Editorial: Plans for local schools have upside that could pay off for kids

Over the past several issues we have reported some of the strategies Sweet Home School District Supt. Tom Yahraes is bringing to the table to correct poor performances by Sweet Home students, on average, on state assessment tests.

We like where the School District appears to be heading with this multi-pronged approach to success.

The mantra that we shouldn’t “teach to the test” is common across our society, in education and among parents. Yet, tests are one of the most common methods of determining how we’re doing academically, what we’ve learned.

Really, almost everything we do in life is a test of our knowledge and expertise – at work and home. Maybe they aren’t written down on a piece of paper, but if we’re living, we’re testing ourselves.

It’s hard to determine how much our children are getting of the wide range of material we teach them in school if we don’t ask them questions about what they’ve learned.

For instance, we’d be hard-pressed to find any other way but a formal test to measure whether a student knows what the Constitution of the United States is, or what the Declaration of Independence suggests is the purpose of government. Can they name the states? The last five presidents? Do they know the square root of 16?

For these reasons, the district is right in focusing on how to help students learn what they need to be able to improve those test scores.

We also applaud the return of the five-day week with the idea that students need to be in school to learn and that shorter days enable better learning – in many areas. It makes sense.

We can find arguments pro and con for the four- or five-day week. Many students seem to do relatively well in either case, but we’ve also personally seen cases where we think certain struggling students might perform better academically if the school schedule is more reasonable.

We know from personal experience and from what we’ve heard from local educators that extracurricular activities have not always benefited from the four-, longer-day, week.

The move back to five days will likely cause some inconvenience and may not be everyone’s preference, but we like it and we think it will pay off in test scores as well.

Even more importantly, the district’s curriculum, for some reason, has not been well-aligned among its different elementary schools or throughout the grades. Students at one school have been likely to be in a different place in class compared to other schools at a particular point in time.

When they move around, they miss things.

We applaud the district’s efforts to get everyone on the same page – especially to give all the players (at the teaching level, anyway), a say in what’s happening. The locally produced professional development days are a great idea. We have education experts in our district, some with decades of experience.

The district is doing the right thing by tapping into that expertise.

We need plans, and we need to follow them. Out of its data-driven academic leadership teams, the district, schools and teachers are producing plans, with measurable goals.

We agree with Supt. Yahraes that learning is much more and students can be successful in other ways than simply passing tests.

Sweet Home’s community and schools have produced some very successful people and we hope more are on the way.

We think of Matt Slauson, who is playing professional football and Dakotah Keys, who has been a top national-level decathlete. We think of scientists, engineers, doctors, musicians – all successful and all alumni of this community.

We hear the superintendent when he talks about Michael Phelps who suffers from dyslexia an impediment to academic success.

That’s why the district is setting goals for developing our students’ other, nonacademic talents.

We agree. That’s why we vigorously advocate on these pages for extra-curricular activities and sports, arts and training in trades.

Those activities help us create a better community, to be better people. We also believe that they help lead to academic excellence, which is the primary purpose for a school.

We’re excited to see the district take steps to improve our district in all of these areas this year and we remind ourselves that it’s not just the teachers in the classroom and the superintendent and other administrators walking the halls, keeping tabs on things.

Education is something all of us need to participate in, from encouraging kids to actually helping them when they need it.

And helping is something Sweet Home is really good at.

We want to see our children learn math, words, history, science, music, art, forestry, woodcraft, machine and welding skills, and various other subjects taught in our schools.

We want to see students motivated to learn and proving that they have learned, by passing tests and getting jobs. Ultimately, we want them to be considerate and productive citizens, who can make good choices for themselves and their families.