There is no easy A in education

Calhoun County School’s annual report card, issued last week by the state, is one I likely would have gotten a whipping for had I brought it home in my youth – an A, lots of Cs, and two capital Ds.
That wouldn’t have gone over too well in the McNeece household in Clinton, Mississippi more than a few decades ago, but there are some extenuating circumstances here that I believe must be considered.
Now had I come home and told my parents, “It’s not my fault. It’s the teachers’,” my parents probably would have enjoyed a private laugh after sending me to my room to prepare for the whipping coming my way.

Joel McNeece

Joel McNeece

Teachers’ fault – that just wouldn’t fly, but that seems commonplace around this time each year when these grades are revealed for the schools.
Last year, Bruce Elementary was a B. This year a D with virtually the same teaching staff in place.
Did these teachers suddenly forget how to teach? I would suggest not.
What changed was the students taking the tests. No two students are alike. They don’t act the same. They don’t learn the same. They don’t test the same.

I’ve shared in this space before if any school district was counting on me to score well on standardized tests, I could possibly come through for them in English, history and math, but regardless of how phenomenal my teacher is, my science scores would not contribute to the best of accountability grades.
Biology, chemistry, physics and the various other sciences just were never my strong suit. It didn’t matter how good the teacher was, my capabilities in science were only so high.
I don’t believe you can accurately correlate how good a teacher is based on how well a student performs on a specific test. That’s not to say teachers can’t have a tremendous impact on helping a student improve, but it shouldn’t be life or death for that teacher and school if that child does or doesn’t.

Vardaman Elementary is an A school this year. I was on the playground last Friday as all the students scarfed down cupcakes to celebrate their good grade this year. It’s always rewarding to watch kids celebrate academic success.
A sports state championship isn’t the only time to have a parade around the square. What about a parade for the students that make all As, or the high school students that score off the charts on the ACT? Just a thought.

It was just a year ago that Vardaman Elementary received a C. I believe the school, administrators and teachers were just as outstanding then as they are today. And make no mistake, Vardaman Elementary is an outstanding school. The variable that changed was the students.
We’ve ridden roller coasters with many of our schools from the highest of performing to the lowest of lows. Calhoun County has had schools place in the top 5% of all schools in Mississippi some years. This year we didn’t.
Are we really that different today than we were then?

I don’t know when it happened but somewhere in the past decade accountability became a mantra for politicians and their ilk. I suppose they got tired of educators criticizing them for lack of funding so they wanted a way to be critical of education.
School funding is a different, but still related subject. I agree there is lots of waste, but there are also lots of areas that desperately need more. It’s a complex issue, as is everything in education, which is what makes this accountability system so lacking.

There are enumerable factors that go into why students score what they do on tests. In Calhoun County, we have an inordinate number of children starting school ill-prepared for kindergarten. We have kids coming from single or no-parent homes. We have kids from a wide array of socio-economic situations. We have kids that speak a different language at home than they do in school. I could go on. These aren’t excuses, they are factors in a complex formula that makes educating children so difficult and yet so rewarding when you see them succeed.

The educational road is bumpy, especially in areas of greater poverty. It’s why we should be more celebratory of our successes and supportive of the stumbles.