Fairfax May Junk Study on Behavior

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fairfax County School Board members said they are likely to abandon a staff report that showed racial and ethnic gaps in some measures of student behavior, including in the demonstration of "sound moral character and ethical judgment."

The board had delayed an April vote to approve the report after concerns were raised that findings were based on subjective measures, such as elementary report card data, and that they would fuel negative stereotypes.

Board member Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence) said yesterday that he plans to propose at a June 19 meeting that a vote on the report be postponed indefinitely. Several board members have indicated their support, he said.

Board member Martina A. Hone (At Large) said that the original report is "fatally flawed" and that it doesn't make sense "to work on fixing it." She said she is pleased with the way the board is rethinking it. "I think we have come out a stronger school board," she said.

The school system's report was an early attempt to measure progress on a host of goals the board considers "essential" for success in the workplace. It identified disparities among groups of students in several skills, including the ability to contribute effectively in a group, resolve conflicts and make healthy choices, and in the demonstration of moral character and ethical judgment.

Board members plan to approve revisions to their goals June 19 to make the wording more precise. Superintendent Jack D. Dale will again be given the challenge of developing methods for interpreting and measuring the goals.

In coming months, the board intends to review the potential for teacher bias in report cards and whether it makes sense to analyze nonacademic measures by race and ethnicity.

The staff report on student behavior recently drew criticism from the chairman of the Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee.

In a letter to School Board Chairman Daniel G. Storck (Mount Vernon) last month, Ralph Cooper wrote that the report and some recent school system budget decisions had "damaged any credibility [the School Board] may have had in improving minority student achievement."

The letter, attached to the committee's annual report, urged the board to hire a consultant to roll out its "essential life skills" goals and to work with the advisory committee and other groups.

"We would like to be part of the team," Cooper said in an interview.

The 31-member committee consists of school system employees and community members and has advised the board on minority student issues for more than 13 years.

The committee's report included suggestions for how the school system can reach out to minority parents to encourage them to be effective advocates for their children's education.

After hearing from nearly 100 people at three meetings, the committee concluded that too often minority parents feel "a sense of alienation" in their children's public schools. Many could not name their school board representatives or articulate their functions, the report said.

The report noted some positive trends, including a reduction in the dropout rate for black and Hispanic students. But it also found mixed results in efforts to reduce achievement gaps in English test scores for those groups.

Overall, Cooper said, "progress is too slow."

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