In my last address I made the point that the vast majority of students aren’t learning what they should be learning by the time they graduate.
I said there’s a lot of teaching going on… many hours spent in classrooms… at least 180 days of classroom instruction. That’s the input. For the most part, students get to those desks, and teachers are there teaching them. But are they learning?
A big part of the education problem is that the entire system is based on whether the student is in that desk and whether teaching is happening. It’s much easier to hold the system accountable for making sure that happens. All you have to do to measure success is to look at the absentee rate of students and teachers. If this method of assessing the success of education worked, then about 90 percent of our students should be college and career ready by graduation. But that’s not the case. About 98 percent of the graduates are not proficient in 12-grade math.
That a student was in the classroom sitting in his desk with a teacher, a white board, and a book, provides absolutely no indication that he is succeeding. It is whether he is learning that counts. But learning at what level?
Several years ago, the Department of Education adopted a curriculum. In every grade level, teachers are given content standards. At points throughout the school year, teachers are supposed to ensure their students master each of these content standards. As a rough example, 3rd grade content standards for math might include mastery of the multiplication table in the first quarter, measurement estimations by the third quarter, and equations and formulas by the end of the year.
Now let me explain to you some of the problems that principals and teachers have explained to us. And we’ll use 3rd grade math as an example. First of all, the adopted curriculum has pages and pages of content standards. That means that, according to the curriculum, teachers are expected to teach 3rd graders much more than they can absorb, learn and retain into the 4th grade. If the teachers follow all the standards, they would be cheating the students out of a true education. So instead they’ve been falling behind on those standards by choosing which ones to follow. The problem is that 4th grade teachers get students who were taught different sets of standards, and the problem goes on from grade level to grade level like that. Who gets frustrated? The teachers. Who suffers? The students.
The second problem is even more disturbing. Whether it’s because the standards are too many, or because the teacher did not review them, there are teachers who are unaware of what the adopted curriculum even is. There are teachers, through no fault of their own, who are using the textbooks as guides for the teaching of content. That’s even worse than choosing randomly from content standards, because textbooks were not written to teach a single curriculum. Even more disturbing is that some whole school communities have been led to believe that DI and SFA replaced the adopted curriculum.
To make matters worse, there are students who have just migrated to Guam, who have never been in a classroom. Imagine placing an eight-year-old into a 3rd grade class, who have never been taught to read or write. What about a 14-year-old who was never taught the alphabet? This happens.
To complicate this entire mess… even if the content standards were streamlined, and the grading system was made more uniform and objective, the test that we’re using – the SAT10 – is not aligned with our curriculum. That means students are being tested on things they did not learn… and the things they did learn are not being tested. You can’t hold anyone accountable for learning if you can’t accurately assess that the learning happened.
Before we begin to address teaching and learning, DOE needs to figure out its curriculum, its interventions for students who are behind, and its testing system. You may believe this is a no-brainer, but I’m sorry to report that something as fundamental as this is lacking in your child’s school.
I cannot speak to why this is the case, but I can tell you that the current DOE leadership has aggressively taken steps to correct this injustice. For about a year now, the Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, under orders from the Interim Superintendent, has been researching the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core is quite simply a set of higher standards. It was created by a group of expert teachers and principals, and very quickly was adopted by most of the states and territories because of what it does.
In a nutshell, the Common Core created content standards for what a student should be able to master in math and English throughout her 12 years in school. Each grade level has fewer standards than most school districts like Guam currently have. The reason for this is that research shows students will learn much more by focusing on fewer standards that teachers can spend more time with them on. Makes sense. The people developing these standards are now working on the science standards as well.
They are also developing the assessment tool – what should eventually replace the SAT10. This will be the very first time in the nation’s history that a curriculum is aligned with a test. We will be able to accurately measure student achievement.
It gets even more exciting, though. Textbook and software companies are designing books and online learning tools to align with the Common Core. This gives teachers everything they need to help their students learn and master the content standards.
I’m very proud of the Department of Education, because a couple months ago, they adopted the Common Core. At this very moment, the Curriculum & Instruction division are working on implementing it and developing the transitional assessments. This is the single biggest first step toward education reform, and they are being proactive about it.
The Common Core will demand excellence from teachers and students in a way that can be measured and benchmarked. It will take some time for full implementation, so in the meantime I encourage DOE to look at its current curriculum and to follow it. As for the current content standards, schools can use Power Standards to streamline. Everyone needs to get together and determine what standards should be taught based on where we need students to be by graduation.
I’m very excited about this change. It is the first step in reform… one that must be addressed before we can even talk about teaching, learning, and community support.
Thank you and God bless.