Responsibility, not excuses

Published 8:58 pm Saturday, September 28, 2013

Commentary on this page last month commended Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney for his response to lackluster standardized test scores.

“The superintendent of education manned up, took responsibility and made no excuses for the dismal results, which almost certainly will result in fewer Suffolk schools being fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Education when those decisions are announced next month,” the newspaper’s publisher opined.

When accreditation ratings were formally released this week, confirming “warning” status for six of the city’s 19 schools, Whitney’s reaction was less commendable — and more of what citizens have come to expect of the education establishment in Suffolk and elsewhere: excuses.

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“We knew the number of schools missing accreditation this year would increase, considering the new assessments and the increase in rigor,” Whitney wrote in an email to reporter Matthew Ward.

In other words, blame the Standards of Learning tests — and the Department of Education for making them tougher.

Rather than bemoan higher standards, educators — who are in the business of preparing young people for success as adults in the workplace — should embrace them.

Gainful employment in our increasingly complex and technological world requires kids to have more knowledge than ever before, especially in areas like math and science. In those critical subjects, state officials, appropriately, are increasing the standards by which students and school divisions are measured.

And they give localities plenty of advance notice of when and how the bar will be raised. Blaming the tests is the weakest of excuses.

A one-year tripling of the number of Suffolk schools that lack full accreditation is inexcusable. Period.

The sooner that Whitney and other leaders acknowledge the problem and accept full responsibility for fixing it, the sooner Suffolk can get going in making its public schools what they should be: a model of excellence for the region and state.