I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is This Bar Too Heavy to Lift?

Two years ago The Escambia County School District was treated to a presentation from Inspirational speaker and education innovator Ron Clark.  On his visit to Pensacola, Mr. Clark urged us, collectively, to keep our standards high and find creative, out of the box ways to help students meet these higher academic standards; He specifically warned against lowering academic expectations of students at risk.   Fast forward two years in Escambia County Schools, and Mr. Clark’s message is more relevant than ever.

The issue is overage students, oftentimes having been retained 1-3 years by the time they reach eighth grade, being promoted to High School with limited comprehension of critical subjects such as reading and math.  Now, speak with district administrators and they’ll  look you in the eye,  straight faced, and say  “All students in Escambia County must successfully complete all middle school core classes in order to progress to High School.” While this is true, successful completion oftentimes equals a 60%, D-, in one or more (or all) of the critical core middle school subjects.   Sometimes, successful completion means a student failed one or more (or multiple) core classes and “recovered the credits” using a course recovery method like Florida Virtual School, Summer School,  or Ed Options. [INSERT VISION: DRINKING FROM FIREHOSE

 Successful Completion does not necessarily equal core subject comprehension, though, and Florida lawmakers are mandating increasingly rigorous academic standards for the next generation of High Schoolers.   Increasing High School rigor is great, but where will this leave the at-risk, middle school “successful completers” who score one, two, or three years below grade level?
Our standards for promotion  through Middle School  in Escambia County are weak.  In order to ensure social promotion does not occur, many


districts nationwide are adding specific, objective assessment requirements as a component for promotion decisions in addition to “successful completion” of core courses.  Escambia does not currently require any specific level of attainment on objective state assessments as a criteria for promotion to High School.   This is a critical flaw,  setting many students up to fail.   To illustrate this problem, Four Escambia High Schools earned enough points to score “A” letter grades last year but were penalized, given “B” grades, for lackluster  at-risk, on-time graduation rate percentages.  This indicates some of these High School non-completers were unprepared upon  leaving  Middle School.   
And refusing to move the needle on this issue as a local board guarantees increased scrutiny from Tallahassee --all but inviting  an eventual legislative fix be dictated TO US.  Do we want more heavy-handed, top-down mandates?  Local inaction is the genesis of many mandates, so let’s beat politicians to the punch-deciding  locally to make middle school promotion more rigorous;  otherwise, how many of our  over-age, below grade level scoring, “successful completers” are just being socially promoted by proxy?  Social Promotion is failed policy—and  it is illegal in Florida!
We must resist the status quo,  increase middle school promotion standards, while simultaneously doing  a better job of engaging struggling students early, ensuring they do not move up grade levels prematurely based upon their age.  We must succeed at giving these students intensive remediation and support.   We must also overcome the apathy among  parents of these students;  we need parents involved.    We must be creative, disciplined, and determined.  We must DO BETTER!
But what must NOT continue, what we should NEVER do, as Ron Clark and many others have warned,  is to accept a lowered bar and diminished expectations of these students.  Let’s raise the bar instead, and find a way to help students get over! 

No comments: