Citizens debate factors behind student success

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By Stephanie Hernandez McGavin
The Meridian Times

The Okemos School Board heard some concerns Feb. 9 that district administrators are relying too heavily on state expectations and standardized tests.

The district’s School Improvement Plan offered three goals aimed at student proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics. While some school board and community members say these goals are fundamental building blocks, others, like school board Secretary Vincent Lyon-Callo, said that a modernized process of education needs to be established.

Lyon-Callo worried that holding students to a definitive meaning of success by state standards would stifle some students’ potential. He said this could hurt the possibility of kids freeing themselves from society’s grip on, what he said is, a job-driven world.

Lyon-Callo said, “Education for emancipation has been lost. And I think it’s not to the benefit of the vast majority of the population.”

He said that while reading, writing and mathematics are essential parts for functioning in the world, they do not necessarily allow someone to interact with it.

Lyon-Callo said an essential part of enforcing this plan would be “to help students learn how to research issues on their own and begin to develop and think through issues.”
Okemos High School parent Shaltreece Herron agreed that education cannot be defined by three narrowly focused categories.

She said the education system needs to reevaluate the way it handles individual learning styles, areas of focus and the standards that students are tested and graded by.

“Grades in school are about as useful as slippers on a balloon. These parameters are set up on success from someone else’s point of view,” said Herron.

Instead of focusing on the “three R’s” of reading, writing and arithmetic, Herron said schools should set goals in attaining real-life experience—even in areas that do not follow the traditional education system.

Her son participates in the Students in Entertainment Technology program. It allows high school students to work with entertainment technology behind the scenes of a stage. He can receive required school credit for subjects he might not normally enjoy or excel at in the classroom.

Deputy Superintendent Patricia Trelstad said the four core academic areas: literacy, mathematics, science and social studies, fit within the realm of administration’s three primary proficiency goals.

“The bulk of our work is really in reading—literacy—reading, writing and math, because that’s what’s found in the other subjects,” said Trelstad. “To be able to do social studies you have to be able to read, write and think. And then in science, it’s read, write and compute.”

Trelstad said it is not an omission of the other important subject but rather a complicated intertwining and interdependence of interdisciplinary studies.

In addition, Trelstad said state standardized testing is an essential tool in determining how to break down areas of struggle and work through them.

The tests measure how well students hold up against the standard, as defined by the state. But kids might not always understand why they need to reach these standards. Trelstad said schools need to assist students in seeing “what success looks like.”

Trelstad said, “You teach kids, not just what the standard is, and what it looks like to be successful, but where they are and then what they can do to reach the end.”

While they want their schools to be successful with the tests, Trelstad said they do not teach for them. Since Okemos schools focus heavily on raising students’ level of education to meet the standards, which the test determines, there is no need to “teach to the test.”

Whether administration, board member, teacher or parent, success can be defined and tested in multiple ways.

For Herron, success is too specific to the individual to be seen as a general goal for everyone.

Herron said, “Success is doing your absolute best and finding something that fulfills what your skillset is and how it matches your passions.”

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