DCSD embraces accountability, committed to an assessment system that measures the most important outcomes
CASTLE ROCK – While many in education have complacently relied on state-mandated standardized tests to define their performance, the Douglas County School District (DCSD) is building a system that focuses on measuring what matters most, as defined by our Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (GVC) and our new teacher and leader evaluations.
“We have all relied on state-mandated standardized testing for far too long,” explained DCSD Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen. “Focusing on one test, one day that measures low level thinking is not what is best for our students. It is a waste of our time and money, and it does not provide the information we need.”
Fagen says the District’s System Performance priority is integral to both the 2014 and 2017 Strategic Plans. It empowers DCSD teachers and leaders to focus on teaching and measuring the most important knowledge and skills that our students need to be successful. This includes skills like the 4Cs: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity. It also includes the District’s World Class Outcomes, content, and other 21st century skills.
“DCSD is committed to building the assessment system that will debunk the myth that the only way to measure the success of students, staff, schools, and districts is through low-level, state-mandated standardized testing. We strive to demonstrate that the most important things our students need to know and do can be measured well and shared with our stakeholders. The same is true for measuring and rewarding the talent of our excellent staff.”
Reinventing American Education requires systemic change
When the District first embarked on reinventing American Education in 2011 with the introduction of its 2011-2014 Strategic Plan, New Outcomes for a New Day, it was evident that it would not be possible to move our system forward without considering every element of our organization.
“You can’t just change one function. The entire system has to change,” said DCSD Human Resources Director Katie Shortsleeve. “As much as we are reinventing American Education, we are also reinventing the systems that support it.”
In 2012, DCSD teachers began working together with Dr. Dana Johnson-Strother and her team to build world class outcomes that exceed the Colorado and Common Core State Standards, and in 2013, the Board of Education unanimously approved the 4Cs as their Douglas County School District Board of Education’s End Statements—or goals.
Knowing that the most important factor in a student’s success is the effectiveness of their teacher, DCSD has worked to raise the bar when it comes to teaching expectations and then to support our educators in reaching these high expectations through a dramatically improved professional development system.
“We need teachers that are operating in more than one dimension. In the past, there was the dimension of teaching students facts,” Shortsleeve explained. “[In Douglas County] we don’t have a scripted curriculum. We don’t have pacing guides.”
The rigorous work DCSD teachers must do to build modern units and quality assessments demonstrates the true rigor of the teaching profession in Douglas County.
Additionally, as explained last month during our focus on World Class Education, teachers are playing a challenging new role, becoming the “guide on the side” for students, rather than a “sage on the stage.”
“It is much easier to answer a question, than it is to turn the question back around in a constructive way,” Shortsleeve said.
Douglas County is committed to retaining and attracting the very best teachers for its students, and its evaluation and compensation programs must meet the challenge. For this reason, DCSD implemented a revolutionary Pay for Performance system, which aims to reward great teachers for doing the things we know are best for students.
“We are building a system that rewards this behavior,” Shortsleeve said. “If people go above and beyond, they are going to be recognized for that, each and every time.”
She says the District’s new Market-Based Pay system is also working to fix inequities that have not been addressed by the traditional system of pay in education.
“There were pay freezes year-after-year-after-year. That was a necessary but unfortunate situation that every school district in the state went through,” Shortsleeve said. “Pay for Performance doesn't allow us to just snap our fingers and rectify that, but what it does do is enable us to take a more aggressive approach than a traditional step-and-lane at rectifying the situation, and doing so based on performance.”
The transformation doesn’t stop there. In every department across the district, processes are being streamlined and improved, and the focus is always on what is best for our students.
“Our focus is delivering that end goal, that great learning experience for the students. Are we helping to facilitate that?” Shortsleeve asked.
“Every time we improve our own efficiency, data accuracy or planning and forecasting, the goal is to eliminate distractions, and if possible, send more resources to the classroom,” Shortsleeve said. “We want our employees to be inspired by and have confidence in our system.”
During the month of December, we will be exploring the District’s System Performance strategic priority.