Delenda Est Carthago

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

26.5.08

More education ranting

Don't you just love when I rant about education? Well, then, this one's for you!

It's graduation time around the country, and here in Arizona that means thousands of seniors who didn't pass AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) will get their diploma. If you've followed the news from Arizona (and really, who hasn't?) you might be perplexed, as this year was the first where our state would not allow people to graduate unless they had passed AIMS. Really. This time they were serious. It's not going to happen. Must. Pass. AIMS.

Or, you know, not.

Earlier this year, a representative introduced this bill, which would allow graduating seniors to get a "break." Basically, seniors this year (and probably subsequent years, as this article points out) can "augment" their graduation requirements if they took the AIMS test every time it was offered (but didn't pass) and can substitute good grades in other classes, including electives. The bill, perhaps not surprisingly, sailed through the State Senate with a 22-5 vote (and was signed into law by our governor).

Let's consider this for a moment, without bringing individual cases into it. The graduating class of 2008 is the first one (I think) who has lived with AIMS its entire school lives. Arizona voted for "tougher" standards in 1996, I believe, and since these kids have been in school, they've known they'll have to pass tests on reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Tenth-grade level reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, mind you. AIMS testing commenced in 2001, I'm pretty sure, so these kids were in fifth grade (or thereabouts) when they first took the tests. They get FIVE (5) chances to pass the test. Yet thousands of our "graduating" "seniors" cannot pass a tenth-grade math test even after taking it five times.

Yes, there is such a thing as test anxiety. I understand that. I also understand that there are different ways to learn and express your learning. But this is ridiculous. First, the test has been dumbed down quite a lot over the past few years, once the first few classes to take it did horribly on it. I'm not even sure if it's really "tenth-grade level" anymore. But let's consider people who want to graduate from high school when they can't do math at a tenth-grade level. That's more than just test anxiety. And shouldn't part of our teaching be to get these kids over their test anxiety? Everyone fears tests, but you can be taught to, you know, get the fuck over it. But that would imply toughness on the part of the teachers and students. We can't have that, can we?

I have sympathy for these kids, I do. When I was teaching, we had big problems with AIMS testing. These are kids who have been moved on through grades without showing the least bit of evidence that they've mastered what they're supposed to have mastered. These graduates should not have been allowed to move on until they proved they knew the material. We are not doing them any service by sending them out into the world without basic skills. But does AIMS do that? Some people argue it doesn't. AIMS is a flawed tool, because it does put so many eggs in one basket. It's ridiculous to ignore years of schooling, but the reason AIMS exists is because the standards in school are so lackadaisical. Schools allow kids to move through the grades without making sure they're prepared to do so. AIMS takes national standards and applies them to what kids should know. It's not a terribly difficult test, but it doesn't take into account the many factors that go into the lives of children. I have no idea if the test is "culturally biased," but we do have many kids who have not been in the school system their entire lives, and therefore have not been trained the way they should be. It's frustrating, because the system has failed these kids, but it also falls on these kids and their parents to take the schooling more seriously. I would bet there were more than a few parents who called their schools and whined about their kids not graduating, and the schools (and the legislature) caved.

Arizona could always ditch No Child Left Behind, of course, and then there would be no need for AIMS. Of course, that would mean giving up a whole boatload of federal money ($600 million), and Arizona isn't about to do that. Nor is the legislature going to grow a spine any time soon and make AIMS a true test of students' abilities and hold some kids back if they don't pass it. One of the students who is graduating has failed the math portion of the test five times, yet has a 3.2 GPA and has already been accepted to Arizona State University. I feel for students like this, but is she worthy to go to college if she doesn't know math?

If we add this problem to the ever-increasing use of text messaging lingua franca in school term papers, it's clear that we are sending kids out into the real world with extremely poor skills. Of course, they may force employers to change so that they accept these lowered standards, but what does that say about us all?

Whenever I read about students getting undeserved diplomas, I get sad. We don't care, parents don't care, kids don't care. The few who do battle through, and they change the world. As for the rest - they're cogs in the machinery of society, but as the level of that society sinks, we all suffer. Look at our government, our entertainment, our news broadcasts. Life demands toughness, but nobody wants to be tough. Nobody wants to sit these kids down and tell them they need to study harder and learn how to accept challenges and defeat them. Instead of "everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die," these days it's "everybody wants to be rich, but they just want to win the lottery to get there." That's all we care about anymore. I don't want to be sad, but hearing about graduates who don't know how to read, write, or add depresses me just a bit. Or should I just get over it?

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2 Comments:

Blogger Roger Green said...

My wife's a teacher, so I knpow a lot about testing to the test. Mostly, whether the standards are lowered or not, it seems as though education doesn't encourage Actual Thinking, just tote memorization.
And from my perspective, not enough of what they called "civics". I used to tutor college freshmen in Am. Politics & Govt, and there were two factors in play -1) they didn't read the books and 2) they entered college without the basic knowledge of the three branches of govt, bicameral legislature, etc. And that was 30 years ago.

28/5/08 3:25 AM  
Blogger Roxy said...

What's bicameral legislature?

HA - kidding.

I completely agree, Greg. In fact, those students who I thought deserved a break at the schools where we taught really didn't. And I tried to hold them accountable.

Now that I see these students at the university where I teach, I am AMAZED how many of them are incapable of writing an essay, even when I give two or three examples of how it should be formatted and work through the outline procedure with them. Some of the same strategies I employed teaching 9th graders I am using in college freshman English.

Scary? You bet it is.

See you in PA next month!

28/5/08 7:21 AM  

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