[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, submitted by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The B-Town Blog, nor its staff:]

Dear Editor,

Residents of the Highline area should definitely pay attention to the three superintendent forums mentioned in the recent post. The Highline School District faces some major challenges, and who we choose to lead the district will have a major impact on our children and our community.

I hope the focus of the interview process will be on academic outcomes. As B-Town blog readers are aware, Dr Enfield is a finalist for school superintendent in San Diego . A recent San Diego newspaper story has a straightforward assessment of the academic outcomes in our district. Based on data from two years ago, the level of academic outcomes is very low. Some outcomes were moving forward, others were not:

During Enfield’s tenure, less than half of Highline’s students met state standards for math and for English language arts, although they improved markedly in English. In 2019, 48 percent of students met standards in English, up from 39 percent in 2015; but in math 35 percent met standards in 2019, down from 37 percent in 2015.

These test scores show big challenges ahead for Highline. Yet, are test scores even a valid basis for evaluating how well our kids are learning? I think these scores are better than nothing, but I don’t think parents can really know how their kids are doing based on these scores. I think parents need to talk with teachers, and also very important, parents should do their own diagnostic testing.

Let’s look at the data, and implications for hiring a superintendent.

To see the breakdown by school, Highline published a news release on January 13, 2022 with an invitation to dig deeper for data The annual report is here.

If you click on “Growth and Mastery,” you’ll see there are two tests mentioned: iReady, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The latter has “cut scores”, where some committee decides what the cutoffs are for a 1, 2, 3 or 4. If a student gets a 3 or 4, they are deemed to be “meeting standards.”

Averages can mask a wide range of outcomes. And there are two outcomes: “Growth” is different from “Mastery.”

For Mastery of English in grades 3 – 8, the Highline District percent meeting standard (meaning they got a 3 or 4 on the SBA) ranges from 39% in to 52%. For math, the range is 29% to 35%. The district total mentioned in the San Diego news story includes high school also, but in the past few years there was a major change in how high school assessment worked and I don’t think the comparisons are all that helpful.

How does this relate to choosing a superintendent?

First, we need better outcomes. HOW are the superintendent candidates going to improve student outcomes during the school day? How are we going to get much better returns on our tax dollars?

Note that the spending per student in the district is on average more than the sticker price at many local K8 private schools.

Second, I think parents need a lot more transparency about how their school and their children are doing. HOW can the superintendents improve this transparency?

Third, what do parents and students need to do outside the school day? Or the school year?   This is especially important given how much instruction kids missed during Covid closures or online “learning” that was highly variable in quality.

I strongly encourage parents and families to watch the candidate forums for answers to these and other questions. Again, the forums are on Feb 14, 15 and 17, with info available here:

https://www.highlineschools.org/about/superintendent-search/town-halls

As a postscript, I’d like to suggest some resources for parents that can be helpful in making sense of the tests.

Note: both iReady and SBA are online only, adaptive tests. Students get a next question based on whether they had a correct answer to the previous question. The test banks have a gargantuan number of possible questions.  My understanding is no one can see the actual questions the students took, much less the answers with an explanation of what the student missed.

Instead, the scores are reported for categories. These names may make sense to people trained in a College of Education, but that are not very descriptive or comprehensible to others.

Here are some iReady sample questions:

https://www.franklinboe.org/cms/lib/NJ01000817/Centricity/Domain/54/i-Ready%20Diagnostic%20Sample%20Items-Student%20Version.pdf

The math starts on slide 12. An observation: life is more than four options. Students need to be able to write, and think through multiple steps. After looking at the iReady sample questions, I’m not sure I’d take the results as an absolute determinant of the skills of a child. These test questions are a mystery machine.

The SBA is even more difficult to evaluate. Go here and start looking. Good luck trying to make sense of this:

https://smarterbalanced.org/our-system/students-and-families/samples/

As a parent of college age students who are studying science fields, I feel very strongly that fluency with the basics … times tables, fractions, division and multiplication without calculators, and being able to write multistep problems using pencil and paper…are incredibly important. Hopefully we will choose a superintendent who’s dedicated to pragmatic approaches that work to improve academic outcomes.

– Stuart Jenner

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