Test plan splits Wake school board

Using test scores for placement is too akin to the old plan, GOP members say.

Staff WriterNovember 8, 2010 

— Wake County school board members are splitting along partisan lines on whether to use test scores to help decide where students would go to school.

Four of the five Republican board members are objecting to the proposal from business leaders to use student achievement as a factor in student assignment. Critics say using student achievement is a way to bring back the old socioeconomic diversity policy that the school board eliminated in the spring.

"When we include that quota system in the plan, that's something the community has said it wants no part of," school board Chairman Ron Margiotta said Thursday during a PTA forum on student assignment at Lacy Elementary School in Raleigh.

The four Democratic board members say they're willing to look at the idea of using student achievement as one of the four guiding principles in the assignment plan that consultant Michael Alves is developing.

Democratic school board member Carolyn Morrison said, "It's just not a healthy learning environment" when schools have too many low-performing students.

In the middle is GOP board Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman, who did not respond to requests for comment on the Alves plan. Goldman joined with the Democrats last month in backing a resolution halting work on a plan to divide the county into 16 assignment zones.

School board elections are nonpartisan.

The board will discuss Tuesday a proposal from Democratic board member Kevin Hill to take a more deliberate approach toward developing a new long-term assignment plan.

In the aftermath of last month's vote, the unofficial Alves plan is the only student assignment plan known to be on the table.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Education Partnership hired Alves to work on the plan. Orage Quarles III, president and publisher of The News & Observer, is a member of the board of trustees of the Wake Education Partnership, an advocacy group that had been a strong supporter of the school system's discarded diversity policy.

Under Alves' plan, families would rank which schools they want to attend, and school administrators would make the decision using the guiding principles of proximity, stability, choice and student achievement.

Tim Simmons, vice president of communications at the Wake Education Partnership, told parents at the forum that limiting the number of low-achieving students at schools will put them in an environment where they have the best chance of succeeding. He said the Alves plan, which is still under development, would need to be paired with academic programs.

"We feel like it's a reasonable approach to make sure kids are getting what they most need," Simmons said of the Alves plan. "Does it wave a magic wand where it will get failing kids above grade level? No, it does not."

Simmons said the plan will be presented to the school board in December.

Republican school board member Deborah Prickett, who also attended the forum, said it would be "a scary thing" to look at achievement levels and "label a child." Citing her experience when she was a school guidance counselor, she said families could be going through many things, such as a divorce, that affect achievement.

In addition to Prickett and Margiotta, school board members John Tedesco and Chris Malone have come out against Alves' use of student achievement in the selection process.

Simmons said there are no quotas or caps in the Alves plan. He said they're still hoping to get a large majority of the board willing to accept the final Alves plan.

"What we want to do is find consensus that we can all build upon," he said.

keung.hui@newboserver.com or 919-829-4534

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