9.29.2009

Making the Grade

There has been a lot of press recently since last year's CATS test scores have been released. The news reports that JCPS is in trouble and will have a hard time meeting goals. For those parents not as immersed in the waters of education as others are, this news shocks and angers them. A recent editorial in the Courier Journal states that "There are mitigating circumstances, of course" and proceeds to list a few of those circumstances (http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20090929/OPINION01/909290306/1055/OPINION/A+testing+result). However it fails to mention the biggest factor is that our schools are not tested equally. What I mean by this is that some schools have at least 15 criteria (or more) they must "pass" in order to be a successful school. If they fail one of these they fail everything. So other schools that have less criteria often have a higher success rate. My sons both attend amazing schools and are excelling academically. They are both engaged with their school community as well as feel a sense of civic duty by volunteering with various organizations. They both are high achievers. Yet, according to the test results, their schools are failing in "making the grade." Their schools are failing because their schools failed to achieve all their goals. Even if one of the goals may have been to take students who are completely new to our country, language, culture and education system and were tested as if they had been in school since pre-k along side every other student. They were given no special dispensation because "No Child [is] Left Behind." Yet, that is exactly what these test results do. Leave student's behind. They penalize good schools who are achieving great things and label them, their teachers, their staff and their parents, as failures. My sons are not failures.

I had the chance to tour Atkinson Elementary and meet Principal Dewey Hensley. He is an inspiring and dedicated educator, rallying his staff and students to achieve great things. He is most definitely a role model in administrators. But so are many of our other teachers and staff in our JCPS schools. The Monday Memo is full of engaging, uplifting stories of staff who are going above and beyond for the betterment of our school community. We have students achieving greatness every day in the classroom and in the community, hosting backpack and food drives, donating their time, talent and energy through Beta or Builder's Clubs. They participate in extracurricular activities such as student council, art club, football and so forth and still make the grade. Yet time and time again, they and their school is labeled failure.

I don't have a solution to this situation because I know that "the data doesn't lie." I also know that data can be interpreted to fit any hypothesis, even an incorrect one. If you only have half the facts, then you can only form half an opinion. I urge parents to ask our schools, staff, and school board, as well as superintendent what we as parents can do to initiate change in how our students are evaluated. So that all our students and our community can start "making the grade."

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