Marathons are timed events

Nearly three years ago, the Richland 2 community began hearing the phrase, “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” First said by Superintendent Katie Brochu, then cabinet members and now district staff – it is the response whenever this question is posed: “When will we see measurable results from all the new initiatives that have been put in place?”

When SAT scores dropped 15 points, 15 points and 41 points for a total drop of 71 points over the last three years, the District responded that it was just an anomaly, a hiccup. When the state scores for elementary and middle school students rose for the state but dropped for Richland 2, it was just another hiccup. The new form of engaging, inspiring, igniting life learning for our students was explained as a transformational teaching method. Not one that reforms what is currently being done but one that reinvents something entirely new. Transformation, we were told, takes time, like a marathon. Still, our Board has asked repeatedly over the last year exactly how the impact of this transformation will be measured for our students. They have received no solid answers because, I feel, they request the information too gently.

A progression of this transformation is the switch from traditional teacher-lecture instruction to project-based learning, which is now being introduced into Richland 2 schools. Dr. Brochu’s stated goal for Richland 2 is to be like High Tech High (HTH) in the Silicon Valley. HTH and its affiliates use technology extensively – teacher-written curriculum, no bells, very flexible schedules, all learning takes place through projects, no sports teams, minimum arts and foreign language. Certainly, some subjects can be taught with this hands-on approach, but not all and maybe not most. And with the track record of Richland 2’s scores over the last few years, I say we need to know more about where we are going. We raise our children with a destination and at least a rough idea as to how to achieve our objectives. In our schools, we have used such things as testing and scores as a means of measurement. Without good test scores, our children are unable to get into good colleges and universities. That’s a fact of life.

So it seems irresponsible to transform away from one measurement without some sort of road map or other form of measurement for success in place. How we measure our students’ achievement should be thought of before the project begins. To say after three years of falling scores that test scores aren’t really that important is a hollow attempt to cover up failure.

I say it is time this administration begins stating clearly in a measurable way what the goals are for our kids – three years is more than enough time. How do we know if the $2.2 + million we spent last year on professional development is having a more or less desired effect on learning than the $600,000 we used to spend? What if children who entered the District as kindergartners three years ago and are now becoming third graders are found not to have achieved? ‘This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon’ won’t be a good enough answer for them or their parents.

I would remind the District and Board that marathon runners and sprinters have concise ways to measure their achievement, no matter the distance! And so should Richland 2.