Let’s check in with our schools…

Dr. Sue Woltanski, Vice Chair of the Monroe County School Board, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s happening in the district.

The Key West High School marching band will be appearing in the New Year’s Eve parade in London, England this year, and fundraising is still going on.

Woltanski said, “I think this past weekend, they were up at a statewide band competition and they won it. If you have a chance to hear them play, you should get out and do that as well.”

Fall sports are coming to a conclusion.

Woltanski said, “I think volleyball districts are this week, and the swimming also. We’re going to send once again quite a few swimmers from Coral Shores and I think Key West probably will go to state meats. We have some cross country runners that look like they’re headed that way as well. So it’s just been a nice, I hate to even say it, a nice normal nine weeks without hiccups and seems like a long time since we had that in the schools. So we’re really happy that the kids are able to get back a little bit to normal here.”

Testing is also occurring this time of year.

Woltanski said, “At our last school board meeting, we approved the annual testing calendar. We have to approve the calendar that comes from the state and then we have to include the testing that the district does. So for example, this last week was the school day SAT. That gives the opportunity for all 11th graders to take the SAT and get a score that they can use to get into college. There’s test-based requirements for graduation, so any senior that hasn’t reached that yet can get what they call a concordance score on those SATs, and that’s something that district pays for. That’s a big deal for the kids. There’s also state mandated testing and people may have heard a couple of years ago, Governor DeSantis moved us on to new standards. They’re called the best standards that got us completely away from Common Core, but along with that was a new testing. We’re the first state in the union to use progress monitoring for our state testing, which means kids take three tests in the school year. They’re supposed to be shorter, smaller tests and then one at the end that the federal government requires. The promise was it was supposed to decrease testing by 75 percent. Well, they’re not really there yet. We found out last week that state testing is actually up 50 percent, but Monroe County cut back its testing, took out more minutes. So we’re actually seeing less testing this year. For the first time since I’ve been on the school board, we’ve had fewer minutes testing than we’ve had the previous years. So we’re moving in the right direction. I think less time spent testing is more time spent learning.”

Is the school board looking to reduce testing?

Woltanski said, “There are federal mandates and state mandates that restrict what we can reduce. I don’t think anyone is for reducing the things that we have to do. We have to do we have to do, but we were doing some extra. There’s value in some testing. There’s a point where the testing is not as valuable. Where that line is may be different for everyone on the board. The biggest part of testing right now, it impacts the kids the most, but teachers are required by federal law and state law to be to be evaluated based on their student test scores. That drives some of the testing, because every teacher has to have a score for that. So that’s a challenge that we’re working around is how to evaluate social studies teachers, when all the state has is reading and math tests.”

What happens if a score is not at a certain level for the teacher?

Woltanski said, “The tests are used to calculate learning gains by the student. More than where they are, it’s how much they learned. We want them to learn at least a year’s worth of material, and if they’re behind, you want them to learn more so that they’ll catch up. So it’s not really a specific score, but teachers are ranked in part on observation and that sort of thing, but also on how many of the learning gains are and there are high stakes attached to it. A teacher who is found to be ineffective, all new teachers are on annual contracts. There’s no more tenure for new teachers. So if you are found to be ineffective, you can lose your job. That is the highest of the stakes I think.”

Is funding tied to test scores?

Woltanski said, “There is some recognition funding that comes from the state, which is if you’re a high rated district. We don’t have any super low performing, but if schools are low performing years in a row, then there are some mandates that they’re required to put extra services into those schools.”