Monday, May 23, 2005

Falling Standards = Worthless Diplomas

Arizona becomes the latest state in which educators have opted to boost high school graduation rates by lowering standards. Under new standards issued by the state's education department, students scoring 59% in reading and 60% in mathematics on the states AIMS tests, will have passed those portions of the test and will receive a diploma.
This year's junior class is the first that must pass the reading, writing and math high school AIMS test to get a diploma. They got a considerable break Thursday after state officials reviewed their spring test results and then officially lowered the score needed to pass the exit exam, whose full name is Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards.

With the help of the new, lowered passing scores, and after taking a third crack at the high school AIMS test, an estimated 61 percent of the Class of 2006 passed. That's up from the 43 percent passing rate for the fall 2004 tests.

On Thursday, after two days of deliberations and on the advice of a teacher committee and testing experts, the Arizona State Board of Education reduced the passing score for math to 60 percent correct from 71 percent. It also reduced the passing score for reading to 59 percent correct from 72 percent.
So, let's parse this, shall we? Arizona students took this statewide test with one set of reasonable standards in place. But when the state education department saw the graded exam results, the percentage of students actually passing the exams was so low the officials hastily lowered the standards so that more students would pass and that the education department could bury the truth about how lousy a job Arizona public schools are doing. This is what American public schools call, sarcastically no doubt, education. This is what the taxpayers of Arizona are forced to pay for every year - a system that wouldn't survive ten minutes in the marketplace.

But, wait ... it gets worse:
State officials made the test easier, better matching the questions to what students are learning in the classroom.

Districts scrambled to add teacher training, special courses dedicated to getting students to pass the test, and free tutoring.

Now, the Legislature wants to help, too. It was close Thursday night to passing a bill that would raise the AIMS scores of kids who pass core high school classes with A's, B's or C's.
If this weren't so tragic, it would make for great comedy. First, the educators admit that they dumbed down the AIMS test to begin with, and then spend untold millions on "teacher training," "special courses" and "tutoring" for students taking the exam. All this with the end result that the percentage of student passing the test was still so ridiculously low that they had to then lower the definition of passing to get a politically acceptable result.
Most Arizona State Board of Education members said lowering the scores would look as if they were lowering the bar and backing off high standards for high school graduates, but still they voted 9-1 to do it.
Translation: the percentage of students who passed under the initial standards was so embarrassingly low, that it was actually better to be seen as "lowering the bar" than reveal the actual results. What does that tell you about Arizona's public schools?

Comments made by various board members provide a fascinating insight into the mindset of those running the nation's public schools, and solid clues as to why those public schools have become such sewers.
State Board President Matthew Diethelm has been a strong supporter of using AIMS as an exit exam, but in the end couldn't imagine keeping nearly half the Class of 2006 from getting a diploma.

Diethelm said he was frustrated that state education officials hadn't done enough to help students at the very bottom of the heap.

"This is the fair and correct thing to do no matter what the perception of those who haven't been involved in the process," Diethelm said.
Yes, of course. Especially since those not involved in the "process" might conclude that the board has made a mess of Arizona's public schools and is reduced to lowering standards to cover up the extent of that mess. It certainly is fair and correct to pass students who haven't earned that passing grade, so that they can go out into the real world functionally illiterate and unable to perform basic mathematics. That's the fair thing to do to those students ... and to American society. Much fairer than to deny them a diploma until they had actually learned the material required to receive the diploma. Yes, in the mind of people like Mr. Diethelm, that's what constitutes fairness.
Jesse Ary, the only African-American and minority on the 11-member board, said more than just lowering the passing score needs to be done for students unable to pass the test.

Ary said the test needs to be carefully examined for cultural bias and that state must spend more time and money on its poorest students.

"The best ways to elevate the best of our students is to find ways to elevate the least of our students," Ary said.
Cultural bias ... well, you knew it would raise its head somewhere in all this. If minority students do badly on an exam - and from Ms. Ary's comments you can guess that the percentage of minority students passing the exam was so horribly low that the board's strong sense of political correctness compelled them to do absolutely anything other than announce the truth - then it must be because the exam is "biased." Unless, the minority students happen to be Asian, in which case the exam "bias" doesn't seem to affect them. But such discussions are not permitted.

It goes without question that the entire membership of the board should be dismissed by the Governor or state legislature and the initial higher standards be restored - no matter how few students graduate. It also goes without question that nothing of the sort will happen. The Governor doesn't want to soil her hands with this mess, and the Arizona legislature is every bit as frightened of releasuing the true exam results as was the board itself. No, the students and taxpayers of Arizona can expect niether common sense, foresight or honesty from their government, and they certainly can't expect the public schools to educate their children.


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