What About This…? By Wayne William Cipriano

I want to commend the Herald for providing a list of thoughtful and germane questions to the four candidates running for our School Board. Such questions allow the candidates to consider and respond without pressure such that their answers might reflect their positions accurately. Such a forum even promises us voters a glimpse of the candidates’ intellectual processes from very complicated global integration of information to the simplest ability to understand and respond to questions.

The questions and answers were, for me, illustrative and involved enough that I had to devise a system to compare answers. What I did to make it easier for me was to rate each candidate’s response in comparison to the others. The response I felt was best from my perspective received a 1, and the lesser responses went from 2 to the poorest, which received a 4. At the end, I summed the numbers.

Then, I reviewed the questions to see which I felt was most important (there were 4) and compared the responses to those questions alone. Thus, having two scales, I decided which two candidates were best, in my view, to serve on our School Board. Interestingly enough, the two scales resulted in two different high scores, but since there are two seats to fill, there was no problem.

Whatever method you used to award your votes, I’m glad you took the time to evaluate the candidates and then vote your choice. 

I have to take the Herald to task for presenting very odd graphs/charts surrounding the questions asked of the candidates that took quite of bit of time for me to understand and evaluate. The most surprising aspect of these presentations was that four of the five were 10 years old, and the fifth had no date at all. Sure, I understand that these might be the most accurate data available (though I doubt it), but of what value are they?

If we take the “Historical View District Performance” presentation, one of the shudders is that Ava and Plainview, in a five-year period (2004-2009) increased math and reading performance (overall? in specific grades? on Wednesdays?) 40% and 52%, 31% and 41% respectively. One immediately asks at what level were these districts before 2004? And the next one asks what wonderful programs/personnel were responsible for half-again and third-again performance increases in just five years? And then we ask what performance increases have occurred in the last ten years?

The two charts comparing Ava and Plainview “vs. the World” are both dated and useless. The reasons being obvious. I was mystified as to why the Herald would print such drivel, particularly superimposed on a map of Missouri.

But, by far, the worst offender in this useless data presentation was the chart “How Did U..S. Students Perform On The Most Recent Assessment.” I assume, but by no means am confident, that the chart shows Missouri student assessment at some unnamed time (last month? ten years ago?). The chart mentions “NAEP” which, again I assume, is some nationwide assessment tool given who knows when in respect to the school year to who knows how many students who knows where. The chart lists “Missouri” results on the evidently eleven areas sampled by the NAEP, only four of which are reported for our state, and for only two grade levels (4th and 8th).

Math, Science, Reading, and Writing (mechanical? creative? both? other?) are the only categories reported (sampled?) and Writing is only reported for Grade 4. While you would hope results were available for Grade 12 (you know, the end of the Public Education we pay for, the result we get for all that money we spend), those results were not reported for any category.

And finally, the most depressing of all, in the State of Missouri, the very best percentages of all the students taking the tests and scoring “Proficient or Better” was a dismal 40%.

Which is to say, of course, that in the reported areas of Math, Science, Writing, and by far most important of all, Reading, only 40% or less of the students tested were Proficient or Better – 60% did not reach the level of being Proficient.

What is “Proficient”? We are not told. To me, proficient means skilled, able to perform well, well-schooled; can solve grade equivalent math problems; understands and uses grade-specific scientific facts and concepts; writes legibly and/or creatively; reads easily, quickly, well, and understands the meanings of the words read and the concepts they represent. But, that’s me. And whatever definition was placed on Proficient, Missouri students ain’t reaching it.

I’m not sure why the Herald printed these charts and graphs. They surely did not help me to understand what my public school system is doing and how well. But maybe that was the point. Maybe they were printed to encourage the candidates for our School Board to ascertain what information should be discovered and how it should be presented to us. Maybe to show that numbers, graphs, and charts, regardless of how slickly presented, mean nothing if they are not descriptive of our students today.

Wouldn’t it be great if the newly elected members of our School Board joined with the continuing members of the School board to provide the leadership, motivation, and discipline such that the performance of our students is not fogged by meaningless, dated, confusing, and deceptive charts, graphs, and numbers, but clearly demonstrable as Educational Excellence in how those students perform today, where they go tomorrow, and what they do when they get there?

We pay for Educational Excellence; we expect Educational Excellence to be delivered, and we owe Educational Excellence to our students.