I had a few spare hours today, so I attended a Racine School Board meeting. This meeting was held in a very small room at the Dekoven Center, at 1 pm today. The participants were Superintendent Hicks and the school board, minus Brian Dey. The meeting was led by Linda Dawson and Randy Quinn from The Aspen Group, a consultant firm hired to help implement school board policies.
There was a very interesting discussion about the wording used to set goals regarding student achievement. Presently, the goals are for children to achieve at or above grade level. This goal was found to be insufficient, as it does not adequately address the issues facing children for whom grade level achievement is impossible or for the brightest children who should be performing well beyond grade level. Instead, they agreed on the following goal:
Students will achieve acedemic results commensurate with yearly personalized learning goals.
The initial change in wording that was rejected included the phrase "individual learning goals." It was thought that this might sound too much like the IEP (individual education plan) used for special education children. Thus Armin Clobes suggested "call it a new name, not an IEP" and consultant Linda Dawson suggested exchanging the word "individual" with "personalized." Yet there was no discussion or suggestion that "personalized learning goals" differed from an IEP. Only the words are different.
School Board member Don Nielsen indicated that the Department of Public Instruction "wants to move in this direction," meaning a direction wherin students are measured according to their individual results relative to their "personalized learning goals", rather than measuring the aggregate scores of children in their school or district. There was a bit of emphasis on the unfairness of measuring schoolwide test results because of the constant turnover of students, coupled with the high truancy rates. Russ Carlsen suggested pulling out the test results of the chronically truant students.
So what does all this technical education jargon mean? I can't be sure, but I smell a rat. If the school district wishes to shift focus from their abysmal aggregate test results to an undefined method of measuring the results of 21,000 individuals, this could be a great public relations move by RUSD. I could easily envision a scenario where poor results are masked by glowing "improvement", as 95% of students exceeded their "personalized learning goals."
The dreaded No Child Left Behind Act was mentioned once, and I suspect that this emphasis on individual results might be intended to circumvent the intent of that law, which allows students to change schools if their school is achieving poor test results. You can avoid that problem by redefining success. Johnny can't read, but not to worry. He has met all of his "personalized learning goals."
In a nutshell, here is what I suspect is happening. RUSD is worried about the poor test results of their students, as they should be. Rather than address this problem directly, and attempt to improve the education and subsequent test scores, they are instead seeking to redefine success, which will be measured by a meaningless new standard. And yes, it is for the children.