Don’T Panic, But Don’T Ignore Data

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It happens one day, seemingly out of the blue. You’re driving along in a car you thought was running just fine and might just go on indefinately when suddenly black smoke pours out of the tailpipe.

Now, would you immediately take that car to the scrap yard? Probably not.

Your whole life is wrapped up in that car. Surely you’d find out what had gone wrong before you’d do anything drastic.

Same thing could be said of Rim Country Middle School.

The middle school recently got a “D” from the state for the second year in a row. The poor grade reflects a trend of worsening standardized test scores — and a lack of progress made by the weakest students.

A failing school? Start all over? Drop out the engine block?

Not just yet.

Instead, it just might be time to take the school to the repair shop and really examine what is going on.

Does throwing hormone-crazed pre-teens together all in one place make learning nearly impossible?

This could be a critical question. Research indicates the age range of middle school students creates a perfect storm of bullying and lack of focus. Repeated studies have found that often test scores plunge in systems that rely on the middle school model, rather than the K-8 model.

So it’s possible the district will ultimately have to reconsider that model.

But first, we hope the administration will pay careful attention to the test scores data, which raises real concerns about the school’s performance — especially when it comes to math.

Has the school identified the weak areas and created a plan to fix them?

Administrator Barbara Fitzgerald believes so, but she also said it takes time to see results.

Can staff create relevant assessment tools?

Many argue that using standardized tests fails to identify key qualities of learning. The district has taken it upon itself to use different tools to measure a student’s success. Can the information gained from this analysis point the middle school in a positive direction?

The grades and test scores of the middle school should make us pause and ask tough questions because our children are worth it. On the other hand, despite that funny clunking noise when we accelerate, there’s no need to panic. Standardized test scores can certainly highlight potential problem areas — but they’re not a complete measure of the quality of education.

No need to start calling junk yards.Then again, it looks like Rim Country Middle School could use a first-rate mechanic.

Faith restored

Just when you’re about ready to go with cynicism — someone peddles up and changes your mind.

So we defy you to feel bad about young people — or even pessimistic about the future of this country — if you read the story on page 6A about a bunch of young people who stopped in Payson last week to help out strangers.

The group hit town on the 55th day of a 3,886-mile journey that started in Maine and will end in Santa Barbara.

Now, we’d be sufficiently impressed by the discipline it takes a bunch of kids who grew up in a consumer society to ride 70 miles a day for weeks at a time.

But here’s the best part: All along the way, these young people have been stopping off to contribute a day of sweat and effort to one good cause or another.

In Payson, they grabbed hammers and paint brushes and teamed up with local volunteers to fix up Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore thrift shop. They also showed up to spruce up the Time Out domestic violence shelter.

Reporter Alexis Bechman talked to one of the riders — Erin Kiewel — who said she almost dropped out of the ride when she split with her boyfriend. She didn’t have the heart for the adventure — feared making the ride without him. But then she realized that life makes its demands — and we must rise to them. So she resolved to spend the year doing things that made her “uncomfortable,” just to see how that worked out.

So far, it’s working just fine — as she peddles across the country, helping strangers all along the way.

Well, Erin — we thank you, along with all the other riders and the long list of local volunteers and sponsors who added their efforts to the day.

As George Carlin observed: “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.”

So thanks, kids — you’ve cured our cynicism at least for this day, because watching your idealism, we’re not a bit disappointed.

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