Progress or not?
We had planned to use this space to give our opinion on the results of the school system's Average Yearly Progress report, which is required by the No Child Left Behind act. But this is the rare case that we're not sure what to think.
Such is the conundrum that is the federal legislation. It's our job to understand it, and we don't very well, so we can imagine how confusing it must be for parents, students, teachers and even school administrators.
We do know that just 14 of the school system's 41 schools met 100 percent of the AYP targets - 34 percent, far below the state average of 65 percent. While all schools are subjected to the same rules, this county's demographics must be remembered when we compare student achievement here with student achievement elsewhere. Our high minority population - which includes more and more Hispanics who struggle to speak English - makes the race longer for us.
So we have in the past looked at our school system's trajectory as the fairest measure of performance. Are test scores heading upward and the drop-out rate heading downward? For the most part, that has been the case, not only under the current administration, but the one that preceded it.
Last year, 26 county schools met 100 percent of their AYP goals, 12 more than this year, so the trajectory is downward, right? That's where it gets confusing. Because President Bush - with the help of unlikely ally Sen. Ted Kennedy - wanted legislation that would require progress, standards are raised every three years, with the goal being that all the nation's schools will be hitting 100 percent of their AYP marks by 2013.
This year the standards were raised. So imagine a pole vaulter who clears 17 feet, is given a goal of 17 feet, 6 inches, but can clear only 17 feet, 5 inches. Did the pole vaulter progress? Not according to No Child Left Behind.
We point to Carroll Middle School as exhibit No. 1 of the legislation's fallibility. Carroll Middle, because it sits in the middle of the most influent area of Robeson County, is blessed with fine students, those who come from two-parent homes where the value of education is understood and stressed. According to the school's principal, almost 80 percent of the students passed the End-of-Grade tests last year, but the school hit only 15 of 27 targets. In fact, Carroll Middle is a "choice school," meaning parents have the option of moving their children to another school - but every year there is a long line of parents trying to get their children into Carroll Middle.
Exhibit No. 2 could be St. Pauls Elementary, which hit 24 of 25 targets, making it one of three county schools to hit all but one target while missing AYP.
Does all this render No Child Left Behind useless? We don't think so. The federal legislation, while obviously flawed and, according to some, underfunded, stresses accountability and this country's obligation to educate every student. Bush made it his first priority when he came into office, talking often of the "soft bigotry" of an educational system that easily gives up on students - particularly minorities - passing them forward even though they aren't learning, and therefore condemning them to a future of less.
That is a sad legacy of this county's educational system. No Child Left Behind requires hard change. The road is showing itself to be bumpy, but the journey, once made, will have been worth it
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES