Monday, May 18, 2009

The Broad Brush Misses Sometimes

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" All in all we're just another brick in the wall.

Today at the Vo-Tech the juniors got their High School Proficiency Test scores. Those who passed were cheering out loud, hugging each other, brimming with happiness. You see, it's extremely difficult for the student population at the Vo-Tech to pass that test. The test is a cornerstone of "No Child Left Behind," laden to the plimsol line with tough math and literature exercises.

We don't want to leave any children behind. But I have to wonder what they mean by "behind."

When you figure that there are immigrants who can hardly speak English running convenience stores and making good money, while there are blue-bloods with Ph.D.s driving taxis and hardly making ends meet, what is behind?

When I graduated from high school, there were some graduates in my class who could barely read. So, if you can barely read, are you unemployable?

Suppose a kid starts working at McDonald's at age 15 and shows a good ethic. The kid stays with McDonald's, gets older, moves up to shift manager by age 18. But the same hard-working kid doesn't pass that high school test. Can't get a diploma. What does McDonald's do? Do they fire the kid, keep the kid in the lowest rung, or keep promoting a hard worker? All snobbiness aside, it is possible to earn a middle-class living from a McDonald's restaurant if you own it or manage it, or both.

I am a tutor who helps prepare students for the high school proficiency test. Most of my students will tell you they need the tutoring. And I'm glad to help them improve their reading skills. We are a reading culture after all. For now.

But I have a student who is kind, punctual, and quiet. He's slightly disabled in the lower limbs. And he can hardly read. He says he doesn't like to read. My guess is that this student will struggle mightily to get that high school diploma, if he does get it. He is the child in danger of being left behind. And if he is, that's just a disgrace. It means that we measure students by the correctness of their tests, not the content of their character. Nice means nothing.

I don't know how this could be done, but here's what I think should happen. I think any student who can't pass the standardized testing required for a high school diploma ought to be given the chance to argue his or her case for the sheepskin, mustering any evidence of worthiness. Perhaps a student would fix a broken car or build a shed. Perhaps a student could bring testimonials from employers, pastors, teachers ... I don't know. The devil's in the details.

But I do know that using standardized tests -- The Spare took another one today, and said it was hard -- lets some good apples go to rot in the barrel. Let's expand that high school evaluation to include some intangibles. If you met some of the people I know, you would see what I mean.


Sarita said...

I know that there are alternatives to standardized tests for homeschoolers in Oregon. But, that's only for homeschoolers, and I only know it because I was homeschooled. It'd be nice if alternatives were also provided for public schoolers, too.

You're right, though. Sometimes people who are very smart can't past tests, while those who pass the tests don't really make it in life.

Something does need to change.

democommie said...


IQ tests put me in the 99th percentile as recently as 10 years ago. They mean nothing. Being "test smart" is not at all like dealing with the real world.

I knew a kid who dropped out of school when he was a 10th grader. He worked his ass off doing about three or four different jobs. I didn't see him for a number of years. One day a friend of mine had to have his Jaguar flatbedded to the dealer for about the fourth time because it just kept dying on the highway. When he got to the shop, he ran into the young fellow (we both knew him) and asked him what he was doing there. He announced that he was the facilities manager, asked my friend his problem, made a decision that probably cost his employer some money (and gained him a permanent customer) and smiled while doing so.

A few years later he owned five auto dealerships and was not only successful but was genuinely liked by both his customers and his employees. He treated his employees well and they responded in kind. He died, in his 30's, after landing his private plane. He was found slumped over the controls. I don't know if there's such a thing as dying happy, but if there is I'll bet he did.

This is a guy who would not have made it in the situation you're talking about. That is just sad.

Word verification is "hamboli". Is that some disease you get from eating bad pork?

buddydon said...

tiz a shame we thank how a bidy duz on sum test kin tell ye innythang bout that bidy ceptn how he or she mite do on that test. thays other kinds of knowin thats importunt ...

thankee fer that instructive tale, demcommie!

my wurd fer verification is Iaillo ... is that sumbidys name?

Goat Yoda said...

We were discussing this very thing yesterday- the old paradigm of standardized tests mean 'nothing' in today's society- what with younger's choosing differently focused lifestyles and jobs, money has ceased to be the object it once was.

Both my daughters have this outlook from different perspectives, BUT the big point is that most of our differently raised children have been allowed to make their own choices with the guidance we provide rather than what the public school system says they need. IE: minds are like parachutes.....

These kids seem to have more compassion and awareness in their interactions than the programmed youth of the blissfully unaware masses.

They give me hope for what's coming up next-

harmonyfb said...

Well...I think that everyone who graduates from high school should be able to read well enough to engage in normal communication. They should be able to read and understand a newspaper, be able to write a letter, be able to glean information from an article or story. High school graduates should be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide. They should be able to balance a checkbook and figure tax or tip. They should be able to understand how to apply measurements to real-world situations (ie, how much carpet do I need to buy to re-carpet the living room?)

But I think the problem is that they're expecting students whose reading will always be minimal, or whose math will never involve abstract numbers to pass tests designed for students who will go on to study Literature or Statistics in college.

When my parents went to high school, there were different tracks for students - vocational, college-bound, etc. Where I live, the schools seem to be heading back that way, with different magnet programs for the college-bound (my oldest is in the Arts Magnet), and trade/vocational programs (which include internships in the trade they're learning, and often are structured to allow the student to be able to hold a job while finishing high school.)

wordwitch said...

Anne, I co-taught a remedial reading class in Tucson once and I LOVED the teacher's approach - find something the student is interested in...ANYTHING (fantasy, sci-fi, romance, thrillers...), and get them reading that. Any reading helps increase cognition. Maybe your student is interested in dogs, or the space shuttle, or tree frogs? Sometimes it just takes interest to help improve ability.


dawtch said...

I also think the "standardized tests" have decreased the knowledge our children are gaining in school. Because the school is held to a standard, and that is determined by how well the children do on the tests, school are now forced to "teach the test." This leads to our children missing many lessons, many things, because they aren't on the test.
One the most common examples is the name "Hess." It was my last name for a while. When introducing myself, I would occasionally joke, when asked for the spelling(which question in itself is rather mystifying...) "You know, like Uncle Rudolph..?" The number of blank stares I received after that comment was absolutely astounding! 9.5 people had no idea what I was referring to. Something that BIG, that happened less than 70 years ago - there are still people alive now that lived then - and no clue..? How scary is that..?
I'm just sayin'...

yellowdog granny said...

which is why i bet you enjoyed my post on budda_girl winning teacher of the year award...who teaches the old fashioned way...