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Jeff Meadors: New data provides brighter outlook for Newton

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

The clouds part. Glimmers of light eke through. New fiscal year 2012 data emerges.

No sooner did I report on fiscal year 2011 data than fiscal year 2012 data came forth, revealing an upward trend in student achievement in Newton long craved by the educational community and ancillary stakeholders. This bump may be requisite impetus to propel local students to the right of the school improvement continuum.

Schools have little choice as Gov. Deal joins strong-minded parents wanting just that under HR 1162: more choice.

To mitigate the exodus to private schools dotting the rural landscape, we must face the numbers to realize school improvement. Some argue demographics into the night but is that commensurate with the belief that all children can learn? All children? Even economically disadvantaged ones who outpace all non-racial subgroups in high absenteeism alongside students with disabilities?

Previously embargoed until Aug. 22, 2012, fiscal year 2012 American College Test (ACT) data for Newton and Eastside high schools delivered a message found in the daily work of high-quality classroom teachers with an increase in the number of ACT test-takers, sure signs of college-going cultures.

Eastside leveraged data analysis to place at the state level in English (20.5), above the state and nation in reading (21.6), and above the state in science (20.7) and composite scores (20.8). Eastside showed statistically significant gains above the county scores in all areas of the ACT.

Based on ACT standards, 18 percent of Eastside test-takers would be considered college-ready, 8 percent of Alcovy and 5 percent of Newton ACT test-takers. Eastside and Newton increased test-takers as Alcovy's test-takers dipped 21.9 percent.

A 2007 white paper by NewSchools Venture Fund hails data utilization to be the starting line toward developing a culture of continuous improvement that places student learning at the core of all efforts.

Fiscal year 2011 data show the percentage of total Georgia students absent from school more than 15 days at 8.8 percent. Jasper County has a figure of 10.9 percent, Morgan 10.6 percent, Newton 9.6 percent, Walton 9.5 percent and Social Circle City Schools comes in at 8.6 percent. High absenteeism means lagging achievement and unnecessary work for classroom teachers forced to differentiate instruction, tutor, assess and track down late and missing assignments with some still eating lunch standing up during a lunch period as long as it takes to fill up my car.

But Newton's fiscal year 2012 ACT data represents an upward trend placing college access at the forefront. The arduous task of increasing student achievement in the current fiscal climate with lean school budgets and system employees dead tired of the "do more with less" dictates is a monumental one. It is one of the most vital things public leaders can initiate for a better community translating into a brighter tomorrow for the region.

Facing real numbers together paves the road to school improvement. We can run from the numbers; we can run for cover, or we can run them to the right of the normal curve.

As a fellow board member from another JDA county wrote me last week, "Your problems are my problems."

Jeff Meadors is the District 1 representative on the Newton County Board of Education. Readers may email him at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.