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Utah's Teacher of the Year on effective education, school grades, Common Core

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 3:25 p.m. MDT

Riddle said she has been involved in the planning of family math and literacy nights where community members are invited to attend academic activities at the neighborhood school. She said that type of public outreach helps develop an atmosphere where a school is a community center and not just a public day care where parents drop off their children on their way to work.

"The schools would need to do that," Riddle said. "They’d have to set up some activities to get more parents in so they would trust the teachers at the school to help them help the kids."

If she were given carte blanche to improve education Utah, Riddle said she would start by lowering class sizes.

Her current class has 33 students, which is above average for fifth grade but not an anomaly in the state.

Riddle said the large group makes it difficult to give individual attention to every student. During reading time, for example, she said she uses a clipboard to rotate through the class on a predetermined schedule.

"I can actually teach each child one-on-one if you lower the class size," Riddle said.

In addition to a large classroom, Utah's Teacher of the Year also teaches at a C school, according to school grades released last month. The grades are based on student test scores and have been criticized by many in the education community for painting too narrow a portrait of school performance considering the stigma attached to a failing grade.

Riddle said she welcomes an evaluation of a school's performance but added that there are contributing factors that affect a student's test score that are not reflected in the grades.

"You could’ve honestly predicted a lot of those grades by ZIP code," she said. "There’s so many other things that go into a test score. A test score, for me, is not a child."

Riddle also weighed in on the controversial Common Core State Standards, which define the minimum skills students should learn in each grade and have been adopted by all but four states.

She said a set of common standards is beneficial to the professional development of teachers, who often attend training conferences out of state that don't fully align with the standards back home.

"You can walk into a conference and feel confident that you’re getting ideas and supplies that will fit your standards," Riddle said.

She also said the new standards are not radically different from the state's previous standards, which were routinely tweaked themselves every few years.

Effective teaching, Riddle said, is less about the specific content than it is the use of classroom management and best practices to give students the help they need.

"Give it to me. I can teach it," she said. "If you can teach well, you can teach anything. Except for, like, physics."

Email: benwood@deseretnews.com

Twitter: bjaminwood

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