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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Whose Standards Will It Be?

Merryl Tisch reported the other day that the NY Regents will consider allowing high-school students to choose four areas of proficiency for State tests, obtaining grades of  65 or above, instead of the current five in place since 2012 for graduation (Global and U.S History, Math, English and Science).  Students could opt out of their fifth exam by replacing it with an assessment in some subject matter more relevant to their interests or strengths.

At initial glance, it seems ironic.  Tisch offers some leniency at the same time as the State is "raising standards" to the point of failing 65% of NY's 3rd-8th grade population via the Common Core.  I would actually prefer that the Regents first offer some leniency to children of more tender years.  By the time a kid reaches high school, the Common Core may already have led to academic slaughter and much gross psychological damage.

If I were to consider Tisch's proposal in a vacuum, I'd be more likely to find it favorable.  In the days of yore, high-school students could get a local diploma, as opposed to the Regents diploma, with a 55 or above on their exams.  It seems that this plan--which seemed to work well for many years--is no longer on the table.  Given that, I would like schools to favor students' interests or strengths.  After all, how many of us utilize most of what we learned in high school later on in life?  I don't foresee using much of what I learned in high school again until my girls begin to ask dreaded questions like "Mommy, can you explain the Kreb's cycle to me?"  

I think Tisch must guard against students naturally taking the path of least resistance though.  Looking back, if I knew there were no repercussions, I would probably have chosen tests in the two histories, English and Living Environment (old-time biology).  But without that option, I took Regents in math, foreign language, Earth Science, Chemistry and Physics.  Because I had to, I became a little scholar.

I hope any new system encourages kids to take on a broad array of challenging subjects, but I also hope it allows those who do not take tests well or lack interest in one subject or another to move on in life.  After all, some kid may not be good in Global History, but he may possess technical skills that might be the envy of many a scholar.  And in the end, I need the services of an electrician, but the electrician may not need the services of a history teacher. 

The one thing that leaves me really uneasy is that these reforms are being hammered out at the same time as teachers are being hammered by other reforms.  I envision scenarios where it might help or hurt the evaluation of teachers.  I foresee that many students may take one exam, let's say Global, and blow it off, knowing full well that they'll opt for an alternate assessment in another subject area.  So, they'll be all smiles, marching along to get their diploma.  Nice, right?  Nice, that is, until the following September when I get my HEDI score clearly proving my ineptitude!  I could be forced to march out the door, no smiles, just more "standards" concocted to fail teachers.   

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