To the Editor:
Last Friday the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released its 2012 school classifications based the new school accountability system. The new system uses multiple measures, including NECAP test scores, progress toward the 2017 targets, overall student improvement, progress in closing achievement gaps as well as the school’s graduation rate to fit every school in the state into one of six categories. While not perfect, the new system is a drastic improvement over the old way of classifying schools, which took into account only test scores, and the school’s performance vis-à-vis the myriad of sub-groups specified in No Child Left Behind. Out of a total of 51 high schools in the state, six were labeled as Commended, nine as Leading, and 24 as Typical, including Johnston High School. The rest were classified as Warning, Focus or Priority schools, labels that carry with them onerous consequences and penalties.
Thankfully, Johnston High School fell into one of the three higher categories. While it is not surprising that Johnston High School scored higher than many of her peers in neighboring districts, it is reflective of the progress we have made and of the strides our students and faculty have taken to increase proficiency in reading and math, demonstrate student growth, shrink our achievement gaps and improve the graduation rate. For this we are grateful.
However, these recondite metrics do not fully project our essence. A more complete portrait can be gauged by the intangible things that define our school. These are measurements too deeply intrinsic for any one irksome moniker to convey. These factors that the state and federal government fail to account for speak volumes compared to the myopic prism from which our classification is contrived. Factors such as school spirit, community support, extra-curricular participation, a burgeoning arts program, a second-to-none music program, a vibrant honors program, athletic championships, community partnerships, active alumni, faculty dedication and especially student devotion, coupled with our progress, are the measures that make us anything but Typical. George Canning once said, “that I can prove anything by statistics except the truth.” This assertion still rings true nearly two centuries later. This does not mean that we do not face challenges. Every school does. To meet them, we must redouble our efforts and not rest on our laurels. We can do this by drawing on our strengths as well as our ties with the community. These characteristics, which are not easily quantified, are what make Panthers atypical.
Zachary S. Farrell