egregia cum laude - with hysterical praise

The Tribune had a nice article recently regarding results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It is essentially our nation's report card and assesses student knowledge of various subject areas at grades 4, 8, and 12. We covered graduation rates here a few months ago. (Pomp and Circumstance For a Very Few)

"The report found that most of the scores that would label a student proficient on state tests don't yield that grade on the national tests. Montana was one of those states with tests that don't measure up with national tests, according to the report. (Montana State Superintendent) Linda McCulloch said what might be considered "basic" on the national test is considered "proficient" on Montana's CRT tests." (Great Falls Tribune)

I suspect that the Montana educational system decided to set lower state benchmarks so that a greater percentage of students will appear to be "Proficient" in math, reading, science, and writing compared to the rest of the nation. This inflated approach to education does not really help our kids.

When I was in school, you either learned the material in each class and obtained a passing grade or you did not. Grades meant something. It was fairly simple. If you did not pass you had to retake the class in the summer and if you did not pass that you were held back a grade. If you were held back a grade you were considered dumb. That put a fair amount of pressure on the not so smart kids. No one wanted to be publicly declared dumb so these kids usually stepped up their classwork and did the work to pass the class. That system worked fairly well as students had to work hard and actually learn the material to avoid being held back. In order to pass the class, the student needed to change, the class requirements did not.

It turns out, there are no dumb kids anymore. We now have tiered classes; basic and advanced for example. In truth, basic means barely acceptable and advanced means average. Yes, most kids are actually average. Average has become a dirty word it seems. In many classes today it is not uncommon that a third of the children are placed in the 'Honors' class or are considered 'Gifted' Personally I think 'gifted' should be reserved for people who are incredibly smart regardless of disability (i.e. Stephen Hawking) not a dozen of your kid's 5th grade reading class.

Kids are smarter now (just ask them) and as proof, look at their grades. Do you think any of the kids in the Advanced-Gifted-Honors class would ever receive a 'C" grade? No way. These geniuses deserve higher grades. Every student needs to pass and every student needs to feel good about their grade regardless of achievement it seems. I think that teachers get pressure from parents and administrators to give higher grades in order to pass along marginal students. Students are getting more A's than 10 years ago. A+, A, or A- grades were given to 36% of college bound seniors taking the SAT in 1996, compared to 43% of similar college bound students in 2006. Overall grade averages also increased in these groups; 1996 (3.21 average) vs. 2006 (3.33).

Grades are up but performance is down however in some areas. From the National Report Card on 12 grader reading performance, 'With the exception of the score for students performing at the 90th percentile, declines were seen across most of the performance distribution in 2005 as compared to 1992.'

So smart kids may be getting a little smarter (and more attention) but other students are just being allowed to pass along with unearned higher grades and less performance. The outcome of this grade inflation is that a high school diploma does not mean as much as it used to and does not necessarily even assure the student is literate. 'A report released in March 2006, that looked at the reading skills of college-bound students who took the ACT college entrance exam found that only 51 percent were prepared for college-level reading.'

So how do Montana students actually perform in national testing compared to the rest of the nation? State Superintendent Linda McCulloch said the comparison between state and national tests isn't accurate. "When it comes to ACT, SAT, standardized tests or national tests, McCulloch said Montana students do well. We're consistently at the top of all of those tests," she said."

More inflation. In truth, Montana students are actually above average on national tests but not what I would call "consistently at the top". In 2006, Montana ranked 23rd for Average SAT score and 14th for Average ACT score. (Also see NAEP scaled scores for various subjects.)

Montana's educational system does not need to artificially lower the benchmarks in order to look better. It is equivalent to lowering the hoop in basketball. Our test scores indicate we are above average compared to other states. Lets be honest and call a 'B minus' a 'B minus'. We are not quite "gifted" yet.


Anonymous said...

"Montana students are actually above average on national tests"

Might that be due the home or private school students?

Anonymous said...

Hear hear! What a friggin' joke it all is.

The teachers heap praise upon the 'little darlings' regardless of whether they deserve it. Lavish in their flattery, they understand that a proud parent is a happy parent.

And happy parents don't show up at the school and complain.

The kids get hosed, but who cares. More money for teachers!!! Right?

Anonymous said...

Around 1999 or 2000, Elaine Solie-Herman ran for OPI superintendent. She warned the public about Nancy Keenan's plan to revamp the educational system. Elaine had an OPI paper trail in hand. She also had documentation of the Keenan/McCullough plan to hire 100 additional OPI employees to educate educators about the proficiency program.

OPI needed 100 more bureaucrats to promote (sub)standards in education because educators needed to be educated by OPI on ridiculous, ambiguously subjective standards?

The "Proficiency Standards" plan was implemented under the guise of choice. The reason for adopting the rules was under the guise "No board would be forced to implement the standards" but Keenan/McCullough wanted 100 employees to educate educators about using it.

For those who never read the Keenan plan it was the Hillary Rodham-Clinton plan to take over a village.

There were many teachers and parents who fought against the proficiency rules but thanks to lobbyists like Eric Feavor and his union policies non-unionized parents and irritated-dues-paying-teachers were ignored.

Anonymous said...

Then you get to college, where you struggle to get 70% in Biology, but receive an "A" because so many students do so poorly that the professor grades on a curve.