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Raise the bar for better schools for all students

More than a half a century after the Brown v. Board of Education decision legally ended school segregation, we don’t like to be reminded that our children continue to attend separate and unequal public schools here in Connecticut and across the nation.

Examples of how separate and unequal our schools can be were evident recently at a predominantly white Glastonbury school and a mostly minority Waterbury school.

In Waterbury, 15 teachers and two administrators were put on paid leave while their suspected involvement in changing a school’s poor test scores is being investigated.

In Glastonbury, a middle school decided to stop giving the names of seventh- and eighth-graders on the honor roll to the local paper because the few kids who don’t make the honor roll feel bad about it.

What happened in Glastonbury is dumb; what happened in Waterbury is criminal; but what happened in both places calls attention to the consequences of the economic/geographic segregation we know about but don’t care to deal with.

Similar incidents have been reported in other states as teaching to the test has been helped along by cheating on the test in many places, with the cheating being done by the teachers and their bosses. In Atlanta, 200 school employees have admitted to changing test scores in a citywide scandal.

In the Waterbury school, the cheater teachers went a bit too far and inadvertently transformed their school into one of the best public schools in the nation and a model for closing the achievement gap.

Their test erasures raised the scores in reading for third-graders from 56 percent to 90 percent. Test scores for fourth-graders showed improvements to 94 percent in reading and a rather impressive 100 percent in math. The teachers doing the erasing apparently hoped no one would notice, leaving one to conclude the problem isn’t exclusively about students who aren’t too smart.

Cheating scandals are a byproduct of the pressures on schools to increase test scores or face stiff penalties, including teacher dismissals and school takeovers, under provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. As a result, the secretary of education is granting waivers from provisions of a law generally considered unworkable in some of the poorest, urban schools.

As problematic, in a way, as the doctored test scores in some schools are the inflated grades awarded in not only suburban, well-to-do public schools, but up to and including the Ivy League.

Inflated college grades became such a scandal a few years back, college administrators instituted reforms and the A once again became less frequent while the C and D enjoyed a revival.

The test scores made by children in suburbia are almost always higher than the city children’s, but in Glastonbury, the number of kids who get enshrined on honor rolls appears to be higher still.

There were so many on the honor roll at Glastonbury’s Smith Middle School, the few who don’t make it “stand out,” rather than those who do, according to the superintendent. It makes you wonder if the honor roll is quite the honor it should be.

The Glastonbury school intends to keep its top heavy honor roll but it’s going to be semi-secret. The students will know who’s on and who’s not but it won’t be published in the paper that most local citizens read.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the school officials that the most sensible way to save the honor roll and make it mean something would be to make it harder to be honored.

Raise the standards. A foreign concept to many of our schools, perhaps, but one ripe for revival.

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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