Based on the spring 2016 state accountability results, six Marshall County Schools performed at or above the state expectation. Benton Elementary was awarded the classification of Distinguished School of Distinction while Benton Middle received Distinguished. Jonathan Elementary, Sharpe Elementary, South Marshall Middle School, and Marshall County High School all were awarded the classification of Proficient. Calvert City Elementary, Central Elementary, North Marshall Middle School, and South Marshall Elementary School scored in the Needs Improvement range. The overall district classification was Proficient.
While some of our schools performed very well, we understand parents may be concerned if their child’s school results dropped from the previous year. Without taking away any of the success from our schools that performed well, we would like to remind parents that the classifications above are derived from the results of one standardized test and we believe that this one test score doesn’t define a school or a student. It is merely one data point among many that we use to determine how we can better serve the students of Marshall County. Not only do we believe this but Dr. Stephen Pruitt, our Kentucky Education Commissioner, echoes the same belief.
Many of you may remember the district wide pep rally or other over the top celebrations our district organized just a few years ago due to the high ranking Marshall County Schools received on the state test. Our main goal for several years was for all of our students to do well on the state test. In order to gain that high ranking in the state, we encouraged teachers to spend their time preparing students to take that one test. This was not only the focus of Marshall County Schools but the focus of most schools across the state and nation. Even today, many schools and districts believe these high stakes tests determine their success as a school or district and the success of their students but the Marshall County School District no longer believes this to be true.
About 2 years ago, we were introduced to several pieces of research and educational studies that stated “teaching to the test” did not prepare students with the skills they would need beyond high school. After many months of study, we realized that this was true and by focusing on this test we were failing to equip students with the skills they would need to be successful after leaving our school system. We visited several schools across the country who had already realized this and were providing a different experience for their students. We were able to see firsthand that these students had an edge over ours even though our district scores, placing us in the top ten across the state, indicated otherwise. All the students we observed and spoke with effectively communicated, collaborated with a team, used critical thinking skills to problem solve, while demonstrating confidence, initiative, and responsibility. The very skills all of our research insisted students must have to be successful in any path they choose after high school.
The main instructional approach that was discussed in our research and observed at the schools we visited is called Project Based Learning or PBL. This instructional strategy is launched by asking students to solve a problem, ideally this is a real world or authentic issue. This should not be a problem that students can just google and find an answer. It should be an issue that that will require students to research using trial and error to find the best solution all the while working with peers, discussing different options and opinions to find what they believe is the best solution, and will conclude by students presenting their findings or solutions to an authentic audience. The projects are designed around common core standards and students gain an understanding of these standards while on their journey to creating a project or solution to the initial problem or issue. It also gives a great deal of student voice and choice in their learning and allows them to become effective decision makers. PBL units can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 12 weeks depending on the complexity and design. Research shows that students will retain knowledge if they learn by doing. PBL, done correctly, is designed not only for students to retain the knowledge they learn but forces students to think outside of the box, collaborate and communicate effectively with others, problem solve, create and innovate, while developing character dispositions such as empathy, persistence, and responsibility. Currently, we have trained approximately 200 teachers in our district the process of designing and implementing PBL in their classrooms. Our goal is to have all teachers trained by August of 2017.
Along with providing PBL training to teachers, our district wide strategic planning team consisting of teachers, administrators, and students spent time in the fall of 2015 creating our Marshall County Graduate Profile, http://www.marshall.kyschools.us/News/mcgradprofile#sthash.jWqXZSm5.dpbs. This profile contains the skills and dispositions that we are striving to instill in all of our students so they will graduate from Marshall County Schools equipped with the skills to be successful in this century of innovation and information. During this time of transition from a traditional industrial education model to one that is focused on preparing students for jobs that have not yet been created, we were aware that we would experience an “implementation dip” in standardized test scores. As we analyzed the results of our 2016 state scores, there were several factors at play for the overall decrease. One of the biggest factors to affect some Marshall County Schools was a calculation called Novice Reduction that was applied to test results this year. If your child’s school didn’t meet their Novice Reduction Target, parents will receive information regarding Novice Reduction directly from the school. Schools have also identified other factors they are addressing but we do believe that some of the decrease is due to the implementation of a new focus. We are in no way using this implementation dip as an excuse, but we do believe that by encouraging teachers to focus on the graduate profile and step outside of the box to provide students with a different learning experience rather than teaching to the test, does have some effect on the results of standardized testing.
The perception our students, parents, and community have of our school system and the education we provide to all students is very important to us. We are fortunate to have a community that takes pride in our schools and supports our students and our staff. Although we have communicated the change of our focus to parents, community organizations, and students, we believe this is another opportune time to explain the changes that are currently taking place in our system in order to better prepare all of our graduates. We want to ensure our students, parents, and community that we are committed, more than ever, to the needs of each student in Marshall County. Not only is PBL a focus but we are also in the beginning stages of implementing personalized learning at our elementary schools in our Discovery Classrooms with plans to extend a similar opportunity for students in our middle and high school.
The state accountability system is changing in 2017 and we have received reports from KDE that accountability is moving away from testing mostly memorization skills and will included performance based assessments which aims to measure many of the skills included in our graduate profile. Marshall County Schools may never be able to boast again about being a top 10 in the state when it comes to a state test score, but we sincerely believe that the direction we are heading is what we must do for our students in order for each of them to have an edge as they leave us and face the challenges of their future.
Again, we appreciate your support and trust as we learn and transition for the next several years. We encourage you to contact your child’s teacher, schools administrators, and district administrators if you have any questions or concerns. We also hope you take time to visit our deeper learning webpage, http://www.marshall.kyschools.us/Content2/10, to learn more about our graduate profile, project based learning, personalized learning, and to see examples of students learning and projects that will take place in all schools throughout this school year.