Rosenthal: Students have a role in school achievement

Published 12:12 pm Thursday, December 22, 2016

As I read the Lexington Herald-Leader article “City stalls on achievement gap,” I recalled how Clark County struggled with the achievement gap for many years.

Recently, however, this has not been the case in Winchester. How did it change? Many reasons.

For years, there were schools in the county, namely Pilot View and Trapp, that scored at the highest level every year. At the same time, those in town were struggling to reach proficiency and had gaps in free/reduced lunch students, students with disabilities, and ethnicity.

So, these two schools were visited by others across the state and we did our own analysis. What we found was our reality. There were very few students in each classroom (due to the size of the schools 150 and 100 students), attendance rate was close to 95 percent, there were no distractions during the school day as they were 10 to 15 miles out of town and the teachers had taught their whole careers at the same school.

Additionally, there was no gap as they did not have enough students per grade in all of the gap categories so for confidentiality reasons the scores were not reported.

Lastly, there was a significant parent organization who contributed a lot of support.

What we had was a private school not a real public school. Many people were upset when these schools closed but it was the best thing for all the students in the district. How? By readjusting the attendance lines and combining schools plus reallocating the teachers, there was an equalizing of poverty and diversity in each school and within each classroom. Since then, all schools have been proficient or above.

From looking at the high schools in Lexington, it seems that they have some schools with too many students, some schools with high poverty levels and some with low poverty levels. The schools responded to the occurring gap as a lack of preschool for all students, poor attendance, and little support outside the school.

For a long time I saw all of these as indicators of low achievement and still do but I want to add this: What is the student responsibility for the gap? For many years we have blamed the lack of something for the lower scores in certain groups.

In my years as a teacher, the same students didn’t turn in his/her work on a consistent basis. In some cases, we gave them extra time and a partial grade. This was to keep from having too many failures. We were not doing the students a favor.

The one way to change this is to change the grading system to performance-based grades. This would require the student to show that he/she had learned the material before a grade is issued.

Additionally, students would learn the material at his/her own pace and with extra help if needed. It is a personalized way of learning and achieving. Student-based learning is not a new idea and has been used by teachers and schools for several years.

I realize that some middle and high schools are dealing with issues that make this type of student accountability very difficult.

As educators we know that the gap starts occurring in the primary grades so this type of grading is perfect for elementary school. It teaches the students responsibility and focus which will be needed in the higher grades.

All in all, schools must move to innovative ideas in teaching students. The causes of the gap are always the same so the solutions must begin in the early grades (as it only magnifies in high school) and students must share responsibility for/her achievement.

Pat Rosenthal is a retired educator and school administrator.