It was well over a year ago that I predicted state officials would lower the threshold for success on the Missouri public school tests that are part of the massive federal No Child Left Behind Act. The yearly adequate progress benchmarks were lowered by the state and the result will be that more schools reach the minimum level of achievement established by the state.
This dumbing-down of the tests was easily predictable. If you look at schools in this area and schools in the St. Louis area, there is no way each and every segment of the school population can achieve these educational goals. So facing this dismal prospect, education officials took the easy road - they simply changed the rules and lowered the expectations.
In the near future, schools around the state will begin touting their "success" on the new tests and far too many residents won't recall that the benchmark was lowered. But that fails to address the real problem.
Let me restate what I have said countless times in the past. The teachers and school administrators have done an exceptional job of preparing students for the testing reviews. The classroom preparation is extraordinary. A collective drive by all of those involved in education is mounted annually to motivate and encourage students to succeed on these critical tests.
Yet despite this effort, minority students continue to score extremely low across the board. And without minority achievement, the entire school system is marked a failure. That is true in Sikeston and it's true in St. Louis.
Let's look at the numbers in Sikeston. I won't provide every test score but the outcome is virtually the same. For example in eighth grade math achievement, 59.8 percent of minority students here are at the lowest achievement level on the tests. Just under 20 percent of majority students fall that low. In 11th grade communication arts, 37.7 percent of minority students fall in the lowest category possible. Less that 10 percent of the majority students lag behind in that category.
It doesn't take example after example to recognize the problem. Minority students here and elsewhere face classroom and environmental issues that pose problems for the schools and for society. And until we honestly and openly address this fact of life, we'll continue to face an uphill challenge.
It's not an inability to learn and succeed that is holding some of our students behind. It's a culture that is puzzling at best that creates this issue. Simply put, there are some households and home environments where education is unimportant. And until we address this issue, our numbers will remain on the lower end of the scale.
We must remember when measuring success that we have now lowered the standard. That may make all schools look better in the short run. But the long term goals of these tests remain and the prospects for success remain elusive.