How high should we set the bar? How good is good enough – especially in a world where 40% of HS graduates need remediation in college? That leads directly to a practical question of great (and current) significance that is overlooked at present: What is a valid and helpful local grading system in terms of its links to national and state standards?
We are now knee-deep in this question, thanks to the recent release of the Common-Core-calibrated New York State test results (and some of the hysterical reactions to them).
I want to remind everyone that this is hardly a new challenge. Setting levels or cut scores has been a problem to tackle since the advent of K-12 formal schooling demanded that it mesh with college entrance standards almost 90 years ago. The SAT, ACT, AP and IB programs were created to help with this issue. Benjamin Bloom saw the need to consider this issue squarely and always addressed it when discussing his Mastery Learning system over 45 years ago. Every teacher either faces the issue or finesses it in one way or another: how should I assess and give feedback to learners to fully prepare them for a world and its standards beyond my classroom?
Here is my standard for addressing this problem. Regardless of what solution we come up with, it must pass the following test: No surprises and complete transparency as to where the student stands must be our motto and criterion as assessors locally. We owe each student the facts as to where he or she might place in terms of wider-world standards. Ideally, students know where they stand BEFORE they take an external test. In such a system, the test confirms what they and we already know  – as now often happens pretty well in sports and performance arts.
All you have to do is think of a young and locally-schooled teacher giving a B+ to one of her “better” students in the worst school in the state to see that this ends up unfair to kids, once the state test is taken and the disappointing scores are returned.
A model case: track and field
We can see the challenge and the possible solution more clearly by shifting to what is arguably a clear and worthy model for study: track and field.
My daughter ran track in high school and did “really well” in the 1600 meter run. How do I know she did “really well”? Because she was the number one runner on her high school team. She was only beaten once in three years. And she received all A’s in track.
Uh, but Grant: but maybe the team as a whole is ‘not great’ and her performance is ‘really’ not so great in the grand scheme of things – like the B student in the bad school.
OK, then, I can go further: she won her league championship in the mile! So, she was ranked #1 in her league, as the national school and college track and field website shows:

So? Maybe the league is not very good as a whole; maybe she is a great runner in a bush league. Maybe she is like that B+ student in a city of poor schools. After all, being #1 in the League is still  a norm-referenced rank.  Norms are not standards. She just happens to be better than a small sample of other runners in small schools. We still don’t have a big enough sample or, better yet, a criterion-referenced way to validly evaluate her performance level.
Ouch! Indeed, her league was composed of small and similar schools. And, yes, not far away in Camden NJ, there are students currently getting B’s in their local ‘league’ of district schools but who just found out on NJ tests that they are not doing “excellent” work. So, OK, I accept the challenge: let’s consider how good she really is.
Fortunately, in track we have a precise and uncontroversial criterion of performance: her times. The times she ran take this argument beyond simplistic norms, subjectivity, and parental anecdotes. So, we note that Cilla ran a 5:12 in the league championship and that it was her best time of the season. So, now we want to know: is 5:12 a “really good” time? A “great” time? Or a “so-so” time? i.e. Does it meet, exceed or fall short of “a standard”? Is she deserving of a college scholarship or not? Could she get into a top-tier program in running or not?
This is precisely the issue now before us in New York. The levels of performance have been made stiffer. The state has proposed that it should now take a much better score for someone to be considered “good” in learning. And, in theory, it is meant to do a better job of linking to wider-world standards (since the remediation rate of students with good grades in the state was way too high.)
So, how does this level setting work in running?
Good, compared to…
When we head back to the track website and look at all the results for the year, what do we find?
Let’s first compare her performance across a larger population of leagues to take our first cut at the skeptic’s argument. We can look statewide and find a rich and clarifying (though still norm-referenced) assessment. In the state of Pennsylvania we now see she ranks fairly high:

53rd statewide is intuitively “pretty good” for a performance of thousands of runner in a populous state – but a far cry from #1 in her league. And it is still only a norm-referenced ranking.  But this is like a state test: seeing how you did state-wide. I presume that being 53rd of all test takers in all the state’s schools would earn her a highly-successful score.
So if the #53 runner runs the 1600 in 5:12, what does the #1 runner run it in? The #1 runner in PA ran 4:53. Wow – under 5 minutes. Even laypersons can sense that this is pretty fast. So, we might say that Cilla’s time now doesn’t look quite as excellent as it once did. Her performance is surely “pretty good” but it may or may not be “up to the highest standard.”
Let’s look at my daughter’s times and rank in the nation as a whole:

765: A very far cry from #1!! But, again, this is just a ranking. We want to establish criteria for evaluating how “good” or “bad” such a performance is.
The #1 HS female runner in the country ran 4:40 in the event:

As for the dangers of mere ranks, note that the times of  the runners are very close together – only milliseconds separate dozens of runners and only a few seconds separate hundreds of runners. This is a good example of why you should NEVER trust mere rankings by themselves, such as in the US News & World Report school and college rankings, or grade students on an informal or formal curve locally.
We now need to face our cut-score challenge squarely. We know the norms; what should be the standards? What is a valid cut score for determining who is “really” fast? Cut scores – such as the 4 levels in New York – should be done in ways that make us confident in our ability to say: regardless of your rank or your raw score, the levels should correspond to valid levels of performance. If the test says you are “proficient” then you should genuinely be proficient in the wider world – that’s what the Common Core is all about, making and keeping that promise in its assessments. UPDATE: here is a first-person account of a teacher helping to set the level in NYS.
Ensuring that standards are reasonable and transparent
However, this is what we should all be doing as teachers, too, when deciding all student grades. Right now, however, the cut score for passing locally is totally arbitrary, an artifact of arithmetic, not assessment validity: a 59 fails and a 60 passes just ’cause of the math. No attempt is made to ensure that 60 is in fact “acceptable” work and thus a valid level, and that 59 really does, therefore reflect “sub-standard” work. Rather, what we do now in our grading is just count errors on a test that may or may not be valid, subtract from 100, calculate the score, turn it into a letter grade, and call it a day. This is arguably a far bigger problem, and one of very long standing, than New York changing its cut scores (levels) to align with college readiness.
In track, there is national agreement on the cut scores for excellence. On the web site we get a critical piece of information at the top and bottom of each page: the site notes whether a runner is in the “first tier” or the “second tier” of “elite” runners.

So, Cilla is in the 2nd team of “elite” runners – a standards-based evaluation made by expert judges who translate “norms” into “standards” somehow. Presumably, it is based on their experience in all kinds of track and field programs (but no details are provided about the source of the judgment on the site). And our hunch is confirmed: US First Team Elite “really fast” runners can run the mile in under 5 minutes.
Counting both first and second team elite runners, by the way, the resulting % of elite runners is about 25% of all HS runners – which is pretty close to the new state average scores in New York at levels 3 and 4 (31%). So, in theory – leaving aside issues of the implementation of new tests, funding, teacher training, leadership in schools, etc. – what the new tests are doing in terms of leveling is reasonable (though we need to know more about the validity studies being used in NY and in the two Consortia).
What does it mean to say she is in the 2nd team of elite runners?  Clearly, Cilla is “proficient.” But is that “good enough”? Well, it depends – upon her aspirations.
Linking our standards to appropriate wider-world standards
Let’s look at college results. Cilla wished to apply to 2 colleges in the Division I Patriot league. Minor problem: most colleges run the 1500 meters, so we have to translate her times. If you run a 5:12 in the 1600 you can run the 1500m in around 5:01. (There are calculators on the site for doing the translations.) Here are the league results from that year for the 1500:

If her aim was to run Division One track, in the Patriot League or its equivalent,  then she looked pretty strong: her time (which translates to 5:01, recall) would have put her 31st in the league championship. But if she wanted to go to Bucknell or Lehigh specifically? Lots of people were ahead of her; she was not likely to get a scholarship or be on the Varsity.
If she wished to apply to a college in the Southeastern Conference, her chances of running the 1500 were even slimmer:

She would rank #72 overall and have had no chance at Tennessee or Miss. State.
But if her aim was to run Division III, she would have been a highly desirable candidate: her  time would have given her 25th place in the Division III national championships. (Indeed, numerous D3 coaches wanted her to come to their schools.)
So, what should we conclude?
Three things: One, what the new tests are doing is reasonable, even if there is ugliness in the moment. Two, there is no such thing as ONE standard, even in a national test. There are as many standards as there are different kinds of destinations and aspirations (e.g. Division One, Two, and Three). And, three, local grading systems are a scandal: they provide no frame of reference that is consistent across teachers and schools, is intellectually defensible, and is transparent. If the mantra is No surprises and complete transparency as to where you stand, local grading is (and has long been) a far bigger problem than any new test or cut score, in my view.
I will follow this post next time with a look at a sensible approach to local grading that would do a far better job of linking local grades to wider-world standards – without getting rid of current letter grades (since that battle is just not worth fighting in many places – and need not be fought, as I will show).
[If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is a revised and updated version of a post from 2 years ago.]



18 Responses

  1. Very timely post. I have been engaged in an ongoing conversation about grades and linking them to performance on exit exams, and further performance in college. I enjoy and learn from reading your stories that use sports to explain or clarify the information. Personally I was a competitive swimmer growing up. I remember clearly when I realized that while I was good locally, my college tuition would not be paid for by my ability as a swimmer.

  2. I think you brought up the most important question when you asked how the scores were considered proficient. It seems like this is really arbitrary and not related to real life. Average in math should be how much you know for the average level in society (or job maybe). How many students go on to use calculus or trig – even among college graduates?
    It seems like we assume students are going to be professors in each subject so they’d better be prepared for it. How many students go on to be professors versus sales, marketing, technicians, etc.?
    The worst part of it all is how the modern student must feel. According to society, they are dumb as door nails – completely stupid and unprepared. How is is true? My parents graduated HS without even taking algebra. Imagine a student now who just graduates with algebra and pre-calc – they are smarter than my parents, but society labels the student an idiot. I think we raise the bar way too high and then belittle the teachers, students, and parents when the student fails.
    Maybe we need to really take a step back and look at what the typical high school student needs to know in order to get by. All students do not need to get a doctorate! Does a students need to run a 4:45 to 5 minutes in the 1600m in order to be proficient in PE? What about tech schools? We consider a student a failure if they go into the military, go to tech school, or get a job. Why? Do you need years and years of liberal arts college to draw, make music, fix things, farm, be a chef, etc.? How many bands have MA’s or PhD’s in music? I think part of this is to somehow make our generation feel smarter, “Look how I did in comparison to you. I graduated with A’s and B’s and was at the top of my class. Look at you and your failing test scores.” I wonder how the “smart” older generation would do on the HS tests.

    • You’ll get no argument from me! I took immense grief for saying we should chuck algebra as a requirement in my post “So why not bash algebra?”. I think as a society we have unrealistic expectations of graduates now – most of us could not ace these tests.
      I agree that a thorough discussion is needed about proficiency levels. There is now evidence, for example, that NAEP scores are too low, that the levels do not equate with levels in college. i.e. Many people are successful in college despite performing at Basic on NAEP. (I plan to follow up this post by discussing the NAEP studies and this issue of valid levels).
      But just as times have dropped in track, so might proficiency levels in school need to go higher. When I coached track, practically no girl ran under a 5 minute mile. Now hundreds do. No girl I ever coached ran a 60-second 400 m. Now it is routine. Lots of studies show that algebra 1, for better or worse, acts as a barometer for college success in many cases. And, as my track example shows, proficiency levels in one place (e.g. Swarthmore) are very different from another place (e.g. Mercer County Community College). That’s why students should know where they stand against multiple standards, not just one – my follow-up post.

  3. Should there be discussion about how much value we should give to a single test at a single point? To use your running analogy, it’d be the same as taking all runners time on their conference final day instead of their best time over the whole season. How many would be affected by injuries, weather, peaking at the wrong time, etc?
    Also to be considered, for at least this year, is the high potential of the teachers and the students not being prepared for what type of questions were to be on the exam. NYS teachers were effectively blind on what the assessment would be measuring. To go back to the running analogy, it’d be like if your daughter showed up for the conference final and the course was on the road with an up and a downhill section.
    I guess what I’m getting at is how much knowledge can we gather from a single test that has some serious flaws ( ).

    • I agree: a single shot at anything that is high stakes can be unfair and, pschyometrically, unreliable. And in track, the big championship meet IS the high stakes single event that sometimes goes awry, too: my daughter ran a poor 800 in her last meet, 5 seconds above her typical time. But she knew the facts so she could walk away from it, shrug, and just call it what i was: a bad day. But it meant she could not qualify for a state meet.
      Nor do I believe that the tests have ‘serious flaws’. As I have long argued and shown, local assessments are far worse than external assessments, for obvious reasons: lots of smart people work on state and national tests, and they go thru all sorts of reviews to ensure validity – none of which happens locally. Does that mean they are perfect? No. No test is error-free. But having studied lots and lots of released tests I can tell you that most of the items – especially the harder ones – are far better than what appears locally, and so the gap between local grades and scores continues unabated.

  4. Hi: Just thinking and only been up a short while. Reading GH’s reply, I would counter that the students who had been taught algebra and precalc are not smarter than his parents, but that they have been educated at a different level in math…which I don’t think is the same thing. That is something all who control education in this country need to reflect on…what are the skills needed for success in life, and they change for each profession, but there should be some baseline, and here is where there is no agreement. While the “1895 8th grade final exam” may not be accurate as to expectations, there are many things being done that most folks cannot do…are they, therefore, poorly educated? I don’t think so, but we cannot seem to find common ground for a “general education.” Common Core really hits skills in explanation and exposition more than learning targets, which is important. Grant, your explanation of the relativity of rankings is important. We have to remember that we are teaching a very wide amount of material, and it seems to be increasing yearly. When we revisit earlier learning targets, sometimes we get surprised…I spent a week reviewing fractions and operations with them with my seniors in physics this past semester, as they were quite rusty on these. It is likely unrealistic to expect every student to master and retain every learning target they have had. Just my 2 cents.

    • Agreed on the need to review what is a reasonable expectation. I am almost done with my article for Educational leadership on Mastery as a goal. Your point is one I make: Mastery does not mean getting a decent grade on a one-shot test of knowledge and skill out of context. It means fluency and transfer, with high degree of automaticity in recall. That simply can’t happen in our mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum. But then that’s an argument for Common Core.
      If it’s any consolation, when I asked the Director of Calculus teaching at Harvard what were the most obvious deficits of incoming freshmen in math, she replied: fractions and decimals; precision in terms of significant figures.

    • I actually agree with having a set of common standards, and even a common standardized test for everyone. I do have many problems with how it is being used and how it is being interpreted.
      We really need to be more realistic about what the average student really needs to know in order to get by in life right out of high school. We are trying to raise the bar for everyone – especially in math and language arts. I almost think the standards should be a mile wide and an inch deep. What level of math does a carpenter need versus an aeronautical engineer? How does the language arts test match-up for a truck driver versus someone writing magazine (maybe blogs now) articles? How do we measure for these areas?
      My second problem is interpreting the results. What do math test scores really mean? Does it mean that this student will not be able to do the job they want to do, or does it mean they will not be a future college professor? Why does an AC repair person need to know calculus +? Do they need to know how to dissect novels like Sarah Plain and Tall? What is an acceptable score and for who or what is it acceptable?
      I don’t know the answers, but I do know that saying students, the system, teachers, parents, or whatever are failures because of this nationally standardized test does bother me. However, I am also bothered when I hear about students needing remediation when they first enroll in college. Maybe we need more subject/topic specific tests. An example might be when a student wants to learn AC repair. Okay, what kind of math should he/she need to know? What kind of LA should he/she know? What about critical thinking and problem solving that never gets tested? When do we give students tests on troubleshooting computers, electrical, or plumbing issues? When do we ask them to sing, draw or dance? Why not? I refuse to believe that music and art are less important than math/LA. How do we test for creativity? Maybe we group tests together based upon fields the student is interested in taking/learning/doing after HS. The military sort of does this for people enlisting – you need such and such a score to do job A, job B, etc.
      To me anyway, the best thing a student/person can be is to be a creative and critical thinker. I’ll take those 2 over anything else at any time. Look at the CEO’s of big companies, especially tech-related. How many went/graduated from college? These people are failures under our current system of thinking.
      Sorry for the rant, but the problem I see is that we are getting rid of creativity (and I would argue critical thinking as well) in schools so we can work on math and LA. Creativity is the future, not the old industrial educational skills of the past (like getting as much math ed as you possibly can). Hundreds of companies can make an iphone, but how many can design it from scratch? How is math or LA going to make that phone look and feel right? So are we measuring the right skills…?

      • Well, you’ll get little argument from me on the critical and creative thinking side; and the need for high-level math courses, as you know from reading past blogs and my published writings: see my blogs on Abolishing the conventional diploma andchucking Algebra as we know it, for example. But it’s naive to think that kids can escape accountability for reading and writing in this modern world. Yes, kids have very different needs and aspirations, but you pretty much need to meet the Common Core Anchor Standards no matter what life you see for yourself. Let’s also remember that these tests in general do not have high stakes for kids (rather, for teachers and Principals). And surely you need to know if you’re on track for going to college and being successful. Would I prefer other courses and tests? Of course: I have been arguing this my whole life. I was totally against Rick Mills basically eviscerating the BOCES vocational high schools in NYS by requiring that everyone get a Regents Diploma and said so publicly.
        Meanwhile, college admissions beckons, whether we like it or not. And if we don’t like it then it is our obligation to help kids find a non-traditional college or program or private education that suits their needs – without cutting off future options. I have personal experience with this as a father. My son dropped out of Knox College to concentrate full-time on making it in music. He went to Musicians Institute in Hollywood for many of the reasons you cite. For that matter, many alternative high schools do not give traditional grades for traditional subjects, so it’s not impossible to do this. Also, look at the interesting work in New Hampshire on competency-based high schooling. But we have yet to figure out how to have dozens of different diplomas and career paths in American schools. The Germans do it far better than we do.

        • I agree, it would just be nice to see a more realistic targeted test. I do think we need comparisons and foundational work, I just wish it were more realistic and looked at creativity and critical thinking more and more. I also strongly believe that creativity and motivational drive will help students learn whatever they want to learn. Maybe these vo-tech programs are a way to engage students in ways that makes them learn the basics. How many times has sports motivated a student to study even when he/she didn’t want to study? Maybe we need to take baby steps and go with the system now and push for change when we can. Maybe a track system like the one in Germany is something for us to think more about as well.
          How do you feel about some colleges looking at not accepting AP or IB credit, or even the SAT/ACT? Seems like some of the colleges may be moving away from these standardized programs/assessments. Maybe we are moving back towards individualism (but knowing education we’ll probably swing the pendulum way too far!!!).
          Thanks for the discussion.

          • I don’t see any trend of moving away from SAT/ACT. The number of colleges doing so is stable, and almost all of them are small colleges that can afford to read folders one at a time and who attract good candidates to start with. I think more colleges would go away from them if the local grades were more standards-based. As it stands now you almost have to have external tests as a triangulation device since every student applying has good grades, no matter what school they came from, good or bad. That is why the test retain their use, even though their statistical value is small – as a check against local grades.

  5. I get nervous when I see vehement opposition to Common Core from various quarters. Common Core is just a tool. It isn’t the only stuff that can and should be taught. However, by nailing down a target that has an awful lot of what should be taught at a minimum, and by forcing us educators to figure out what that looks like when it has been taught and LEARNED, Common Core’s real usefulness is unpacked. It is the process of calibrating our lenses for viewing effective teaching and real learning that we need to master. That includes having consistent targets that progress and build in challenge and intensity over a student’s time in school.
    If Common Core, or any incarnation of national standards, is used effectively, every school will be able to be competitive at a national level–that is to say, students graduating from any school in the nation can hope to measure up to the highest expectations in the land. That isn’t just an idealistic hunk of rhetoric. GW’s example of running (or any activity with a clear standard–swimming, in my daughter’s case) is important to ponder. What would a set of national PERFORMANCE standards do? What would TIER ONE argumentation look like? Or TIER ONE scientific inquiry? What do the VERY BEST writers, readers, problem solvers, researchers, or philosophers do? The standards are designed to help us develop these strands of thinking and doing. We think it’s easy to publish lists of what everyone should know, in order to be thought educated. It’s not, actually, and it is even harder to say with any degree of certainty what truly “educated” people can DO. Once you start parcing out exactly how to determine whether or not learners can do what we suggest they should be able to do, it gets really messy.
    For example, I’ll use my daughter’s swimming ability. She is six seconds off the cut time for the 200 freestyle to qualify for Olympic trials. She is also a lifeguard. You’d think that’s a no-brainer, but they’re two different things. Saying Olympic-level swimmers are great swimmers seems logical. However, the kind of swimming Amanda has to do to save a person who outweighs her by 70 lbs. is vastly different from the swimming she has to do to win local, state, or national competitions in the 200 freestyle. She’s “not bad” by national standards in the 200. The manner in which we can tell, however, if that skill translates to any cherishable application is something we hope we never HAVE to test, but that if we don’t, we would send anyone swimming at the pool where she works the wrong message. Just telling people she’s a good swimmer because she can swim faster than the average person isn’t enough. Telling them she can lug a 140 lb. slippery, thrashing mass from the bottom of the pool to the side in under 4 seconds, without damaging it or herself, gets closer to the point.
    Just like swimming fast isn’t the only measure of the best quality swimming, publication (in a global sense of the word–producing formal products and showing them to a wider audience) isn’t the only standard for judging the best writers, or those most competent to use their writing skills advantageously. Creating a report of research is a poor vehicle for demonstrating the ability to quickly use one’s research skills to determine the best way to do anything or the best product to purchase, and reading novels and creating analytical products will almost certainly fail to show one’s ability to make sense of current news or industry protocols–two reading skills that just might separate the wheat from the chaff in a variety of paying positions. Not many of us enjoy the luxury of getting paid to read our favorite fiction. Even fewer enjoy the luxury of making a living wage writing it. Where are our priorities, then, in teaching and assessing skill? Or, more poignantly, where should they be?
    So, instead of a test that is published, distributed, and scored, or perhaps on equal footing to that, we as educators need to be demanding the use of performance assessments and corresponding criteria for sorting a myriad of performances. I get sick of people who tell me judging performance is “subjective.” Judging anything is subjective to a degree, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t conduct our business based upon judgments. If we did that, we would get nothing done ever. Instead, we need to learn to own subjectivity, assign it its place relative to the value we place on whatever task or performance we’re judging, and make the call.

    • This is a very important slant. There simply is no such thing as a single standard – as your swimming vs. lifeguarding example makes crystal clear. Now consider the following HS aspirations: Harvard, US Naval Academy, Antioch, RISD, Culinary Institute of America, Mercer County Community College, Berklee School of Music – or, entrepreneur or Master welder or carpenter. That is why we should link local grades to different possible institutional standards and aspirations so that students know where they stand in terms of possible futures.
      And you are correct on the issue of subjectivity. I made this point at length in Educative Assessment 15 years ago. The critic is cheating on the meaning of the term ‘subjective’. All human judgment is subjective, including the judgment as to what to put on a test that gets scored objectively. When people say ‘that’s so subjective’ they seem to forget that Judges and assessors can do their job quite well with training and oversight. That’s why the real issue is the quality of a judgment; that’s why AP judges can gain inter-rater reliability to a high degree on the AP Art Portfolio and why diving judges so often agree in the Olympics. Thanks for making some great points here.

  6. I don’t really get the gripe with local grading. Wouldn’t it be easier (but not easy) to provide information like, a list of colleges accepting their students in the past few years, % acceptance to college, % acceptance to the state university, % needing remedial course(s), and college graduation rate.
    In my state, the report given to parents clearly shows the percentages at each scoring level (12% basic, 30% proficient, 27% goal, 23% advanced in the state for 10th grade math). You already mentioned SAT, ACT, and AP tests. Of course students and parents can also look around and see where folks from their school end up after graduating. Don’t you think that is enough for a student to get a rough idea of where the stand relative to the rest of the state?
    In one of the largest districts in my state, only 10% meet “goal” and 2.5% score as “advanced” on the 10th grade math test. In another large district 45% score “advanced”. If local grades corresponded with state testing, one district might have 90% getting B+ or A and the other might have half the kids getting D or F. That doesn’t seem helpful to the students in either district.

    • The problem with grades is that there is no standard for giving them. It’s not just HS we’re talking about – the path from 8th to 9th grade is a mess in most districts because of poor articulation of standards and grading. Grades based on local norms – see how grades follow a curve that is equal across most districts – simply tell us nothing useful other than some teacher’s judgment in a vacuum. Think of a 5th and 8th grader in a very weak school – since we’re talking NYS, let’s pick Rochester NY my old home for a while which only managed to get 5% proficient. But you can bet that the grades they give students follow a typical curve, so the poor kids are set up for failure.
      I want local grades moderated and calibrated, as is done in other countries and in IB schools. Nor do I want only a single grade. I want letter grades and score that reflect state standards that are given locally a few times per year. That’s what Part 2will say, shortly.
      (I have written at length on this in Educative Assessment, based on an old article in American Educator entitled rational Numbers.)

  7. I have been teaching middle school and high school math for a couple of years now in a high needs, low-income area school district. I can first-hand that more emphasis needs to be placed on vocational studies in high school rather than how to get all students to pass the Algebra 2 regents.
    I can go on and on about how education reform has been going on for over 100 years in the United States and the only thing that everybody seems to agree with is that education needs to be improved. Not to mention the unfairness of ESL, ELL, and Special Education students that are forced to take these ridiculous standardized tests. I’ll save those conversations for people wiser than myself but I would like to include in this discussion the point that most high school graduates (especially in low-income areas) don’t have any job-ready skills, such as technical, mechanical, computer, and so on. When I was in high school I took many elective courses and learned real-world skills that I apply everyday. Those classes were auto mechanics, small engine repair, wood shop, drafting, and architecture. Where are these classes today? What happened to the BOCES program here in NY that gave the less academically inclined students the option to learn a valuable trade?
    I feel it needs to be said that not all students have the same mental abilities and capacities. Not all students come from a loving and supportive two-parent household. Some of my students have to live with aunts, grandparents, single parents, and/or unfit parents. These kids have a hard enough time staying out of trouble and resisting their environmental temptations (gang-banging, violence, drugs, etc..). Last year I had quite a few seniors that had no interest in going to college and they just wanted to get a decent paying “blue-collar” job and provide for their family. I personally have friends in the LIRR, ConEd, Keyspan, Cablevision, and many others in trades (electrical, plumbing, construction, etc..). Most of them either didn’t want to go to college or graduated and couldn’t find a job in a related field. All of these friends are doing just fine, living in a nice home, in nice areas on Long Island, and earning above $75k.
    Of course there has to be a balance, but I truly don’t believe all students must attend college to have a successful career. I am a strong advocate of alternative programs in high schools for students who are not college-bound. Mike Rowe, the host of “dirty jobs” makes great points on skilled labor issues, I’m sure there are YouTube videos of his many interviews. One last point I’d like to make, aimed at state and federal governments, I don’t want to hear that there’s no money for alternative/vocational programs because my school alone receives millions of dollars each year from the government in school improvement grants which haven’t facilitated higher test scores since I’ve been there!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *