The bar has been raised, the standards have been increased and what once would have been glowing work on a report card is now just par for the course.
Old statistics show most Weakley County schools accruing good standing on previous state report cards, but after records were released two weeks ago from the newly formatted and updated reports, four of the ten schools now find themselves being targeted.
This means that a school in question has failed to make a federal benchmark in at least one area for the report-card year. There are no penalties for being targeted, but a failure to improve means a possible change in listing to a high priority school/system.
Three of the four targeted schools in Weakley County are high schools and one is a middle school.
Principals from the high schools attribute the targeted status to one key issue – graduation rate – and admit, for the most part, that their hands are tied.
Under standards of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Westview’s graduation rate was 88.2 percent in 2008, 85.4 percent in 2009 and 79.2 percent in 2010.
“A lot of it is out of our hands,” Westview principal David Byars admitted.
“Anyone not getting a high school diploma, whether they choose to go on a special education route or a GED route, it counts against the graduation rate. We’re in a catch 22 situation. Even though we try to do what’s right for the student and will refer the student to a GED program if he or she so desires, it counts against us.”
Greenfield Principal Mike Riggs shares a similar story. The graduation rate was 91.4 percent in 2008, dropped to 83.3 percent in 2009 and raised to 91.2 percent in 2010, yet the school is still targeted.
“Some students start as freshmen, but decide to get their GED down the road. It’s good for them, but it hurts us,” Riggs explained. “It’s especially hurtful for small schools like us. Even if we lose a couple of students, it puts a strain on the percentage. The federal government and the adult high schools can count this, but the state can’t.”
“It’s good that we have adult high schools and the federal government grants those, but it still hurts our rates and the schools are like that all over the county,” Riggs continued.
Byars admitted that not many solutions exist, but to keep encouraging students and even if it means a decrease in graduation rate, recommend a path that will make the student happy.
“There’s not a lot we can do unless they decide to change the formula,” he explained.
“We’ll always have people who want to drop out, but we offer alternative programs and other options and most of them do get their GED. It hurts our numbers as far as graduation rate, but it’s good they can go somewhere else and finish up.”
Dresden High School, another targeted high school in the county, had an 87.7 percent graduation rate in 2008, an 87.4 percent rate in 2009 and an 82.7 percent rate in 2010.
Though Principal Chuck West could not be reached for comment, it would stand to reason that Dresden experiences the same issue as Greenfield and Westview.
Martin Middle School principal Nathaniel Holmes attributes his school’s targeted status to academics.
“Based on our report card information, we did well in social studies, but we need lots of work in other areas – reading, language arts, math and science,” he admitted. “Our academic achievement is down a little. We had two As and two Bs and this year, we have three Bs and an A. We usually do well in writing and the writing assessment, we got an A in that this time, but we didn’t do well at all in value added.”
Value added is a system that measures how much progress a student makes within a year. NCLB has certain expectations for a year and value added notes how much progress a student makes within those expectations. In 2010, for its three-year average, Martin Middle School students earned a C in social studies and three Fs in math, reading/language and science.
“Our value added just dropped bottom,” Holmes admitted.
“We’re being targeted because of the performance of students with disabilities and with Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for African-American students in math. We need to improve there and we need to bring these students up in those areas. We’re waiting on the next testing session to see if we can do better.”
For most all of the schools, it’s becoming a matter of waiting and seeing. And working hard, of course, because with a higher bar to reach students will need more help than ever in learning to jump.