Saturday, August 8, 2009

Should Students Be "Allowed" To Fail

As I write this, I am still reflecting on a workshop held on our campus entitled High Schools That Work. The Mobile County school board has enacted the program in order to curb the drop out rate. Our school was one of four high schools chosed as models for the program. The gist of the workshop is that teachers need to engage in more activities in order to reach their students. The program states as one of their goals the fact that eighty-five percent of all high school students should be in college-prep classes. The presenters kept harping on the fact that we need to challenge our students with more higher level questions. I don't want to rain on the parade, but I seriously wonder if both goals are contradictory. First, I have a serious problem with the eighty-five percent in college-prep classes. Since teachers are evaluated on how well their students perform on the CRTs (or as they are now called EQTs), will some teachers be tempted to water down their curriculum to improve their test scores? In essence, by raising the bar, are we in fact lowering that same bar. Much like we did with the High School Graduation Exam, we raised the level of questions from the eighth grade level to the eleventh grade level, then we lowered the required passing score. In some cases, that score was less than fifty percent correct answers in order to pass. Second, if all teachers immediately started adopting the higher level questions, what would happen to the grades of the students? Once again, teachers would be called into question because of an increase in lower averages. The common idea is that teachers should not "allow" their students to fail. If a child chooses to take a zero for their decision to not complete assignments, should the teacher construct additional opportunities for the student to complete the assignment? If a student fails a test, should they be allowed to retake the test until they receive a passing grade? What does that tell the student who passes the test the first time? Are we encouraging students to study? If they know they have the option of retaking the test, what is the incentive for studying in the first place? I know I've stated this before, but we are democratizing education. Education is supposed to separate students. At the risk of sounding elitist, not all teachers are meant to go to college. Hence, this is the reason that on some college campuses, the freshmen drop out rate exceeds sixty percent. We need a discussion as to the proper role of education. In our modern age, we need to address the money spent on education and assess whether or not it is worth it. What is the value of a high school diploma? If we continue lowering the bar, will we reduce high school graduation to the level of some middle school advancements that are completely due to "social promotion." Are we actually setting up these students for failure in higher education and in the workforce? Before we embark on more educational experiments, we need to focus on our purpose. Education is meant to prepare our students for the next stage in their lives. I'm not sure that our schools are accomplishing this mission. Perhaps our next workshop should be entitled "Are We Doing Our Students a Dis-Service?" Our communities have committed a tremendous amount of money for our schools, let us just make sure we are going it correctly and meeting the needs of our society and our students.

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