Formula for success

September 2, 2010 

Some parents of minority students in Wake County, and elsewhere, have long complained that their children didn't have a fair shot at advanced math classes. School officials have relied on teacher recommendations in order to admit students to such classes, and parents have suspected that teachers assumed too much - that because of disadvantaged backgrounds, for example, their kids were not given a proper chance for success.

Data from SAS Institute shows clearly that the percentages of qualified black and Hispanic children admitted to such classes in Wake were substantially smaller than that of white children. A change is coming, and rightfully so: The school system now will rely more on test scores instead of heavily weighting decisions based on what teachers say.

Teachers still will have a role, but when a qualified child is not admitted to higher level math such as Algebra I in middle school, a principal will have to explain the decision in writing. SAS developed the program that now will be used in the decision-making process.

This is a positive change advocated by the controlling conservative bloc on the school board, whose decision to abandon a school diversity policy has not been supported in the minority community. Fair access to advanced classes should be part of the picture in either case.

Teachers recommending that students not be moved into advanced classes (which give middle school students a leg up on high school math and can boost college admission chances) have sometimes done so because they did not want students to become frustrated with trying to comprehend higher math. But this may in some cases have been an example of compassion overruling more sound judgment.

Not all students who are challenged with harder work shrink from that challenge. Many rise up to meet it, and the new policy will give them a chance to do so.

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