After all the meetings and mutterings, does it matter who the district superintendent is?
It won't change what students find in their lunchboxes, who "likes" who, or get rid of all those tests. But it could affect how well students score on the tests.
The Modesto City Schools board will be searching for a new superintendent in the coming year, and research says he or she will be the linchpin of district efforts to raise standardized test scores.
Shift in strategy
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Early efforts to raise student scores focused on the classroom, with teachers seen as racehorses sprinting their students toward the winners' circle. But studies are finding that the better bet for a quality education at every grade looks more like a team of Clydesdales pulling together to take every child over the finish line.
"All of the previous efforts at reform or improvement have been at the school level ... and what the state found was that if a district was empowered, could support its schools, it worked better. Otherwise, you're running around putting out fires every place," said Sue Rich, the Stanislaus County Office of Education's test scores expert.
"If the district practices can be reviewed, refined, improved, then they can improve their school practices" and improve their scores, she said. Rich worked with Modesto City Schools through an intense two-year mandated program to improve student performance.
Modesto City Schools has missed target test score levels since the 2003-04 school year.
"The State Board (of Education) wants to see districts working hard. They want to see results," Rich said. She said Modesto is going beyond state requirements in training staff and targeting problem learning areas under the strategic plan spearheaded by Superintendent Arturo Flores in his first year, 2007-08. Flores will leave June 30, 2011.
The success of that strategy, and to some extent the test of a superintendent's ability to drive a district's success, will come in late August. That's when the state will release the first measure of last spring's test scores.
"We are all waiting, holding our breath," Rich said. But, she added, "There's no clear message about what an acceptable (test score) level would be."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.