Click on the link below to see the article that Chasinthenews blog has included in its entirety on her blog. It took me on a trip down memory lane and it wasn't a delightful experience. More than two years ago, I wrote an article about the origin of "proficient and advanced" on the WKCE which I learned at a seminar at the WASB convention in 2008. Basically, they gathered a bunch of "experts" in a room and gave them four bookmarks labelled "Minimum, Basic, Proficient and Advanced." They were instructed to place each bookmark at the minimum knowledge base position in a book with increasingly difficult content for each subject for each grade tested with the WKCE. Naturally, everybody's marker spot varied, so they all collaborated on the best placement for these markers. Then they found out that only 10% of Wisconsin students would be considered proficient or advanced with the bar where the experts thought it should be (translation: where the curriculum says it should be). As this would suddenly impinge on their federal funds, they "dumbed down" the categories so that an acceptable number of students were designated proficient or advanced. The cynical amongst us would say that the re-derived criteria is "if you have a pulse."
Now, it's been suggested that I am more than a little cynical myself (NO! It's true). And I may have been heard to say, "It's just a little weird that over 50 percent of our high school graduation class graduates with honors." My personal favorite is, "My kid's GPA is over 3.95 and she's 13/150. My GPA was 3.8 and I was 6/400. I smell grade inflation." There are concrete differences in how high school grades were handled then (prehistory, according to my kids) and now:
1-Everybody got exactly the same amount of time to complete a task. The test was done when time was called . Either you were done or your weren't. Nobody got to come in after school to finish a lab, or complete a test. It's my understanding that college is still run this way. When I discussed this with Principal Everson, he said, "What is better, making sure the student understands the material or having some rigid anachronistic program in place that doesn't teach?" I asked him if he seriously thought parents should shell out thousands of dollars to send their kid to college only to have him or her flunk out because you want to get all touchy-feely-educatory and not teach kids what the realities of college life will be.
2- There are few if any re-dos, either in college or in real life. If you screw up the deadline, your boss will NOT care about your excuse. Having told many an undergraduate my mantra when I taught at University, "I don't care what your excuse is, the homework is due when I say so and the quizzes will be final," I have routinely been taken aback by the myriad chances my kids have to improve their test scores. Math is the most egregious subject, where they get not one, not two but THREE tests per unit to show subject matter mastery. FOR GOD'S SAKE PEOPLE! Who are we testing here? The teacher or the student? ARRGH!
3- People weren't afraid to take challenging classes and "ruin" their grade point average, because you had to have certain classes to get into college. Period, end of discussion. "Underwater basket weaving 101" (what we called "cake" courses back then) wasn't an option.
If your teaching environment does not prepare your students for wherever they will end up, you aren't doing anybody any favors. In fact, this is the whole reason I started this blog. Charles Kettering's quote, "High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation" got me thinking about creating my own blog to address Excellence and/or our district's lack thereof. As I was traipsing through my archive to find my original post and writing on the abysmal state of WKCE testing, I came upon one of my first posts. I discussed that one of my last official acts as a board member was to vote against both the student handbooks, which allow a 1.5 GPA for co-curricular participation, and raising the GPA requirement for NHS membership from 3.5 to 3.6 in policy. Apparently I asked at the board meeting if anybody but me saw the irony in the fact that they wanted to make it HARDER to be a member of NHS while having essentially no standard for co-curricular participation? Why, I went on, did they want to selectively stick it to the smart kids AGAIN? The only person with the gonads to speak to the issue was Everson, who said "Until we standardize our grading scale, it's meaningless to link anything with GPA." Touche. However, it's been two years since that was stated and I still don't think there's been any huge standardization that has happened. If anybody knows otherwise, I'd love to hear about it. From where I sit, they're still floundering in mediocrity. We don't need the NAEP to tell us that.