By Guest Columnist DANA RICKMAN, director of policy and research for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education
Have you ever tried to drink water from a garden hose turned on high? You know you are thirsty. You know you need the water, and it will cure what ails you. However, trying to cure your thirst by drinking from a hose never feels like the most efficient way to solve the problem of thirst. When not properly controlled or directed, hoses tend to spray water all over – wasting more on the ground than goes on the target.
The same can be said for education reforms. Many educators in Georgia right now are feeling like they are trying to drink from a hose that has been turned on high due to the sheer bulk of reforms that are currently being developed and implemented. Changes have been made to standards, student and staff assessment and evaluation systems, teacher preparation programs, school and district accountability measures and a host of other instructional practices to keep pace with 21st century classrooms.
All of these changes are actually part of a coordinated plan to raise student achievement. This plan fits together like a puzzle. The outside edges always help define the size and shape of the picture being assembled. The defining edges of what is happening in Georgia can be described by four questions:
- What do we teach?
- How do we know students are learning?
- Are teachers effectively delivering the instruction?
- Who makes sure all that happens?
Previous columns here addressed the first three. This column focuses on the final piece of the education puzzle – the education leader. The one that makes sure the entire puzzle is put together.
As these puzzle pieces are being implemented in the school systems, the question of leadership becomes paramount. Local district leaders, the local boards of education and superintendents, have enormous power to support principals and teachers in driving instructional improvement.
Research has shown that when district leaders effectively address specific responsibilities, they can, and do, have a profound, positive impact on student achievement in their districts.
In a successful school, students are learning the material. High-quality teachers are being trained and retained in the classrooms. School leaders are making sure all is functioning well and students and educators are supported through the longitudinal data system. Where can we see the results? The College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). The CCRPI is the state’s accountability measure that moves away from the old Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) single measure. Schools are now rated using an index score of 0-100 that is comprised of multiple measures including student achievement, and progress measures on student growth, achievement gap closures and efforts to prepare students for college and or a career. The CCRPI also measures the climate of a school and its financial effectiveness.
The third consecutive year of results for the CCRPI was recently released and Georgia schools are experienced a slight decrease from 2013 to 2014. See table below.
It is too early to tell if this trend signals an emerging downward trend in Georgia, or is simply schools adjusting to more rigorous standards and increased expectations. Either way, it is incumbent upon the school leader to understand the data in the CCPRI and be able to use the individual indicators to pinpoint where there are areas in need of improvement` and where the school excels, allowing for greater efficiency in resources and targeted interventions.
As these reforms are being implemented, positive and competent leadership is needed to ensure teachers are being supported, evaluations are being implemented with fidelity, and data systems are being used to their fullest potential and more. And, of course, leaders must be able manage this process while dealing with tight budgetary constraints.
Local community and business leaders have a role to play in supporting their local and district school leaders as they implement this puzzle. Many of the high school indicators that inform the CCRPI relate to career pathways and college readiness.
Businesses can partner with local schools for internships, serving as mentors, and highlighting career options.
Community organizations can provide wrap around service for high need or struggling students. Partnering with local school system to inform and support their strategic plan for improving student outcomes is the best investment communities can make in their future.
This is the fourth in a series of entries that detail the four defining edges of Georgia’s education reform puzzle. This issue, as well as other key education issues, is addressed in the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2014 report.