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PA: District communicates that 'Every Child Counts'

 

 (Courtesy of Williamsport Area School District)

Summary: While this district values standardized testing, it believes that individual academic and personal growth matter just as much, and is letting its students and parents know through the Every Child Counts program.

 


The big picture of performance—that’s what the Williamsport Area School District felt was being lost with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act training the public spotlight on standardized test scores as measures of student achievement.

While district leaders and educators consider testing an important component in assessment, they wanted to widen the

District characteristics
Name: Williamsport Area SD
State: PA
Type: Suburban
Grades: K–12
Enrollment: 5,985
Students per teacher: 14

Enrollment characteristics
Economically disadvantaged: 51.3%
English language learners: n.a.
Students with disabilities: 21.6%
White: 76.4%
Black: 21.8%
Hispanic: 0.8%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 0.9%
American Indian/Alaska Native: 0.1%
Other: n.a.
Source: SchoolMatters.com
lens. The result? "Every Child Counts," a campaign designed by school board members, administrators, teachers, community members, and a high school student to communicate the big—and positive—picture of performance in the district.

Success reflects many factors

According to school board member Pam Markle, the district views NCLB as well-intended legislation, but is concerned because it determines success or failure solely on one parameter: the results of standardized tests. In contrast, Every Child Counts reflects the idea that the success of a child encompasses many factors.

Standardized testing is important, he explained, but he says he is glad the district is recognizing the importance of not just preparing students to take tests but also preparing them for "everything that’s to come in life."

"We wanted to promote a positive image," Markle said, explaining that the district didn’t want students and teachers to feel like failures because of individual performance on a single test.

Sometimes, she noted, outside events can affect test performance. For example, in the months before an assessment test, one student’s father died, another had two family members lose jobs, and another had friends involved in a violent automobile accident. While the students may have been distracted at test time, that doesn’t take away from each student’s talents—one is an excellent welder, one is a musician, and the other is an artist, she explained.

On a larger scale, in another school, a student committed suicide the week of an assessment test. "How do we go to the kids and say 'you need to focus on the test?' All of the sudden, the test doesn’t seem that important," Markle said.

Cost-effective communication

Every Child Counts was initially promoted at Curtin Middle School in November 2004. Community members, parents, and teachers spoke about what it means to make every child count. The district also took the opportunity to explain some of the No Child Left Behind terminology to parents, so they could better understand the standardized testing process.

Now the Every Child Counts message is being spread to the district through a variety of mediums. The initial presentation is repeated before school events (e.g., concerts), and materials are handed out to the audience. Every Child Counts is also promoted through school newsletters that are sent home to parents, the district's Web site, and an online internal newsletter for district employees.

So far, the cost of the program has been minimal, just hours dedicated to the project by the district’s full-time public information officer and costs associated with in-house printing.

The message that individual academic and personal growth matters just as much test scores is being embraced by district employees, parents, students, and the business community, according to Jessica Long, the district’s public information officer, making Every Child Counts a successful, affordable program for the Williamsport Area School District.

"By recognizing as a board and administration that every child makes a difference, we're already at 100 percent of our goal," Markle said.

Visit the Williamsport Area School District web site for more information on the Every Child Counts Campaign.

Lessons learned
  • Even while meeting state and federal requirements, communities must establish their own definitions of academic excellence.
  • A holistic approach to education and a commitment to a diverse curriculum need not be sacrificed to the demands of standardized testing.
  • Parents and community members need information to understand that testing is only one element to consider in evaluating a school district’s performance.
  • Students need reassurance that their worth is not measured solely by their performance on standardized tests.
  • Effective outreach to the community need not be expensive to be effective.

Contact

Jessica Long
Public Information Officer
Williamsport Area School District
201 W. Third St.
Williamsport, PA 17701
Phone:(570)326-0282
Email: jlong@wasd.org

 


Posted: April 7, 2005

©2005 Center for Public Education

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