That our state is implementing Common Core standards in math and reading (Missoulian, Aug. 18) is cause for celebration. For too long, the national state of education has suffered as shown by the continued decline since 1963 of SAT scores for graduating high school seniors. Sure, the raw numbers look better – until one realizes that there have been two “re-centerings” (read: padding the average score), first in 1967 and then in 1995.
The last time the College Entrance Examination Board converted the new scores to the old raw score method for comparison was for the scholastic year ending in 1995. The inflated score for reading was 504, which would have been 428 had the padding not been added. For math, the numbers were 506 new versus 482 old.
Now, some want to prevent the government from “cramming artificial standards” down the collective throats of school districts, parents and – most importantly – students. Well, that would be amusing were the problem not so serious, considering that one of the prime roles of government is to provide for the general welfare of its citizens – and that includes education.
We are no longer a patchwork of school districts whose residents never move much beyond where they were born. The mobility of today’s society is absolutely stunning. Children can be born in one district, attend elementary school in another and graduate from high school in yet another. Further, once in the workforce, they may find employment in even another state, or multiple states, as they progress through their careers.
This, by itself, is a powerful argument for standardizing achievement levels across the entirety of our nation. To do otherwise would result in students that haven’t attained the Common Core learning objectives finding themselves at a distinct disadvantage once they seek meaningful employment.
Others will say that some schools do not perform as well as others and that is reason to avoid these common standards. How will maintaining lower standards really help students improve? The answer is not to keep the bar low by allowing school districts to opt out of Common Core. It is to hold those schools accountable for meeting Common Core objectives, forcing them to improve if necessary.
A few have expressed concern that the poor performance of students will be taken as a reflection of the skills of their teachers. That would be a travesty, for there are factors beyond the control of educators that exert great influence on how students perform. Two readily come to mind: home environment and student peer association. Even so, competent administrators recognize the teachers who are outstanding and those who are not.
We should not denigrate worthy undertakings because of occasional poor execution in the field – just improve whatever or whomever is responsible for unacceptable performance. And on that subject, we all must be aware of the temptation to cook the numbers.
I refer to the program with that rousing title Graduation Matters. A close associate of mine tutored at-risk and low-performing students for Missoula County Public Schools this summer. My friend was shocked to learn that students are allowed to retake tests as often as necessary – until they pass. One student had taken the same test 22 times. When this was mentioned to another teacher, the reaction was a cynical snort and a sarcastic, “Oh, didn’t you know: Graduation Matters,” meaning the graduation rate matters.
Standards imply a certain level of integrity, so if we abrogate learning objectives just to look better, we have corrupted the system and failed our students. That is not in anyone’s best interest. Regardless, we should demand more of our educational system.
Robert McCoy writes from just outside Lolo. He worked as a technology coordinator in a K-12 school district before teaching at a public community college and a private not-for-profit university.