Get back in the game

Published 4:50 pm Sunday, July 17, 2011

As the Suffolk School Board considered a list of objectives for the 2011-2012 school year during a special goal-setting meeting on Thursday, members appropriately started their list with the following goal: “Improving Achievement.”

Setting three objectives to measure progress toward that goal, the board agreed school officials should increase the number of students able to read at their expected level by third grade, to provide adequate remedial and gifted opportunities and to increase the graduation rate to 82 percent or the state rate, whichever is higher.

The goals then turn from being academic-oriented to being focused on leadership, staff development, school safety and parental and community involvement.

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All of those things are important to the overall success of a school system, but none of them should count for quite as much in the final evaluation as those objectives that measure student achievement. In the end, public education is about imparting to children and teens the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful as adults.

Unfortunately, measured by many of the state’s standards, Suffolk is failing in that effort. For the 2010-2011 school year, the division saw overall student performance in math, reading, writing and history fall compared to the previous year’s results. Only in science did students improve their performance over the previous year’s results on Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests.

Ten percent fewer students in Suffolk passed their math tests this year, 7 percent fewer passed history tests, 4 percent fewer passed writing tests and 1 percent fewer passed reading tests. Suffolk showed a 3-point gain in those passing the science tests.

The declines are probably not large enough to cost any of the city’s schools accreditation, but they should be cause for a measure of alarm from the School Board. With nearly one in five Suffolk students ultimately failing to graduate from high school, any evidence that the system is losing ground in the pursuit of educational excellence ought to inspire some crisis-level goal setting.

Instead, led by member Thelma Hinton, the School Board spent a significant portion of its goal-setting meeting discussing how to handle the supposed problem of cross-dressing youngsters in an unnamed high school. Somehow, in her opinion, cross-dressing is a safety issue.

Whatever one might think of the whole issue of standards of dress in schools — and we would tend to be far more conservative in our opinion on the matter than any of today’s students would prefer — the fact remains that Suffolk has far more important things to worry about in its school system than whether boys should be allowed to wear skirts. Leaving school without the proper skills and knowledge will ultimately influence their future far more than their sense of style.

Hinton and the School Board would do well to get their heads back in the game and make certain that steps are taken to assure this year’s drop in scores does not become a trend. The skirts are likely to sort themselves out, anyway.