​​​​​​SOUTH CAROLINA ORGANIZATION OF RURAL SCHOOLS

 

Editorial, Determining Success of a school district

As a former lobbyist for rural schools, I one time asked a state senator this question; why do you only determine how well a school is doing by a standardized test? He replied, “Because it’s easier.” There it is ladies and gentlemen, the perfect answer to an important question. How many state legislatures in the country do the same thing?

How about on the international scene? How can we compare countries on one test when the variable inputs are so different? It is the absolute comparison of apples to asparagus. There can be no comparison because of so many differences in the countries that are being compared. Can you really compare the United States to Iceland?

In reality, you cannot. The reason why it’s done is because it’s “EASIER.’ That is the sum total of our determination of how well an entity is doing locally and internationally.

How about this one? Almost all of the Presidents of the United States were born and raised in rural towns and areas. Of the 45 presidents, including the present one, only 5 were born in a metro area. The conclusion is therefore that rural people are smarter by far than metro people. It is “Easier” to look at it this way.

When Charles Murray wrote the “Bell Curve,” it stimulated me and others to take a look at what was being measured. The critics of the book seemed all to accept the notion that the value of a human being is measured by a test concocted by Louis Terman in the early 1900’s that measured how well someone would score on that particular test. There have been many studies based on the assumption that these tests actually measured something more than the ability to take a test.

It was up to J.P. Guilford in 1967 to take a serious look at intelligence and a careful look at Terman’s work creating the Stanford-Binet Test. The original work compared the 7 brightest and 7 dumbest (not my word) students in a local school of 500 students. He used some tests of him own making and others and concluded that there was a way of calculating intelligence using these measures. All of the tests correlated to his criteria, except for motor skills and creativity and inventiveness. However he did not correlate the tests to each other.

Somehow I wish that I could send every educator his book, “The Nature of Intelligence,” which would blow your mind (if you could stand reading a tome that is long and technical). It took me about 10 years to actually plow through it.

So, now we know that each governmental attempt at determining how well a school is doing is based on a paper and pencil test of someone’s making. Usually the company that makes these tests makes a pile of dough.

Have you noticed how colleges and universities are relying less on SAT and ACT for admission, but rather the GPA? Does that mean that we are relying more on human observation rather than tests. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if it was true?

Even in the NFL, prospects are given something called the Wonderlic Test. It I a snappy test of 50 questions in 12 minutes. It purports to measure intelligence. I must say that during a hiatus from education into the world of hustling bodies (employment agencies) that I used this test to determine something or other. I did tell my clients that they would be tested similarly when they were interviewed by a company.

This test has very little value to those interested in how to measure intelligence, unless you want to know that offensive lineman get higher scores than quarterbacks. Dr. Wonderlic and his family have made a bundle on this test.

The object of these references is to inform the reader that determining whether a school district is doing well or not cannot be measured by any of these tests. Comparing a rural economically disadvantaged county in South Carolina to one of the state’s wealthiest counties, is sheer nonsense.

 Here is a simple example. Take Advanced Placement courses. From my own personal experience with rural school districts, I found that a very large group of those districts in Pennsylvania had no, I said NO AP courses. Those courses cost money to run and for teachers to be trained in the teaching of them.

This was a time, as sit is now in South Carolina that the PA was attempting to grade school districts with a composite alphanumeric. One of the variables was AP courses. You can guess what happened. The state eventually removed that metric.

There are so many opportunities that poor school districts do not have; SAT/ACT preparation courses, technology, adequate teacher salaries, number of teachers, counselors, aides, reading specialists, physical facilities, co-curricular activities, etc. A number of studies over the years have concluded that there is a positive correlation between active participation in co-curricular programs and grades.

How can we determine, using real measures of advancement, how well a school district is doing. Some states are using this kind of market basket approach to measuring the success of a school district. Here is a set of variables using a baseline. All of this depends on the stability of the administration, teachers, school boards, and Departments of Education.

  • Graduation Rates
  • Attendance
  • Discipline rates
  • Stability of staff
  • Going on to post- secondary rates
  • Post-secondary graduation rates
  • Success in later life (yes, many schools track that)
  • Staff development
  • Percent of teachers certified in subjects they are teaching
  • Retention rates
  • Dual enrollment


These are just a few of the variables that might be used. Most of them can be codified. There are other, much longer lists (see John Hattie’s work on Visible Learning- he identifies 258 variables). As a person working in education, you can think of a number more.

Just for the heck of it, let me ask you this question? How would you go about improving some of the above variables by consolidation, state takeover, further reliance on high stakes testing, or grading school districts? Those are extant solutions to improve “failing” school districts.