The Definition of Insanity
One of the definitions of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. For some reason politicians and members of boards of education think that requiring more and more difficult tests and making these tests high stakes will improve the quality of education our students are receiving.
In the mid-seventies (yes that long ago), the State Superintendent of Schools instituted a testing program called Project Basic. The idea was that the kids would all have basic skills in reading and math before they graduated. It didn’t work. Then came MSPAP, this program was performance based and took hours to administer. That didn’t work either. But hey, we weren’t done yet. Next came the High School Assessments. These were high stakes. No pass, no graduate. Except that too many kids didn’t pass, so the bridge plans were born. The latest and greatest of this foolishness is the PARCC tests based on the Common Core Curriculum. About a year ago, the Maryland State Board of Education put into place standards for passing these tests. The goal was that the passing score would increase each year. But that “aspirational goal” has been put on hold since at the last administration only about 40% of the students passed the test. Now the State Board had said that it will be today’s current 6th graders who will be held to the standard for graduation. Until 2024, students will need to score at least a 3 on the tests for English and algebra on a scale of 1-5. A score of 4 indicates a student will be able to do college level work. The funny thing is that even though Project Basic, MSPAP, HSA, and now PARCC were all going to prepare students for college- the kids AREN’T getting better at being prepared for college work. Zero credit courses required for non-prepared students continue to enroll far too many undergraduates, costing them both time and money to learn what should have been learned in high school. Colleges report an increase in the number of freshmen needing to take these tests.
Maryland’s high school graduation rate is 80%, its pass rate on the PARCC is 40%. Obviously, there is a big disconnect.
There has been some discussion on the State Board about a bold NEW idea. Under this system, Maryland would award two different diplomas. One would recognize the student as college ready and the other one would recognize the student as “not-college” ready. There are two things wrong with this great NEW idea.
First of all, 50+ years ago Maryland had three different high school diplomas- academic, commercial/vocational, and general. The diplomas recognized the differing talents and aspirations of the students. Each diploma had different requirements depending upon what was required for the student’s goals. None of these diplomas addressed what the award was not. So, the idea is of multiple diplomas is not so new.
Secondly, labeling an award by what it is not is disrespectful to the students, their families and our community. I recently needed to install some lighting fixtures. I called an electrician. He did not go to college. He could install my fixtures. I did go to college; I couldn’t do it. Being vocationally trained is not embarrassing to an individual or family. Why are State Board members acting like it is.
Smarick, the Board Chair, is worried as well about the number of bridge projects being used by students in low-income districts in order to meet the standard.
For once, the Union is voicing its strong position to tying graduation to an “arbitrary standard that was set by a private testing company.”
Steiner believes “students will gradually begin to live up to the higher standard, but until that time the Board cannot set the standard too high.” “Politically,” he said, “it’s not conceivable in any state that a high school graduation rate would go below 70 percent.” Now that’s putting us in touch with reality.