Today, the Washington Post reported on the D.C. area’s new target achievements for students in public schools. These goals vary by school, with the changes largely based on socioeconomic status (SES) and race, along with standardized test scores for each school. This new program is aimed to create more attainable goals for each school based on the population of the school, rather than having a set standard for all schools regardless of the school’s demographic.
The Post article gives the example of Anacostia High School, whose students are from a very impoverished area. At AHS, the reading proficiency rate is currently about 14%, and the new goal is to raise that rate to 57% by 2017. Compare that to School Without Walls, where the reading proficiency rate is already about 99.1%. School Without Walls isn’t able to quadruple their rate because, well, they only have 0.9% left.
I think it is wise to take steps to help students be more proficient at reading; however, I have to wonder if setting adapted goals for each school based on SES and race of the school’s population is really the most effective plan. In any given school, there is a variety of skill levels, and although SES appears to be a fairly good indicator, what about the 14% of students at Anacostia High School that are proficient at reading? Will they have to receive the same base-level training as the students that aren’t proficient at reading? Since the plans are adapted for each school and not for each skill level, the students who aren’t as far behind will not have the opportunities they would have should the schools continue without this added focus on those who are behind.
Although on the opposite end of the scale, this problem seems fairly similar to the one found in the New York Times today about the disadvantage gifted students have if they attend standard public schools. If these gifted children come from middle- or low-income families and can’t afford to go to private schools, they attend public schools that don’t have programs or classes to accommodate them. There are a few alternatives to standard public schools that aren’t private schools, viz. exam schools, that are meant to accommodate gifted students, but the prevalence of these schools is so low that the problem is really not solved in any way.
So, to solve the issue, do we need to create more exam schools (and the equivalent of an exam school, but for low-scoring students)? Do we need to have teacher specialization so students with lower or higher proficiency can be accommodated? Do we need to implement improvement goals based on SES and race? Do we just need smaller class sizes? These questions remain unanswered, for the time being.