Testimony before the Board of Education, December 14, 2004

 

Good Morning. I am Cindy Kerr, President of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs and I thank you for the opportunity to speak today on behalf of the approximately 140,000 pioneer children riding the MCPS Grading and Reporting Wagon Train. I have been sent back from the trail to report on our progress to date.  We allowed ourselves and our children to be “pioneers” because we truly believed in the promised destination. We knew that we were entering into uncharted territory but we shared the vision. We were prepared for the hardships because we believed all precautions had been taken to deliver our children to the final destination safely. As we have finished the first quarter of the first year of our multi-year trip, it is time to take stock.

 

            I am pleased to report that our elementary school pioneers are safe and secure. Their wagons are plodding along slowly, implementing the first phase of the new report cards with the separation of grades and learning skills. The planning for the next phase of the trip is proceeding smoothly and all reports confirm that our young pioneers will continue on the trail safely at this pace.

 

Our middle school pioneers also appear to be making the first leg of the journey safely and securely, however, their journey has been more arduous. There have been some bumps in the trail, but our wagon drivers, scouts and leaders are trying to maneuver through these obstacles with little lasting damage. They have worked cooperatively with our high school pioneers through the 50% grade milestone and it appears that they will be able to navigate these rough waters with minimal damage. The 50% cut off has helped those pioneers who were previously buried by the burden of a “0” in trying to move forward. The impact of the 50% cut off on those scouts who are simply not contributing to the effort is still a concern as well as to those scouts who try to get ahead by stealing the work of others.  The gap between promise and reality is narrowing but not yet closed. We are confident that all drivers, scouts and leaders will complete this leg of the trip successfully.

 

It is our high school pioneers who are having a treacherous experience on the trail. We understood that the trip was planned with two pilot wagons leading the pack as we began on this uncharted territory. Those pilot wagons, named Walter Johnson and Seneca Valley High School appear to be trudging ahead slowly and methodically. They understand the need to send scouts out ahead on the trail to report back with unexpected obstacles so that the wagon drivers and leaders can work cooperatively to maneuver through with consistent results. We are receiving alarming reports that some of our other high school wagons have decided to pull out of line and attempt to head out on the trail solo. The inconsistent approach to the trail ahead is causing fear and alarm among those on the wagons who have raced ahead. This haphazard progress is also a source of consternation for those in the wagons who are staying in line and waiting for our pilot schools to report back with their findings.

 

We are very concerned because our scouts have reported that we are approaching the first very dangerous obstacle that has the potential to greatly derail any forward progress for all the different grade wagons. This first major obstacle is the reassessment/re-teaching concept. We know that this must be addressed before any further progress can be assured. While discussing this important component of the new grading and reporting implementation, we also find that some basic questions must be answered before we can allow any of our wagons to continue on the trip. We must identify and reach consensus on what is mastery?  What grade reflects mastery - an A, B, C or even a D?  How can we continue to work out the question of reassessment/re-testing without first allowing all of our stakeholders to stop and identify the consistent implementation of mastery throughout every middle and high school wagon that has embarked on this journey?  This will require time and hard work - we cannot allow any quick fixes or shortcuts. We should not let the pioneers get lost on a false turn; better to stay on course and wait for accurate directions.

 

We must then begin the slow methodical work on the consistent implementation through out all of our middle/ high schools. We must identify what resources are necessary to ensure that every student in every course in every department in every middle and high school is treated consistently and fairly. This will require that we adopt a grading scale to guide our path that makes sense to those on the frontier and supports standards-based learning. We will also have to carefully check our supplies. We must assure that we have all the resources needed to support reteaching and relearning for mastery. It is the teacher pioneers who will need our attention and resources to make this a reality.  We cannot continue on this trip until these basic questions have been answered and implemented.

 

We have reached a place in our trip where we should not turn back, but we must stop and circle our wagons and work cooperatively to find a safe and consistent plan to answer these basic but important questions before heading back out on the trail again. Please remember the Donner Party and their experience on the trail. We must deliver every pioneer child to the promised land safely and securely. If we cannot ensure that - we must stop and find a new trail.

 

Thank you.