Time for a real change

Published 8:39 pm Saturday, August 11, 2012

Something isn’t working in Suffolk Public Schools, and it’s well past time for the city to truly get to work fixing it.

School Board members learned on Thursday that two of the city’s three public high schools — Lakeland and King’s Fork — have failed once again to achieve full accreditation. This is the second year in a row those schools have missed the benchmarks set for that basic level of achievement. Last year, the two schools missed full accreditation because of high dropout rates. This year, dismal performance on the math Standards of Learning assessments likely will result in accreditation with warning.

As always, there are any number of reasons the schools might have missed the mark. A high percentage of low-income students is often cited for the poor performance. A culture of low expectations in that community is thought to contribute to the unacceptable level of dropouts. This year’s new math testing procedures, which incorporated computers for the SOL exams and called on students to use critical-thinking skills to solve problems, are thought to have contributed to the poor performance on those tests.

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As always, school officials said they already have a plan to address the deficiencies. They’ll examine the sorts of questions most students missed, increase the pressure on teachers to produce positive results and work, in the words of one administrator, to “address how we will be getting those scores to revert back.”

But there’s a long way to bounce back, and the previous level of math achievement was hardly anything to crow about. Last year, just 76 percent of Suffolk high school students passed the math Standards of Learning test. This year, under the new testing procedure, only 39 percent did so. And since that 39 percent includes students from all three of the city’s public high schools, including Nansemond River, which cleared the accreditation hurdle, the numbers for Lakeland and King’s Fork are likely to be even worse.

Every year that Suffolk schools miss one of the benchmarks, there’s a quick reaction from school administrators claiming work is already under way to address the situation. And each year things seem to get worse.

It’s time for Suffolk’s School Board to recognize that the way they’ve been doing things isn’t working. It’s time for a real change in Suffolk’s educational system. The city’s future is at stake.