Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: School rankings and awards can be confusing, exasperating

dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.comMay 2, 2014 

It’s academic awards season again.

Which reminds me of the time a decade or so ago when I arrived late to honors day at my daughter’s elementary school. I took a seat on the back row, a place where I’d always been comfortable as a student.

I nodded to another father who I’d seen around the community. We knew nothing about each other’s kids or families.

“How’s it going?” I said.

“Pretty good,” he said, “except this one kid’s been winning all the awards.”

“What a joke,” I said. “I can’t stand kids like that.”

“Hey, that’s her right there,” the guy said, and pointed to an 8-year-old girl with long brown hair.

It was my daughter.


It’s just human nature to be cynical about winners — and the system for awarding those winners — unless you or somebody you love happens to be the one doing the winning.

Especially when the process involves other fallible human beings setting the standards and casting the votes and crunching the numbers.

This applies to recognition given to schools. Think about it.

The Georgia Board of Education recently released the 2013 College and Career Ready Performance Index results for every school district and individual school in the state. Click here to view the complete list of rankings from the past two years.

Unsurprisingly, the top performing schools in the Muscogee County School District were Britt David Elementary School and Columbus High School.

I was happy about Columbus High, because two of my children go there. I was disappointed about Britt David, because I was rooting for Dimon Elementary, which has an awesome name.

Seriously, something would have been wrong if the district’s top two schools hadn’t been its only total magnet schools.

Also unsurprisingly, Clubview, Double Churches and Eagle Ridge ranked in the top five among elementary schools; Blackmon Road was at the head of the class among middle schools, followed by Midland, Arnold and Veterans Memorial; and Early College and Northside remained next in line behind Columbus High.

The test results also held some surprises. Blanchard and North Columbus elementary schools were replaced in the top 10 by Title I schools Johnson and Cusseta Road. Fort Middle School knocked Richards out of the top five middle schools. Jordan cracked the top four high schools.

But what does it all mean?

In achievement scores, Cusseta Road Elementary got lower marks than Blanchard and North Columbus; Fort Middle was behind Richards; and Jordan High was below Hardaway and Shaw.

But Cusseta Road, Fort and Jordan passed those other schools because of their high scores in progress, which is based on student growth percentiles, and achievement gap, which compares test scores in the lowest quartile to the average state scores.

Johnson Elementary jumped in the rankings because it led the district in challenge points, which takes into account economically disadvantaged, English learners and students with disabilities.

Confused yet?

Oh, and U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Columbus High No. 4 in the state and No. 104 in the nation, and also recognized Early College Academy, the district’s second-highest performing high school.

But the magazine also recognized Kendrick High, which in the recent state scores ranked sixth among the district’s nine high schools, and Carver High, which finished last.

So which benchmarks and rankings matter? And will we ever figure out how to measure performance and properly recognize success and failure?

On Wednesday, during a lunch address to the Rotary Club of Columbus, Muscogee County School District Superintendent David Lewis said he plans to identify which areas we should measure, and then he’s going to track them on the district website and let the community hold our schools — and him — accountable.

That will certainly help. And if it’s done right, it will hurt too.

Because we need to know the truth before we can start getting better, and sometimes, as we all know by now, the truth can hurt.

Hopefully, it can motivate as well.

Contact Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com

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