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From the Editor: Making Sense of Schools

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With the evolution of curricula, standards and ever-changing metrics for academic performance, it can be difficult to decide which public school is best for your child—a point writer Larry Nagengast makes clear in this month’s cover story. Will it ever get easier?

It’s worth recounting from one of Larry’s previous stories: Going back just over 15 years, there have been three major federal initiatives to improve and gauge student performance. They begin with the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind, then continue with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top and, now, the Every Student Succeeds Act. All of that change keeps Delaware and the other states scrambling to adjust and adapt. The efforts here have resulted in the Delaware State Testing Program, then the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System, then Common Core academic standards. With Common Core, students and their teachers have since needed to adjust to the state’s Smarter Balanced testing program.

It is our hope that Delaware Today can help you sort it all out. That’s not to say we can make your school decisions easy. For the traditional public high schools and the younger charters that are still adding high school classes, we present a chart with information about enrollment, graduation rates, SAT scores and more—all from the state Department of Education—that is easy to understand. Less easy to understand are some inconsistencies in the state’s reporting of School Success measures. To decode the chart, first read “A Look at the Numbers.” It explains much, but two anomalies should be explained here.

First, a couple of growing charter schools, though still adding high school classes, didn’t add those classes soon enough to be measured accordingly for School Success. The schools are graded, so to speak, on the performance of their lower schools. That is not an apples-to-apples comparison with other charter high schools, and it admits the possibility, however unlikely, that the high schools may not be as good as they seem. I stress the word possibility. As stated, School Success is a new measure. All schools are adjusting.

Second, the total score for School Success caps out at 500. Observant readers will notice that the score for Charter School of Wilmington exceeds the maximum. DOE’s official explanation is that the score was calculated by an “outside vendor” and that DT should let that number stand in print. The inflated score notwithstanding, Wilmington Charter remains an excellent school.

A final word about the chart: We have included for the first time percentages of low-income students in each school, as well as percentages of Hispanic and African-American students. Why? To put it bluntly, there is a direct, unfortunate correlation between those groups and low incomes—or poverty—and a direct correlation between poverty and diminished, often poor academic performance.

Let’s not conflate issues of race and class. Income doesn’t doom anyone to poor academic performance or low achievement: Individuals can and do transcend their circumstances, and it is our hope that more of them do. But the sad fact remains that many will not. Children do get left behind, someone finishes last in every race and not every student succeeds. That should be unacceptable. Children at risk of achieving anything less than they are innately capable of need and deserve our help. I often wonder if there is a true public and political will to make the bold systemic and administrative changes needed to help. I often doubt it. Anything compassionate citizens, a courageous legislature and concerned Department of Education can do is a moral imperative.

—Mark Nardone • Executive editor

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