Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Everyone's Not Proficient. Accept it and Move On.

"All students will be proficient in every public school by 2014."

Really? Proficient in math and science? or math and English? or basketball and poetry? In all subjects? In just two? How about Chinese and marketing?

Can all students understand every subject? Is full math knowledge possible - if so, to what level? I think not. This fantasy of Full Proficiency at all things is an educational holy grail, a pipe dream. It's certainly not going to block success in life. Every person learns to work around his limitations and succeed despite them. For some, those limitations have guided them into fulfilling their talents in spectacular fashion.

Certainly, I know hundreds of people who marvel at my math knowledge, marvel that THEY could never understand all that stuff, not realizing how limited my knowledge really is. I can't tell you how poor the writing and grammatical skills are for the population as a whole - even my principal has a degree in English yet is constantly writing things such as "All students THAT are in the building ..." rather than "All students WHO ..." and using "there," "they're" and "their" pretty much randomly. His math abilities rival a 6th grader's, yet he's pulling down a 6-figure income.

Is it possible to be successful in life if you aren't proficient in English and math? It certainly seems to be so.

Could most teachers pass the NY Regents test in math and English? I doubt it. Even some of the high school teachers OF those courses will have difficulties. I know many successful tradesman and managers and businessmen who couldn't come close to passing. Certainly there are vast reaches of this country where English is a foreign language and rarely heard.

Why should anyone care if the SAT scores aren't rising? Why should anyone reform their schools if AYP isn't met? I'm not entirely sure that they CAN consistently rise nor should we expect them to. It isn't possible to be all things. Over the last few years, I have seen story after story of successful schools whose gains have been the result of cheating, playing games, or practice overkill to the exclusion of all else. I don't want to have schools succeed if that's the method they use. Some of the "miracles" are the result of success by elimination - toss the low-scoring students to the curb and the average rises, which works for the remaining ones, I suppose. Private schools do this quite well. Also, those private schools are never tested in the same ways. Force them to "reform" and to submit to testing before you claim that the public schools are inferior.

Shouldn't we be looking to place students appropriately? Shouldn't we question whether ALL students should be taking the test - shouldn't many of them be looking at vo-tech or alternative placements, avoiding the test entirely? Is having 100% of the students proficient at ANYTHING by 2014 even a worthwhile goal or is it not even close to achievable because students are human, and humans are different?

I know that some will start the chorus of "We need twenty-first century teaching for twenty-first century students." This attempt at reform assumes that changing the teaching method will magically make everyone perfect. Like a million other reforms, this one won't work either because you are still dealing with people. You can reform all you like and you'll scratch the surface and ease the itch. You won't cure the patient and you won't make much difference.

Testing is interesting. It's not very useful, though.

1 comment:

  1. Your voice of common sense gets an amen from me. Glad I am retiring in a few years. I'll miss the kids, but not the stupidity and waste of time of much of what happens in our schools.