Friday, November 7, 2008

Setting the Goalposts for Graduation

Everyone agrees that school board members should not be micro-managing the daily operation of the school district but it is their obligation to set graduation requirements. Rather than arguing on how best to educate our children, we should be setting academic goals for seniors and then work backwards all the way to first grade to ensure that, by the time our students reach their senior year, they’re capable of reaching those goals.

The current graduation requirements are set to the statutory minimum – pass the HSPA (or the Student Review Assessment), complete 130 credits, and comply with all attendance and curriculum requirements.

The curriculum requirements are:

  • English (Language Arts Literacy)- 20 credits
  • United States History - 10 credits (Class of 2011 – 12.5 Credits)
  • World Cultures (World History) - 5 credits
  • Mathematics - 15 credits
  • Science - 15-18 credits
  • Visual Arts or Performing Arts - 5 credits
  • Practical Arts - 5 credits
  • Computer Education - 5 credits
  • World Languages - 10 credits
  • Physical Education/Health - 4-5 credits per year
For all grade levels, the minimum number of attempted credits per year is thirty-five (35). Credits are based upon the number of periods per week and per year that courses meet. Chorus/Lunch and Band/Lunch does not apply credits toward this minimum.

Special Education students may be exempt from the above by virtue of the Individual Educational Plan (IEP).

The standards are too low.

We should increase the credit requirements and then weight honors classes to create an incentive for students to enroll in challenging courses.

Of the 140 credits taken by graduation, 20 are for gym, 90 fulfill course requirements, and the remaining 30 are at the student’s discretion. Once again, considering the low percentage of students pursuing a competitive college, there’s too much incentive to reach for the easiest classes. We should require mastery in at least one subject area.

Two years of a foreign language is woefully insufficient. Instead of setting a credit requirement, we should require students pass a language proficiency exam just as they need to pass the HSPA exam. Also, in-depth foreign language instruction should begin at an earlier age when children are more susceptible.

However, all this is for naught so long as teachers are allowed to set the bar for what constitutes an education. It is the board’s job, not the teachers’, to determine minimum requirements.

I have written previously of grade inflation (how else to explain roughly a third of seniors failed a HSPA exam) but now I have seen firsthand evidence.

Recently, the school administration allowed me to review the final exam questions for 2007-08 twelfth grade English. The last time I had seen such exams was in the eighth grade.

Let’s take the English IV Honors Final Exam. It consists of 124 multiple choice questions, 11 match-this-to-that questions, 2 short answer questions, and ONE essay.

What the heck? One essay? When I was in high school, all we did was write essays. In my four years, I never saw a single multiple choice question in any English class. I wasn’t tested on whether I read the Cliff Notes. I was tested on my ability to write about great works of literature and other persuasive essays.

I had essay topics like “Religious Symbolism in Moby Dick” or “Macbeth’s Battle against Fate” and had to identify underlying themes, conflict, symbolism, character development, and the watershed moments. I remember writing a paper in the tenth grade opposing euthanasia. In high school English, we had to write and write and write.

English isn’t about memorizing Orwellian terms. It’s about the ability to appreciate great works of literature and the ability to express yourself through writing. If the senior honors class is only testing for reading comprehension, it’s no wonder so many of our students can’t pass the HSPA Language Arts Literacy exam.

I wasn’t allowed to review final exams for any of the other classes but I believe they’re on a similar level. Teachers are dumbing down the exams to fit their preconceived notions of what the students are capable of achieving. Our academic standards will never rise above our testing standards. Final exams need to reflect our community's high expectations.

Our varsity baseball team plays hardball, not softball. Our varsity football team plays tackle, not two-hand touch. Our students will never achieve academic excellence unless they’re challenged to do so and we, as a community, need to stop pretending otherwise. >>> Read more!


Anonymous said...

How much of this is due to the fact that teachers are forced to "teach to the test" for state testing?

Teachers would probably love to be able to teach more in depth on subjects, get the kids thinking and challenging them on more than how to answer a set of standard questions and fill in an oval. But when they are forced to teach to the test, there isn't much room for anything else.

I believe that state testing is one of the downfalls of this district.

Teaching to the tests doesn't allow for increasing critical thinking and being given the ability to teach kids in different ways so that they can all "get it".

I'm sure the teachers would love to be able to teach their subjects without the state testing looming over them.

I do believe that our district can do better. I also believe, contrary to the "start at high school and work backwards" idea, that they should start at 1st grade and work up. Not that we should write off the other kids, but changing the rules on an 11th grader who is due to graduate in 1 year just isn't fair. How on earth would they ever gain the credits or classes if the requirements for graduation were changed on them at the last minute?

How many of those kids would wake up, realize they couldn't possibly graduate on time and just drop out?

At the very most, start the changes for next year's going-into-sixth-graders, so they can start fresh with new rules, and work in both directions.

Aberdeener said...

I don't care for the state standardized testing either.

As for everything else, no reason we can't phase it in over a four-year period.

Anonymous said...

This approach to increase standards seems to be the most logical yet. You are correct about the pretending and if it doesn't stop nothing will change. Have you expressed this theory to either the barza or elitist wings of the board, and what has been the reaction.

Anonymous said...

The creation of the exams was an attempt to ensure that all students were receiving the same instruction in all classes. What it did accomplish was to make certain that all kids left similar classed eg. English 1 with the same information. The Aberdeeners assertion that the exams are fluff is correct. Unfortunatly, the exams were constructed for grading expediencey. Not the best method, but at least someone saw the need for consistency. So hats off to the people who created consistent exams. It is now time to move on to the next level.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of children in both the higher grades and the lower grades, it has always ANNOYED me that whenever new teaching standards are put into place, they are ONLY there for the younger grades. Why shouldn't my older children benefit from being taught at a higher level? Standards can always be raised at every level of education. Teach to a higher level, assign they do more, and expect them to do more. If necessary, I would rather my child take extra courses, summer courses, or even be held back a year if it were necessary. Are these kids just to be forgotten about? Sorry, too old, we've given up on you. I'm for raising the standards at every level.

Anonymous said...

More of Quinn's legacy !

Board members leaked info on the Bayshore Jointure and outraged parents to hide the real issue.

We are overpaying! Are you surprised?

The children and taxpayers of Matawan and Aberdeen are getting ripped off!

Anonymous said...

I applaud your commitment to to your child's education,however I rmember the moms in A&P who were incensed that the school had the nerve to expect their children to read over the summer. The comment was something like, Over my dead body-summer is supposed to be fun and I'm not making my kid read. They better not think they are going to punish him in September if he doesn't do that stupid assignment.

Aberdeener said...

The BOE and the administration are excruciatingly aware of my positions. For the most part, they seem divided between those who feel I'm asking for too much and those who feel they wouldn't have the community's support.

I believe the vast majority of parents would support the higher standards if they understood our school system's poor state.

Anonymous said...

The JOB of the BOARD OF EDUCATION, is to put into place standards to assure our children receive a QUALITY EDUCATION. If they claim to be leaders, that should be their 1ST Priority. If a handful of mothers object, it should be their children that suffer. Why should every child suffer, why should my children suffer because some parents don't have their children read a book. That is Absurd!

The Board of Education should remember what they are there to do. Their concern is education.
And I agree with the Aberdeener, I think more parents would be in support of higher standards if they realized how far behind our students are in comparison to other districts.

If the board of educatin members are concerned more with recreation, let them go apply for a job with the recreation department.

And yes, I have my children read several books over the summer, and I have them do a project AS IF it counts. I know it is not being graded, they know it is not being graded. My lesson to them is: you have to work in life to achieve success. Too bad they have to learn this lesson without any suppport from the school district.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of a 2003 graduate of MRHS who has since then graduated with a double major in psychology, communications with a minor in sociology from Douglas College/Rutgers.

The pride I have is of course overwhelming along with the monthly payment for same, which of course will last far longer than the years in school to accomplish.

As I am writing this the bobbleheads behind the news desk just announced that the US Capitol Visitors Center just opened, opened of course behind schedule and over budget by over 100% at $617 million dollars. And we wonder why?????????people have no faith in government much less our elected officials.

While my daughter was a very good student when she had been at college several months I asked her how she was doing? She immediately responded she was not prepared for college.

My youngest daughter presently in MRHS is two years away from college and she is in mostly honors courses and doing well. But with the economic situation moneys to enable her to attend a good school will be even tighter as well as schools requirements and available slots.

As an average student during my education I do fear for the average students of today who seemed to be instructed just to pass but not to be prepared.

Changes on a very broad scale must come.

Look to foreign countries and their length of the school day, school year and more. Look to our schools on weekends when they are rented out for additional schooling by religious and ethnic groups.

The answers are all around us.

Anonymous said...

Nsection, I agree with many of the points you make. Yes, the middle range students are suffering the most, since they are not being pushed to achieve higher. But even the advanced proficient students, which we have few of, aren't being properly prepared for college. If it only requires a student to acheive 70-75% on a state test to be considered advanced proficient, it is not saying much. Knowledge of 50% is considered proficient.

I don't believe when states set minimum education standards, they were to be considered the goal for a school to set. Actual school standards should be much higher. Then, the greater majority of our students would be much better prepared, and even those on the lower end of the spectrum would at least be achieving proficiency.

And if you want to discuss foreign countries, in their system, the money follows the child. If a school is not preforming to standards, the parent has the choice to place the child in whatever school they want, with that money. Knowing many from foreign countries, I can tell you, they laugh at the low standards we have in this country.

Only here, especially in MARSD, do we spend money, without high expectations of preformance from our school system. When children do poorly here, this school district blames everyone but themselves; they blame "No Child Left Behind", they blame economically disadvantaged, they blame minorities. No one wants to be held accountable for doing their job. Not administrators, not teachers, and yes, not parents either.

Teach to a higher level, assign more challenging work, and hold everyone responsible. Why don't we start there!

Anonymous said...

Well said, right to the point, but why can't our voices be heard. This administration is looking at things from the bottom up and spending a lot of money. The board feels either we are asking for too much or this is not what the community wants, so they are useless. So how do we get them to implement this change before its too late for our children. No one in authority believes we have this problem.

Anonymous said...

Than it's time to change the authority. Unfortunately, there are those who seem to have a strangle hold on the vote.