CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Editorial, Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1997

Several Northeast Mississippi public school districts consistently rank among the highest in Mississippi when academic achievement test scores and accreditation levels are announced by the state Department of Education.

Those districts some large, some small, some urban, some rural take pride in those scores, and for good reason. They show superior effort by teachers, students and supportive communities in an era when effort and public confidence have fallen out of favor in many places nationwide.

The high scores and accreditation, in their most positive sense, strengthen public confidence and boost morale, providing momentum for building on success.

Test scores, however, shouldn't be isolated from year to year. The real measure of higher test results comes over several years even beyond the public school years.

Scores that are high one year and then drop for the next several years, and then go up again, don't indicate sustained progress.

Progress and achievement take shape in test-score patterns that, over several years, show consistent, even if small, sustained improvement.

The heart of improvement in test scores is in broadly based results.

Dean Gloria Correro at Mississippi State University's College of Education and David Meadows, curriculum director for the Tupelo Public Schools, offer identical assessments of the best progress: Improvement among students who aren't in college preparatory curriculums.

Meadows and Correro both said any system's college preparatory students (often those with the best grades and who test best) should have higher scores year in and year out. The larger test group, which includes students who aren't necessarily headed for community colleges and universities, offers a better measure of schools' strengthening academics. Sustained improvement in that group is the better indicator of effective teaching and learning.

Better test scores and, it is hoped, a deeper, broader knowledge base aren't ends in themselves. The application of knowledge from the 13 years of public schooling follows.

Correro said her studies at Mississippi State find too many strong test achievers falling below their own and parental expectations at the university level. She believes too many students with good grades and high test scores feel inordinate and often misplaced pressure to pursue academic disciplines leading to high financial rewards.

Misplaced expectations, she said, can leave gifted, high-achieving students disillusioned and unhappy. Grades drop. Determination lags. Potential wastes away.

"I'm seeing things, working with our registrar, that tell me some of the students withthe highest test scores coming here don't become necessarily the happiest students on our campus," Correro said.

Counseling and guidance at school and especially from parents that stresses happiness and fulfillment more than money could avoid lost time, wasted money and even more serious personal consequences.

Test scores, while important and indicative of academic achievement (when the standards used are correctly designed) cannot and should not fully define a student's life and happiness. Test scores alone don't even define what an education is or should be.

The fulfilling qualities of living come from sources other than numbers on test results. If those qualities nurtured in families, schools and on university campuses aren't an at least equal part of teaching and learning, all the good test scores won't amount to anything.

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