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Stage set for accountability in education

By By Blake Wilson / special to The Star
Aug. 17, 2003
If we heard anything from the Mississippi business community a few years ago, it was a call for greater accountability in education.
Now it is here thanks to the hard work of business, political, education and community leaders and the benchmarking results are now available to establish a baseline upon which to measure our current performance and future improvement.
The accountability stage is set. It is up to us to become players, and to be accountable as business and community leaders in helping make the process successful.
On Friday, the first series of testing results were listed in many newspapers around the state. If there ever was a time for learning about what this all means, it is now. Are we up to the challenge?
We share a responsibility with the educational community in helping improve test scores in Mississippi. We are all shareholders in the process and the reports that we received last week are similar to a quarterly shareholder report issued by a company.
The key is for us to all use these results wisely to make wise investments of time and energy to help our schools and our students achieve greater results in the future.
Benchmark
Results this year are a benchmark. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Henry Johnson wrote in a Clarion-Ledger column that the accountability process is a "journey not a destination" and that these results can be viewed as a "proverbial line in the sand" against which we can measure success.
Here are some things to keep in mind about the accountability process:
We now have a powerful tool to improve student learning a comprehensive baseline adding to our ability to identify opportunities and measure our progress.
We cannot meet or exceed expectations until we all know what the expectations are. With this testing process, we now have a unified, measurable basis upon which to act. Improving student learning is the priority a priority that must be embraced by everyone.
The release of these scores and the upcoming ranking of schools is a call to action for communities, not just educators. A school must rely upon its community in order to succeed. Success in education extends beyond the classroom and into homes, businesses and the community as a whole.
This is the first year for this test, which was required as part of the national No Child Left Behind Act. Every state is required to participate in this type of unitary accountability testing in order to receive continued federal funding for our schools.
Resource Sites
You can check the coverage on this important issue in your local newspaper, which is particularly important for gaining an understanding of the local issues your schools face, by going to the MEC local newspaper link page at: www.msmec.com/links/index.html.
The Business Roundtable, a national organization of top companies, has done extensive work on the No Child Left Behind Act. You can access information at www.brt.org and click on their Education &Workforce agenda button.
MEC cooperated over the last year with the Public Education Forum and Parents for Public Schools, which launched a joint project involved in raising awareness and helping communities, address the accountability process. The complete report on their efforts is available at: www.publiceducationforum.org in the section on the main page titled: Special Report: Make Accountability Count.
Parents for Public Schools is a strong resource on this issue. Information on the organization is available at: www.parents4publicschools.com.
Parents for Public Schools also offers the following suggestions for getting involved and making a difference:
Visit your community schools. Find out more about what happens in classrooms, their strengths and their needs for improvement.
Organize groups to demand quality schools and provide resources to help schools improve.
Support school efforts through mentoring, volunteering, funding.
Hold town meetings to talk about education issues.
Businesses can also help by:
Adopting a school in your community and building a relationship with its faculty and staff.
Allowing employees time off to volunteer in schools as tutors or mentors.
Allowing parents time off to attend parent/teacher conferences.
Providing support for professional development of teachers and parents.
And, parents can also help taking these steps:
Get a copy of your child's Mississippi Curriculum Test or Subject Area Test score sheet and ask your child's teacher to discuss it with you, explaining your child's strengths and weaknesses.
Develop a plan with your child's teacher that can be used at home and school for reinforcing the skills your child needs to improve.
Visit school regularly. Sit in on classes. Don't wait until there is a problem to talk to your child's teacher.
Hold elected officials accountable for quality schools.

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