seem like common sense, says Pecheone, executive director for the Stanford University Center for Assessment Learning and Equities Scale, although it has really been a long time coming. Specifically, this assessment, which began with performance assessments for the licensing of teachers in California, has been 20 years in the making.

"We are knowingly administering tests to children that we know cannot do well on them because they don't speak English," says Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), echoing the concerns of many administrators nationwide regarding assessment tests for English language learners (ELLs).

The responsibilities of the modern school superintendent may already seem boundless, from making the most of shrinking budgets, to working 21st-century skills into the K12 curriculum, to meeting the escalating standards of NCLB testing. But thanks to the initiatives of two national organizations dedicated to improving the use of educational technology in schools, the job description just got longer.

There are plenty of statistics available for measuring the performance, potential and problems of school districts, from standardized test scores to the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

The U.S. Department of Education has earmarked $350 million in Race to the Top grants for states to develop new assessments for the Common Core Standards. On September 2, it was announced that the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) was awarded $170 million and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) won $160 million. The two groups submitted their applications in June 2010.

With each year comes a fresh crop of college-bound students pressured by the headlines to overcome the increasingly competitive nature of college admissions. However, a new study from the Center for Public Education (CPE) illustrates that the perception that an average applicant faces more challenges each year may be nothing more than mere myth.