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Thursday, May 22, 2008

How Georgia fixes it's test scores

by George Dienhart

Hey Georgia- are your school test scores to low (we all know the answer to that)? The State of Georgia has a novel new approach to the problem. Throw out the scores! To call this shameful does not even begin to qualify this action.

The excuses are there, but upon looking at state School Superintendent Kathy Cox has citied as the reason for failure, the blame should be placed squarely on the states shoulders. What happened? Let us look at the corresponding numbers and excuses.

Nineteen percent of students failed the math portion of the test. Department Spokeswoman Dana Tufig provided the AJC this excuse: "Math is an area where Georgia students have struggled for a long time. This isn't out of line with what we've seen." Okay- Math performance has always been sub-par. It is now an acceptable Georgia tradition. It is acceptable because it has always been that way. Seems to me like we a paving the path to hell with lowered expectations.

That 19% number probably horrifies people in outside of Georgia. In many states, heads would roll for this kind of performance. However, in Georgia, this was seen as a success. What do we see as failure? Monday, School Superintendent Kathy Cox announced that 70 to 80 percent seventh-graders had failed the social studies exam and about 40 percent of Georgia's 124,000 eighth-graders failed in math. I guess that does make the overall math scores look god in comparison. So how do fix this in Georgia? Well first, we look for an excuse. For math, Tofig provided an excuse. “The math test is very well aligned with the curriculum.  It is a new test, testing a brand new curriculum that's more rigorous." Therefore, if the testing is more rigorous, that means that schools were not doing their job in past years, because the math scores were much higher. It also means that schools were not prepared to teach the new curriculum this year. If they were, the test scores would have been better.

How does the state address the embarrassingly low Social Studies scores? They were so bad that even Kathy Cox could not come up with an adequate excuse. To wit, "I think we got in a hurry and we tried to find a middle ground for what this middle-school classroom should look like," she said. "We put too much in the curriculum for teachers to teach and didn't get specific enough on what they had to teach." In other words, it was the states fault for rolling out a curriculum which Cox herself referred to as “vague”

The answers to our problems in Georgia do not lie in excuses or another change in curriculum. The solution is provided in two parts. The first is teacher accountability. If teachers are not capable of teaching the curriculum offered by the state, them they should not be teaching. The union needs to allow the state to weed out the massive amount of bad teachers in Georgia. This, obviously, helps the students. It also helps the good teachers who are left behind. They would no longer have to cover the inadequacies of their co-workers.

The second answer is provided by issuing school vouchers. A voucher that takes ½ of the tax dollars meant to educate each student and allocates it to the school of the family’s choice would help everyone. For my own benefit, we will keep the numbers simple. Let’s say a school district has ten thousand students, each receiving eight thousand dollars. That is an 80 million dollar pot of cash. Now let us say two thousand students opt out. That leaves 74 million dollars for public education- liberals are screaming about an eight million dollar loss right about now. The magic lies in the math. The average amount of money available to spend for each public school child has risen from eight thousand dollars to nine thousand dollars. That is about an extra twenty five thousand dollars to spend on an average sized elementary school class. It could go for equipment, textbooks, or even teacher salaries. Vouchers would be as good for public schools as they would private schools.

Now the teacher’s union cronies can speak up- “That means fewer jobs for teachers!” No, however, it may mean fewer union jobs for teachers. This is a complaint born out of the self-interest of the unions. Competition means more private and parochial schools, which favor smaller class sizes. That means more jobs for teachers.

Our children should be the utmost importance, especially to educators. Simply ignoring our problems is not helping our children.