I respectfully disagree with much of what Rev. Ralph Canty proclaims in his rather lengthy diatribe published Sunday, Dec. 2 in the Item. His primary purpose seems to be to stifle those who dare speak out for Sumter County’s teachers. His tone is dismissive and insulting to the educators and parents of our district. Though I am not an employee of this district, I am a parent of children attending district schools, and I have been teaching for 15 years, first as a high school teacher in Lexington 1, then as a teacher in Spartanburg 1, and now as a professor at USC Salkehatchie. Through these years as an educator across the state, I have yet to see community leaders who were willing to so publicly dismiss teachers and their concerns.
If we are to assume that Rev. Canty speaks for the board and superintendent in his paid advertisement emblazoned with our district seal, the official stance seems to be that all who dare pose questions are resistant to change. Contrary to Rev. Canty’s propaganda, resistance to new ideas is not the problem in this district. An unwillingness to work together is. Rev. Canty’s statement that the world is changing is true, and so are management principles. We now realize that collaboration, rather than antiquated top-down leadership principles, leads to excellence. The teachers, building-level administrators, and parents I know want to work alongside their administration. If our district officials would listen willingly and thoughtfully, rather than defensively, they might find that people are willing to support them in their endeavors.
Our teachers are not resistant to change. They are being given too many changes at one time with too little guidance. That goes for principals as well, so I really do not want to hear again that our principals are responsible for the controversies surrounding report cards. The implementation processes for standards-based report cards and Common Core standards for grades K-2 are perfect examples of how the district does not adequately train its staff, despite the thousands of dollars spent sending personnel to training events.
Consider the timeline for Common Core and standards-based report cards. The two things—Common Core and standards-based reports—are not linked. Rather, our district has decided to implement them at the same time. Schools were notified last spring that we would be moving to Common Core standards. In August they were notified we would also be implementing standards-based report cards. The week before report cards were due, teachers were told how to submit grades through the computer. Up until the day before the deadline for inputting scores, the teachers received conflicting instructions about how and when to input grades. The confusing instructions were sent from the district office, not from principals, who seem to be getting much of the blame these days for how poorly the process was handled. How would any dedicated teacher feel when told to give only 1’s and 2’s, then to give 3’s, then not to input any more grades, then to immediately input grades? What about the fact that some students were making all A’s but teachers were advised to give those students the same 2’s and 3’s as the kids making C’s and D’s? Confused and frustrated are two adjectives that come to my mind. Also, keep in mind that, during this first quarter, questions about salary and late pay stubs and concerns about SWEET Sixteen lingered in the minds of teachers, but those issues are, of course, separate.
While debate continues on standards-based grades, I actually think that standards-based grading could provide real insight into learning. However, no one prepared our teachers for this huge change that has already been implemented. We are talking about a real paradigm shift here, one that will take much time, thought, and preparation. Announcing a change is not training. Telling someone how to input grades is not training. Standards-based report cards require teachers to use standards-based grading, and that requires a different way of thinking. Testing needs to be modified and certainly so does the way teachers set up their grade books since a standards-based approach is a fundamentally different approach to assessment. Teachers cannot be expected to use standards-based report cards until they master standards-based grading. If the district is going to spend money on professional development (and, honestly, they probably should if they are going to require big changes), the district office needs to see that it trains the people who are actually working with students—the teachers—and give them time to figure out what they are doing before they are required to implement.
Likewise, the district needs to start educating parents far in advance of making fundamental changes in grading policies. One brochure and an information session are not enough. A couple months are not enough either. Children, parents, and teachers are being asked to completely shift the way they view grades, and that takes time as well as logical explanations. An administrator or a district superintendent saying, “This will benefit your child” or “This gives an accurate snapshot of your child’s progress” is not convincing. Parents need examples and logical reasoning, not just a decree from the district office crying, “This is what we are doing.” Sorry, but we just don’t trust you yet, and until we see less finger pointing and more “Let’s figure this out together,” we never will.