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County schools blasted by curriculum audit

September 04, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

A curriculum audit of the Washington County school system reveals a wide range of problems including a "dysfunctional" organizational structure, shortcomings in curriculum development and use, high dropout rates among blacks and others and infrequent use of computers in the classroom.

The 177-page report also found problems in how black students are placed in special education, and said inequities exist among schools in terms of the available resources such as library books and media equipment.

And there is "no consistent, formal process linking program priorities to budget development," according to a summary of the findings released by the Washington County Board of Education on Thursday.

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As a result of findings in the curriculum audit, school board member Andrew R. Humphreys said he would give the school system a "C-minus."

Humphreys said he ran for the board last year in part because concerns such as those outlined in the audit were being voiced in the community.

But Humphreys said he was surprised "in the depth of the incompleteness. We have a long ways to go."

The audit said inequities "were apparent in the placement of African-American students, particularly males, within certain special education categories (seriously emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded)."

The board voted last December to spend $43,600 to have Phi Delta Kappa International of Bloomington, Ind., perform the curriculum audit, which was conducted April 21-25.

Phi Delta Kappa is an international education organization that specializes in auditing the effectiveness of school systems, said Board of Education President B. Marie Byers.

Ten auditors spent the week reviewing board policies and interviewing members of the administration, the report said.

The audit made 11 recommendations for improving the system, including developing a comprehensive curriculum management system. Board of Education members, who held a press conference Thursday to discuss the results, said they agreed with the recommendations.

The audit said the school system's curriculum guides for teachers varied in quality, which has hurt lesson planning. Auditors also found that effective teaching practices "varied considerably" between schools, and parents and teachers have been concerned about the implementation of the language program.

The audit also found that black students are underrepresented in gifted courses.

"In general, the audit found the lack of specific policy in the area of curriculum management has produced an ineffective framework for the control and direction of the district. Available data are seldom used to modify teaching strategies or as a tool to initiate or terminate programs," the audit said.

The relationship between the school board and the former superintendent of schools was generally viewed as inefficient and unstable, the audit said.

Byers said that under former superintendent Wayne F. Gersen, some curricula were implemented without the board approval that is required by state law.

At the same time, the auditors found that trends in school performance indicators show overall improvement, and noted the average attendance rate is above the state average, and the dropout rate is below state average.

The results of the audit will be distributed to teachers and parents over about the next month, said interim schools Superintendent Linda Barkdoll.

The audit will then be used to realign the system's curriculum and make improvements in staff development, said Byers. "We are going to move forward for student achievement," Byers said.

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