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Exemplary performance

I hope all of you noted the picture in last week’s newspaper of sixth-grader Katie Benson shaking hands with board of education member Bruce Burke. The school board and administration honored Katie and 58 other district students at a special assembly Jan. 11. The students were recognized for ranking in the highest tier of scores on the 2009 state assessment tests.

Katie’s certificate was for excellence in reading. Other students recognized for scoring among the state’s best scholars did so with exemplary scores in math, science, or writing. There were 85 exemplary certificates distributed to 59 Peabody-Burns students.

I am bringing this up because back in the fall our communities found out that USD 398 is “on improvement,” a designation assigned by the state to school districts with a subgroup of students that failed to achieve adequate test scores for two years in a row. The tests are part of a government program, “No Child Left Behind.” The program has created a formula by which each and every student in the country will make a proficient score on tests administered by the state in which the child resides by 2014.

Across this land, there are thousands of teachers, taxpayers, parents, school board members, staff members, and administrators who support the concept and thousands who don’t. I won’t be discussing either group in this opinion column. Nor will I be dwelling on our own students who, for whatever reason, did not make adequate scores on the state exams.

What I do want to address are the 59 students who scored in the highest bracket — some in multiple subjects. I hope we all appreciate their bright minds, their skills, and their abilities. This is better than making all-league in any sport — it is like making all state. It is up there with scoring a I or I+ at state contest in music or forensics. These kids are as good as state finalists in any FFA, FCCLA, or BPA competition.

In addition to the 59 exemplary students, our district has students who scored in two other categories. State assessment scores are not just lumped into really high scores or scores needing lots of work. There are categories in between. One is for students who “exceed standards,” which means they scored higher than the state or national mean. Another category is for students who “meet standards,” students who score at the level of average students across the state and nation. While neither group hits exemplary achievement, neither do they fall below average or acceptable scores.

I don’t know how many USD 398 students fell into either of those categories, but I bet it was a healthy number. I hear some grumbling around town from time to time about the test scores and what they might be doing to the district’s reputation. Maybe that is a valid complaint; then again, maybe not. I have lived here long enough to remember years when we had other reputations (good and bad) that changed over time.

These things are not forever.

Be glad for the Katie Bensons of the community. That exemplary certificate in reading may make her a college literature professor or it may make her the best librarian this town has ever seen. Or it may just give her a lifelong love of reading as she pursues a career in nuclear physics. Katie Benson and her fellow students with exemplary scores and with scores that meet and/or exceed standards will do fine in this world.

And we should remember that.

— Susan Marshall

Last modified Jan. 21, 2010

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