Test score directive draws mixed response

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton County school system has directed all elementary principals to raise Criterion Referenced Competency Test scores 5 percent this spring and principals will be held accountable for these test results.

"Maybe it hasn't been stated as bluntly" in the past "as it was stated" recently, school spokesman Charles White said about the accountability. "Principals have always been held accountable for test performance as part of student achievement."

The "ultimate goal" is for all schools to have 100 percent of their students meeting state standards by 2014 to meet No Child Left Behind, White said.

The mandate isn't sitting well with Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman. According to Chapman, principal evaluations haven't been tied to test scores in the past.

Chapman, whose organization represents teachers, principals and others in the school system, said he is "strongly opposed" to the decision.

"I'm sure we'll have plenty of opposition rise from our membership," he said.

The organization's legal department researched the issue and found "vague" language in Gov. Roy Barnes' A+ 2000 legislation that could allow for accountability, Chapman said. The directive will bring down the morale of the school system, which is already low, Chapman said.

Dexter Matthews, president of the Clayton County Chapter of the NAACP, said, "I think that's a move in the right direction. It seems like a positive move that they're trying to raise test scores."

He added that he was unsure if it would work and that students determine many of the factors used in determining if a school is performing, not school personnel.

"We don't want to see them pass the tests and not learning anything," Matthews said.

Matthews said he wants to see tests score rise to at least the state average because of an increase in teaching, rather than an increase in test preparation.

"I think if they have a harder curriculum they will learn more and hopefully do better on the exams," Matthews said.

Raising the bar and pushing students more has been the approach of Oliver Elementary School Principal Ronald Boykins.

"Student achievement is what we do," Boykins said.

His approach includes incorporating competition into all facets of education and pushing his students to perform.

"Students will rise to the bar, but the bar may not be challenging enough," Boykins said.

Oliver, for instance, is the only elementary school in the county with its own advanced placement classes for students as young as kindergarten age, he said.

The school has also established an operations center, where school staff monitors and tracks student attendance and test score data.

"It's all about training, not necessarily tricks," Boykins said. "Everything has got to be a conscious decision based on what the data says."

Chapman said that the CCEA will push the accountability issue and consider taking it to the state.

"I'm sure (the decision by the school system) would set off some sort of legislative action to clarify this," Chapman said. "What we're going to have is more teachers teaching to the test, which is what we're having."

Deron R. Boyles, a Georgia State University expert on education policy, said as well that the policy will lead to more teaching for the test.

"I think this is a natural outgrowth of accountability," Boyles said. "To expect all schools to accept the same standard, that strikes me as an outdated industrial model."

He called it a "top-down" business approach that ignores what is happening in the classroom, takes autonomy away from teachers and principals and strips professionalism from teaching "based on a minimal understanding of test scores."

"Basically, anybody can be a teacher because all you have to do is follow the cookbook," he said.

No study has shown a correlation between a person who tests well and a person who is successful in life, Boyles said.

"I just don't know that through successful testing we'll get successful knowing," Boyles said. "It's a kind of madness really."