Attendance Center Rankings need to be developmentally appropriate

In last month's blog, I highlighted an excellent article by Jon Sheldahl, chief administrator at Great Prairie AEA, explaining how the Attendance Center Rankings should be considered an opportunity to differentiate our help to the schools that need it the most. One of Northwest AEA’s employees, Sally Hartley, and I entered into an e-mail exchange about last month’s article. Some of the comments in this article should be credited to her, as well.

Over 20 years ago, the state of Iowa used the ITBS scores to indicate progress for schools. I watched this with both interest and disdain. At that point, I was part of the Iowa City Community School District and one of our schools was named a national Blue Ribbon School. However, the next year the school received a lower ranking from the Iowa test scores. There were many students of poverty in this school, but the staff and teachers worked extremely hard to make progress. Even more outstanding was the fact that the students had, on average, scored more than 1.3 years of progress.  But, because of this new ranking, the school was looked upon as a failing school in the eyes of the media. This devastated the culture in that school even though the year before they were recognized as a Blue Ribbon School.

The reason I bring this up is that we have to be very careful with how we perceive the new Attendance Center Rankings. As mentioned last month, the rankings need to be an opportunity to help the schools and children that need it the most. We have to safeguard that we do not allow the media, politicians or anyone else, to downgrade the schools that happen to fall into the lower rankings.

There are many, many reasons, other than the educators at the school, that these schools will be included in those lower ranking categories. It could be poverty; a high population of ELL students; parental abuse or neglect; or students who are not developmentally ready because of a lack of family experience. Whatever the case, we need to provide support, as was mentioned in last month's article.

Sally mentioned to me that a principal stated to her that he currently enjoys the success of sharing good ideas with other schools and gathering new thoughts as ways to support each other. But he is concerned that this rank-order process could sabotage that sharing. The practice of sharing between schools and school districts to improve is a well-known factor and is practiced in two different methods at Northwest AEA through Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) and Instructional Rounds.

The principal was concerned that the practice of sharing to improve practice might not occur as frequently because everyone will be worried about their own rankings, making it competitive instead of collaborative. This is another safeguard we must protect. In regards to working and sharing together and not competing against each other, there is research out that indicates that, even in the business world, collaboration is more important than competition (ranking). The problem is that it is a “myth” that competition is the preferred method in both business and education. In schools, it is critical that collaboration happens because it dictates the culture of learning. When the culture of learning is compromised, then learning is not as robust. A good example of this can be found in Simon Sinek’s new book Leaders Eat Last. He explains how competition, greed and a cut-throat culture work for the short term but not for the long term.

In education, we must be focused on the long term. The title of this blog is, "Attendance Center Ranking needs to be Developmentally Appropriate" because developmentally appropriate practices are critical. They are very strong in early childhood education, which states that we must provide what is needed depending on where a child is at in their development. The appropriate practice or intervention needs to happen for the need of the student or school. As we go forward with the Attendance Center Rankings process, we must remember to have a conversation about developmentally appropriate practices. Keeping instruction at an appropriate level and at the right time is important, too. This will be the key in keeping all of our schools' Attendance Center Rankings in perspective.

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Educationally yours,

Dr. Tim Grieves
Chief Administrator