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Vail Valley Voices: Schools focus on accountability

Sandra B. Smyser
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

With a new administration now on board and the economy in an increasingly devastating state, we are faced with demanding challenges in the realm of public education now more than ever.

There are many key ingredients in the recipe for success in public education: academic rigor, rich diversity, thorough assessments, adhering to legislation, commitment to increasing student achievement, a focus on 21st century learning, developing and remaining committed to professional development models and active involvement in the lives of our children.

But I would like to focus on one variable that is becoming increasingly more significant and inevitably more prevalent in the formula. That is accountability.

Accountability remains a form of imperative responsibility that we, as educators, have to our constituents in order to ensure that we are preparing our children for success in the future.

Various measures of accountability most certainly taking place in public school systems, both locally and nationally, include:

– No Child Left Behind. This is the latest federal legislation to enact the theories of standards-based education reform, formerly known as outcome-based education. NCLB is based on the belief that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals can improve individual outcomes in education.

This piece of legislation does not assert a national achievement standard. Standards are set by each individual state, and each state develops assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades. The legislation, which closely follows the president’s agenda to improve America’s public schools, passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan majorities and was created for unprecedented state and local flexibility, reduced red tape, increased accountability for results, focusing resources on proved educational methods and expanded choices for parents.

As our new federal government officials take office, while NCLB is up for re-authorization in the very near future, it is unlikely that the basic elements of this legislation will change dramatically.

– Rigorous and consistent testing. This a common and often controversial practice taking place in order to determine a teacher’s effectiveness and a student’s receptiveness in the classroom.

In Eagle County Schools, we utilize both the Colorado Student Assessment Program and the Northwest Evaluation Association assessments in order to achieve this.

CSAP is designed to provide a picture of how students in the state of Colorado are progressing toward meeting academic standards and how schools are doing to ensure the learning success of students.

Northwest Evaluation Association tests provide highly accurate results that can be used to identify the skills and concepts individual students have learned, diagnose instructional needs, monitor academic growth over time, make data-driven decisions at the classroom, school and district levels and place new students into appropriate instructional programs.

– Closing the Achievement Gap. Last year, the Colorado Department of Education formed partnerships with six school districts in the state to participate in a pilot program to test strategies and solutions to eliminate achievement gaps associated with race and income, and Eagle County Schools is one of them.

The other five districts taking part in the initiative are Greeley-Evans, Roaring Fork, St. Vrain Valley, Summit and Yuma. All six districts fit two criteria to be included in the initiative: achievement gaps are larger than the state average, and district leadership demonstrated willingness and capacity to take on this project.

Eagle County Schools has made a commitment to achieving excellence by challenging expectations, creating solutions and competing globally.

– Increasing student achievement. This has been and will continue to be the central focus of Eagle County Schools. The expectation is that every student can and will grow academically. It is our belief that the single most important factor affecting student achievement is placing a highly qualified and highly effective teacher in front of every student every day.

In order to do that, we have a process in place that entails “Professional Excellence, Accountability and Recognition,” which comprises four components: 1) multiple career paths, 2) ongoing, applied professional growth, 3) instructionally focused accountability and 4) performance-based compensation.

Taking into consideration all of the aforementioned, accountability is one of the important pieces that make up the whole pie in the world of education.

In fact, the Board of Education’s strategic plan highlights accountability, in addition to community and excellence, as a key area to focus on in Eagle County Schools. We are committed to remaining accountable to our constituents when it comes to the high quality of education we provide to our students.

Sandra B. Smyser, Ph.D., is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools.


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