Thursday, June 7, 2007

But, my child is getting good grades (remix)

I used to think it would be enough that my children would get good grades. I guess report cards aren’t exactly what I was expecting them to be. My oldest is in fourth grade, and I’m still waiting for “grades”…unless you count “secure” as a grade.

At my children’s elementary school, grades come in three flavors: secure, developing and beginning. Generally, secure is the top 90%, developing is between 70-89%, and beginning is 69% or less.

There is a chasm between secure and beginning, but in the end, it’s designed not to hurt anyone’s feelings. I have to say it does hurt though, when you get 89% and your “grade” is the same as the guy who scored 70%. But hey, at least you know if your kid is “passing” right? Add these to “positive” reviews on their holistic assessments and you’d think you’d have a good idea that your children are learning what they need to know.

When standardized test scores arrive in the mail, they are supposed to provide a way to measure my children’s progress against that of their peers at school and in the state. As long as there is nothing of concern, I used to think I could safely assume that the schools were doing their jobs as educators, hug my kid for being a good student and even pat myself on the back as a parent for a job well done. There would be no need to lose sleep at night because all was well in the world.

Well, sometimes information can be a frightening thing. Like confirming that your state standardized scores don’t mean much at all. That maybe, a high score on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) doesn’t really mean that your child is learning what he or she needs to know. What does it matter that they score “advanced proficient” on the CMT if the rigor of the state test is, in the case of Connecticut, 41 points EASIER than a national test and 45 points easier than our neighbor, Massachusetts?

One of Time Magazine’s most recent issues is taking a look at NCLB, the state testing that it mandated and the effect on education in America. When it comes to the discrepancies in rigor among the states, it’s not a pretty picture.

It shouldn’t surprise me at all. It only confirms what my instincts were telling me all along, and what many experts have been saying for a long time. The CMT, as is the case with almost every other state test, is easier than it should be in order to make it appear that our students are doing well. Schools have to show Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) and if it means lowering the standards, by golly, they are going to show AYP.

It’s not a secret, although administrators might work diligently to convince you otherwise, state standardized scores don’t prove that your child is being educated with the rigor seen in states like Massachusetts, or required for success in the global economy.

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation looks at it in the context of math here (2005):

Moreover, in the context of English, Math, Science, History, and World History here (2006):

Connecticut, has the distinction of earning an “F” for state math standards when compared to other states. Massachusetts, on the other hand, received an “A” for their math standards. This seems to prove that a quality math education can and does exist in the U.S., just NOT in Connecticut.

State standardized test scores don’t mean that changes in the math program are bearing fruit. They only mean that the test is a reflection of dreadful state math standards which in turn are a mirror image of the NCTM’s Principles and Standards. The math curricula, in our case, Everyday Mathematics and CMP2, are chosen because they fit well in this vicious circle of constructivist math ideology.

So, when the school district works diligently to convince you that your child is getting a rigorous education because students are doing well on the state standardized tests, think again. It is all an illusion brought to you by No Child Left Behind, with generous support from your state government and the sponsorship of your local school district.

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