With first semester under our belt and a renewed focus on reading and grading in progress, it is a great time to remind ourselves why we have taken on these endeavors and why we need to continually examine and challenge the status quo present in the School District of Omro.
One examined reality of our district is our reported poverty level has increased by an average of 10% over the past 10 years. l believe this number is underreported. Our poverty level has hovered around 30% over the past five years. This means we have an estimated 330 students living in poverty. While living in poverty is not an excuse to be less than successful in school, it does bring with it additional challenges, this includes how students learn and retain that learning. Our poverty level makes me consider my core beliefs. Do I believe all kids can learn? Do my actions, and the actions of our district, prove it?
Another reality we are facing is that since at least 2005-2006, our reading scores have been less than proficient. According to our WKCE, Badger, and Forward exam data, over 50% of our students are not reading at proficiency level. According to research, (Annie E. Casey Foundation) if a child is not proficient in reading by the end of third grade, he or she may never be. By the end of the 8th grade, if a student is not at a career and college readiness level, he or she may never be (ACT research). These are hard lines as to what and when we need our students to be successful. While all areas of education are important, if our students can’t read well, they may struggle in all other areas for the rest of their lives. Changing our expectation of reading needs to begin. I, for one, do not want to tell half of a class their success does not matter because I would rather hang on to how things have always been done for the sake of not having to change. Our reading scores makes me consider my core beliefs. Again, I ask myself, do I believe all kids can learn? Do my actions, and the actions of our district, prove it?
Finally, I agree with educationalist Dylan Wiliam when he stated traditional grading was a hammer instead of a flashlight in an antiquated 100 year old system that does not align with the needs of our current students. For some people, traditional grading worked and it was a lot easier to apply as it was done to us. Homework, regardless of who did it, counted. It didn’t matter if we failed an assessment and couldn’t prove anything stuck, as long as our homework was in and extra credit, that often didn’t have anything to do with the learning, was available. It was a numbers game, but we understood it. Strategic zeros in a gradebook, that mathematically did not make any sense to the scale, could and did fail entire grades. For some students, that one measurement of time was so detrimental it derailed the entire rest of the class, it could be a quarter, it could be a year. Why would anyone keep showing up to learn already knowing they will not succeed because it was mathematically impossible to improve his or her grade? Is it better to hold students accountable by expecting them to show their work by holding the expectation before they can be assessed or by ignoring it and letting a zero rest thereby accepting failure? Again I ask myself, do I believe all kids can learn? Do my actions, and the actions of our district, prove it?
In no uncertain terms, I believe education saves lives. I believe it is our job to grow talent, not select it. While it would be easier for all of us to stay with status quo, it would not be the right thing to do. I value learning. I value the rights of our children to have an exceptional education. I believe learning should not be at the expense of one child over the other or an adult’s comfort level. There is room for everyone to do their best and to do well. While nothing any of us do will ever be perfect, I believe we must always strive for perfection through growth and change. Some may disagree with me on how this should look but this does not change the necessity for it. I believe all kids can learn. I believe my actions, and the actions of our district, are proving it.
Proud to be a Fighting Fox,
Dr. Kelly Rieckmann