“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” – Walt Disney
Like many Illinois schools, our latest Illinois Standards Achievement Tests have been delivered and viewed. With the adoption of the New Cut Scores, these scores are cause for, at the very least, discussion. Just as our state raised the bar in 2010 by adopting more rigorous learning standards, the state also raised the bar on the ISAT performance expectations. As a leader, I must inspire our staff “stay the course.” The scores do not mean that our students knew less than the year before, but rather serve as an indication of where students perform in terms of college and career readiness. When the ISAT was compared to the PSAE,which includes the ACT, it showed that the ISAT did not determine whether the students were college and career ready. Therefore, all students in grade 3-12 are measured against the same bar.
So, what does this mean for our school, staff, and students? It means we must work hard every day to prepare our children for these, new, higher expectations for learning. I still remember being a coach preparing for a team that was much more talented than our team. I remember reading the newspaper articles that claimed we had no chance to win. I remember seeing doubt on my student-athlete’s faces. But, it was these games I enjoyed the most. It was these games that caused me to study game film longer, provide more detailed scouting reports, and most importantly find ways to make my athletes believe they could win. Did we always win these games? No! But, the preparation before the game always allowed my teams to compete and have a fighting chance. The greatest compliment I ever received as a coach was when an athlete 10 years later said, “Coach, it was those long, intense practices, and your never satisfied personality that helped me in college and life. And that is why I coached, and now that is why I lead. I compare my coaching experiences to these new performance expectations. As educators it is our responsibility to prepare our students for these more rigorous learning standards because not only will it help them on these achievement tests, but the preparation will provide them with the hard work, resiliency, and belief needed to become successful in life.
My staff, understandably so, was disappointed in the results on the ISAT test. However, my staff understands that we do not have time to make excuses, we must create a plan to align our curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, shift our instructional practices, and provide meaningful and relevant assessments. One of the dynamic leaders that is in my PLN, Shelley Burgess, says, “If we understand and talk about that at the heart of Common Core is helping our students thrive as strategic, thoughtful, thinking-intensive readers, writers, speakers and listeners, we may be able to build more commitment to the shifts.”
As a former ELA teacher, I was fortunate enough to work side-by side with another teacher through the trial and error of Common Core Implementation. We strived to create a classroom environment that valued learning and progress. Our classroom instruction changed from being teacher-led discussions to student led socratic seminars. Our students became deeper readers through close reading strategies, and thought-provoking writers through real-world experiences. By the end of the year, our students were asking other students to prove their answers by showing evidence. It was definitely a challenging process, but the student enthusiasm and results that transpired made all the hard work and long nights worth it! Through the changes that were made, I realize the importance of collaboration and how every teacher has a responsibility in preparing our students for their future.
I must admit, it was much easier to make these curricular and instructional changes myself than to influence others to make these changes. Yet, as a leader it is my responsibility to provide systems of support for my teachers. I am excited for the journey we will take this year as a staff, and I am even more excited about the impact we will have on our students at Central Intermediate.