As we head back to school, I have results, parents, and professionalism on my mind.
Results, because they are important to our community's future and are so public.
Parents, because I continue to hear we need their help and support.
And professionalism, because there is no substitute for high quality faculty, administration, and support staff.
For last 2010-11 school year, there were 37 possibilities across grade levels and subjects assessed by Georgia's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and Georgia High School Graduation Tests whereby our school system stood to improve, decline, or show no movement when compared with the previous 2009-10 term.
The good news is our school system demonstrated improvement in 28 of 37 cases for a 76 percent improvement mark.
In 15 of these 28 cases, the system improved by 3 or more percentage points, an improvement rate often associated with statistically "significant" improvement by statisticians who study the many state assessments.
The bad news is we declined in seven cases. However, in five of these cases, the system declined by less than a point, hardly a "significant" decline. The system had no change in one case and the math portion of the GHSGT was representative of "new" curriculum and, thus, cannot be appropriately compared to the prior year.
Additional good news comes when the state soon announces End-of-Course Test results.
Our system, on a 4X4 block schedule last year, had 16 possibilities across math, literature, biology, physical science, U.S. history, and economics. In 2010-11, improvement was made in 12 of these cases for a 75 percent improvement mark over the prior year. Each of these 12 improvements showed gains ranging from +3 to +10.
The bad news is the actual percent of students in our system, as well as throughout Georgia, while getting better, is in need of improvement. For example, scores range from a low of 37 percent passing high school math to a high of 84 percent passing American literature in our schools.
Our school system had ample opportunity to move ahead, go backwards, or stagnate last year. Thanks to hard and smart working teachers, administrators, and support staff, we overwhelmingly moved ahead. We will even beat the dire prediction of 19 schools not making federal "Adequate Yearly Progress."
Our preliminary results will show 10 not making it.
When the "final" AYP report is released in early September, we estimate that we will have as few as six or seven not making it, a far cry from the 83 percent of schools predicted to not make AYP by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
I've often repeated that parents send us the best kids they have. For many parents, they are now the best parents they will ever be. So, if schools are counting on parents to guarantee improved learning results, in the words of one school reformer, they may be waiting a long time.
But, what does the research show when it comes to parent involvement?
In brief, say researchers Karen Cotton and Reed Wikelund in "The Schooling Practices That Matter Most," the more active forms of parent involvement produce greater achievement benefits than the more passive ones.
That is, if parents receive phone calls, read and sign written communications from school, and attend and listen during parent-teacher conferences, greater achievement benefits occur than when there is no parent involvement.
Considerably greater achievement results are noted when parent involvement is active, when parents work with children at home (not the same as "doing" a child's homework), certainly, but also when they attend and actively support school activities and when they help out in classrooms or on field trips, and so on.
The research is very clear: The earlier in a child's educational process parent involvement begins, the more powerful and positive the effects will be.
As many of our teachers have shared with me, they would ask our parents to:
- Get involved with their child's education
- Come to school expecting school personnel to act in the interest of their child
- Refrain from blaming the school first and the child not at all when problems arise. (I remember when I was in trouble at school, I was in "double trouble" with mom and dad. They made a difference in my behavior at school and, ultimately, in my educational attainment.)
While parent involvement is key for any child, teacher quality and professionalism is also indispensable. And, while schools cannot control "out-of-school" factors such as a child's home and surroundings, we can control "in-school" factors such as genuine care for students, the use of "high yield" instructional strategies, the building of student background knowledge, and the leveraging of technology to gain increased student engagement and produce 21st century skills on the part of students.
As we begin this school year, I look forward to further capacity building when it comes to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of all of us who work in our public schools.
We will work to avoid the following warning from English teacher and author Mike Schmoker, who writes "We have struck a strange bargain: If you sit through our workshops, we promise not to make any real claims on your time or practice.
We'll allow you to work alone while assuming (wrongly) that our programs and training are having a positive impact on practice, despite the lack of team-based efforts to implement and adjust practice on the basis of assessment results."
In this era of accountability, where results determine funding and sanctions, we "need" our parents and we must further build the capacity of our professionals to deliver a high quality of instruction realizing that all of us together can work "smarter" than any one of us alone.
Dr. Gary Mathews is the Superintendent of the Newton County School System and writes a semi-monthly column for The Covington News.