To say I was a weak math student is a little like saying Hitler was a bad guy. Math teachers worked with me after class, my parents tutored me and I’d think I understood how to use the Point-Slope Formula to calculate something or other. Then I’d take a test and find out otherwise.
I never flunked a class but that was only because back in the 70s my math teachers must have assured themselves I was never going to design bridges – at least none they would drive on – and they held their noses to pass me. Had I needed to earn a proficient rating in math to graduate, I’d currently be the oldest living high school senior.
Yet, remarkably all my life I’ve found work that I could do without higher level math. This isn’t to brag about my ignorance; it’s a plea for reason in the face of the deadline under No Child Left Behind that all children be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
On Sunday, The Morning Call published the local results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment showing more schools failed to make “adequate yearly progress” under the law. That’s partly because the state has again raised the bar on what percentage of students must earn proficient scores. Some schools, including a few in Bethlehem, East Penn and Parkland, met overall goals but still got failing grades because not enough of their special education students were deemed proficient.
All but the most developmentally disabled students take the regular PSSA. I’ve seen sample problems on the math PSSAs and my question is this: If students in special education can do these problems, what are they doing in special ed?
The Obama Administration recently rolled out new guidelines that would allow states to apply for waivers for parts of No Child Left Behind so long as they adopt certain reform measures, including closing schools with low standardized test scores, turning them into charters or firing the principal. That’s like holding a dentist responsible for your cavities when he can’t control how often you brush or floss. It still gives too much credence to standardized test scores.
Local school boards and administrators are better able to decide if a principal is good at his or her job than someone in Washington looking at a handful of numbers.
Accepting that not all students are going to be good at higher level math and reading is not an invitation to dumb down curriculum. Curriculums have been dumbed down plenty. Under high stakes testing, teachers must stay on lessons tied to the test until every kid gets it – an approach that leaves good math students bored to death.
Meanwhile, teachers and administrators fearing for their jobs start practice tests months in advance – crowding out lessons and classes that broaden the curriculum. You never know what subject is going to catch fire with a student, leading to a lifelong passion and career.
PSSAs should be just one tool in the educational tool box; we need to stop using them as a hammer.