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Beyond WASL 

by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & P & lt;/span & ermit an old hand a few radical suggestions about the WASL and education reform in general. My disclaimer: I'm not a member of the "Education Establishment," nor am I involved in any of the several well-intended business-led citizen groups that are trying to fix things. I'm just a college professor who, over the span of 40 years, has seen thousands of high school graduates come and go.





& lt;li & Limit the WASL. There's nothing wrong with the information the WASL can provide. Analyzed data are always of use. But teaching to a test never results in good teaching. What's worse, by relying on simplistic quantifiable evidence to measure progress, we divert time and resources to the chore of flunking the weaker students, all the while we ignore the stronger students and marginalize important subjects such as the arts -- music and drama. Moreover, the real challenge isn't addressed anyway; I refer to getting better teachers. & lt;/li &





Case in point: Our son, who always considered himself to be math-challenged (a family trait), somehow managed to score near the 90th percentile on his standardized college tests. He was shocked. Through Grade 12, he had had only two mathematics teachers he could even understand. Over the years when confused, he would seek out one or the other of these teachers -- one a middle school teacher, the other a high school teacher -- after school, even on weekends. Then would come the magic. Within literally minutes what had been a mystery, a mental sludge heap, would be sorted through and made understandable. These two teachers, with limited contact, provided him with more than 90 percent of his learning. I don't think our youngster is unusual (I had one math teacher who made a dent; my wife, none, not one).





The power of the terrific teacher: We need to work on finding more of these magicians -- and not just for mathematics, for all subjects. Instead we waste time browbeating students into passing canned tests.





& lt;li & Terminate the "No Child Left Behind Act." No Child Left Behind is a textbook case study of federal overreach. Working with vaguely drawn legislation, our education bureaucrats operate in a social and cultural vacuum while ordering the locals around without even bothering to pick up the tab. Another fine mess you have gotten us into, Bushy. & lt;/li &





& lt;li & Abolish all Advanced Placement examinations. What an upper-middle class scam the AP industry has become. Instead of earning college credit through AP examinations, able high school students should be encouraged to challenge some college courses. I say some. Mathematics and foreign language, along with some "hard" science courses, are the obvious candidates. As for social science and humanities courses? Let me say, without fear of ever being proved incorrect, there isn't a high school student anywhere who, having scored a 5 (highest grade) on the government AP test, could pass my freshman American government final at Gonzaga. Students should take the high school courses as well as the college courses. Only the course titles are the same, trust me. & lt;/li &





& lt;li & Expand honors offerings. It is through honors courses that teachers are able to experiment, range and use their imaginations. Students feed on this creative energy. Having dumped AP, there will be more time for honors offerings. And, by the way, I'd bring back the old High School Bowl (local TV quiz show) and make it an annual major big deal. "Elitism"? What in the hell do you think the football team is all about? & lt;/li &





& lt;li & Restrict Running Start. I have no problem with high school students from time to time "running" off to the local college to take a course, perhaps an interesting elective. And then are those few students who, having taken all that high school has to offer (math prodigies come to mind), need options. Taking an occasional course, however, has been transformed into an alternative form of matriculation, the result being that we have created a kind of weird academic universe where no one benefits all that much and most actually lose. The high school loses students it needs to make a scholastic community. And the young students? They are often thrown into social and intellectual situations that magnify the limitations posed by immaturity. I've seen this happen. & lt;/li &





High school students should not be permitted to take more than three college classes off the high school campus. Period. End of story.





& lt;li & Expand and lengthen teacher-training programs. Line teachers in the trenches, not college education faculty, are in the best position to know who will make it and who won't, who possesses the magic and who doesn't. Emphasis on teacher training will result in a reduction of methods and process courses -- and that too would be a good thing. & lt;/li &





& lt;li & The limiting factors. Studies have shown that many schools place too much emphasis on teamwork -- a.k.a. "school spirit" -- and, by extension, acquiescence to authority: Bright students who see absurdity and irony need not apply. Students who want to work interscholastically have nowhere to go. But, even if we got the "schools we deserve," to borrow the title from Diane Ravitch's well-known book, we kid ourselves if we expect schools to repair what's wrong with families, neighborhoods, the economy and, yes, American culture. & lt;li &





Alas, the WASL illustrates our continued reluctance to think much about this sticky stuff; it's far easier just to correct tests.





Let the brickbats fly.
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