Getting serious

High school juniors in California will have to pass the state’s graduation exam to get a diploma. This LA Times’ story starts with a familiar refrain: A poor girl might not achieve her dream to be a pediatrician if she can’t pass the math portion of the exam. The implication is that the exam hurts the prospects of low-income minority students. But the Manual Arts High student won’t make it through college, much less medical school, if she doesn’t know enough math to get a 55 percent, the minimum passing score, on a four-choice multiple-choice exam covering sixth through eighth grade math skills.

The story goes on to show that the exam is forcing schools to offer tutoring and Saturday classes, so students can pass the graduation test on their second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth try. The test is motivating students to work harder to improve their math and reading skills. Teachers are paying more attention to teaching the state standards, and they’re keeping track of students’ progress.

Junior Adriana de la Rosa, who grew up in Guatemala and struggles with English, said she would benefit from attention to fundamentals — such as vocabulary development and reading comprehension — rather than from reading “The Odyssey” in her English class.

“That’s why I’m taking the classes on Saturday because I think I need more help with my English,” she said.

. . . Manual Arts teachers and administrators said they were doing all they could to make sure their students were prepared. Among other things, teachers say they closely follow the state’s academic content standards on which the test is based. And school counselors met last month with incoming juniors who failed one or both parts of the test, recruiting the students for the Saturday classes.

. . . Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer said his district’s high schools were trying new approaches to better prepare students for the exit exam.

For example, he said that ninth-grade teachers are now using instruction guides that cover the tested standards, and are assessing students regularly to make sure they are learning.

What a concept!

“I think it’s important to pass it, to see if you’ve been learning for the last [four] years,” said junior Julio Sosa, who failed the math section and now gets after-school algebra tutoring twice a week. “I think I’ll pass it this year.”

With her hopes for medical school, (Edith) Nicolas is eager to improve her algebra skills and is signing up for Saturday classes.

If the graduation exam didn’t exist, these students wouldn’t be trying to learn algebra and wouldn’t have Saturday classes to help them get on track for college. I just don’t understand why “advocates” for disadvantaged students oppose the graduation exam.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. These are NOT hard test. Seriously, if you don’t pass these exams, you really shouldn’t be graduating.

  2. Steve LaBonne says:

    “Teachers are paying more attention to teaching the state standards, and they’re keeping track of students’ progress.” And what exactly was it that they were doing before?? Good Lord.

  3. …grade teachers are now using instruction guides that cover the tested standards,…

    The insane MUST be in charge……..

  4. “It’s not fair if kids are passing all their classes and they can’t graduate because they have failed the test,” said Manual Arts junior Alex Alcaraz, 16, who has to retake the math section.

    What does this tell us about “grading”?

    Forget it. Let’s just give every kid a transcript with all As and a bunch of diplomas at birth. Testing just holds The Children™ back. Only in a society where they are given everything for “free” without the Europpressive barriers of Racist™ “testing” can they achieve their true potential as proletarians.

    ARRRRGH!!

  5. You’re all FASCISTS!!!!!

  6. I guess Mr. Smith doesn’t believe in the issue of being accountable for one’s actions. If I fail tests in classes which I’m enrolled in, it’s MY fault, not the instructor.

    Another thing that people should realize is that college is NOT for everyone, nor should everyone just out of high school attend college. If anyone has doubts about this policy, take a look at what happened at Benedict college back east (historically black student population), and then say if students should be cut some slack?

  7. Bill wrote:

    If I fail tests in classes which I’m enrolled in, it’s MY fault, not the instructor.

    Why? Looking back on my high school tenure I can think of one teacher that was plainly incompetent and another that was suffering from some sort of dementia. Who’s fault is failure in those cases?

    Joanne wrote:

    I just don’t understand why “advocates” for disadvantaged students oppose the graduation exam.

    Is it really that hard to understand?

    Those advocates see the public education system as critical to the creation of a better culture. Catch ’em young and train ’em right.

    As such, the public education system is beyond criticism and anything which endangers the public education system must be ruthlessly destroyed. For the children, of course.

    Testing is clearly that sort of danger. If the test is too rigorous it’ll highlight a poor education system. If it’s worthless enough not to find fault in the education system it’ll beg the question of why such a worthless test is being administered.

    No, much better to obfuscate the issue and escape the no-win situation that testing inevitably leads too.

  8. mike from oregon says:

    Bill –
    I totally agree that all children are not cut out for nor should they be pushed into college. However, being able to pass, at a miserable 55, a test that is asking questions that a 6th thru 8th grader should know is NOT being unreasonable. These kids have supposedly not only passed 6th thru 8th grade but have had 3 more years of education on top of that. If they can’t pass tests that 11 to 13 year olds should be able to pass, then they aren’t really ready to function as functional citizens, are they? 6th to 8th grade stuff? It CAN’T be THAT hard.

    As an aside, I’ve been tutoring my daughter (who is entering high school) in algebra one during the summer. We registered her in school today, they don’t start school until after labor day out here in the west. My daughter completed grade school in a private school. I kept telling her that she was ahead of her public school peers. She looked at her math book today and said that she had learned the first half the book during grades 6,7 and 8th. They barely touched what we’ve been studying until 3/4 through the book, and there is NOTHING in the book that she now doesn’t already know. At least math will be easy this year (I suspect that all the courses will be easy for her).

  9. Texas has had this kind of testing for many years – first it was TEAMS, then TAAS, now TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills). California’s test is like the last test we used, the TAAS, covering concepts taught through 8th grade. At first, the scores were low and the passing rate was lowered to account for the newness of the test, but slowly the bar was lifted and the schools rose to the challenge. Our district had a 95% passing rate for juniors (70% correct was passing) when we phased out that test and moved on to TAKS. TAKS covers what should be learned at the high school level for all graduates – not just college bound ones. For math, it covers Algebra I and Geometry. This year’s seniors are the first ones who have to have passed in order to graduate – our percentages are lower than before, but we are working on ways to help the kids be successful. And since the test covers the concepts we’re supposed to be teaching in high school anyway, we’re teaching the course and teaching to the test at the same time.

    Right now the passing grade is around 50%, and it will slowly be raised. Teachers are having to put in a little more effort, but it is putting all Texas graduates on an evenly measured standard. Kids are having to push themselves, and I think they are leaving high school better educated for it.

    Jill

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    You folks are mean and Mike in Texas will give you what for.

  11. I was totally taken back by the comment “A poor girl might not achieve her dream to be a pediatrician if she can’t pass the math portion of the exam.”

    Isn’t this a good thing? Isn’t this why we have tests? Don’t we want to find out who is capable of doing the work?

    I certainly don’t want a doctor touching my child if they couldn’t get a 55 on a high school math exam! I also don’t want them to be designing bridges I may drive over, I don’t want them to pilot commercial airliners in which I may be a passenger, or have any other profession where lives are at stake.

    It is terrifying how merit has taken a back seat to “feeling good about yourself.” Is it really better to give someone a licence to practice medicine so that they feel good about themselves than it is for that person actually BE ABLE to be a doctor? I am terrified that my child will come home with a math exam with every answer wrong, but a grade of A+ and a comment (written in purple) “Good try! You almost got the right answers.”

  12. bluemount says:

    Allen said >Testing is clearly that sort of danger. If the test is too rigorous it’ll highlight a poor education system. If it’s worthless enough not to find fault in the education system it’ll beg the question of why such a worthless test is being administered.

  13. bluemount says:

    I don’t know why my entire post didn’t show up. But I’m trying again.

    Broad testing is a better test of a system than it is of an individual. The testing is a valid tool of measuring minimal criteria for advancement; but, that does not make it a good measure of human potential. It also doesn’t make it a ‘good’ criteria for advancement. Broad testing is a more valid measure of a school and a better measure of a district. The conflict arises with what corruption will result from administrators attempting to reach that goal.

    It’s fairly public that Texas threw the kids out of school. New York put them in special ed, which they didn’t fund. The teachers don’t want to get their records slimed by teaching poor students. So of the high-handed talk about standards and who deserves, does not address the issue the poor, immigrants and struggling masses so clearly understand – high handed, evil corruption. It cost money to get a good tutor on Saturday and why bother if you don’t need them to meet your numbers. The cost-effective solution is picking cheeries and throwing out the bad apples.

    So while we make the decisions about who deserves to die on the vine. Let’s not forget that the wage of labor in the US has declined to the point it’s unliveable. We can hardly fund teachers who aren’t prepared to wage a meaningful war for the students they aren’t able to reach. Anything less is merely collecting the nations children and sorting.

  14. Mike in Texas says:

    There’s no reason to give Jill what for, I can’t comment on what goes on in Texas high schools b/c I don’t teach high school.

  15. Roger Sweeny says:

    Let’s not forget that the wage of labor in the US has declined to the point it’s unliveable.

    I was surprised to hear that because I thought that millions of people were trying to immigrate to the United States, often undergoing significant sacrifice to do so, even violating the law or paying money to smugglers.

    Perhaps the word simply hasn’t gotten out as to how bad it has become in the USA. But as former immigrants flee America’s unliveable wages and return to their country of origin, they will no doubt tell their countrymen to stay put.

    Housing prices are sure going to take a hit as America becomes a net exporter of people.

  16. mike from oregon says:

    Bluemount –
    You said, “Broad testing is a better test of a system than it is of an individual. The testing is a valid tool of measuring minimal criteria for advancement; but, that does not make it a good measure of human potential.” Well, excuse me, but I thought that was EXACTLY what we were doing, we are measuring a VERY minimum standard. As for your last sentence “…does not make a good measure of human potential.” I have problems with that statement. What is human potential? Basically it is unlimited, we ALL have the ‘potential’ to do whatever we want and have the discipline to achieve. If we have the desire, a really STONG desire, we can usually achieve it. So I’m a bit disturbed by you comments.

    You go on to, I guess, make it sound like society as a whole is out to get the plot against most children. Sorry, society as a whole is out to try to make children ready to become productive citizens. It is bleeding hearts who say, ‘Oh, Johnny shouldn’t have to read a classic like Huck Finn, because it contains bad words, and he might be offended.’ These are the same children that call each other the “N” word in the halls, but would be offended if they read it in a classical novel. These are the same kids who have memorized the offensive rap words to a popular song, but might have their ‘esteem’ hurt if they get a ‘D’ on a test that they didn’t study for.

    Get off your high horse Bluemount and start smelling the coffee.

  17. “Let’s not forget that the wage of labor in the US has declined to the point it’s unliveable.”

    At the risk of piling on (since there was an excellent response already), I can’t figure out if this statement is simply uninformed or bovine scatology. Got more of an argument?

  18. I graduated from the Houston Independent School District in 1986 (from a school I wouldn’t go to today because it has no tracking anymore and I couldn’t take honors classes), after spending my first years in a private school.

    In honors classes, we had pretty good instruction — what I discovered when I went to college was still a bit below the best of the public schools in smaller towns like Norman Oklahoma.

    I had to take the eighth grade competency test in ninth grade since I wasn’t in the system in eighth grade, along with those retaking the exam due to failure. I missed one question on the entire exam (out of 100 questions), and I suspect that was due to carelessness. It wasn’t difficult stuff, and I was horrified that there were people in 11th grade trying to pass this (and these weren’t all new, non-native english speakers or other severely disadvantaged students).

    Of course, in high school they started using district-wide final exams, which were pretty sorry. The only problem there was that they were geared to average classes at best, and written by average teachers at best, so sometimes the honors students would “out-think” the test. (In other words, none of the simplifed MC answers appeared correct due to our more sophisticated understanding of a subject — especially in things like history).

    I remember a question on the bookkeeping exam about how to unplug an adding machine — very sad, indeed.

    Now I teach college students, and even the better seniors are fairly sad in their writing and math skills. We are trying out a comprehensive exam (ETS Major Field Exams) this year, and I’m curious to see how the students do on this exam (no calculators allowed!).

    Liz

  19. Bill, if you looked at my blog, I think you’d know I was joking.

  20. During allen’s long(?) education, someone apparently failed to teach him the difference between “who’s” and “whose”, as well as the proper meaning of the fallacy of “begging the question.”
    I realize the misuse of these terms is commonplace, but it is amusing to observe such misuse when someone is critiquing education.

  21. bluemount says:

    I don’t know how closely you look at the attempts to justify school test results. Usually variations like the number of children on the school lunch program, or the number of students who speak English as a second language are a part of the measurement. The measurement is used to rate the system, the district, the school, the teacher and the student. Why would cultural indication be included in these measures if they were only used to rate the individual? Funding is tied to test scores, and whatever else is measured. Measuring and funding control industry. Education and social services are more vunerable that most to these controls because they have predicatable market and supply. BTW does anyone think business planning in medicine has improved us as a country?

    When the US had a broader industrial base, a high school education and maybe some technical training was adequit for a lifetime job. Now goverments around the world are attempting to keep pace with rapidly changing economies. Most jobs are not lifetime positions, and the hope is society would become lifetime learners. Worldwide governments are dealing with aging populations, unprecedented levels of immigration and regionalized skill. Is it a coincidence that Asian countries that produce more math/science majors than the US and Europe combined would be the new home for programming factories. I wonder which came first the quest for knowledge or the job. The US is attempting to educate a diverse population, while many Asian countries are very choosy.

    The goal of the education industry has changed because society is changing. Measurements control those changes. Your right the tests are really stupid, minimal criteria and worthless measures of excellence. I think people have more potential.

  22. bluemount wrote:

    I don’t know how closely you look at the attempts to justify school test results.

    Once the battle’s been fought and the conclusion reached that, yes, the public does have a right to know if tax dollars are being spent in a way that produces the best education for the broadest range of students then the fall back position for public school advocates becomes to criticize accuracy of the test. If you can’t deter the public from asking whether we’re getting our money’s worth, then attack the means of measurement.

    The goal of the education industry has changed because society is changing.

    See, I think the goal of the education industry has changed because society has allowed it to change. Society accepted the notion that putting the experts in charge and handing them funding and authority would result in an even better education system then the one we were subject too, it’s gradually becoming clear that that notion simply wasn’t true. It turns out that even experts have their own agenda and, left to themselves, experts will find ways to justify a reduction of accountability while calling for more authority and resources. What a suprise.

    Having observed the change, society wants to change a couple of things back.

  23. Bluemount says:

    Allen wrote: It turns out that even experts have their own agenda and, left to themselves, experts will find ways to justify a reduction of accountability while calling for more authority and resources.

    Exactly! Who gave these people authority and resource? What does testing have to do with taking it back? Providing frequent feedback using tests and quizes is a valid teaching tool. National and international standardize testing is a business and marketing ploy. It motivates a large system to produce a repeatable product. While it’s not a bad thing to know what is mass producable, it’s not a goal. There’s a difference between developing the first steam engine and attaching the front right door at GM.

    Why are home schoolers able to produce better test scores than most other education system with minimal effort? I don’t believe the average high school graduate can produce better work than an excellent teacher. I am sure in a education factory the sorting of children applies to teachers, principals, communities and community authorities. Politically we may find social demons to penalized, they are more often the whipping boys of a flowering tyrant.

    The difficult issue is how to govern an industry that consumes mass resources and is best at creating buggy whips. A mill works to be more efficient and every person/thing in a mill must be disposable. It is operated by a chain of managers that are rigorously trained in measuring and firing their way into efficiency. A mill is first a system of mass control and not a teaching machine. The system the public wants back empowered personal achievement.

  24. Well, I’m in the class of people who think that social promotion, self-esteem mantra, and feel-good tactics for education doesn’t help the student and certainly doesn’t prepare them for the real world.

    Students (and parents) should get used to the fact that testing is hear to stay, and is NOT going away anytime in the near future.

    I start a class in computer security tomorrow at the local univ. (I’ve thumbed through the textbook we are using in this class, it seems more like a book on theory as opposed to a combination of theory and practical knowledge), so I don’t know how this class will unfold, but if it’s like many other classes I’ve taken, it shouldn’t be overly hard if you have read the chapter material before walking in the door.

    I have to also agree with Liz, that most high school students who go on to college are woefully prepared for the type of work they need to be doing in class (esp. in math and english), but then again, I remember my first programming class back in 1981 (we handed in on average 2 assignments a week, had a total of 4 exams (inc. midterm and final), and a final project). The students in such a class today would get probably no more than 1/3 to 1/2 the work I did back in 1981 (and I didn’t have the internet to putz around with back then, well, it was all text based stuff on the internet) 🙂

  25. As a former foster parent of many medically “fragile” kids, I got to spend a LOT of time in pediatric ICU. One thing I noted is that meds (non pills) are either injected or added to an IV for infusion. These meds come from the manufacturer in a specific concentration (typically defined) of so many milligrams per cc. The physician prescribes a dose of XX mg every so many hours. It is then the responsibility of the administering nursing staff to calculate the required volume of medication to get the prescribed dosage (milligrams) to administer that will comply with the physician’s directions. Note that if this is a direct injection it ends there. If it is added to an IV, the volume of the IV “carrier solution” and the rate of its infusion also have to be taken into account – MORE MATH! Now this is not difficult math – what I learned as high school math, algebra, ratios, fractions – but IT HAS TO BE RIGHT!

    Therefore – if the referenced “poor girl might not achieve her dream to be a pediatrician if she can’t pass the math portion of the exam.” would YOU want her either prescribing or administering meds to YOUR kid!

    Shameless plug for the RNs at Valley Med – they are extraordinarily caring, competent, and careful people – and I watched them ALWAYS have another nurse double check their calculations to be sure that the numbers were “right”

  26. Exactly! Who gave these people authority and resource? What does testing have to do with taking it back?

    It will tell you the same thing common sense will tell you: people who don’t have to worry about suffering the consequences of doing a lousy job will inevitably end up doing a lousy job.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I would like to differentiate between testing for excellence and international standardize testing. I assume we are not talking about industry standards, which is a completely different subject. I am talking about how to best prepare children to function with today’s society and today’s issues.

    http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international/IntlIndicators/
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2004/pirlspub/12.asp?nav=4

    The US isn’t doing very well. This is a problem for politicians and educators. So an international ‘measure’ causes large machines to react. Do we educate children to help them find a place to function in the world, or do we build a big sorting machine and pick the winners. A machine is only capable of sorting. A teacher is a respository of skill and knowledge with a social goal. An excellent teacher is empowered and successful at achieving social goal. The ‘test’ is a communication tool in the later case.

    What we call ‘testing for excellence’ is actually finding the minimum criteria. How does finding the minimum improve society or eduation. The only thing you could possibly do with identifying the minimum is exclude anything below that measure. So finding the minimum, is only valuable for defining a reason to exclude. Fine. We need to know that. But excellence means finding the best and teaching children to value the difference between the minimal and the best.

    The difference is huge, because understanding there is a goal you don’t always achieve; creates pressures to do your best. A sorting nation of minimal achievers are the cheapest and most efficient, but they aren’t the best. Perhaps the concept of first to market, instead of high quaility gave us the ‘reboot’ strategy of programming excellence. It’s not a good strategy for human societies or children.

    A machine sorts and behaves in a predicatable way. Machines are valuable but the first thing a machine should have is a way to turn it off, brakes, or a safety switch. When we seek the minimal what the machine does with it is not nice, like the eugenics movement of the last century. Unfortunately this is always the potential we are capable of.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/04/29/60minutes/main614728.shtml?CMP=ILC-SearchStories

Trackbacks

  1. Tests as a Condition to Graduation

    Joanne Jacobs takes a good jab at opponents of mandatory testing. What, if anything, and when, if any time, are these kids supposed to learn? The teachers’ union answer appears to be nothing and never.