Columbia County students have long been able to make a boast with a mixed blessing: They have some of the nations best SAT scores, in a state that is among the worst.
Those scores, on both counts, hit a little bump in the road this year. Released last week, the Scholastic Assessment Test results show Georgia falling from next-to-last among the states to dead last, while Columbia County - which still outpaces Georgia and the national average - dropped by five points.
What does it mean?
Well, for one thing, it gives fodder for those who believe Georgias public education system needs more fixing. The problem with that view, advanced by a series of governors dating back three decades, is that the solution generally involves more changes in spending priorities and in curriculum - without taking time to see if the last round of solutions did any good.
Georgia has lacked the continuity that would allow test scores from one year to the next to be rationally compared - much less from one decade to the next. Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price understands that this years SAT-takers arent the same kids ranked last year. Comparing one class to the next is useful, but it shouldnt be taken as a carved-in-stone indicator of systemwide performance from one year to the next.
Still, testing is all the rage, because politicians just dont trust educators to do their jobs. State and federal school reforms, when not ratcheting up the cost of public education by forcing school systems to hire less-qualified teachers to meet mandated class-size reductions, have become obsessed with testing. New federal reforms hold schools accountable for student performance on standardized tests - without any demands on parents, who often send ill-prepared children to school.
Meanwhile, Georgias HOPE scholarship, while promoting an admirable goal of paid college education for all qualified students, is worsening Georgias SAT performance as a rising number of unprepared pupils sign up for the test. More than three-quarters of Geor-ias seniors took the test last year - compared to No. 1-ranked North Dakota, where a mere 4 percent of seniors took the SAT.
That number is 80 percent in Columbia County, which still manages to outdo the national average. Unfortunately, even though our students are performing better than most everyone else, they remain saddled with one-size-fits-all reforms aimed at school systems that are wallowing in mediocrity.
Maybe its time to reform the reforms - and let good systems like Columbia County lead the way.
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