As the new year opens up, staff and students at Brundrett Middle School will focus more intently on achieving great results on the TAKS test. The TAKS test is the primary factor that most affects our accountability ratings from the state; how much that affects our parents and community's view of the school is harder to tell.
When you get down to the nittygritty of it, we are all accountable for doing our part in educating the next generation; it takes a village, they say. We try very hard to teach students responsibility; some learn this very well, it will take some longer for those lessons to be absorbed.
The students' part of this equation is to focus in class, study, do as they are asked, and do their homework. According to the National Parent Teacher's Organization, the fair amount of homework/study to expect out of students of this age is 60-80 minutes per night. The amount of effort students have to put out to take care of their business at this level varies greatly; some are so bright that it becomes difficult to challenge them while keeping the rest of the students on track. With the very brightest of our students, we hope to see commended performances on the TAKS; and perhaps we should explore other testing as well that would give us a different way to gauge student progress and compare our students to students nationally.
We do work with Duke University, which offers a program for some students whose test scores are phenomenal. All in all, the degree to which students do their part in their own education varies, as does their performance levels.
Generally, our students do very well on state accountability measures. Last year, despite our merely "Acceptable" rating, 92 percent of our students passed their TAKS tests. The year before, when we were considered "Exemplary" by the state's system, 93 percent of our students passed.
Our misfortune was that we had our worst test day in an area that disproportionately affects the school's general ranking. Still, with 92 percent passing overall, we are very fortunate.
The parents' part of the accountability equation comes with motivating their children to do their best. The right combination of love and discipline seems to be the key that unlocks the best in a child. A recent book called "The IQ effect" says that there are multiple factors that affect student performance far more than we generally realize as a society. Differences in student's academic performance due to the environment they are raised in can be very significant. Generally, if the students come to us well fed, well rested, and inclined to want to do well in school, we are very happy.
And then there is the school's part of the equation. If the first two parts of this equation are strong, as they generally are here, we at the school can much more easily do our part. We design good lessons, set up good systems, serve breakfast and lunch, work to keep the kids disciplined and heading in the right direction. We assess where they are in each subject, and redesign our lessons to reteach and get the point across when need arises. If the child comes to us unmotivated and/or struggling academically, we often see the need for lots of special measures to try to fix the problem.
At present, we run a math and science lab for kids needing an extra dose of math and/or science daily (about 15 percent of the kids).
We run a STAR program after school to help kids get the extra attention they need (about 10-11 percent of the students).
We run a content mastery room to help students who need a hand, and employ an R.T.I. teacher to do remediation with kids who need a lot of one-on-one attention in language and social studies (about 15 percent of the kids).
Finally, we run an enrichment class daily in which all students can regroup, get their assignments together, get aide from their peers, and often get much of their homework done (100% of students).
We've been talking some about expanding our after-school programs to be able to supervise and tutor the students who come to us the neediest.
The school board and superintendent do their part in the education equation by continuing to provide us with the support and encouragement to maintain high standards. Their budget and personnel decisions make a huge impact on what we are able to do.
Indeed, it is within the authority of the school board and superintendent to define the areas we will emphasize most, and thus impact the education of Port Aransas students in a profound way.
The community at large does its part in the education equation by paying taxes to support our schools, and by contributing to charity events that help the schools and children.
The federal and state governments add to the equation by setting up standards we aspire to, and providing funding that supports the attainment of those standards. Both of these governmental units have done a lot to increase requirements on us, and have set up accountability standards that have changed the intensity of school's focus to providing remediation, thus allocating funds to the weakest students. What they have not done in the case of Port Aransas is provide funding anywhere close to what they want us to do; they have left that to the taxpayers of our little town.
So, the new year begins with our focus on accountability. If we don't take accountability for our share of providing the best education we can for kids, it is too easy to lay the blame elsewhere. We will look at each child and his or her progress, or lack thereof, as we head toward the big test days. We will tutor and counsel, pat on the back and spur on as we see best fit for each student. We will work to reduce student's anxiety about the tests and increase their confidence. In the end, our true accountability is knowing that we have done our best for every child, every day.
When the smoke clears in May, we'll know how well we, and the village, have done. We will then analyze what we at the school need to keep the same and what we need to change.
I have heard that in many communities schools are pulling away from providing important courses that accentuate the varied abilities of all students. I have also heard that schools are pulling away from providing physical education and from placing emphasis on top students because all people can see are the TAKS results. I truly hope that our definition of doing our best for kids in this community will not stray too far toward TAKS and TAKS alone.