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Meadors: Searching for answers to Newton's test score anemia

In its 2013 national press release of SAT scores the College Board found “only 43 percent of SAT takers in the class of 2013 graduated from high school academically prepared for the rigors of college-level course work.”

Not everyone must have a college degree to capture success in America, but with more than 70 percent of future jobs requiring a post-secondary credential, it surely makes sense to complete college.

College Board calls 1,550 its SAT benchmark score, a number closely associated with college success and completion. Fifty-four percent of students making the 1,550 benchmark complete a bachelor’s degree in four years compared to 27 percent of those failing to make the mark.

So how do area Georgia systems measure up and why?

Cherokee, Fayette, Forsyth, Rome City Schools, and Oconee school districts broke 1,550 in 2013. Lower composites include Atlanta Public, 1,335, DeKalb, 1,341, Gwinnett, 1,513, Morgan, 1,484, Newton, 1,327, Putnam, 1,445, Rockdale, 1,378, Social Circle City, 1,465, and Walton, 1,350. Gwinnett’s School of Mathematics, Science & Technology scored 1,917.

So what is happening in Newton, reporting the lowest SAT above, and where local schools weigh in with a 123 point range: Alcovy, 1,279, Eastside, 1,402, and Newton High, 1,314?

Is test score anemia in Newton the result of chronically rearranging chairs in leadership?

Since 2006 Newton has had four superintendents. Alcovy welcomed its fifth principal this year since 2009 counting two interims. Newton High welcomed its fourth principal this year since 2008. Eastside welcomed its third principal last year since 2009.

Atlanta and DeKalb have had leadership challenges; they are 8 and 14 points above Newton respectively.

Or has nepotism in hiring spelled trouble for Newton grads?

Since 2008 Newton has hired many leaders with ties to Bibb, Burke and Clayton counties with respective SAT composites of 1,266, 1,264, and 1,271. What happens when an organization recruits and hires leaders from cultures of performance dwarfed by their own? Simply put, most don’t do it.

Does the answer lie in demography? Demographics in Rockdale schools closely mirror Newton; Rockdale SAT composites have climbed for the past two years and by 22 points in 2013.

Is it reliance on the CRCT, offering few clues to irreversible academic deficiencies until nationally normed scores appear in high school? All Georgia systems rely on the CRCT; the argument falls flat.

Frustrated with Newton’s post-secondary pipeline, I consulted Samantha Fuhrey, superintendent of Newton schools, who shared, “We are working on a systemic plan that addresses each grade span: K-5, 6-8, and of course, 9-12.”

Fuhrey argues “our high schools, in 2-2.5 years cannot determine the culture — it will require the collective effort of the entire system … The plan will lay out timelines and goals specific to SAT and ACT performance. We can do better, and we must!”

Newton must scrutinize hiring practices and guarantee that top educators are leading buildings, classrooms, and counseling offices – not a Verizon-like network of family and friends.

Nine hundred forty-four members of Newton’s 2013 graduating class compete today with peers who scored above them. What grade would they give us for that?

Jeff Meadors may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com