A Thought for Today
by Terrell Tebbetts
When Batesville Superintendent Dr. Randy Willison spoke at the Kiwanis Club recently, he had some good news about student achievement in the Batesville School District.
One measure of achievement is the percentage of graduates going on to post-secondary education—trade schools, community colleges, or four-year colleges. Willison reported that 80% of Batesville High School’s graduates do so. That’s important. By 2018, in just four years, 52% of all Arkansas jobs will require at least a two-year college degree, while only 20% of Independence County residents currently have such degrees.
Another measure of student achievement is the number taking Advanced Placement courses and earning qualifying scores on the AP exams, scores that bring college credit. Last year 88 BHS students took AP courses, some of them more than one, and half of them earned qualifying scores. That 50% compares favorably to the state average of 34%, though it lags the national average of 57%.
Since AP scores are based on national standards, they’re more reliable indicators that students have acquired college-level skills than are the concurrent courses some high schools and two-year colleges push.
That’s because grades in concurrent courses depend entirely on the standards of the individual teachers. Some offer rigorous courses, but others have very low standards. Last fall a Lyon student told me her high school’s concurrent composition courses were “jokes.”
The concurrent courses that provide college credit but not college skills mean trouble. When students have composition credit, for example, but still can’t write, how can they do well on history essay exams?
Willison did not mention a third measure of student achievement, but he could have. That’s the percentage of graduates who need remedial courses when they go on to college. According to the Huffington Post, some 40% of college students nationwide needed remediation in math, reading and/or English in 2010, while the ADE website reports that a shameful 52.5% of Arkansas graduates needed it, over half of the state’s college-bound students.
But only 34% of BHS’s 2010 graduates needed remediation, a third fewer than the state average and significantly lower than the national average. Only Mountain View among neighboring districts equaled that. Melbourne’s remediation rate was 39%, Newport’s 40%, Cave City’s 48%, Cedar Ridge’s 55%, and Southside’s 63%.
A final measure of the district’s success is its low rate of grade inflation, which shows the difference between grades and ACT scores. The Batesville School District’s rate stands at only 1.4%, compared to the state’s 20% average. Batesville students really earn their grades. The BSD has room to improve, of course. We ought to reach the national average in AP success, and we need to keep lowering the percent needing remediation. But comparatively speaking, we’re doing well.
The ADE has recognized that fact. It named the BSD an “Achieving District” in 2012 and 2013, making it one of only four so recognized both years.
Terrell Tebbetts is the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in American Literature at Lyon College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org