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Lies and Statistics.

THE RELEASE OF THE 2000-01 Arkansas Benchmark Exam results showed that some of the most advanced fourth- and eighth-grade students in Arkansas are enrolled in some of the smallest school districts.

For instance, 89 percent of the fourth-graders in Kingston School District (enrollment: 220) proved they were working at or above their grade level in literacy. And 92 percent of the fourth-graders at Deer School District (255 students) were at or above grade level in math.

In fact, of the 17 individual school districts that ranked in the top five for achievement in either math or literacy at the fourth- or eighth-grade level, all but One -- Greenwood School District, enrollment 3,166 -- were smaller than the state average of 1,444. And only one more, Mountain View with 1,221 students, was anywhere near the average. Most had 200-400 students.

Yes, small school districts have proven that they can turn out better-prepared students than the large districts. Since this fact is the only argument I have yet heard against widespread administrative consolidation of the 310 school districts in the state, I thought I'd give credit Where it's due. And then I thought I'd debunk the argument completely.

You see, the worst-performing schools on the list are just as likely to be small districts. For instance, at Parkin (433 students), not a single fourth-grader tested at the fourth-grade level in math or literacy. Of the 13 school districts that were in the bottom five for achievement in either math or literacy at the fourth- or eighth-grade level, all but one--Helena-West Helena, 3,675 students -- were smaller-than-average districts.

(A legislative audit report issued last month on the Helena-West Helena district found quite a lot of questionable management practices. The $100,000 it spent last year. on travel for its administrators and school board members apparently didn't translate into effective instruction for its students.)

Those vested interests (i.e., school administrators and school board members) who are desperately seeking to justify our state's ridiculously wasteful and top-heavy educational system might argue that some school districts perform well because they have such fine administrators. I haven't actually heard that argument from anyone, but I can debunk it before it crops up. And I don't have to look very far.

At Jefferson Elementary School, 64 percent of fourth-graders were proficient or advanced in math, and 97 percent were proficient or advanced in literacy. Meanwhile, at Stephens Elementary, none of the kids reached the fourth-grade level in math, and only 6 percent were proficient in literacy.

Both schools are in the Little Rock School District, so the size of the district is identical in both cases. The same administration that takes credit for Jefferson must take the blame for Stephens. Little Rock is the largest district in the state, yet it can succeed, and it can fail -- just like small districts.

What the Benchmark results show, beyond any argument, is that the size of the school district has virtually nothing to do with the performance of the children. What counts is the principal, the teachers, the students and their parents. The rest is academic.

My son was one of those fourth-graders who took the Benchmark test last spring. I want to congratulate his teachers at Lakewood Elementary School, Angie Colclasure and Michael Stone, for turning out the most proficient fourth-graders in the North Little Rock School District. Stone who taught math skills, achieved proficiency in 75 percent of the students -- and it was his first year of teaching. Imagine what he'll be able to do with a few years of experience under his belt. (I can tell you that he already has a reputation for being strict.)

Stone and Colclasure have to share the credit with the teachers who had those kids from kindergarten through third grade. No wonder enrollment is up more than 7 percent at Lakewood this year.

I read that Lynn Cheney, wife Vice President Dick Cheney, said the whole world mispronounces their last name. It should be CHEE-ney, she said, not CHAY-ney.

I know just how, she feels. My last name is pronounced MOR-itz, almost like Morris, yet most people assume it is Muh-RITZ, like the old Cafe St. Moritz. I've been called worse. Much worse.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. E-mail her at gmoritz@abpg.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Benchmark Exam in Arkansas
Comment:Lies and Statistics.(Benchmark Exam in Arkansas)
Author:MORITZ, GWEN
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Sep 24, 2001
Words:716
Previous Article:LETTER.
Next Article:A Year From Now?
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