I read an interesting article in the Providence Journal the other day. It seems the education commissioner is a tad miffed. I’ll explain for those of you who aren’t from the New England area. Deborah Gist was brought in to fix the problem of failing national test scores we are having in Rhode Island. Many of our students do not meet graduation requirements or do not graduate from high school. When they do graduate, they are not adequately prepared for college and some have to take remedial courses once they get there. Also, many are not prepared for real world jobs.
There are many facets and layers to this story. I would like to concentrate on just one. Ms. Gist decided to overhaul the entire teacher evaluation system as well as the grading and promotion system in Rhode Island. First, she created more stringent and some would argue just plain silly evaluation procedures in order for teachers to keep their jobs. Student progress (on standardized tests) is directly related to a teacher’s ability to retain her job. Obviously, this is a “silly” notion and she should know better than to think all students perform well on standardized tests.
Additionally, she decided to make passing these standardized tests a high school graduation requirement for students. Now, I have seen first hand the way these changes have affected my daughter. She is in fourth grade which is one of the benchmark testing years. Her teacher is hardly ever in the classroom–not because she’s sick–because she is constantly at meetings or seminars etc. regarding the new standards. Also, many class hours are dedicated to “teaching to the test.” I can’t blame the schools–they want high performance. I can’t blame the teachers–they need their jobs. I can place a bit of blame on the “commish”. I just cannot believe she doesn’t get that a one size fits all test does not work for every student since we all learn differently. I agree that something needs to be done, but I don’t agree that this is the avenue in which it should be pursued.
A group of adults, many of whom are current or former educators, decided to take the math NECAP under the time constraints. They reported their results last week. Many said that they felt frustrated with the minutia of the material. Some questioned the notion that “sine, cosine, and tangent” is still relevant. All agreed that the test seemed difficult–even for a bunch of educated adults– and they wondered how high school juniors were expected to master this irrelevant material in time for the test. They wondered how teachers were supposed to teach this in addition to the other math material that is required curriculum. They made some very valid arguments. The commissioner was upset. She called the adults “irresponsible” and said that it sent the wrong message to students. I couldn’t agree less. These educated adults proved that knowledge of this trivial nonsense in no way represents a student’s intelligence level or whether or not the student is fit to graduate high school. Maybe it’s time for us to get back to basics. Maybe Basic Math should be re-instituted instead of the “everybody takes Algebra” motto. No. Not everyone can or should go to college. Not everyone can do Algebra. Not everyone can be a doctor. But, everyone needs to know how to write a check, balance a checkbook, figure out decimals and percentages. Part of me is very glad I got out of Education, but I have two kids going through the system. We need to get it back to the time when people of a certain age went to school. You memorized certain things like multiplication tables and grammar rules. You behaved or you were sent to the principal (and it meant something). Your parents backed the school instead of you. Teachers were there to teach and not entertain you. No one was afraid of the ACLU or a lawsuit because the teacher hurt the student’s feelings. Today’s doctors and lawyers and such are not of the same intellectual caliber of yesteryear’s, that’s for sure. We should stop trying to re-invent the wheel. Kids go to school to learn. Teachers go to school to teach. Standardized tests measure one thing and one thing only: your ability to take a standardized test. Period. Maybe the commissioner should take step back and re-evaluate this new system.