A Local “No Child Gets Ahead”?
My first reaction is to applaud efforts to make high school graduation requirements more stringent, but something in the execution always seems to cloud the picture:
To ensure that a high school diploma in Rhode Island really means a student is prepared to graduate, education officials are developing tougher graduation requirements that would go into effect over the next few years.
Instead of merely requiring that students pass 16 to 20 courses in key areas to complete high school, officials are recommending that students show they have mastered material and skills in three ways:
* Passing a minimum of 20 rigorous courses that align with grade-level expectations developed by the state Department of Education.
* Scoring proficient or better on statewide tests given junior year in English and math.
* Completing two out of the following three: a portfolio, senior project or end-of-course exams.
But doesn’t appear certain to be a “pass all three” requirement:
Education officials are proposing that each of the three areas — courses, tests and project-based work — count toward one-third of a student’s graduation requirements, although they have not worked out what score must be reached in each area. Students who fail to reach proficiency on standardized tests would be given another chance later in their junior year or at the beginning of senior year.
Admittedly, this is largely a gut response (to a program that is still inchoate), but I worry about the particular mix of cookie-cutter curricula and fudge-able measures, such as projects and portfolios. It seems likely to give blame for failures no desk on which squarely to land. The DOE says, “Hey, we developed standards.” The schools say, “Hey, we can’t accomplish things that are beyond our resources.” And the teachers say, “Hey, we’re trying to teach to a test, and that doesn’t work for all students; look how well many of them did on their coursework, portfolios, and projects.”
It gives everybody incentive to achieve good numbers, but no outside judge and no corresponding consequences for poor results. Projects can be little more than fluff if there’s nobody who doesn’t profit from the padding to offer assessment.
It also creates a spreading emphasis on the mediocre. The resources will flow to those who aren’t hitting the metrics, to the detriment of those with greater potential. Note some of the specific suggestions and emphases from this article and from another:
- “More literary assistance” to children reading below grade level by ninth grade.
- Having “supports in place to help students who are struggling.”
- Addressing “inadequate support for urban schools.”
- Launching “a pilot early childhood program for low-income children.”
I’m not saying that children who require additional help shouldn’t receive it, but one never hears so much as lip-service to balancing dwindling funds for the benefit of less-needy students. Families with the resources will send their children to schools with more advanced opportunities (such as gifted and talented programs), and families with advanced children but fewer resources will find not only the opportunities dwindling, but also the interaction with academically comparable peers who happen to be of a higher socioeconomic status.
Readers are likely to recognize a recurring theme in the suggestion, but I’d suggest that two critical steps toward addressing the above concerns are (1) to bust the unions, and (2) to offer some sort of a voucher-like system. The first will make it more difficult for educators to manipulate numbers and apply pressure on requirements. The second will effectively create a group of external judges: the parents who are in a uniquely advantageous position to observe whether scores and grades are associated with a real benefit to their children.