What we think: New school testing misses key element

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The grades for Shelby County Public Schools were not good, but we shall see how this new system works out.

Like most everyone else, we are continuing to try to digest the results we read last week from the state’s new accountability tests for public schools.

Like Shelby County Superintendent James Neihof, we “continue to feel challenged” by what we saw.

Whether you think standardized testing works or whether this particular set of processes is appropriate, this is the system through which we for the foreseeable future will educate our students and evaluate our teachers and administrators.

In many ways, we think this system has some good ideas. We like that it focuses on the students being college or career ready – the ultimate goal, we always have avowed – we like that year-end unit tests are a component with the standardized tests, and we like that ultimately this system would allow for us to hold teachers accountable for the performance of their students.

But until we get the hang of this, the process is going to be as painful as these scores posted by our schools in this first data set.

That we had only four proficient schools out of 12 – a testing issue caused the eighth grades of Collins and Shelby County high schools to be considered their own middle schools – would seem on face value to be unacceptable.

Because there were no Shelby schools that rated “distinguished,” a distinguished mastery of mathematics is not required to determine that two-thirds of our schools are considered to “need improvement,” with two of them scraping near the bottom of the 1,474-school heap.

The good news is that even if some of our schools aren’t doing the job, most of our older students are making the grade of being college and career ready, although not 100 percent, as is the school district’s goal.

We know that the Shelby County School Board, Mr. Neihof and his staff will bore into all this data and determine exactly where the gaps can be closed to ensure that our schools are in the near future among the most distinguished around.

We know they will look at a school or two on the list and model that performance.

They will do everything they can to ensure that our educational system becomes one of the state’s best.

But they can’t accomplish the one thing that would affect these test results more than anything else, the one thing that should be part of a comprehensive evaluation on any educational system:
For our schools to succeed, it’s the parents who hold the greatest potential for growth. Parents can adjust the environment, ensure proper focus and, ultimately, change the numbers.

In fact, parents can be the difference in the entire educational process, if only they would.

Until they do in Shelby County, don’t look for school grades to change precipitously.