Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

A School Leader Chooses Student Potential Over Test Scores

CJ Westerberg, December 17, 2010 10:34 AM


"We cannot rely on the archaic standardized tests we use today to judge student learning  . . .

For every student (sic) rise to his/her potential we must use our communities,
through internships, mentoring . . . "

                                                                     - George Wood

By C.J. Westerberg

I really wish a recent guest post in The Washington Post's Answer Sheet  was titled "How To Be A Great School Leader" rather than "Principal:  How To REALLY Turn Around A School" as it was titled.   Principal George Wood's points, specifically those related to learning and assessment, are relevant messages for all schools, not just those in decline.  His creds include 18 years "as a high school/middle school principal alongside a dedicated staff and a community committed to improving a school". 

The question begs, "shouldn't we all be in a mode of continual improvement"?  Are we such incredible experts that technique/format/mode does not change and knowledge does not change (Is Pluto a planet?) 

Wood uniquely defines "success":

"In that time we have increased graduation and college going rates, engaged our students in more internships and college courses, created an advisory system that keeps tabs on all of our students, and developed the highest graduation standards in the state (including a Senior Project and Graduation Portfolio)."

Wood continues on to skewer some of the white-hot political topics in education, such as charters, Teach for America, philanthropist "titans" and Arne Duncan's record, where honestly, I felt he wielded too big of a brush stroke where his message on leadership might have been lost in the shuffle.   (Are all charter schools created equal?  Should all "private capital" be equated with Goldman Sachs and BP?  There are too many equally passionate and committed folks in education in these aforementioned sectors, and as we all know, plenty of bad actors in public education, as well.  But, this is for another post . . .)

Wood, thankfully, reels us back in to his main message, the assault against real education for our students and teachers with our present day test-score mania, which is consistent with his leadership vision.  Accountability and assessment, yes.  Not all are created equal.  One dimensional in its present (Woods' referenced tests):

"Tying teacher pay and tenure to scores on the current batch of narrowly constructed tests has never worked and will not work now, as Thomas Hilton, former researcher at the Educational Testing Service notes."
It's refreshing to hear a leader talking about student learning and engagement, while establishing a culture of  consistent assessment of curriculum, achievement and systems.  Excerpts from the good wisdom Wood imparts follows (bold - ed. add):  

"At our school we rely on weekly if not daily staff development activities, school wide learning strategies, and staff evaluation focused on improving instruction and cultivating the leadership skills of teachers to help and coach their colleagues.

There is no incentive linking pay to performance or threats of termination; rather we rely on collaboration and the collective wisdom of the teaching staff to improve student achievement.

Ensuring that every young person learns means constant reassessment of the curriculum, multiple measures of student achievement, and support systems throughout the school.

We cannot rely on the archaic standardized tests we use today to judge student learning as they dumb down and narrow curriculum. And we must make sure that every student has equal access to the conditions to learn in every school.

For every student (sic) rise to his/her potential we must use our communities, through internships, mentoring, and, yes, school boards that hold educators accountable to the local community. . . "

Internships and mentoring involve the larger community including business and other sectors.  This IS a critical asset.  Time for parents and the larger community to feel at home tearing down the Edu-bunker walls. 


" . . .George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, and executive director of the non-profit Forum for Education and Democracy, a collaboration of educators from around the country."

                                                                  --  Answer Sheet

Previously Published by The Daily Riff 6.23.10

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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