When a number doesn’t reflect your accomplishments

Humans love rankings. We want the teams we cheer for to be Number 1, our hometown the cleanest, our grilled cheese the cheesiest. Americans certify BBQ and chili contest judges so we can be confident who makes the best in any contest. Rankings may demonstrate things that can be measured with known metrics, but some may have so many variables that the numbers assigned don’t begin to capture the true worth of what is being ranked.

Recently U.S. News and World Report released a ranking of high schools. The top ranked schools naturally heralded their place at the top of the list, and for good reason. They have surely set and met high educational goals for their students that should be reflected in a scoring system.

The top 10 public high schools in Georgia are located in urban areas; only three are outside the Atlanta area. That really shouldn’t be surprising- urban communities have more money, more resources, and more means to attract the most sought-after teachers.

Those schools who don’t sort out at the top of the list shouldn’t be overlooked for what they provide for their students, families, and communities. The one that my daughters, their husbands, my husband and his brothers attended, Washington County High School in Sandersville, ranks 328th out of the 426 public schools in Georgia, according to the magazine. The school’s students and teachers are more accomplished than the ranking indicates.

What factors could contribute to WaCo’s (as locals often call it in football chants) landing in the bottom portion of the list? Does having 78 percent of the student body classified as economically disadvantaged pose challenges? Sure. A low income home might mean there is no home computer, internet access, or transportation to the local library to complete homework or use the computers available there. These students may be working to help support their family, leaving less time for schoolwork. Many may miss meals when not at school, and hunger impacts the ability to learn. The local food bank makes every effort to provide easy-to-manage foods for students when they are home, but the need is great when families struggle.

The U.S. News and World Report ranking data report 867 students enrolled in 9th-12th grades at the public school. The private school in town, Brentwood School, founded in 1969, where tuition this school year for one high school student is over $7,500, has 100 students in grades 9-12. While smaller classes can have benefits, being in a large economically, racially, and culturally diverse school setting has benefits inside and beyond the classroom.

The differences between the two school options are stark. But those differences don’t mean the students at Washington County High School lack ambition, talent, or success. Last spring more than 50 percent of the 214 students graduating from Washington County High School received their diploma having earned a grade point average of 91.5 or higher. School Board Chair Chris Hutchings said, “The Washington County School District is proud of its accomplishments in educating the students of our community. Our graduation rate is nearly 10 points higher than the Georgia average at 93%. Dual enrollment is up. Nine of the 214 students in the 2021 graduating class received Associate Degrees, and 12 had been accepted into the military upon graduation. Twenty had already received scholarships among the 86 that had been accepted into college.”

Behind every one of those high school diplomas presented in May are success stories past and future. The Washington County High School Class of 2021 follows some  exceptionally talented graduates including:

      • 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist
      • Four-time Emmy Award winner
      • Award winning playwright
      • Medical and industrial research scientists
      • Television news producers and journalists
      • Doctors, lawyers, accountants
      • WNBA and NFL players
      • National Guard and armed forces volunteers
      • Business owners
      • Faith leaders
      • Elected officials
      • Leaders in civic and nonprofit organizations
      • Teachers, counselors, school administrators

The rankings produced by U.S. News and World Report are a snapshot of what schools can and do accomplish. Being in the bottom portion of the rankings doesn’t make any student  in Washington County less intelligent or capable, nor any teacher less able to inspire or improvise to help a student succeed. The ranking is just one ranking.

 

A survey is only as good as the controls it sets

Lunches have been packed, sleep routines reset, and spelling words called out since students returned to classrooms across Georgia. Now parents, teachers, and students are reviewing progress reports and sizing up what happens during the next half of the grading period.

This point in the school year also gives school leaders an opportunity to review what is working and what might need to be adjusted. During a pandemic, the ability for schools to pivot on a pinhead may be the difference between lives saved and lost.

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 9, 2021, Washington County Public Schools sent out a survey using a Google platform tool asking for feedback from the school community. The survey tool is one I have used as both an executive director and board president of nonprofits.

The school system’s email with the link to the survey was sent to me by parents in the community. The form didn’t ask for any identifying information: no name, email, address, phone number. It did ask if the person responding is a school employee. It could be filled out by anyone anywhere  who had the link. I filled it out and submitted it. Twice.

Friday morning when I returned to the link it said I had already submitted my answer. Fair enough. After poking around with it some during the second of many cups of coffee, I got this:

Washington County Public Schools survey
September 10, 2021

The survey showed my email address, but Google’s software told me it wasn’t collecting anything from my account.

This isn’t the first time the schools have sent out a survey without parameters set on who could fill out the survey, or requiring any identifying information, in order to submit the survey. Last school year I picked up the phone and ended up talking with Dr. Rickey Edmond, who assured me that they were able to collect identifying data even though none was require to submit answers. I told him having seen the backside of these surveys via my Google business account, I’d sure like to know how they were managing that, because it might help me in the future. All I got was, “We can.”

With the broad questions asked in last week’s survey, what can Dr. Edmond  the Board of Education, and school principals really take away beyond how smooth car pick up and drop off are, and general satisfaction with instruction? Is a blind survey the only way for school leaders to know how parents and employees gauge the school year to date? How confident can school leaders, parents, teachers, and students be that the survey sent out on Thursday has the controls and parameters to collect accurate information?

It will be interesting to see what Dr. Edmond and the Board of Education members share with the community. Based on recent inquiries by myself and others concerned about the system’s Covid-19 record-keeping and reporting, my confidence in the quality of information collected and shared by the school system is low. Will the results of a survey available to anyone with email be used to guide judgement impacting not only the education of every student, but the health of the entire Washington County community?