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Opinion :: To the Editor: VS top 25 ranking is nothing to be happy about
· 6:16pm January 23rd, 2013
Vinton-Shellsburg Schools ranked #25 in the State
To the Editor:
Just reading the headline on this letter, one would think that we've achieved a distinction worthy of public attention. We have, but not for the reasons you think.
As of the end of the 2012 school year, the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School district is now ranked #25 out of approximately 365 districts in the State of Iowa in terms of its drop-out rate. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, we've been in the top 50 for several years now.
Here's another sobering fact about our school district's educational performance: In 2012, our 6th graders tested at a 55% reading proficiency level as a group. The State average was 77%. Our 6th Graders (my own son included in that group), tested 22% BELOW the State average in their reading proficiency. Our district has scored below the State average in grade by grade comparisons 38 out of 58 times (that's 65% of the time) since 2003.
Now, if you consider that "proficient" is based on a 40th percentile benchmark (that’s the State standard. Most states have a 60th percentile standard, and some even have higher benchmarks), that means that even fewer of our kids are truly proficient if they were being rated on the more commonly accepted and utilized 60th percentile benchmark. By this standard, as many as two-thirds of our 6th Graders are not grade-level proficient in their reading abilities right now.
My wife and I discovered this the hard way with our own 7th grade son.
And, to be clear, our son is not dyslexic, ADHD, or in any other "special needs" population to explain away these shortcomings. He's above average in intelligence. He was getting good grades in all of his classes. He's about as "normal" as you can get. He was just never effectively taught how to read and write the english language, and nobody fully recognized the extent of this problem until last fall. Did I think it was possible before it happened? No. Did I think it could, or would ever happen to us? Never.
To other parents or grandparents of any 7th Grader in our school system right now, consider this: You have nearly a 50/50 chance of your child or grandchild having the same reading deficiencies that mine did, and you might not even know it----yet. Worried? You should be.
After doing some extensive investigation into the problem over the past 4 months, researching information from the Iowa Dept. of Education on how our district compares to all the others in the State, and interviewing many teachers and school officials, parents and grandparents, I'm finding that these shortcomings are what I can now only characterize as “the best kept secret in our community”.
It's embarassing, it's unacceptable, and it's completely fixable. Two-thirds of the school districts in this State are doing better than we are. What are they doing right, that we're not?
I've learned that many, if not most of our teachers are completely unaware of these proficiency numbers. They've not sought them out on their own, and apparently haven't been presented with this information by their leaders, or in a way that would call an appropriate amount of attention to the problem. Some have argued with me about these numbers, and have been provided their source. I'm told that educators are not typically “numbers kind of people”. How can you fix a problem if you have no knowledge or understanding of it?
Our Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School has been on the No Child Left Behind “School in Need of Assistance” list for 5 consecutive years, and our reading proficiency numbers this past year got worse, not better.
Our school district has some objectively serious failures with its reading curriculum, and it’s obvious that the problem is not being effectively recognized nor taken seriously enough by those we entrust to educate our children, or these numbers simply wouldn't still be as unacceptable as they are after so many years.
Perhaps this explains why VSCSD currently has 108 students open-enrolled out of our district, and another 38 being home schooled right now? That's more than an entire grade/class who are being educated somewhere else. Do these parents already know something I'm just finding out the hard way? I've spoken with one home school parent whose son graduated last spring and entered the University of Iowa as a 2nd semester Sophomore this fall. What do these people know that we don't? What are they doing so right, that our school district is not?
Reading is the key to all other academic success. It's the bedrock and foundation of everything. Our school district's failure to fully recognize and effectively address our reading problems in elementary and middle school is translating into kids who become disengaged and disconnected with learning by the time they reach High School, if not sooner. And, we're losing them, and at a rate significantly higher than the majority of the schools in the State, or even Benton County for that matter.
National studies show that kids who are not grade-level proficient in reading by the time they enter 9th grade are 6 times more likely to drop out of school before they graduate. We're experiencing this right here. This drop-out problem today is our public safety and public welfare problem for the next generation in this community. There is a lot at stake here.
We, as a community, spend more on public education than we do anything else. Take a look at your property tax assessment and how much of what you pay goes to the Vinton-Shellsburg CSD. We, as a community, cannot continue to permit our school district leaders to keep doing the same thing, the same way, over and over again and naively expect a different result. And, we cannot simply accept their explanations and qualifications of these numbers any longer either. This requires bold action, and it requires it now.
Our community portrays itself as a "Family Friendly Community". Our economic development efforts for the past 20+ years have centered around this idea, and trying to attract good jobs and industries and young families into our community. We've expanded and improved our parks and recreation facilities. We've built new state-of-the-art school buildings. We're talking about putting a laptop computer in every students hands. We have gone out of our way to try to attract positive growth to our community in more ways than I can count. Why then, have communities surrounding us had so much success doing this, while ours has remained stagnant? I can assure you that the "deal breaker" for any company or industry considering our community could very well be nothing more complicated than the quality of our schools----not just the buildings and the physical trappings, but what's going on inside them.
We have taken our son to a facility in West Des Moines that specializes in diagnosing and repairing what public schools have failed to do. We've done so at our own expense, every Tuesday and Thursday since the first week of October. We did this to identify and fix his reading problems. We discovered his deficiencies were far worse than what our own school district either recognized, or was willing to admit. His reading instruction has literally involved going back to early elementary reading concepts and completely reconstructing his reading skills and abilities, because that’s where a lot of the missing links in his reading skills were discovered. He is now reading 2 years AHEAD of grade level after just 12 weeks.
We have our son fixed. Some would say we don't have a dog in this fight anymore, and dismiss our experience as a unique situation that has no bearing on the school district as a whole. You're wrong. If this can happen to us, it can happen to anyone.
This isn't about our child anymore, it's about everyone else's that I write this.
This community needs to fully and objectively understand how bad it is, and make it clear to our school officials that these numbers are not explainable, excuseable or acceptable by any objective standard.
They must hear from parents, grandparents, students, civic leaders and elected officials at all levels in our community, and, they must hear this from YOU, not just me.
We, as a community, must create some meaningful accountability and positive change in these numbers, or they will not improve any more than they have so far without it.
We can do better than this. We have to.
*Vinton-Shellsburg Reading Proficiency scores from 2003 to 2012, sorted by individual grade level, as well as VSCSD Graduation Rates and Drop-Out Rates can be found on our Facebook page “Vinton-Shellsburg Reading Proficiency”, or I'd be happy to e-mail them to anyone upon request by contacting me at email@example.com
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