Dear Bonsall School Community,

Happy New Year! We have many exciting new opportunities ahead in 2015! The accelerating pace of change brought on by technology will continue to bring new paradigms into education to further our purpose of, “Academic excellence and support for all students to become highly competitive in their chosen career path and/or college”. A big part of addressing this pace of change is innovating to adapt to the changing environment while anticipating future change. Innovations rarely come as the perfect answer and require tuning to continuously improve. The changes sometimes bring a sense of instability, but that is the new norm; the only constant is change. This reminds us of how important the traditions like those in our holiday season are, as they keep us grounded amidst all this change.

We have new standards, California’s Common Core State Standards, (CCSS); a new statewide assessment of those standards, the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, (CAASPP); a new funding model, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF); and a new plan to strategically link all those together, the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). All of these are being tuned to improve their function and help us use resources more effectively.

It seems prudent to address the California Common Core State Standards and the CAASPP because it appears history is repeating itself.   Over twenty years ago California went through a similar controversy regarding the California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) developed for the California Content Standards that had just been developed. It sought to move away from multiple-choice, memory-based assessment to open-ended questions and required writing at a level far above most students at the time. A small but very vocal opposition to any “outcome-based” assessments claimed it was an invasion of privacy to require students to write about how they felt about an issue and explain their point of view. They felt the government was conspiring to gain information to control people. Sadly, the opposition won over the politicians and CLAS was replaced with more “bubble-in” testing.  The critical thinking and problem solving required in the global economy would have to wait.

Here we are over twenty years later, and are we improving? Not as much as the rest of the world according to many researchers. One of these, Amanda Ripley, the author of “The Smartest Kids in the World and How they Got That Way”, was a speaker at last month’s California School Board Association’s annual conference and explained that if you’re an American about sixty years old you are from among the top two or three most educated countries in the world. However, if you are closer to twenty years old you rank about 16th. In the early 1990s, the U.S. topped the global four-year degree attainment list. Today it has been outpaced by other nations and lags behind at No. 12. This is not because U.S. schools got worse, it’s because other countries in the world improved by implementing more rigorous problem solving and critical thinking while we were busy filling in the bubble for answer “C”.

Raising the bar of student learning is not going to be easy; it will require persistence and a lot of hard work. Deeper learning depends on deeper thinking and shifting our instruction to meet more rigorous assessments. Last spring, along with over twenty other states, we field-tested the Smarter Balanced Assessment that is aligned with our CAASPP without any individual student scores released. At last December’s Board Meeting we shared the overall data below:

English Language Arts/Literacy

Mathematics

The green and blue portions are considered proficient and above. California constituted approximately one third of the student population tested, so it gives us only a very rough indication of how we might have done. We can’t compare these scores to Bonsall’s CST scores; it’s a different test. However it is interesting that the math scores were roughly similar to Bonsall’s math scores on the CST when the CST was new, given in 2002.

The change in assessments isn’t just for K-12 schools; the College Board is redesigning the SAT to reflect the problem solving, critical thinking and elevated reading and writing called for in the Common Core State Standards. Change in assessment requires change in instruction and this is not just for K-12 schools. California’s higher education systems, including the University of California, California State Colleges, and the Association of Private and Independent Colleges officially promote the new standards. The following article presents the changes taking place:

“Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science” (NY Times, December 26, 2014)

Our philosophy of continuous improvement is based on changing for the better. Throughout all this change, our confidence that the Bonsall School Community will continue to perform highly doesn’t waver. We welcome the increased rigor our students will need to continue the momentum of making Bonsall such a wonderful place to live, and thrive through the changes of the future.

Yours,

Justin Cunningham

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