A schoolboard’s obligation to those who have elected its members is, first and foremost, oversight, to make sure that the students in the school district in which they serve are receiving a good education. In the Washoe County School District, the Board of Trustees is led by Dr. Angela Taylor who acts as spokesperson for the Trustees but, as was shown in my last posting, but does not, it appears, always speak to what Trustees are thinking, to their concerns with how the District is operating or to their concerns with the performance of the District’s Superintendent, Tracy Davis.
But the perceptions of the 124 site leaders, including principals and vice principals, and 708 certified staff, which includes teachers, were consistently in the lowest rungs of those who approved of Davis’s job performance.
In the Reno Gazette-Journal article from which the passage above comes, Dr. Taylor is dismissive of the current Board of Trustees rating of the Superintendent, Taylor attributing her lower numbers to there being “a different board this year than last, and so people have different perspectives.” Why is she working so hard to diminish the ratings that were produced as a part of an effort to collect information for use in the Superintendent’s annual review, this year’s review of particular consequence as it will be used to determine whether or not Tracy Davis’ contract will be renewed at the end of this school year.
Dr. Tayor has on a good many occasions done what she could to interpret data collected by the various entities charged with keeping track of the performance of the District, its effectiveness in offering students a sound education, in ways are intended to mask problems and bolster achievements despite what the data actually says.
I have written several articles pointing to such, an example being when Dr. Taylor responded to a report that scores for Nevada schools on a performance test that the State had mandated were the lowest in the country of schools using this test. Dr. Taylor responded to this by saying that Washoe County Schools exceeded the State average, failing to mention that “above average” meant a point or two of difference, WCSD still achieving at levels below that of others using the same test.
In the same edition of the paper, November 1, 2017, an editorial piece by Dr. Taylor appears in which she addresses the concerns of some that the District’s reporting of record high graduation rates might be somewhat deceptive for the fact that in the years against which the record year is compared, students in the District, by State law, had to pass proficiency tests in order to graduate. The pass rate for the year of the record is the first year in recent history when students could graduate without taking proficiency tests.
Dr. Taylor is very dismissive of those who are concerned that the uptick in the graduation rate might have something to do with students not having to take the tests. Of course they are! Interestingly, Dr. Taylor makes it clear that she knows that some of those reading her editorial distrust District reporting of student achievement. She tells readers, “First and foremost, let me state plainly that the WCSD believes firmly in transparency and accuracy. We know that the best way to achieve continued success is to share our data in a straightforward way and engage in critical conversations aimed at improving performance.” This is interesting because so many know of so many instances in the very recent past when District reporting reflected anything but transparency and accuracy. Anyone who cares to take the time can find in this same newspaper many an article questioning the forthrightness of the District in regard to such matters as the hiring and firing of superintendents and its reporting of the financial standing of the District. Deception is a common theme in District dealings with the public.
Now, I am very glad that the State is no longer mandating standardized tests to determine whether students should receive diplomas. Standardized tests, a standardized feature of District programs for many decades, are rotten because they do not really measure whether or not students have, by the school programs, achieved in ways that are meaningful to living a decent life as individuals and citizens of a democratic society. On the other hand, Dr. Taylor does not assure me in any way that the current school programs are effective in providing students a sound education.
I do, in fact, have evidence to the contrary in the form of numbers of students leaving the district who require remedial work in basic school subjects when leaving school to enter college. I have to assume that if large numbers of those students who do go on to college are not proficient in math and language abilities, many of those who do not go on to college suffer from the same deficiencies. My personal experience with many a Washoe County School District student as college freshmen and as students wanting to become school teachers in the last years of their college programs tells me that District students are not receiving what they need and deserve.
So when Dr. Taylor states that,
“It also should be understood that although our high school students do not have a high-stakes exit exam, our students continue to take assessments throughout their educational journey in elementary, middle and high school to measure progress. State and local large scale assessments, along with end of course final exams are administered at all stages during their K-12 path. Teachers consistently monitor student progress and growth with these assessments in order to make instructional decisions in the best interest of each student”
I take umbrage and ask that others do the same. Dr. Taylor’s words, because of her history of bending information to suit the role she has decided to play, that of District cheerleader and defender of the superintendent, should be questioned for what she says so that those truly concerned with what is best for students have a decent sense of what is really going on.
The role that a decent Trustee should be playing is that of a truth seeker and a policy maker making policy on the basis of information proven to be good information. The Trustee needs be, for the sake of student welfare a harsh critic when criticism is due and never on to support any member who acts to hide the flaws that can and do affect the quality of education students receive and the quality of the lives they are able to live.
I think it may be time to consider whether Dr. Taylor is fit to lead the Board of Trustees and I ask for people the people who elected her to the Board was, after all, a good decision.