Students aren't ready

Washington state students aren’t ready for new graduation requirements in math, science, speaking, and writing, argues state Superintendent Randy Dorn in the Spokane Spokesman-Review.  The class of ’13 will be required to pass all four state exams, but the new math standards won’t be tested until they’re in 10th grade; science won’t kick in till 11th grade. That’s not enough time to prepare.

I will propose that the 2010 Legislature continue our current math requirement through the class of 2014, and that we have two tiers – “basic” and “proficient” – at which students in the class of 2015 can meet the graduation requirement. . . . Students who achieve proficient complete the requirement, but those who pass at the basic level will have to earn a fourth math credit, which is one more than the state requires.

. . . In science, I will ask that the graduation requirement be delayed until the class of 2017, which is today’s seventh-graders. That will give them time to learn the new standards, and hopefully give our educators time to encourage more science instruction.

The same issue is arising in many states, points out Curriculum Matters.

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  1. The students of the Class of 2017 are today’s fifth graders. It appears that Mr. Dorn has math problems of his own.

    I am a parent of children in Washington State, and we homeschool in part due to the terrible reform math curriculum and standards in our state. The work the kids do in elementary school is repetitive yet lacks rigor; the lack of respect for memorization leads to preteens who still need to draw pictures to solve one-digit multiplication problems. Washington’s achievement problems will not be solved until school districts implement more challenging curriculum and hold the teacher’s accountable for meeting benchmarks similar to those held in high achieving states such as Massachusetts, or better yet, places like Finland, Singapore, or China.

  2. Washington State uses the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) as their primary assessment. This expensive, high-stakes, somewhat subjective test has resulted in teachers spending much of their instructional time teaching to the test – and many student (up to half) still failing the math portion. Fortunately the test is being phased out, but as the article states, students graduating before 2014 still must pass it.

    On a personal note, my own children have had several teachers who have added or changed the math curriculum because they felt that the students would not learn basic skills if they followed it.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    What an absolute crock of shit.

    The students have had 12 years to prepare. It’s not like they are being asked to suddenly do college level work; they are simply being asked to perform work equivalent to the grade level that they ostensibly are thought to have achieved.

    It’s one of the great myths of education that you need to “prepare” for a basic skills test. It’s like the SAT: they key to success is not a “prep” course, the key to success is spending 11 years in school preparing for the test by mastering the skills it tests. You don’t really learn vocabulary by studying 2,500 words in a month and half; you learn it by reading a book a week for 12 years. You don’t learn “reading comprehension” by taking a four week course in test tricks; you learn it by reading a book a week for 12 years.

    What you need for a basic skills test is… dare we say it? Basic skills.

    “Courts have consistently ruled that students must have ample opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge that are being assessed. I’m no lawyer, but assessing new standards when the class of 2013 is already two or three years into high school doesn’t seem like ample time.”

    Well it all depends on what you mean by “the skills and knowledge”, doesn’t it? If by “the skills and knowledge” you mean the very specific language of the standards announced in the test, then of course, there doesn’t seem to be enough time. But then you have to accept that these are two completely separate skills:

    * The skill of being able to multiply two positive integers together

    * The skill of being able to find the product of two non-negative, non-zero whole numbers

    Why do you have to accept this? Because they’re worded differently. Different words, different skills.

    Of course, if you reject this, then all of the sudden the lists of skills and knowledges that accompany all new curricula and testing regimes start to look an awful lot alike. And if they’re an awful lot alike, well, then the students have had PLENTY of time to learn the skills as generally defined.

    What Superintendent Dorn is worried about is that the students DON’T have the skills, and that it’s going to be his ass on the line when the tests show widespread failure.

    Better to kick the failure down the line a couple of years. Give everyone some time to mellow out, and maybe to come up with a new set of standards which, of course, won’t be measured until 8 years after that.

    Either that, or Superintendent Dorn is smarter than I thought: maybe he recognizes that his high schoolers are ignorant disasters of education and that there’s simply no time to teach them all the things they were supposed to have learned in the last 9 years. But of course he can’t SAY that, so instead we get this obviously bullshit story about “fairness”. Meanwhile, he can start working like a dog to get the 5th graders up to snuff. Maybe there’s time enough for them.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    We live in Washington. Our daughter goes to private school. I attended private school for my early elementary years, because in the late 1960’s the Seattle School District implemented “look-say”. No edu-fad is weird enough for Washington. The WASL and Reform Math are simply a logical progression.