The song, “Changes” by the late David Bowie (admit it – an inner voice just sang “ch-ch-ch-changes”) accurately characterizes today’s education world. Parents, students and teachers experience a variety of external forces and pressures that have created a new face of schooling today – one sometimes much different than most baby boomers recall.
Just as the Bowie hit describes the late singer’s self-reflection and apprehension about growing old, educators are wrestling with “doing things the way we always have” and the unknown of what the future holds. Morris Community High School students and staff continue to rise to the challenges change brings in an effort to exceed expectations.
Two major changes this year that have impacted schools across Illinois are the implementation of student growth into teacher evaluation and the decision to use the SAT instead of the ACT as the state assessment for juniors. Our collective attitude toward major shifts has always been to embrace the change in order to improve. This situation is no different.
A positive result of No Child Left Behind has been increased accountability for school systems and MCHS has benefited from these requirements. Our school improvement team, the Rising Star Leadership Team, grew out of our need to improve test scores. The result has been a collaborative and thoughtful system of data driven improvements aimed at student achievement. The Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010 resulted in student academic growth counting toward 30 percent of a teacher’s performance rating. This change caused some uneasiness for both teachers and administrators as we all learned what this new requirement encompassed.
The teaching staff and administrators have worked collaboratively over the last several years to understand the requirements and implement a system that is fair – keeping improved student performance at the forefront. The group understands that improvements will be made as needed as the old model of staff evaluation is replaced starting next school year. Embracing this change will increase our use of data to improve student learning.
Last spring, MCHS committed to providing the ACT exam this year for all our juniors at no cost to the student. Since 2001, all Illinois schools administered the ACT college entrance exam as required. Previously, mainly college-bound students took the ACT. This change was met with a great deal of resistance, but over time, we realized a positive benefit. With nearly double the number of juniors taking the exam, students who wouldn’t have considered college were now pursuing advanced education. Our ACT scores are now at the levels they were when only college prep students took the exam – above the state and national composites.
Just when we thought we had it figured out, the state threw us a curveball. The SAT Corporation won the competitive state bid process and will now provide the required high school assessment. The ACT is the widely recognized college admissions exam in the Midwest, while the SAT is known more in other parts of the United States. Soon, 16 years of trend data will no longer be relevant and we will figure out how to best prepare our students for this new state requirement.
Without a state budget, it is still unclear whether the SAT will be given to juniors this spring. One thing is certain: MCHS juniors will take the ACT exam this April at Morris High School.
We all realize that often change is inevitable and often difficult to manage. I anticipate that parents, students and staff will embrace the changes described in this article. As Bowie pines, “time may change me, but I can’t trace time.” Time will tell what the future holds for public education in Illinois.
• Patrick Halloran is the superintendent of Morris Community High School District. Community Pulse is a weekly column that provides a dedicated space for Grundy County-area nonprofits, schools, organizations and sometimes Morris Herald-News staff to share news and information about their organization.