The Bonsall Unified School District Governing Board was sworn in at the March 14, 2013 Board Meeting held by Dr. Randy Ward, Superintendent of the San Diego County Office of Education. The Board took action to hire a superintendent, and offered me the position. I accepted, and am very grateful to serve the Bonsall school community as the first superintendent of the Bonsall Unified School District. For the next fifteen months there will be two Board Meetings on the dates of the regularly scheduled meetings; the Bonsall Unified Board will begin at 5 pm, and the Bonsall Union Board will be meeting immediately thereafter. Those fifteen months will be spent closing the Union District, and preparing the Unified District to operate for all purposes on July 1, 2014. The interim phase will be a great deal of work; as a contracting entity, the Bonsall Union School District will cease to exist so every contract has to redone, all accounts closed and reopened, all vehicles re-registered, and a long list of technical and legal issues to be addressed.
At the same time Bonsall schools will be transitioning the curriculum from the California State Standards to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which are adopted by 45 states. There are some great benefits to the CCSS. For the first time our nation will finally have the ability to compare apples to apples when evaluating student learning among various states. Some states are quite concerned about this standards shift because their current standards are not as rigorous, and they will look bad at the start. California’s standards are among the most rigorous so it’s not as big of a concern here. When compared to our current state standards, the CCSS require far more critical thinking and problem solving than just memorizing facts. Therefore, measuring the CCSS will require a more sophisticated test than just multiple choice to show what students know and are able to do.
The more sophisticated test that will replace the current California Standards Test (CST) in 2015 is called the Smarter Balance Assessment (SBA). Like the formative assessment we use, our Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) test, it is computer-adaptive, which means the next question depends on how you answered the previous question; if you answer wrong the question difficulty drops, if correct it rises. This helps show just how far below or above each student is in relation to the grade level standard being tested. The SBA is still being piloted and adjusted, but some of the released questions show it to be quite different than the CST. For example, writing will be far more important, and acquiring knowledge from research in order to problem solve, must be demonstrated. The SBA will also be available as a formative test, meaning that you can take it earlier in the year to see if you’re on course to proficiency, then take it again at the end of the year to check the alignment of instruction to the assessment.
Some people call this “teaching to the test”; these people are ignorant of the fact that in a standards-based system that is precisely what you do. Assessment drives instruction, or “what gets measured gets done”. Technology has altered the requirements of effectively competing in the 21st century global economy. Knowledge alone isn’t as powerful as its application, context, and meaning. This is one of the reasons that Bonsall’s use of technology has provided the highest growth in student learning over the last four years. Using technology to align assessment to personalized instruction and also extend learning time in the cloud vastly improves our chance for “Academic Excellence and Support for All Students”. To smooth the transition to the CCSS, earlier this year Bonsall schools started using our MAP assessments to see how our K-2 grades would do with the new standards. We’re doing fine, but the increased writing required by the CCSS becomes much more important in the higher grades.
Throughout all this transition, the design and implementation phases of creating a high school will be exciting! Imagine creating a high school unfettered by the bonds of past practice. The Board has approved a contract with Landmark Consulting Group, Inc. to shepherd the development of a Community Committee representing parents, employees, business, and civic leaders as we embark on the journey of creating a model high school designed for optimal performance. Across the nation new high performing schools are creating career pathways, linking with business and higher education while using technology to expand learning to include real life application. Bonsall is focusing on providing its students with a school district that will present success for their future, not our past.
Justin Cunningham, Ed.D.