The State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has released the 2012 MCAS information for public review. This is a particularly interesting year for this as, under the Federal Waiver, Massachusetts has moved from measuring schools using Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) to a Progress & Performance Index (PPI). This new system of categorizing MCAS performance is more realistic, yet still relies on a once a year (but not at every grade level) written test that only attempts to measure student performance in English Language, mathematics, and science. This still provides some useful information over time that can be then linked to district, class, and individual student assessments. For further details, you can review the MCAS update presentation that will be shared with the school committee and placed on the district’s website, or go directly to the DESE website.
As Albert Einstein wrote, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted” – so it is with trying to measure the success of a district, a school, a teacher, or a student. This truism continues to prove its worth as I interact with students and staff in school, and countless others outside of the workplace.
The most recent example is the response of individuals to the plight of Morgan Cloutier. For those who have not had a chance to read the recent article in the Country Journal, Morgan has cancer and is hospitalized. While she and her family no longer reside in the district, this has not stopped students from wanting to help, nor did it slow down Vincent Dowling who has volunteered his talents to raise funds to help the family.
To this end, the district, our students, and Dr. Dowling will be working together to put on a one-man show (starring Vincent Dowling) in the Gateway Performing Arts Center on Friday, November 16. While many of the final details are yet to be determined, we’ve already had positive responses from many people who want to work to ensure this activity is a success. This outreach, on the part of Vincent Dowling, our staff and students, and eventually the community, will demonstrate some of those hard to measure items such as collaboration, communication, responsibility, public service, and selflessness. These are the traits that make a community close knit, supportive of common goals, and able to come together to overcome difficulties. These are also the traits that, when absent, result in confusion, a lack of civility, and disaffection that is often seen in ineffectively operating companies, towns, and even Congress.
As I indicated in previous columns, the district is working this year to realign our measures of progress and student success as we look to combine academic knowledge, 21st Century skills, and the idea of educating the whole child. Although the Gateway District, from our school committee to our community, has always supported the idea of a well-rounded education, the constant pressure to determine a means to measure progress in all areas of student growth, coupled with the increased demands on accountability for public education (I hope you’ve all noticed we never talk about measuring the success of private education) have led to an interesting juxtaposition of these factors at this time. While I understand the difficulty of determining an appropriate means of measuring success across such differing skills, knowledge, and perhaps personality traits, I also believe this is both necessary and interesting work that is both timely and appropriate.