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What's next for RSS? Check other evidence before judging schools

By Jim Stringfield

For the Salisbury Post

Although the news that Rowan-Salisbury Schools rank in the bottom 11 in the state under federal No Child Left Behind measures is deeply disturbing, we must understand that different measures yield different results and that the best overall judgment of school quality comes from multiple sources of evidence over extended periods of time.

Aside from NCLB, evidence suggests that our school district is performing at a level which is about average. Based on academic, financial and demographic data for the 1999/2000- 2004/2005 school years, Standard and Poor’s analysis (accessible via www.schoolmatters.com) is that “when compared to the state as a whole, the district produces average Reading and Math proficiency … with average core spending per student.” Under the state accountability system, district performance is near average, and no school has ever been labeled as low performing. SAT scores are near the state average and, as measured by grades in core courses during their first year in college, Rowan County students perform about as well as other students in the UNC system.

The Rowan-Salisbury system contains many fine schools, including Salisbury High. Newsweek magazine has designated the school as one of the nation’s top high schools for two consecutive years. Under the state accountability system, the school has consistently received strong marks, having met the standards for high growth and designation as high performing. Under the federal plan, SHS met 16 of 17 (94.1 percent) target goals for student performance, but nevertheless the school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) because it did not make 100 percent of the target goals. Any reasonable observer would conclude that, while not perfect, Salisbury High School is a very good school.

The Rowan-Salisbury schools, like every other system in the state, must raise student achievement. Dr. Judy Grissom, our Board of Education and the system’s many talented educators recognize the serious nature of the problem, and I am confident they will begin to make immediate adjustments. The county commissioners include active and former teachers who understand life in public school classrooms, and their support for instructional supplies for teachers has been most generous. I am also confident that teachers will continue to receive the moral and financial support from organizations such as the Rowan Partners for Education and the Robertson Foundation. Success will come from “data-driven decision making,” which includes taking a hard look at which practices are actually working and providing tutoring support for students who are being “left behind.”

Aside from the world of standardized tests, there are pockets of excellence throughout the system, ranging from Latin at West Rowan High to “Broadway at East.” These programs succeed in part because of the high expectations and determination of the teachers.

As a private citizen, I will continue to pray for our teachers and schools. The ultimate problem is a spiritual problem, but that is a subject for a different article. The Rowan-Salisbury schools are much better than recent headlines suggest. Let’s give the many fine educators who work here the support they deserve.

Jim Stringfield is chairman of the Department of Teacher Education at Catawba College.

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