Standards-based education: Expect more discussion on new Federal Way school policy

As the debate over Federal Way Public Schools’ accelerated academics program continues, it seems that another policy, Standards Based Education (SBE), is becoming part of the conversation.

Framed as a system that allows for uniformity in instruction, grading and assessment, districts across the country have adopted the SBE idea in an attempt to meet both state and federal requirements.

SBE came under fire earlier this summer in what was termed the “biggest cheating scandal in American history.” In the Atlanta, Ga., school district that uses a form of SBE, it was learned that more than 150 teachers and administrators had altered test answers in order to help pass the largest number of students possible.

SBE officially begins in Federal Way this fall. The school district, which approved the policy in 2010, defines Standards Based Education as a system that “simplifies teachers’ jobs while giving them a powerful system for teaching.”

The district indicates that SBE helps teachers find clear guidelines for grading. According to the district, SBE helps teachers “know which skills and knowledge are the highest priority, instead of guessing which standards to teach from among the hundreds established by the state.”

Sara Wolf, the mother of an incoming freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School, shared her thoughts on her first encounter with SBE in Federal Way at the July 26 board meeting at  district headquarters. One of the statements made by Wolf was that SBE is a watered down form of communism. She explained how she arrived at this conclusion for the board.

“I lived in Uzbekistan in 1991 and 1992, and that was the year it became independent from the Soviet Union,” she said. “The communism that they lived with for over 70 years enforced a totally level playing field for everyone and guaranteed employment, and as a result, no one had a work ethic, nobody came to work on time, nobody strived to be excellent because they couldn’t be fired...Why are we teaching our kids that working hard and being accountable doesn’t matter?”

Wolf closed by saying that she believes it’s time to reverse course and “re-teach our kids to study, to strive for actual grades, and to learn a work ethic in the schools to prepare them for the real world.”

In a post meeting interview, Dr. Josh Garcia, assistant superintendent of Federal Way schools, shared his thoughts on SBE and what it means for students and parents.

“Standards Based Education, in a nutshell, is the agreement (between) the school district and the community as a whole, on what will be taught, and how it will be reported,” he said.

“What we’ve had for years is inconsistency. It varied from classroom to classroom on what was going to be taught. That really, if you will, gives a ‘swiss cheese education.’ There’s holes everywhere.”

Garcia said SBE has 15 power standards that are taught in each classroom, with a smaller subset of targets within those standards. With the overarching standards and the subgroups, SBE is meant to ensure that students master required skills, and that a clearer picture of a student’s progress can be developed.

A few of the 15 standards developed by state and national standards are endurance, leverage and readiness. Endurance is meant to ensure students are being taught knowledge and skills that will be useful beyond a single test date. Leverage is meant to ensure students are cross-disciplinary, meaning they are taught skills that can be used in multiple places beyond the classroom. Readiness is aimed at making sure students have the required knowledge and skills to succeed in the next grade.

“We can say, your child is ready for the next level, or your child needs help here,” Garcia said. “We’ve never had that level of specificity.”

Regardless of perceptions of SBE, Garcia does want Federal Way students and parents to know that the new policy will help give them a clearer picture of education in Federal Way.

“What I want, and what I think the board wants, is to be able to communicate to each what their child’s learning, how will they know when their child has mastered that skill, and that their grades or marks reflect that learning. Those are the three major things we can have an honest conversation about. In this class, you’ll be learning these things. Here’s the ones they’ve mastered, here’s the ones they need help on, and their grades reflect this.”


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