Monday, January 05, 2009

Do You Remember High School?

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," pondering big questions since 2005! Today's big question: Who cares?

I have commenced my new job as a tutor preparing students for the state's high school proficiency test. You cannot obtain a high school diploma in this state without passing all parts of this test.

In preparation for my duties I've been taking sample HSP tests. And I've come to think that, in order to live in New Jersey, one must be a rocket scientist.

One of the reading samples was Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech. Have you perused that little item lately? A tough slog, even for a T. Rex of a reader like me. As I read it, I kept thinking, "What? Huh? Say again? Hey, Pat, how about using an easier word?"

I'm a college graduate.

Who makes up these tests? Wow, damn good thing I don't have to take the Math portion. I'd lose my high school diploma!

Today I open the floor to you, readers. How hard is too hard? Should a high school graduate be able to read any college-level piece of literature, or is there still some literacy learning to be done at the collegiate level? I vote for the latter. A high school graduate ought to be able to read anything printed in a newspaper, but I don't know about Patrick Henry and Edith Wharton.

Does your state/country have a high school proficiency test?

As of this morning, the fosters Bamp and Bambi seemed a little perkier. Isis must have heard the petitions.


Pom said...

You'd think I'd know the answer to the question considering Mini Me is a freshman in high school - but I don't. I did, however, by her an SAT study guide over the holidays.

When they make these tests too hard, who are they trying to weed out? That's the first thing that comes to my mind...

Shehuntstoo said...

MD now has HSA's to grad...much discussion about waivers and projects and all the kids with IEP's. So....if we need to do all this quesitoning and reworking...maybe they are too hard!
Jessbird is just 12 so who knows what will happen when he's ready to graduate...I can only imagine and get a little worried :)

Happy to hear about the furbabies.

miakoda said...

It's a tough call. On one hand, I've seen from personal experience that our schools here in Indiana are churning out illiterate grads right along with the college-bound. We have a state assessment test, but I think students take it their junior year -- and it certainly doesn't keep anyone from graduating.

Yes, literacy should be expected to take leaps and bounds in college. On the other hand, I believe a high school graduate should be able to comprehend the basic gist of anything but the most florid or techie piece of text, even if it takes them a bit of thought to work it out. It's the method my high school German teacher encouraged -- even if you don't understand every word in the sentence, pick out the ones that seem to be key and try to derive a general meaning, then attack the rest of the sentence from the inside out. I used to use that tactic for tutoring reading comprehension; turned out the kids weren't as "dumb" as they thought they were, they just tended to let themselves be overwhelmed instead of breaking it down into manageable bits. Once they got into the habit of doing that, the comprehension started to improve.

Then again, I suppose you do have to, you know, stay awake while reading all that Wharton and Henry in order to do any comprehending in the first place. Bleh.

THE Michael said...

I attained most of my knowledge AFTER high school, and it wasn't in college, although I did attend some of that. Most of the stuff having nothing to do with math was DUH easy for me, although I believe the pretentious literature stuff has little value in the real world.

sageweb said...

In Washington state they didnt have a test when I was a yound girl..but I think they do now..Maybe too many of us got loose in the world so they thought a test would help.

I think highschool is for the basics and to learn how to socialize, college is for the real learning and to be grown up.

Sarita said...

Well, I was homeschooled, so I'm sort of out of the loop about high school diplomas. I can tell you, though, that here in Oregon we've had to take the CAT - the California Achievement Test. (I still wanna know, why's a California test here in Oregon???) I think that's still mandatory for public schoolers, but not for homeschoolers anymore. Don't quote me on that one, though.

I don't think that there should be college level stuff in a high school test like that. I mean, some people (like yours truly) will be at college level reading in high school. Then again, some (like yours truly in math) won't be. (I was actually behind a few grades, and got placed in remedial math when I got to college...oops.)

Anyways..basically, kids ought to be tested at a level that's reasonable. If they're in high school, then that means they ought to be tested on high school stuff.

Anonymous said...

I agree with miakoda--it IS a tough call. On the one hand, I don't want to see kids who have simply warmed a seat in a high school classroom over the course of three or four years graduate with the same credential--a diploma--that other kids work their fannies off to earn. So a high-stakes test would seem to be one way of separating the seat warmers from those who do work at it. On the other hand, there are many kids (and adults) who are lousy test takers but great at real-life survival (and vice versa--I have both in my family . . .). I don't want to see those who couldn't pass a high-stakes test if their lives depended on it become marginalized as a result of this type of graduation requirement as Pom suggests in her "weeding out" comment.

As a teacher in Washington state, I am required to administer the our high-stakes test each spring (although at the middle school level, where I teach, there's no diploma immediately hingeing on a student's passing the test--but any student who fails any portion of the test would certainly be at risk of failing the test required for graduation, which is given in tenth grade).

I don't even want to get started on the content (inconsistent), length (much too long!), or high cost of the test itself.

Interestingly, Washington state's superintendent of public instruction for the past eight years was just voted out in November in large part, it seems, because of her unflagging support for the test, even as large numbers of students continued to fail. The guy who will be taking her place shortly has promised to ditch the current test and replace it with one that is less of a drain on the state budget and the number of instructional hours available in a school year.

yellowdog granny said...

if your high school student's child is old enough to start kindergarten, and you haven't killed can graduate in texas.

Luna said...

I have rather mixed views on this subject. First, the "college-level" material is on the tests in order, not to "weed out" students who can't perform at a high enough level, but to determine who is performing at an exceptionally high level. The SATs do that as well, and many scholarships are contingent on such results. Second, I think the question, "Are these tests too hard?" is the wrong one; the question we should be asking is, "Are these tests evaluating the appropriate knowledge and skills in the correct way?" While there are differences in these exams state to state, most are high-stakes exams that test only "core" subjects like English and Math in a paper and pen format that flies in the face of all the wisdom we've gained in the last 40 years or so about multiple intelligences, learning styles and whatnot. The problem is that these exams do not even evaluate students in the same way that we teachers evaluate our students -- which is with a variety of assignments addressing a range of abilities, mixing both low and high stake work to properly motivate without overwhelming the students. These tests poorly implement the ed. reforms of the 90s. Instead of increasing electives, schools have slashed them. Instead of making teacher training and professional development more rigorous, it has become easier and more flaccid (I testify to the fact that the Massachusetts teacher test is far easier than the test given to students). Instead of doing the harder work of using long-range evaluations and portfolios, most states have adopted easy-to-grade multiple-choice exams in only a few easy-to-grade subjects. The scholarly literature has been telling us for years that this kind of testing will not only "miss" a lot of the learning that is actually going on but it will also discourage curiosity and learning.

Maeve said...

Many of the issues in high schools could be solved if the colleges would quit lowering their standards just to keep their enrollment numbers up.

A friend of mine works at one college, where she encounters more students every year who cannot do basic multiplication. Literally. They can't do it. A skill I had mastered at the age of 9.

College isn't free. High school is. High schools should be teaching kids with a high standard of expectation for learning the knowledge. Kids should be exiting high school with a well-rounded comprehensive education under their belt. They may not be able to afford to go to college, and they should still have good opportunities in life with the free education they did get.

And so, rather than exit exams, I'd rather see high schools demand students to master the knowledge in each class before "passing" the class. Problem solved. It would mean a return to "flunking" students who hadn't mastered the knowledge, but there are worse things in life than flunking a class.

Things like graduating school and still not knowing how to read or do basic multiplication.