What factors determine success for students?
In "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character," Paul Tough argues that medicine explains why children who grow up in dysfunctional environments find it hard to concentrate and find it difficult to rebound from hard knocks.
The prefrontal cortex, critical for regulating thoughts and mediating behavior, is adversely impacted by early stress. Tough argues that this part of the brain, malleable into early adulthood, is "more responsive to intervention than other parts of the brain."
The current issue of The Economist shows that Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) students, who showed great promise in one South Bronx middle school in 1999, earning national acclaim for high test scores, came up short six years after the promise of college completion seemed in hand; only 20 percent had completed a four-year degree.
Did these KIPP students, largely from impoverished homes, have character traits requisite to bring a course of study to completion -- grit, determination, fortitude, perseverance?
The data show 80 percent of them did not. So while the 1999 KIPP class ranked fifth in New York City schools on some test scores, having mastered content, did early stressors impact character traits like fortitude, perseverance, even grit?
Likewise, how attainable is a four-year degree for Georgia students who live out both dilemmas: test failure, where content is not mastered, and stressors associated with poverty?
The End of Course Test (EOCT) is one example.
The A+ Educational Reform Act of 2000,O.C.G.A. -:-20-2-281, mandates that the State Board of Education adopt end-of-course assessments in grades nine through 12 for core subjects to be determined by the State Board of Education.
A student's final grade in the course will be calculated using the EOCT as follows (State Board Rule 160-4-2-.13): For students enrolled in grade nine for the first time on July 1, 2011, or after, the EOCT counts as 20 percent of the final grade; 15 percent for other students.
A cursory glance of area EOCT scores from the most recently available public data reveals stark contrasts in failure rates by school, leaving speculation on just who will complete a four-year degree and have access to 80 percent more pay over a lifetime?
A survey of six high schools, Oconee, Putnam, Morgan, Alcovy, Eastside and Newton revealed 22 percent of Alcovy freshman, higher than any school surveyed and above the state failure rate of 18 percent, failed the ninth grade literature EOCT.
Sixty-four percent of Newton High students and 61 percent of Alcovy High students failed the Math II EOCT; the state failure rate was 43 percent. Failure rates of the remaining four were as follows: Oconee (18 percent), Putnam (39 percent), Morgan (39 percent) and Eastside (39 percent).
Of the sample schools only Alcovy High students failed the biology EOCT at a higher rate than the state rate of 31 percent with 35 percent of Alcovy students failing. Other rates were: Oconee (10 percent), Putnam (28 percent), Morgan (29 percent), Newton (29 percent) and Eastside (24 percent).
While school management plays a role in students' ability to master content, clearly there are other factors at work, as well. Since educators can't control students' environments, should schools go corporate, pushing leaders out early and fast who aren't contributing to student success?
Jeff Meadors is the District 1 representative on the Newton County Board of Education. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.