Community News — 18 September 2009

In its first session of the new school year, the Alexandria City School Board began debating a new guidance that, if passed, would revamp the ways in which educators evaluate a students performance.

The proposed policy represents a philosophical change for the citys public schools, refocusing the objective on students learning rather than simply scoring well on one-off tests. Under the policy, a bad grade on a history test, for instance, could prompt a re-test instead of an admonishing poor letter grade.

If we dont do what we do as educators so kids learn, then why do we do what we do? Superintendent Morton Sherman asked while explaining the policy to the Board.  If you ask elementary teachers, this is like a no-brainer. They know well its not about the grade, its about children learning.
The policy calls for the Virginia Standards of Learning to become the minimum base of curriculum and assessment programs, as well as for clearer outlines of high school course requirements and increased opportunities for retesting and reassessing at every grade level when teachers think higher achievement is possible, according to the proposal.

In his summary of the proposal, Sherman likened the main provisions to basic parenting learning geography or algebra rather than learning to walk, talk or ride a bike. Sherman said in each instance, the best results come by going over things time and time again until students have mastered the skill.

He recalled a high school he worked at in Newark, Del., that did not give grades below a C and did not grant credit for any work that merited less than that average grade.
You didnt get to a C unless you met the standard, Sherman said. How many kids have we let slide with Fs and Ds? Weve got to stop that mentality.

Several of the Boards questions about the new philosophy centered on the points that addressed reassessing and retesting students in all instances where it is clear that additional study, effort and time will produce higher achievement, as the plan stated.

It was a point that Sherman said he had already been quizzed about when senior school officials discussed the idea with students and teachers at T.C. Williams High School. There, some were concerned the proposal could result in students blowing off crucial assignments because they could re-do them.

The reassessment, the re-taking, the re-teaching is not dumbing-down the curriculum; its not lowering standards, Sherman said. In fact, its the opposite. It is saying a C, a D and an F are no longer good enough in this world if you want to do well.

Rather, Sherman explained, it would largely fall on individual teachers to gauge when reassessments would be necessary.

The teacher is the heart of the learning process, Sherman said. It must be a process where the teacher knows the student well to make the decision about assessment, re-testing, re-teaching.
Assistant Superintendent Cathy David, one of the architects of the proposal, sees the policy as a logical progression for the citys public schools.

I see this as really sort of codifying the direction that the school division is moving in, she said. If we say we own the achievement of each and every child and we are not releasing the child from their responsibility to do everything they need to do to learn, then this is the type of policy we need to have.

Board members voiced their excitement for the idea, but also sought revisions, which the superintendent will provide before the Board is scheduled to vote on the policy when it next convenes on September 24. 

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Alexandria Times Staff

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