School buses parked in the Salem-Keizer School District lot on Hawthorne Avenue (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Last month, new state data showed Salem-Keizer had once again failed to raise the percentage of students reading and doing math at grade level.
Salem-Keizer wasn’t unique: nearly every large district in Oregon saw fewer students meeting standards on state tests. District administrators said they were disappointed by the results.
The school board hasn’t yet discussed the results in detail or heard a presentation about them, but state assessments are one of the few areas where the board has set a tangible goal for school administrators.
The board’s policy says “as a result of the district’s efforts, there will be an increase in the percentage of students ... who meet or exceed the state benchmarks in reading, writing, science, mathematics, and English language attainment.”
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Salem Reporter asked each school board member to respond to four questions via email.
1. Do you consider this an important goal for the board and the district? Why or why not?
2. What is your assessment of where the district is vs. its goals?
3. How do you plan to hold the district accountable for these results?
4. What action will you propose the board take as a result of this new data?
Four board members submitted written responses. Board member Kathy Goss answered questions over the phone. Jesse Lippold and Sheronne Blasi didn't respond.
Board responses are below, in some cases condensed for clarity and length.
Kathy Goss (west Salem)
1. Do you consider this an important goal for the board and the district? Why or why not?
It’s absolutely the number one goal. Everything we ever write, it starts out with “every child will graduate,” and I think that truly is the goal. It just doesn’t seem to move quickly.
I think we’re all disappointed that it didn’t go up more than it did. I think you’d see things happening quicker and it would be more notable if we were a smaller district, a smaller place.
That’s tremendously hard to do at our size. I don’t think that that means we’re not working hard, doing the right things. It just takes a long time.
Our goals are always set high, no question about that. When you set out, it’s for 100% of the kids. We never set out, even those kids that are doing well, we don’t not service them. We service anybody five days a week. ...There are some pockets that were successful more than others and there were some that stayed the same and some that went down which is amazing to me.
How do you plan to hold the district accountable for these results? What action will you propose the board take as a result of this new data?
I would limit all the things that we are trying to do at one time. We’re trying to hit sports, we’re trying to hit music, we’re trying to hit all kinds of things that do matter but … We have a lot of kids that are behind, and all you can do on that is take your time, add more instruction and keep to basics. We’re going to be watching test results as they come out. It’s got to start showing because it’s being put in, they’re working harder, they’re doing more.
There’s all kinds of things that come every time some money shows up, and I think we need to be more accountable on how we spend it. And we need families' input. We need families to help out. I’d like to see every parent read to their kids at night, every single one, and develop some interest in reading and some enjoyment.
There’s so many important things. Obviously bullying is important. A full helping of accomplishments have been put on our plate and sometimes it’s more than you have time or ability to do. We need to back up on some of those extra things and we need to stick to the basics. We’ve got to seriously look at more time, more hours of good time with kids, of learning time and maybe less of the frills for a little while.
Marty Heyen, board chair (northeast Salem)
I want every one of our students to succeed. I honestly have always had mixed feeling about the assessment tests and don’t feel they always reflect what a particular student has learned and for those students who do not pass them there are other ways to determine if the student has in fact learned what they need to know to move ahead.
For those students who did not pass the assessments, I hope they will not get discouraged and that they will use this knowledge to work on needed skills. And if they need help, please speak up!
The ultimate goal of course is to have our students walk across that stage ready for the next phase of their lives. I am looking forward finding out how we did in graduations this coming January and am cautiously optimistic we have improved.
The District has a Key Performance Indicator’s Document that was developed last year that should allow us to see how our students are doing as they move through the system. I am looking forward to a Board discussion on this in the future.
Satya Chandragiri (south Salem)
As a parent, psychiatrist and a school board director, I believe anything that is not measurable is not changeable. While one may say the current data points that we measure or the way we measure may not give a complete picture, but this is what we have and it certainly points out many serious gaps that requires urgent attention. For me I use this data as a screening measure. It must be supplemented with other measures that can highlight the problems we are facing in a greater details.
I am not satisfied with where We stand. When I view this data with the perspective of equity, I am worried about the future of our children and students. In a knowledge based economy, having healthy and educated citizens is vital for our children, their families and our nation. Our nation needs all hands on the deck! Educated citizens is vital to our nation’s economy, national security, social and business viability.
I see educational outcomes as health outcomes because adverse childhood experiences and other factors that hurts our children’s health and safety also impairs their ability to learn.
When I take these outcome data and overlap it with other data from our school district And Community health assessment 2019 data, it points out many important associations.
We have a diverse community and nearly 52% are diverse, community of color and our students face many challenges including poverty, housing challenged, many families are going to be moving in to our community and many face clustering of adversities.
I truly believe all Our students are capable of high achievement and have the potential to be an engaged learner, every teacher is a caring educator, every school principal is an inspiring leader in education and every school has the potential for being a good school.
In order to achieve this we have to have a detailed root cause analysis and understand at a deeper level before throwing solutions. As a physician, I cannot write prescription before arriving at a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan. We need to understand what barriers are preventing our students from actualizing this potential and how we can change that.
This ODE result is a wake up call for our community. I believe equity is the heart and soul of our public education and all public serving systems. This result is an indication that our system as a whole needs to rethink the way we have operated. It is not working. This report is not a reflection of our students but a measure of how as child serving systems we are not functioning in an aligned manner.
We can not continue to do the same and expect different results.
We need strong leadership and resolve to sustain the efforts to implement the changes.
We need to take the report to various communities including students, families and listen and understand the issues at a deeper level, gain trust and mutual respect and develop a shared goals. We need a real time measurable indicators dashboard that would allow our students and families, policy makers to make course correction and help distribute the resources and opportunities so that all our students can aspire for flourishing life trajectories. Our students and families must have access to the measurable indicators and know if their students are on track or they need to advocate for needed support and resources.
Since many factors influence the educational outcomes, we need work with various child and family serving agencies including public sector, private sector, nonprofit , advocacy agencies, faith agencies etc to align their vision, policy, financing, organizational culture, practice and outcomes around Our students.
As a board member, I am required to use an equity principle to our decisions. This ODE report and its implication requires in depth reflection. A starting point is to ask for a work session to address this report.
I also want to take this report to my community and explain this report to the students, families and our community, especially diverse communities and those who may not be English language speakers, minorities, persons of color and other sections of our community who may not be comfortable sharing their ideas, hopes and aspiration in public forum.
As I report to our community, I will seek their input and bring it to our board and district.
There is an level of urgency to address this as children can not wait. As a system we have an important responsibility to ensure we do not become a barrier to our students as they grow and develop into our future healthy and educated citizens. We need to rethink our system as nearly 65% of children who enter schools today will be working in jobs that do not exist today and we have to prepare them for this future. We have to prepare our students for the fourth industrial revolution that is already there. Our students have to be prepared to compete in a world that none of us can even imagine. Even in the interim, we will have to prepare them with knowledge and skills to fill in jobs that will grow in the next 8-10 years.
Danielle Bethell (Keizer)
I believe having clearly defined goals is important, and I believe having those goals be transparent is important. Goals need to be measurable, with benchmarks and timelines; and I firmly believe the goals of the district should be widely supported, and understood. I can say for sure our teachers are working hard at the goals set ahead of them. However, goals should set a clear target not establish a guarantee.
Focusing our efforts on a state benchmark allows us to see where our students need to achieve in order to be on a level educational playing field but we have to have a balance of knowing what's needed within our own community to build a pathway to successful opportunities for students to meet their goals, particularly in areas that showcase our students desire to show up to learn and show up to succeed through graduation.
I am new to the school board so I don't have a solid understanding of where the district feels they are vs their stated goals, I hope the Superintendent and Board Leadership both agree a public conversation needs to happen. A work session perhaps, or a written report. Not just to share their assessment of the results, but to seek buy in from parents, teachers, community members and ultimately students.
I am sure there are challenges present that we don't know about. I would like to understand those challenges and identify ways to overcome them with our community. The district has been spending time in the area of social/emotional learning, a topic I am new to, but I hope will assist to identify ways to enhance a students ability and desire to learn, through focusing on each of them as individuals. We have already begun to see great results in areas of education where the standard model offers flexibility, CTE for example.
I plan to continue to work to engage my fellow board members in questions and answer sessions that promotes healthy dialogue around the challenges we face as a community; I will continue to bring forward questions, comments and concerns from those who reach out to me from across the district. I believe we need to have a deeper understanding from the Superintendent, which again points us to some sort of communication. It is up to board leadership to organize this conversation for the Board and the community.
Paul Kyllo (north Salem)
I believe that this is a very important goal, and that it is a goal that we as a board and district keep firmly in front of us as we go through the year(s). The superintendent is the person in the district responsible for making the changes that will facilitate the change and improvement in scores. All programs and decisions should be directed toward these results. Changes in established patterns take time to have an impact, and everyone expects instant results which are impossible to achieve.
The key to change will always be convincing the players that the changes are needed and that their role in the change makes a difference. Believing the change can make a difference and acting on those beliefs can make the change real. The superintendent and board need to lead the charge in making changes that will last and have an impact. Belief in the changes will lead to results. Making corrections to the changes will make a difference. The educational principals involved strike me as being the Pygmalion and Hawthorne effects.
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Reporter Rachel Alexander: email@example.com or 503-575-1241.