As the transition into a new year occurs, the White Salmon Valley School District continues to work through a series of complicated and time consuming state and federal initiatives aimed at improving schools, students, teachers, and administrators.
White Salmon Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Jerry Lewis gave a presentation at the Dec. 18 meeting of the district board of directors summarizing eight such initiatives.
“I thought I would share this information so that not just the board, but the community, can understand the complexity of the environment we’re in,” Lewis said.
The initiatives range from evaluating teachers and principals to high school graduation requirements, but Lewis began with one of the biggest challenges:
No Child Left Behind
Last year, Washington became the first state to lose its waiver for No Child Left Behind, the law that requires all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
Washington lost its No Child Left Behind waiver last April after the Legislature failed to implement accountability measures for teachers that use student growth and achievement data, according to the Aug. 21 edition of The Enterprise.
As a result, Whitson Elementary, Stevenson Intermediate, and Henkle Middle schools are all undergoing the process of developing and implementing school improvement plans to address lagging Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in special education students and English-language learners.
“As they’re developing the plan and they begin to implement it, especially the state and federal requirements are that we have to apply what they call turn-around principles so the student populations that are identified are making improvements required in reading and math,” Lewis said.
Teacher and Principal Evaluations
Generally shortened to “TPEP,” the Washington State Teacher/-Principal Evaluation Project is in its second year of implementation at the White Salmon Valley School District.
This year, half of the district’s 74 teachers are being evaluated under the system in one of its forms—comprehensive or focused, according to Lewis.
It is the principal’s job to evaluate the teachers in his or her building, but Lewis conducts all evaluations for administrators.
“The comprehensive evaluation we’re finding requires the principal and the teacher to spend 30 to 35 hours in that evaluation process,” Lewis said. “It’s brought about a major change in the evaluation of teachers and it’s changed the role of the principals significantly and my role as superintendent because I evaluate all the principals,” Lewis said.
The Common Core State Standards
Launched in 2009, the Common Core is a set of educational standards meant to align education systems’ language arts and math requirements across the country.
So far, 43 states have adopted the Common Core. This year, teachers throughout the district in all grade levels must fully begin using curriculum developed under the standards set by the Common Core.
Though Washington is one of those 43 using Common Core, Lewis said when it comes to implementation help from the state level has been scant at best.
“The support from the state as far as resources go has been very limited,” he said.
Next Generation Science Standards
Falling hand-in-hand with the Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards will do what the previously mentioned initiative will do, except for science.
Lewis said several of White Salmon’s teachers are working with Education Service District 112 on preparing for the Next Generation Science Standards, but those will not go into full implementation until the 2016-2017 school year.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment
This will be the first year White Salmon students will be exposed to math and language arts testing based on the requirements of the Common Core.
Grades three through 11 will be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment this spring and all testing will take place on desktop computers or laptops. Daily testing windows will range between seven hours for lower grades to eight and a half hours in upper grades, according to Lewis.
On Jan. 6, interim assessments will be made available to gauge how students will do on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
On Jan. 21, the school district is holding a community forum for parents who have questions about Smarter Balanced. Sample tests for parents to take will be available at the forum, which will start at 6 p.m. at Columbia High School.
New High School Graduation Requirements
By the time this year’s eighth-grade class reaches its senior year at Columbia High School, students will be required to obtain 24 class credits to graduate.
Previous seniors from across the state have been able to graduate with 20 credits, but Columbia High School requires seniors obtain 27.5 credits. The new requirements will impact the way those credits are distributed, however.
For example, students will be required to take at least two science classes with labs, art, foreign language, and more, Lewis said.
Highly Capable Program
The district is also working to reconfigure its program tailored to its highly capable students.
Every year, the White Salmon Valley School District applies for a grant that comes to about $11,000 and allows schools to have highly capable programs. Last year, the state changed its requirements, mandating that all districts offer highly capable programs for students in all grades and required a new implementation plan be developed.
“We’re in that process now,” Lewis said.
Last spring the White Salmon Valley School District Board of Directors approved a new curriculum adoption process.
Data obtained by district administrators dictated that a focus on math was needed, so new math curriculum is currently being developed by a team of teachers and principals.
The recommendations from that team will be due to the board in June for approval and the implementation and adoption for professional development will take place during next school year.
When it comes to these initiatives, Lewis said those that are handed down by the state or federal government are mandated priorities.
He added that the changes will not only impact students in the long run, but are also taking a toll on teachers and principals currently.
“It’s not an odd comment to hear from seasoned teachers that this feels like their first year of teaching,” said Whitson Elementary School Principal Todd McCauley.