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Measures for Success

Perhaps one of the most contentious aspects of my country’s No Child Left Behind legislation is how it measures the success of education reform — high-stakes, standardized tests, developed by state departments of education, based on state standards.  There is nothing inherently  wrong with wanting to assure that every child is mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills, and now learning the basics of Science — except that test scores have become the primary and often the exclusive measure for the success of every classroom and every school, and to many educators, high stakes standardized tests have become a barrier to true education reform.

Google Map of Green County's Snow Hill
Snow Hill is the largest town in Green County.

One place I’ve recently learned about that is stepping out beyond testing is Green County, North Carolina.  A low wealth, rural, county in the eastern coastal plain of North Carolina, Green County decided to base its education on opportunity rather than test scores by putting a laptop computer into the hands of every middle and high school student, starting in 2003.

iTEACH (Informational Age Technology for Every Child) is based on three critical elements:

  1. Infrastructure,
  2. Content, and
  3. Professional Development

One of the most interesting and courageous statements that I’ve heard made by several education leaders who have pressed for putting contemporary information and communication technologies in the hands of every student, is that we aren’t doing it for the sake of test scores.  Green County’s superintendent, Dr. Steve Mazingo, is one of them.  I recently presented at a quarterly meeting of North Carolina superintendents, and had the pleasure of hearing Mazingo talk about his schools and their 1:1 program.  He stated, up front, that their test scores had not improved that significantly (End of Course scores have risen from 67%-78%).

Of particular interest, however, is the number of graduating high school students who are going to college.  Prior to their 1:1 initiative, only 26% of students continued their education after high school.  On the last day of school, in 2006, 79% of graduating seniors had already been accepted at post secondary institutions.  In 2007, it rose to 84%.

Mazingo stresses that it is not the laptops that has caused this change, but its the change in education culture that comes from being connected, from teachers who must become master learners, from ubiquitous access (the entire county is now wireless), and I would suggest that it is when students see a community that cares enough to invest in their education and their future.

The measure doesn’t stop with college acceptances.  The county, in the last couple of years has see new business come, a new industrial park, a new recreation complex, and a new golf resort community. 

They want their educated and creative children to want to come home.

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  • http://www.edumorphing.blogspot.com a. woody delauder

    It is refreshing to hear of districts that are actually thinking of the children future. Too many districts are more worried about how they look from the outside and spend, spend, spend on old technology, when all they would need to do is get 1 computer for every child. The goal should be to get teachers and students connected.

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  • http://www.teacherbytes.blogspot.com John Woodring

    I was asked the question once about how would you measure success without standardized testing. Then I went to teach at a vocational school. Programs were graded on how many students successfully went to work in a job related their field of study five years after graduation. If a program could not place x% of students then it was shutdown. I saw this happen to a popular TV program with students. There were few television stations at the time so there were no jobs.

    How many high schools would like to be graded on how successful students are five years after graduation. This includes students who graduated college, have steady jobs, joined the military and stayed, are not in imprisoned, etc…. Not many schools would like to be put under that microscope. Congratulations to Green County, North Carolina. Perhaps they could start a trend.

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  • http://www.joewoodonline.com Joe

    Thanks for posting this. It was refreshing to read and parallels many conversations teachers at my site are having. While we have great test scores we often quietly wonder how prepared our students will be for a world of job requirements that don’t include multiple choice tests.

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    • http://teach2point0.blogspot.com Kyle Simon

      I read your post and felt great for the folks in Green County. They really went out on a limb in supporting a program they believed to be important and valuable to the students!

      I then moved on to another blog post in my reader. This one from a co-worker (Kyle Kauffman) in Hanover, Pa. He writes of the idea of imitators vs. originality in thinking. By placing a high value on testing, are we asking our students to imitate and conform rather than innovate and think critically?

      There is such a tie between the leaders in Green County and Kauffman’s (Feynman’s) idea of originality trumping imitation.

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com Dave

      Think about it, Kyle. In the last century, it was what you knew that was the same as everyone else that brought value to your endeavors — as we worked in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks.

      Today, it’s not what you know that’s the same. It’s what you know that different, how you think that’s different, the solutions to problems that you can invent that bring value to your endeavorts.

  • http://teach2point0.blogspot.com Kyle Simon

    Sorry I screwed up that attemped at linking with html. Kyle Kauffman’s blog can be found at http://kyle-physics-apple.blogspot.com/

  • lsauer

    High stakes testing is only one way to evaluate education, and true educators know that just on assessment can be invalid. The true growth comes from an understanding that education is more than just school. It is a life long journey.

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