Thursday, June 7, 2007

Parents: Low SAT scores show schoolís failings


Ashley Jennings is preparing to graduate from Goffstown High School, but sheís not sure what that means for her future.

Ashley, consistently an honor roll student throughout high school, scored a 400 in reading and 350 in math on her SAT.

She also scored poorly on an Army entrance examination.

"(Goffstown High School) doesnít really teach you test-taking skills. Basically, the attitude is just pass in your homework and you get an A. They donít really teach you what you did wrong," said Ashley. "I feel that a lot of the teachers just donít care, which really bothers me, because I want to learn."

She will attend New Hampshire Technical Institute in the fall, something her father, Wayne, said isnít good enough for an honors student.

"Too many times Iíve heard parents say their kids are getting excellent grades, but getting no homework and not being challenged and not getting the grades they deserve," Wayne Jennings said. "At other schools, which have an environment that excellence is expected of you, that C has more weight than someone who is getting an A at Goffstown."

He is calling for drastic changes within the district, including the replacement of Superintendent Darrell Lockwood.

"I question if Dr. Lockwood is the person to get it done. Heís been there for several years and nothing is improving," said Jennings of the superintendentís nine years as head of the district. "Heís not demanding. 

He should have high expectations of the principals, the teachers and the students, but he clearly doesnít. 

The low performance is not acceptable and it starts at the top." 

Jennings, who has spoken with Lockwood in person, said his largest complaint lies with the districtís subpar SAT scores, which he thinks is a result of a reliance on calculators and other corner-cutting measures that prevent students from learning basic educational components.

According to a Jan. 15 story in the Union Leader, Goffstownís SAT score averages are 496 in math, 498 in reading and 478 in the new timed writing section of the exam. All scores are out of a possible 800.

Nationally, the averages were better, as students around the country averaged 518 in math, 503 in reading and 497 in writing.

From 2002-05, before the written part of the test was instituted, Goffstown High School averaged 496 in the verbal/reading component of the SAT and 487 in math.

Frank McBride, principal at Goffstown High School, said his school is adjusting to many changes in the SAT exam over the past several years, and his school is working on enhancing the preparedness of students, including further educating its teachers in SAT preparation and offering SAT prep courses to students.

"We are looking to continue educating our own staff and figuring out how we, in our daily work, are better able to make some tweaks in what we do to prepare students for the SATs and college," said McBride.

Lockwood refused to comment on any specific students, citing privacy laws, but acknowledged the Goffstown School District is in need of improvement in its SAT scores.

"The education of every child is important and we need to work on that in some areas," said Lockwood. 

"In general, Iím pleased with the education we provide, but yes, the SAT scores of all students should improve."

Lockwood also noted that some students have various hurdles to overcome when testing, including anxiety and special education assistance.

"We attempt to work with all children and do the best we can and some children have issues when it comes to taking exams," said Lockwood. "In some instances we can provide modifications to those students, which we certainly do in classroom, but the problem with the SAT is itís a timed test and there is only one answer. That is a challenge for some students, and thatís why weíre working on strategies to improve our scores.

Though Jenningsí daughter has recieved special education tutoring in high school, he said the problem goes beyond his daughter.

In fact, Jennings said he is considering establishing a class-action lawsuit with other unhappy parents in New Boston, asking Goffstown to reimburse the town for tuition costs.

"We pay more than Trinity (a private high school in Manchester), yet Trinity provides a much better education than Goffstown," he said. "Myself and a lot of other people are totally dissatisfied with the level of education Goffstown has provided our students.

"I could accept that if this were Camden, N.J., where the majority of tax dollars go toward fighting crime, but thatís not the case here. The basic problem starts with leadership," he added.

Though Lockwood hadnít heard about the possibility of legal action, he said he considers New Boston and Dunbarton students just as much a part of the school district as Goffstown students and insists all are provided with the same quality educational opportunities.

Since 2002, Goffstown High School has consistently sent 57 percent to 64 percent of its graduates to a four-year college and 11 percent to 26 percent to a two-year post-secondary school.

Michael Ethier of New Boston has one daughter who graduated from Goffstown High School in 2006 and another who is completing her junior year.

Though he refuses to point all the blame on teachers and administrators, Ethier said the district is not preparing students for life after high school.

"Iíve never heard my children come home and say, Ďthis teacher is pushing me,í" said Ethier. "There is no motivation. They let the kids do whatever they want.

"As far as keeping them in line, if theyíre not disciplined, theyíre not going to learn," he continued. "Iím a failure also. I canít discipline them enough to stay with their studies, so itís not all the schoolís fault. But overall, Goffstown has a lot of room for improvement. I think they can work a lot harder."


Reproduced by the Goffstown Residents Association.