Tests, community involvement concern educators

Educators look at future needs during SU leadership summit

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER — As it turns out, the dislike toward tests is equally strong from both sides of the desk.

Students hate taking them, teachers dread giving them and superintendents are sure there’s a better way to measure performance.

The disadvantages of conventional testing were among the topics presented during an hour-long panel discussion as part of a leadership institute hosted by the Shenandoah University School of Education and Human Development.

About 60 educators and community leaders, including principals, teachers and five superintendents from the Winchester, Frederick County, Clarke County, Shenandoah County and Warren County public school systems filled the Halpin-Harrison lecture hall on Monday. The superintendents formed a panel and spoke about how they see the future needs of education and how they can better work together with the community.

“Do we want to just create a group of test takers?” asked Pamela McInnis, superintendent of Warren County Public Schools. She talked about how school leaders need to be transparent and act ethically to gain the trust of their communities.

Rick Leonard, superintendent of Winchester Public Schools, spoke about how testing can be beneficial if it’s used for positive accountability, such as for diagnosis, trends, snapshots and comparisons. But tests often are used punitively to trap students, he said, and the raised rigors have resulted in lower scores.

“The bottom line for tests is to improve instruction, yet we are judging our teachers, our principals and our students on the outcomes of their scores,” Leonard said. “We don’t hear a lot of conversation about improving instruction.”

Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine talked about partnering his schools with Bright Futures, the first system outside of the Missouri-Kansas region to adopt the program.

“Public education is under attack,” Sovine said. “And it’s been under attack for some time. And I think it’s critical that we are very intentional in terms of highlighting our successes.”

Another program brought up for discussion was President Obama’s “Race to the Top.” Kevin Castner, interim superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools, shared his experiences of helping implement the program.

Stacy Sefton, teacher at Powhatan School, and Susan Catlett, principal of Boyce Elementary School, were two attendees who said they felt the discussion reinforced their idea that an important part of education takes place outside the school.

“I think what was reaffirmed for me was not just looking at education as instruction or standalone, happening in a school,” Catlett said. “It really is a whole community, and there’s so many parts that impact a student, besides what’s just happening inside a classroom.”

Sefton showed her notes from the discussion. In one corner, she had written, “Well-fed, safe, literate kids do well.”

“Yeah they do,” she said. “And we can’t fix all of that. There’s only so much I can do. In this age of accountability, if we’re supposed to fix every social ill, it becomes very difficult.”

Rather than a system driven by compliance, Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Murphy said education should be powered by an engine of innovation.

“I also think they have more interest in maintaining the status quo than they do in really seeing America prosper,” Murphy said about Congress’ stand on education. “Because if America is going to prosper, we’ve got to do it differently.”

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com