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Chris Reykdal Wants Washington to Become a Pathway State. What Does that Even Mean?

The State of Education-Reykdal

That culture has to change in our state. Which is why we do an assessment in tenth grade, we figure out pathways for students, we honor all students, and hopefully we get serious about investing in kids based on what they need, all the way through the age of 21, which is why there’s such a call for universal 13th through 14th year of education funding. That’s not some radical left idea. That’s a reality that that’s what our economy needs, and if we did that we could say to students rather than ramming you into the next class, ‘cause we’ve gotta squeeze it all into 24 credits in four years, let’s figure out what works based on your plan and your path.

So it is, it is the question that keeps me awake at night. Unfortunately, I don’t control that decision. I get a little bit of discretion on how we push districts, and serve them (?) in an accountability system. I got to tell Betsy DeVos we are going to deemphasize testing and our school accountability. But the legislature has to make that ultimate decision about whether they are a test state, or they are a seat-time state, or they are a pathway state. And we are telling them we think you should be a pathway state.

Editor’s Note:

During The State of Education Town Hall with OSPI Director Chris Reykdal on October 25, 2017, Reykdal revealed an interesting detail to the audience: Washington was going to become an educational pathway state. 

What does this even mean?

I’ve been doing some investigating. This is the first post in what I hope to be a series about pathways. But first, the set up.

This is Chris Reykdal’s answer to a question about high school math graduation requirements and instruction, that ends up being a rambling lecture about Washington moving away from being a assessment state and towards a pathway state. 

What follows is a transcript of that interaction.   -Carolyn Leith

….

Jason Call: The current system of standardized testing, in conjunction with the 2007 law that changed graduation requirements to 3 years of math (where it had previously been 2), have had a direct negative effect on math learning in Washington State. In order to avoid plummeting graduation rates, high schools – both administrations and teachers – are passing students through math classes over an extremely low bar for proficiency. This is evidenced in both the low expectations for proficiency on the standardized tests and the fact that pass rates are also low. Further compounding the damaging effect of these laws is that unprepared students are being pushed into higher level math classes under the auspices that “more math is better”? If standards were where they were prior to the law changes, the majority of these students would fail Algebra 2. Districts are responding to these conditions by pressing teachers to “pass students anyway”, and teachers who resist this are punished as troublemakers.

This is a much more complex situation than this town hall format will allow exploration of, but how do you intend to address this reality, that standardized testing and increased graduation expectations have actually had the opposite of their intended effect on mathematics learning?

Reykdal: This is a really powerful question for those of you I think were, had the online discussion, I’ve been trying to track it a little bit although there are a lot of discussions that sort of implicate our office a bit I can’t always follow.

This is the most complicated question that’s facing our state with respect to standards. We were a state, I would argue 20 years ago that was pretty lax in a lot of standards. As a former Social Studies teacher I assure you, what I taught and what my colleague taught for the exact same period the exact same subject US or world history were two things totally worlds apart. So on one hand I think it’s been very positive that we’ve got a standards based movement, right? We want students to know certain things, I think it’s important for us to do that. It raises the accountability expectation and it brings confidence to our schools.

For me, where it goes off the rails, is when we define that very specifically to be a content or a curriculum that is forced upon us, under the Obama Administration, quite honestly, that states were incented to purchase or buy or get into because we were in a fiscal crisis, and we thought gosh, we’ll take that federal money and we’ll buy into your scheme or your plan.

Our state has been fortunate enough now to rethink that a little bit, although you heard me in my introduction say, that while we moved to the high stakes testing logic in mathematics which really forced Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 as a sequence for all kids that helped cause and exacerbate the problem that Jason brings up. We’re a state that was torn between, do we provide pathways for all kids and let them demonstrate math proficiency in multiple ways, in which case we may run the risk of replicating what we did for forty or fifty years, which is create a totally disproportionate result, particularly for students of color, by saying well you can take this math, college-bound students are taking this math. Or do we walk that fine line others said, we’ll at least have a standardized test so if there’s some school giving away grades and sort of forcing students into the next thing and not holding to the standards, we’ll see that revealed on the test.

So we’re a state that ironically did both. And I say ironically because most states have now abandoned the high stakes testing-they delinked and they stuck with trusting teachers and actually letting  performance evaluation of teachers; and data matching so they watched their students then go to higher ed to see if they’re performing to say did that school actually teach standards and meet content.

Our state’s clinging to both. We simultaneously still have these high stakes tests, although we do a lot to deemphasize them. They are not purely delinked. And then we said and it’s still about seat time, in fact it’s about more seat time than ever before. A 24 credit high school diploma. What that means if you’re not in the education world is, passed every single class, six periods a day, two semesters a year, for four years of high school, with very little ability to be flexible about that.

And so the other states look at Washington and go, gosh they do really good things there, but we don’t get it. They’re a high stakes testing state which is really competency based, but they still are obsessed about seat time, the old model that you got to sit through all the time. What happens when a fifteen-year-old is good enough in math to demonstrate competency, why are they still being forced into the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th credit of math? And what about the student who gets to their senior year and they have taken three or four credits of math, and they just are not developing at the same stage, and they need a little bit of extra help? Are they somebody we should fail and not give a diploma to or give a transition plan to?

So this is the struggle of our state. And I think what you see is that there are districts who seem to think the incentive model is to just push student into the next level, let’s be that STEM high school, let’s be that state that’s pushing math-even if it’s not necessarily the case that those students need the math, for their career pathway, and/or that they’re necessarily performing effectively. And so depending what district you’re sitting in, this is to varying degrees, and I would argue it’s really not a universal practice but I think Jason’s experienced some of that in his community, it’s a tough question for us.

I personally side with the idea that students are moving at different paces, and forcing Algebra 2, Precalculus on every student as the default conveyor belt to university is actually counter-intuitive to the economy. Thirty percent of jobs, maybe thirty-five percent now need a baccalaureate degree or higher. Which means nearly two-thirds of our jobs need more than a high school diploma but less than a baccalaureate degree. They need applied mathematic skills, applied technology, applied language, problem solving. They need quantitative reasoning, they need the things that allow them to go to Boeing and be successful on day one. 

And so I am about deemphasizing standardized tests and building eleventh and twelfth grade pathways that still have the Math credit in them or the Science or the English or the Social Studies or Health credit in them. But in pathways that make sense for students. A young person at the age of seventeen should say, “you know what, I really wanna be a vet tech, and someday I might want to turn that into a baccalaureate degree, and someday I might want to turn that into a vet degree, but where’s my pathway out of high school, where’s my thing that leads me to the next step.” And unfortunately we’ve spent a lot of time in the state saying, we really don’t have that for you, but here’s your next advanced math course, and here’s your next advanced english course and if you just go to the UW you’ll be fine, and if that doesn’t work, settle for something else.

That culture has to change in our state. Which is why we do an assessment in tenth grade, we figure out pathways for students, we honor all students, and hopefully we get serious about investing in kids based on what they need, all the way through the age of 21, which is why there’s such a call for universal 13th through 14th year of education funding. That’s not some radical left idea. That’s a reality that that’s what our economy needs, and if we did that we could say to students rather than ramming you into the next class, ‘cause we’ve gotta squeeze it all into 24 credits in four years, let’s figure out what works based on your plan and your path.

So it is, it is the question that keeps me awake at night. Unfortunately, I don’t control that decision. I get a little bit of discretion on how we push districts, and serve them (?) in an accountability system. I got to tell Betsy DeVos we are going to deemphasize testing and our school accountability. But the legislature has to make that ultimate decision about whether they are a test state, or they are a seat-time state, or they are a pathway state. And we are telling them we think you should be a pathway state.

 

One comment on “Chris Reykdal Wants Washington to Become a Pathway State. What Does that Even Mean?

  1. Laura H. Chapman
    December 13, 2017

    As usual, the economic justification for education is dominant, along with the view that students are financial investments–human capital. I read this as convoluted proposal for needs-based funding through age 21–based on the outcome of 10th grade assessments.
    A pathway “has credits in it.” makes no sense unless the whole point is that students are to be sorted into career pathways, or college with credits placed in a wallet or passport. These credits have nothing to do with “seat time.” The whole convoluted message is for funding of variations of personalized learning till the age of 21 and with certifications, bases, credits for learning earned anywhere, anytime, and put into a wallet or passport that students can present to employers or to college officials. Sound like a version of de-schooling education as described in this report from Europe. http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC108255/jrc108255_blockchain_in_education(1).pdf

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