Hillsboro Elementary School earned the “standard of excellence” on five of six state assessments in math and reading in 2012. Hillsboro Middle School earned the standard of excellence in all six math and reading assessments, and performed above the state average in science and history. And Hillsboro High School earned the standard of excellence in math and reading, as well.
So how did the HHS class of 2012 only have 23 percent of students meet benchmarks for college readiness in all four subjects — English, math, reading, and science — tested by the ACT college entrance exam? It isn’t an especially high standard: if someone meets the benchmark, they are about 50 percent likely to get a B or better on related college coursework or 75 percent likely to get a C or better.
Part of that 23 percent number can be attributed to fluctuation from year to year. The class of 2012 had lower ACT scores than most recent classes, and it had the fewest students take the test in at least five years, with 30, and with fewer students, a single student makes a bigger difference. If you do the math, that means seven students are ready to be “B” students or better in college, at least according to the ACT.
But more than year-to-year fluctuation, this is a result of state and federal education policies that have been in place for as long as I can remember. Typified by No Child Left Behind, education policies have focused primarily on getting every student to meet acceptable minimum standards, while paying too little attention to the growth of students who exceed those standards. The school district has put in a lot of work to be successful on the state assessments that measure those standards, as shown by the multitude of “standard of excellence” awards.
USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble summarized it well, “Nothing drives instruction more than assessment. You do what gets measured.”
Both for the good of students and the good of the public, educational policy needs to shine more light on preparing students for the next level of education, anything from a one-year vocational certificate to a professional doctorate. Noble cited research from the Georgetown Public Policy Institute Center on Education and Work force that says by 2018, 64 percent of jobs in Kansas will require some kind of education after high school.
With that information in hand, Noble proposed giving every HHS senior the ACT — at the district’s expense — starting in the spring. Such a move is sure to cause a dip in average scores initially, but if it is sustained over several years, scores should climb again as students spend more time learning college preparatory material. More importantly, such a move will lead to more students being prepared to continue their education after high school. It’s a laudable proposal, and one that should get enough time to succeed.
Public education serves two groups: the general public and the students. The general public needs a work force with skills and students need a chance to maximize their potential. More and more, those two purposes are one and the same. Employers need workers with education beyond high school, and students need education beyond high school to get good jobs. “Meeting standards” isn’t going to cut it. Schools have to aim higher.
— ADAM STEWART