There are pockets of success to build on, but Lawrence schools clearly have work to do.
After looking at local schools' recently released scores on state assessment tests, it would be tempting to point at Lawrence's top school administrators and say, "Do something!"
It's true that school officials have work to do to improve local schools, but they aren't the only ones. The people in children's homes and, indeed, the whole community, also need to share the responsibility for what could be described as a less-than-stellar showing on the statewide tests.
The state's fourth-graders, seventh-graders and 10th-graders were tested this year on math skills; fifth-graders, seventh-graders and 11th-graders took reading and writing tests. The results at each building in Lawrence were grouped into five categories advanced, proficient, satisfactory, basic and unsatisfactory and the resulting averages show there is plenty of room for improvement in local schools.
Only one school in Lawrence, Hillcrest Elementary, achieved the state's "standard of excellence" in math. Only three elementary schools reached that standard in reading. And while only 2 percent of Hillcrest fourth-graders had an "unsatisfactory" score on the math assessment, more than half (57 percent) of the fourth-graders at East Heights School fell into that category.
East Heights wasn't the only disappointment in the scores. In several other schools, at least a fourth of the students fell into the unsatisfactory category in math. Unfortunately, two of the city's junior high schools and both Lawrence high schools had more than 20 percent of their students in the bottom category in math.
Results were similar on the reading and writing assessments. Three elementary schools had more than 20 percent of their students in the unsatisfactory category in reading; four elementary schools had more than 20 percent of students who scored as unsatisfactory in writing. If you add on the scores in the "basic" category, which also is below "satisfactory," the numbers are much larger.
None of the junior highs and high schools met the standard of excellence in any category. Perhaps Lawrence residents can find some comfort in the fact that all four junior highs and both high schools exceeded the state averages in math and reading assessments. But seven elementary schools fell below that benchmark in reading and 11 schools missed the mark in math.
Test scores, of course, aren't everything. But scores that fall in the unsatisfactory category are just that: unsatisfactory. We are a highly educated community and home to the state's largest university. It simply is unacceptable for our schools to let this many students fall through the cracks. If any school system in Kansas should have high scores, it should be USD 497. Lawrence deserves better than it is getting in the field of K-12 education.
An examination of the assessment tests does reveal some pockets of problems. Schools with a greater number of students from low-income families had lower scores, but that doesn't mean we should accept those scores. We can spend time comparing schools and rationalizing results, or we can try to compensate for the circumstances some students face and help them succeed.
And the "we" in that sentence isn't just teachers and school administrators. It is state legislators who approve funding for public education and the taxpayers who pay that bill. It's the people who operate preschool and after-school programs. It's employers who try to accommodate parents who want to attend school events. And, probably most important, it's families who take the time to read to children, help them with a math problem and instill in them the importance of education.
It's time for all of us to "do something" to help raise the bar for Lawrence schools and help the children who attend them succeed.