Change isn’t always easy.
Parents, teachers, and administrators in the Menomonee Falls School District are learning that lesson now as they prepare for a major overhaul in the state’s education system.
In 2014-15, Wisconsin will shift its assessment standards to a more rigorous, computer-based testing system that measures different competencies in students. Teachers at all levels throughout the state are now rebuilding their curriculum and testing systems to adequately prepare students for higher academic expectations.
For parents, the biggest impact of the state’s new standards will be a revised schedule proposal for next year that includes a one-hour early release every Wednesday at all schools. Roughly 20 parents with children of all ages attended a roundtable discussion Wednesday to discuss that proposal.
School leaders understand the schedule proposal is likely to garner heated debate. However, they didn’t face a bloc of resistance from parents Wednesday. Parents had many questions, but most left North Middle School two hours later feeling more comfortable about the proposal after talking to school officials about the plan.
“I feel fine about the proposal,” said parent Tony Albergo. “I’m still struggling with having a rambunctious 11-year-old home an hour early on Wednesdays, but we'll figure that out. I’m a lot more comfortable, though. I’ve felt for a long time that the way we teach needs to change, and this seems like a baby step toward that.”
Another parent echoed Albergo’s thoughts.
“I think it will be good,” said Carolyn Luckmann “I think it makes sense. The more they can do to get things consistent and flowing well, I’m all for it. Time will tell, obviously, but if it keeps things rolling with the teachers, we need to try it.”
Teachers Will Work Together
Teachers would use the hour each Wednesday to meet as a collective unit, which is difficult to do with so many teachers leading extracurricular activities after school. Before school, elementary school teachers are often in individual meetings with students and parents.
During these Wednesday meetings, teachers would compose revised tests and curriculum, monitor student growth through data-driven approaches, discuss individual student performance, and train for the assessment changes. The district has also invested significantly in its best teachers and training them to prepare the rest of the staff for the transition.
Why is teacher collaboration time important? Read a different perspective here.
“They are shifting what we teach, and the levels of student performance,” said Superintendent Patricia Greco. “Right now we are in the curriculum alignment part. We’re relying a lot on substitutes for teachers to work together and that just isn’t working right. It's disrupting student learning”
Greco said the early Wednesday release causes the fewest disruptions to student learning, maintains the level of instructional time, and allows teachers to continuously monitor student growth.
Kinds Inc., a day-care provider, would allow parents with younger students to the send their children to the service for one hour once a week. At the middle and high schools, the libraries would open for supervised study time.
“We are really trying to teach to that personalized learning level, and you need time to discuss that progress,” said North Middle School Principal Lynn Grimm. “Teachers have been struggling to find that time. You need to analyze, and you need to do it often. We need to have that continuous improvement.”
The proposed schedule is far from set in stone. Greco said the district is planning several more public discussions on the schedule. The next opportunity to be heard is at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the School Board meeting at Village Hall. The board isn’t expected to vote until late in January, and the board will postpone the vote if an amicable solution isn’t reached by then.
With Change Comes Challenge
In other states, teachers receive a core curriculum created at the state level that all districts ascribe to. In Wisconsin, educational control is largely left to the individual districts. As a result, all school districts are relying on their own staff to reconstruct their entire curriculum in preparation for 2014.
“Many districts across the state are going to struggle,” Greco said.
Parents at Menomonee Falls High School are already seeing the changes in curriculum locally. In the math department, students are receiving “I” grades for any mistake in their work. An “I” isn’t an “F”, but it requires a student to correct or retake an exam to earn credit. It was a point of frustration at the roundtable Wednesday.
“It just sucks,” said parent Sharron Daly. “I’ve never heard of students earning no credit for a calculus problem just because they messed up one sign or number. It’s awful.”
However, MFHS math teacher Jeff Thompson said that change is part of the new direction teachers are forced to travel. Students at MFHS already leave early each Wednesday, and Thompson and his fellow teachers have been using Wednesdays to rework math curriculum to prepare for more rigorous standards.
“The new state tests are multiple choice and if students mess up just one thing, they’ll get the whole question wrong. We need to prepare them,” Thompson said. “We need that Wednesday time because we are getting together to make the assessments. We are designing all of our materials.”
Elementary school parents also noted that the report cards sent out this year were a bit confusing, and were even missing a grade for social studies. It was a byproduct of reworking the curriculum, and reflected the need for regular teacher meetings to ensure consistency moving forward.
“We are finding that we don’t have enough time,” said Valley View Principal Tina Posnanski. “There’s so much that needs to get done.”