- Denver Public Schools (DPS) closed its innovation-dedicated Imaginarium office earlier this year, in part to cover pay raises for teachers, and now three former staff members are speaking out about the bureaucracy and “intense” emphasis on test scores in the district that ultimately ended their efforts toward promoting more personalized learning, Chalkbeat reports.
- In a report published online, the ex-employees shared examples of how their office bridged gaps between white teachers and students of color and helped students set realistic goals for their education, hoping to spark conversations in the district and beyond about pushing back against state and federal mandates that use standardized test scores as the main metric for student progress.
- Meanwhile, district officials tell Chalkbeat they agree evaluation needs to be more nuanced than test scores and that they plan to continue innovation efforts elsewhere in the central office.
DPS isn’t the first district to have educators at odds with administration over personalized learning efforts.
In a 2018 evaluation of several school districts implementing personalized learning practices, the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell found that central offices, though encouraging experimentation, “generally failed to fundamentally change structures, policies, and supports to facilitate innovation in schools.” The current education system, they write, “was never designed for innovation.”
The climate is changing — at least somewhat — with the Every Student Succeeds Act making room for states to use other accountability measures apart from standardized tests. In Colorado, for example, this includes using chronic absenteeism as an indicator of student outcomes.
DPS was ahead of most other school districts in the country by the Imaginarium’s very existence and still has a smaller team dedicated to innovation, according to the article. But the shuttering of the Imaginarium underscores the difficulty of maintaining such a hyper focus on school innovation amid other pressures, including the need to close the achievement gap, for which test scores remain a tangible marker.