After years of promoting SAT scores as a measurement of school rankings, now some of our local media see it as an uneven playing field. This follows comments from some of Columbia County's Board of Education members that comparisons are not apples to apples, but rather apples to oranges - specifically, with regard to Richmond County.
Interesting enough, however, is that throughout past years comparisons between these two counties have been just that - apples to oranges. This never seemed to be a problem before as long as Richmond County was perceived as the perennial underdog.
In fact, information supplied presenting an apples-to-apples comparison for school systems in the state never makes it into print or air time.
DURING STATE school Superintendent Kathy Cox's press conference a few weeks ago to announce the SAT scores, she acknowledged Richmond County's Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School as being the No. 1 school in SAT scores for a sixth year. Other schools in the top 10 for the state are in Muscogee, Cobb and Fulton counties.
For verbal scores, Westside High School in Richmond County entered the top 10. Ms. Cox complimented Superintendent Charles Larke and the Richmond County school system for their hard work and achievement. Richmond County has shown consistent gains in SAT scores, reaching 1,000 for 2003-04 school year.
Superintendent Cox had issued a challenge for systems to gain 10 points, and the Governor's Cup would honor those schools according to class regions which made the most gains. Hephzibah High School and Davidson Fine Arts - both in Richmond County - attained this goal.
Over the past several years, the Richmond County school system has worked hard to improve our students' SAT scores. Public perception is shaped by these scores, locally and nationally. Resources were designated, such as SAT software, Triumph Learning and Princeton Review, SAT coaches, an added period and involvement of counseling and guidance. Some schools instituted a SAT 1,000 club as an incentive.
All of this may have escaped the media's radar in that there was no controversy associated with this improvement plan. Students who have not taken those courses tested on the SAT usually are not going to do well as they are not prepared. Those who are prepared can take these review classes and do better which benefits them as well as their school.
At times it seems criticism is handed out quite liberally, but credit must be stingily apportioned. The governor flies in to award Hephzibah High the Governor's Cup, and he is criticized by The Augusta Chronicle for doing so. Back to the apples-to-apples argument, comparison of those districts with more than 10,000 students and more than 48 percent of students eligible for free or reduced priced lunches, Richmond County posted the second highest SAT gain, after Cobb County.
ALSO WITHIN similar demographic systems, Richmond County made the highest improvement in percent of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress this year from last year. With comparable systems, Richmond County fares very well.
I might add that in this one week three of our schools have been recognized either on the state or national level. Hephzibah High for SAT gains, Davidson Fine Arts as a National Blue Ribbon School and A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering Magnet High School cited by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. These honors reflect quite well on our system and our county regardless of apples and oranges.
(Editor's note: The writer is the District 10 at-large member of the Richmond County Board of Education.)