By Becky Berg
A recent letter to the editor by Dawn Williams, (Waive test for students affected by Marysville shooting,” May 17, The Herald), prompted me, as superintendent of the Marysville School District, to reach out to Ms. Williams. I had a great conversation with her, but I thought it important to address her comments publicly as well.
Ms. Williams wrote about her “deep disappointment that the Marysville School District and the entire Washington state school system had been remiss in educating themselves regarding the myriad symptoms and complex responses trauma has on children and their brain’s ability to test and to learn.” She also called on the district to allow a waiver for affected children so they can graduate.
First, the Marysville School District is well aware of the effects of trauma on students. Following the Oct. 24, 2014, tragedy, we have been fortunate to remain in close consultation with Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, as well as the University of Washington School Mental Health Assessment, Research and Training Center and the International Trauma Center.
Through these organizations, we have provided all school counselors with intensive training in a highly evidence-based form of group and individual intervention for schools called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Trauma in Schools. In addition, we have implemented an evidence-based mental health curriculum proven to reduce stigma, increase help-seeking behaviors, and improve mental health literacy for high school students. We have also added Signs of Suicide (SOS) curriculum with social-emotional learning presentations and screening for all secondary school students. SOS is the only school-based suicide prevention program listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices that addresses suicide risk and depression, while reducing suicide attempts.
In addition, we’ve added therapists, student assistance professionals, and prevention and intervention specialists who work in all our middle and high schools. Our district also provides free Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings for the staff and the local community, and continues to implement motivational interviewing for truancy support and practitioner skill building. The motivational interviewing is an evidence-based and extremely affective counseling approach that helps people move from ambivalence to planning for positive change.
We could not have done any of this without the support of the state Legislature, the Governor’s Office, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, U.S. Rep Rick Larsen and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.
We also agree that state tests should not be a requirement for graduation. This was expressed in Marysville School Board President Pete Lundberg’s March 11 article in the Marysville Globe titled, “Disconnect state test, graduation.” In the article he states, “All learners are different, have varied skills, learning styles and abilities. They learn in different ways, at varied rates and times. Attaching graduation to one test, given on one day, at one time, in one way, does not allow for individual differences.” Lundberg reiterated this in Jerry Cornfield’s May 6 Herald story,”Tests may take toll on thousands of students unless state helps,” in which Lundberg said that “High stakes testing should not determine graduation from high school.”
Several of our high school students requested test waivers due to the difficulties they experienced as a result of the tragedy that occurred in 2014. Those students wrote an appeal, and I personally contacted state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to advocate on their behalf. Their test requirements have been waived.
So, in the end, we agree with Ms. Williams. Our systems must respond to the mental health needs of our students, and sometimes the need for high-stakes testing is outweighed by common sense. Still, we are thankful for Ms. Williams and the many adults in our community who are tireless advocates for our children.
Becky Berg is superintendent for the Marysville School District.