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San Mateo County, CA November 2, 2010 Election
Smart Voter

Achieving our Mission: Supporting high quality teaching to continually improve the educational program

By Ann C. Jaquith

Candidate for Board Member; Las Lomitas Elementary School District

This information is provided by the candidate
Besides the immediate budget deficit and the district's increasing enrollment, the greatest and most enduring issue for our school district is to support and continuously improve the overall quality of education for all of our students. The mission of our school district is to "provide an exemplary and continually improving educational program" ( Smaller class size is part of but not the whole solution. Two specific and related areas to work on in this effort are:

  • Ongoing teacher development and continuous refinement of instructional practices
  • A balanced approach to student assessment

Ongoing Teacher Development:

An outstanding teacher in every classroom and schools that nurture continuous professional growth is an ambitious and demanding goal but it is one that I would like to see our district achieve. We have talented and committed teachers in our schools; they care deeply about our children. However, the quality of instruction in our classrooms is not even. While this is to be expected, we can strengthen how our schools support the development of teachers. For instance, some schools and districts have developed a culture where teaching practices are made public, where teachers regularly look together at student work and examine instructional practices to see the effects on student learning as well as to design instruction based upon evidence of student learning from classroom assessments.

Balanced Student Assessment:

We need to be sure that we are practicing a balanced approach to assessment--an approach that uses a variety of assessment types. In particular, we need to be sure that we employ assessments that ask students to construct knowledge, to reason with evidence, and to challenge assumptions. These assessments can be used in conjunction with assessments like the STAR test that ask students to select the best answer from among a possible set of four answers. We need to be sure that most of the assessments we give students are educative--that they learn something from the process of taking the assessment and that the assessment provides students, parents and teachers with diagnostic information that they can use in a timely manner to improve student learning and instruction. The STAR test does not provide useful or timely information for instructional purposes nor does it offer a learning opportunity for our children.

As a nation, we are out of balance with regard to how we spend time (and money) on instruction and testing. Our district seems to reflect the national trend. Our Academic Performance Index ("API") is incredibly high. To a large degree our scores have reached a point where incremental improvements in scores have little or nothing to do with improvements in student learning and capability. We need to broaden our thinking about student achievement and student assessment. I would like to see a greater emphasis in our classrooms placed upon performance assessments and assignments that require students to think deeply, to demonstrate understanding of important disciplinary concepts and to wrestle with intellectual, ethical and moral problems that do not have simplistic or straightforward answers. The assignments that fall into this category are the ones that are most engaging to children and give our students' minds a good intellectual workout.

Our district also needs to prepare its students and teachers for the next generation of national assessments that are being developed now and will be aligned to the Common Core Standards, which California has agreed to adopt. The next generation of assessments will be a suite of national assessments tied to the Common Core Standards that promise to offer a more balanced approach to assessment and to include more rigorous and performance based assessments. California, along with 25 other states, has joined the PARCC consortium, The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is developing a shared set of K-12 assessments in mathematics and English Language Arts/Literature. These new national tests, which will be performance-based, are expected to be ready for states to administer by 2014. A steady diet of STAR assessments and bell work practice will not prepare our children well for these more rigorous assessments that intend to focus on higher order thinking skills and student constructed answers.

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