There was plenty of discomfort this week about Columbia County's failure as a system to meet Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
A story about it, with some unfortunate editing, even led to one school official wrongly being called a "racist," which these days is about as close as you can get to dropping a nuclear bomb in a debate.
First, those AYP numbers are based in part on results of the Criterion Reference Competency Tests, or CRCTs.
School Superintendent Charles Nagle makes a very good point about the fact that while it sounds bad for the county to "fail" AYP, the reality is that the vast majority of the system passed.
Even in the three schools (out of 28) that "failed" AYP, most students passed. But the rules of NCLB are such that passing can look like failure. That seems to me to be just as counter-productive as trying to portray failure as passing - and isn't that a perception public schools have always been forced to fight?
In any event, here's how those three schools failed, as explained by Nagle. NCLB requires school systems to track and grade each "subgroup" - specific categories divided by ethnicity, economic status and learning ability or disability.
At Evans High School, there are 74 students in the black sub-group for math testing. The NCLB scale this year requires 74.9 percent of the students in that sub-group to pass. Because only 49 passed, Evans missed AYP by just seven students.
Likewise, at North Harlem Elementary, there are 50 students in the black sub-group for math. Only 21 passed, leaving the school just nine students short of making AYP.
And at Harlem High School, for the "all students" category in math, the school fell 13 short of those needed to meet AYP.
Three schools, then, missed making adequate yearly progress by a grand total of 29 students - in a school system with more than 22,000.
I don't know about you, but I don't feel too bad about missing AYP if it's by just a tiny fraction of a percent of the total school population.
And because the purpose of NCLB (other than the perpetuation of the federal education bureaucracy) is to make sure those 29 aren't lost among the horde of successful students, this process will help the school system see where extra help is needed.
That part is important, because in their condemnation of Associate School Superintendent Lauren Williams, some folks not only got their anger as wrong as the story that caused her so much grief, but they've also missed the point about those sub-group divisions.
Because of a story that got a little too much editing, a school system press release as reported in The Chronicle made it sound as if Williams was blaming black children for the schools' failure.
Comments (mostly anonymous) on the newspaper's Web site were swift and ugly, calling Williams a racist and demanding she be fired. Angry callers to the school board office expressed similar sentiments.
I'm not sure if any of those folks were, or can be, placated. My experience is that anyone so ready and willing to call someone else a racist isn't really interested in dialogue.
If they could be calmed down, it would be nice if they'd consider doing what The Chronicle did: Apologize to Williams.
t's disheartening.Well-meaning as they might be, those racial breakdowns required in NCLB are divisive all by themselves. Even so, the intent is to see to it not that specific students are singled out for blame, but so the system can target them for help.
Is there any way to end these hair-trigger attitudes on race? We keep flunking that test over and over, and no one seems worried about improving those scores.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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