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Edu: Testing and Security

How safe are kids in, and out of, school?

One School Triumphs

The statistics for Aative American students are not encouraging. According to a 2007 NAEP report, Native American test scores are not just lower than those of their peers, they have not statistically budged from 1997 levels.

Few states feel this burden more than New Mexico, where one out of ten students is Native American, ten times the national average. But the state is working to turn the statistics around.

This fall Tohatchi Elementary School stunned New Mexico by going from one of its poorest performing schools to one of its best. The rural school, where 80 percent of students are Navajo, 45 percent are ELLs, and 75 percent qualify for free/reduced lunch, didn’t just beat the odds, it trounced them.

Seventy percent of Tohatchi students scored proficient or better in math, up from 28 percent in 2006. In reading, the percentage increased a staggering 63 points, from 15 to 78.

Much of the credit has gone to principal George Bickert. A novice administrator when he took over in 2006, Bickert wasn’t daunted by demographics. He got to know his students and their individual needs. He raised expectations, but made learning fun, too. Weekly tests became more palatable with names like “Math Monsters” and “Cougar Readers.” And he rewarded achievement with incentives like pizza parties.

But Bickert has not been working in a vacuum. Since 2005, New Mexico has hired more than 260 Native American teachers and 16 principals. Reading scores among Native American students have now jumped 6 points, more than any other group in the state.

The success of Tohatchi is a sign of hope, which New Mexico wants to replicate throughout its Navajo districts.

How Safe Are Your Buses?

Having a strong safety training program is key.
On a school bus in Belleville, Illinois, this past September, two students viciously beat up another in a dispute over a seat; the videotaped incident made national news. Around the same time, a mentally ill man took control of an Atlanta school bus and fought with students before police apprehended him.

With these recent events, it’s a good time to think about the safety training your school bus drivers are getting. In some cases, training is handled by the school district or by the state.

But in others, drivers get safety training through their bus company, and administrators may have little idea how it works.

First Student, a part of Ohio-based FirstGroup America, runs the Belleville district’s buses. All of its drivers undergo more than 50 hours of training before getting behind the wheel, including 12 hours of “safety orientation.” “Should something happen, we instruct the drivers to get the bus to a safe location and radio for help—which the driver did in [the Belleville] instance,” says Maureen Richmond, a spokesperson for FirstGroup America. She says that drivers are also offered training to help them deal with student conflicts. Monthly refresher classes are offered.

Keith Bromery, director of media relations at Atlanta Public Schools, says his district’s drivers get training before they start, with additional training each year through the state. But he says that in the case of the Atlanta incident, things just happened too fast. “This was one of those fluke things,” he says. “What can you do when someone’s already on top of you?”
It’s a good question, and one that administrators should discuss as they beef up their driver safety training in the future.

The Numbers
Middle School Bullying
A recent study based on a survey of over 7,000 students in grades 6–10 sheds light on bullying in middle schools. The findings appear online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
  • 33 % of students reported other students had called them mean names, made fun of them, or teased them in a hurtful way.
  • 33 % of students admitted that they had been guilty of bullying other students.
  • 13% of students said others physically bullied them—hit, kicked, pushed, or shoved them.
  • 8% of students reported bullying through computer pictures and messages; 6 percent received bullying messages through cell phones
  • 26% of students reported relational bullying, saying that others had spread rumors about them or ostracized them.
Yes, the Transportation Security Administration searches your bags at the airport. But they have other safety programs you might not be aware of. The School Transportation Security Awareness program prepares administrators and school bus drivers in the event of a school bus hijacking by terrorists.

If such an incident seems like something from an episode of the TV show 24, wait until you watch the TSA’s video, with its ticking-clock sound effects. While a terrorist school bus crisis has never occurred in the US, one can hardly deny that it pays to be prepared. The TSA offers a free DVD of the video, and online self-study modules to any school division or school transportation company that requests it. It’s worth watching.

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