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Friday, April 20, 2007

Guest Commentary: Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore Response to STAR Boycott

Interim Superintendent Richard Whitmore has written this response to Bernita Toney's call for a boycott of the STAR testing.

Dear People's Vanguard Readers,

I have been asked in several forums about STAR testing over the past two days. I want to make it very clear that the boycott will serve neither the organizer's goals nor the individual students' academic needs.

In my short tenure here, I have been happy to meet with community groups about their concerns with the district. We do have issues of differential student achievement, and we do need to address them. A boycott only keeps us from collecting important information about achievement; it hampers us rather than helps us in addressing the issues because we won't know at what grade levels or in what strands of the curriculum we are failing certain groups of students. It's a mistake to boycott.

Other bloggers are correct about the possible outcomes of not meeting the state's and federal government's testing requirements. If we don't test 95% of our students, in the aggregate and in each subgroup, our Title I schools and the district as a whole will be designated as "Program Improvement" eventually. This means state-ordered reviews with the possibility of sanctions if it happens over multiple years.

The state and federal accountability issues, though, are a secondary concern. We need current data about each child, for that child's sake, so we know if there are critical skills and knowledge that haven't yet been acquired in the classroom, and that we need to remediate so that child can go on to success for his or her stay in our district. We need it so that we can evaluate our curriculum across groups of students, for instance at a certain grade level or at a certain school. Maybe the textbook is not providing coverage. Maybe we are not covering the standards that are being tested effectively. Maybe we are not reteaching the students who "don't quite get it" the first time. If we are going to offer our children a successful educational experience, we need the information about what they've learned.

With respect to Ms. Toney's requests of the district, many of them could become the basis for a reasonable discussion. I have already advocated that we review our discipline policy and make sure we are using best practice in a way that separates behavior from academic success. I'm also happy to take a look at the data with respect to disproportionate suspensions. I think some of the suggestions regarding language accessibility of our district documents are good ones, too.

We are already underway with other of these suggestions, such as the training regarding unconscious bias. I will be meeting with a trainer in the next several weeks and we currently plan to offer the training to all administrators. We are also actively seeking new venues to recruit teachers of color.

In summary, we are already making a concerted effort to respond to these concerns, and most importantly, the concerns about student achievement. A boycott will set us back with respect to the data we use to evaluate that concern. A boycott also won't move us forward on the other issues. Meetings, and developing a common understanding of the issues, and setting out a mutually understood work plan, will move us forward.

Please don't boycott the STAR test. Boycotting the test is not a child-centered decision.

Thank you for your time and thanks to the People's Vanguard for creating a forum in which the community talks about education.

Best regards,

Richard Whitmore

Richard Whitmore is the interim Superintendent of Schools for the Davis Joint Unified School District.