Monday, December 22, 2014

COBBS: More on the State of OHS

By RYAN COBBS, Ottawa High School | 2/24/2014

Two weeks ago, I discussed the goals of the current administration at Ottawa High School and our status on meeting those goals. We already have discussed the continuing accreditation process, as well as the implementation of Common Core standards. As an aside, there currently is a bill in the House to abolish Common Core standards across the state, which if passed would be, in my opinion, a huge detriment to our student clientele. This week, I would like to discuss our changes in assessment practices, as they not only are extensive, but will have a tremendous impact upon our students and community.

I have spoken in a number of places, including this column, about our desire to change the landscape of assessment at OHS. In the past, we have assessed students in accordance to state mandates, which forced us to assess students in social studies, science, reading, writing and math. The assessment practices of the state have been under some scrutiny for the past few years for a number of reasons, including its inefficiencies in supplying the assessments. For instance, the state last year mandated the writing assessment to be done by all junior level students, and provided us two windows in which to administer it. OHS gave that writing assessment to our students in the fall during the period of several days. However, the state’s system to deliver the assessment upon completion failed, and the assessment was subsequently canceled for all students wasting a great deal of instructional time for those participating. Because of these inefficiencies, as well as inadequacies in providing information to both students and parents about the level in which students score and what those scores mean, it is the opinion of the staff at OHS and the Ottawa school district that other means of assessment might provide a greater practical application for our students.

The state school board made a decision earlier this year that high schools would be able to choose which assessment platform they would like to use to determine the learning levels of its students. There were several choices available, one of which was the ACT. OHS has been making a push toward college and career readiness during the past two years, and the opportunity to give the ACT helps us achieve those goals. Every college in the Midwest used the ACT as their primary determination for acceptance into the program, as well as scholarship status. The ACT also aligns quite well with the newly implemented Common Core standards, which means that our curriculum can be assessed appropriately through the ACT. It also stands to reason that because of the collegiate use of the ACT we should see a greater motivation from our students to perform well on this assessment.

The state also mandates that we assess our Career and Technical Education programs. OHS took this opportunity to again follow with the reasoning behind moving toward ACT, showcasing that our goal is to promote college and career readiness. Once again, we have a choice as to what assessments we use between the state version, known as the CPASS, and the nationally renowned WorkKeys program. We have chosen to implement the WorkKeys assessment, which we will begin this year with more than 500 of our students being assessed (free through a grant from the Kansas State Department of Education). The WorkKeys assessment will provide our students with a certificate of ability that they can use to separate themselves from their competitors in the workforce. OHS also has partnered with the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce to work with local businesses, informing them of the new assessment practices so that the certificate the students receive is meaningful when they apply for positions.

The changes in assessment practices have been one of the greatest and most complex for OHS, as well as the one that might see the greatest benefit to our students. As we work toward ensuring every student is both college- and career-ready, these practices will help a great deal in determining specific programming and the individual learning needs of our students. As we move forward, we think these practices will further propel our students and Ottawa High School into the upper echelon of Kansas schools.

Dr. Ryan Cobbs is principal at Ottawa High School. Email him at cobbsr@usd290.org or call (785) 229-8020.

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