Q. I've heard that achievement test scores in Kern County are not as high as test scores elsewhere - should I be concerned about the quality of education my child is getting in our school district?

A. There are children in every school district who do poorly, and there are children in every school district who do very well academically. What accounts for this? Research has shown that in general, academic successes and failures have less to do with the school district or individual teacher than with a child's motivation to succeed. Except for children who are handicapped or who are lower functioning intellectually, any child can succeed academically, regardless of a child's ethnicity, family income, family situation, etc., if the child will attend school regularly and follow the teacher's directions. Parents are as responsible as teachers for instilling in a child the importance of following teacher directions, completing assigned work, and getting along with other children. A child who comes to class "ready to learn" will be more be successful than a child doesn't follow directions, doesn't complete work, and doesn't interact well with other children. Getting a child "ready to learn" and engaged in the academic process is one of the most important responsibilities a parent has. The bottom line is that, regardless of where a child goes to school, parenting practices make the most difference in whether or not a child succeeds academically.

Q. What should I do if my child is not working up to his/her capability?

A. Request a conference with your child's teacher to pinpoint the nature of the problem. Find out if your child does not understand the work, or if your child understands the work but cannot do the work fluently, or if your child is capable of doing the work, but is simply choosing not to. These are very different problems. If your child doesn't understand the work, the teacher should tell you specifically what your child doesn't understand, and how you can help your child at home acquire the skills. Helping your child understand the material at home will help the teacher at school. If your child can perform the skill, but does not do so fluently, your child may just need practice at home performing the skill. Examples are reading, working math problems, and writing. On the other hand, a child who is capable of doing the work but is choosing not to needs to be handled differently, via a behavior management plan. Any parent who has concerns about his/her child's academic progress may request, via the child's teacher or principal, a Student Assistance Team (SAT) meeting to discuss the issue.