Letters to the Editor

Poverty, parenting, can cause low scores

In reading the article on this year’s drop in test scores at North Whdibey Middle School (“Concern soars as North Whidbey Middle School scores plummet”), I think the community ought to consider some important factors in arriving at a fair judgment.

The single greatest factor in predicting success in high stakes test scores is the socio-economic background of the student. NWMS has a 13 percent higher poverty rate than OHMS, and this accounts for about 90 students. And, poverty is increasing in America. The next most important determiners of student success are effective parenting and student motivation. Finally, the state’s high stakes tests have changed over the past few years, with fewer questions disproportionately highlighting incorrect responses.

As a teacher of 27 years, I am very concerned that my colleagues at NWMS are singled out for opprobrium when most likely the anomalous test scores are not solely or maybe even at all the result of “bad” teaching. I know that this flies in the face of the current trend to attack teachers, but I believe it is true. Speaking for myself, students fail in my OHMS classroom — and many fail — most commonly because of lack of work completion, poor attendance, inattentive parents and lack of resources.

Shish-kabobbing educators in public might make some feel good, but misses totally the deep complexity of the intractable problem of chronic failure on the part of some students. A more productive and hopeful approach might be to redraw district boundaries to level the playing field in all schools, helping parents learn how to support their children in the new expectations of academic rigor, and electing politicians who believe in lifting people out of poverty and strengthening the middle class.

Peter Szalai

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