Sunday, January 19, 2014

Back in the Day When 65 Was Passing, I Understood

I went to school in the modern middle ages, in the late 70’s and 80’s right between the birth of the home computer, but before the internet.  Romantically, in those days school was straight forward.  I went to Public School 282 on the corner of my block. It was chock full of hybrid West Indians, Puerto Ricans, Black and White kids.  Curtis, Erin, Charles, Timothy, Willie, Tiffany, Jean-Pierre, Raquel – remember names like those? I had a Jewish first grade teacher named Ms. Marcus, a Jamaican third grade teacher named Ms. Hunter and an Italian sixth grade teacher named Ms. Masia. Despite the cultural sophistication that is required in public education in New York and the endless list of other challenges, there was one very simple standard that everyone knew – 65 was the minimum passing grade.  When we took tests, in whatever grade, in whatever class, the minimum passing grade was 65.  If you got at least 65 percent of the test right, you passed, if you did not, you failed.  It was a clean standard, and I understood it.

Now I live in Georgia and things are different.

Today in Georgia, children go to school in the post-modern middle ages, after the rise of the internet, but before the extinction of books and mental discipline. School testing is different now.  The tests have complicated names, like the Georgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, or the Criterion Reference Competency Test (CRCT). I wouldn’t want to take a test with a name like that. It sounds like something I might catch, then get teased, “eeewww you got that CRCT!” (pronounced cri-kt). 

Not only are there too many of these tests and their names are too complicated, the results are not clean. I like clean. 65 percent isn’t passing anymore.  Now, these tests follow the post-modern middle age rules where every child gets a trophy, win or lose.  The results students get are one of three measures of proficiency – did not meet, meets, or exceeds the standards.  They can’t even fail anymore, rather, they do not meet the standard.

When a Georgia student takes the mathematics CRCT in the 5th grade for example, they can get 50 percent correct on the test and earn a “meets the standard.”  To earn the coveted “exceeds the standard,” and get their name in bright lights and in the school paper, the student need only score 78 percent correct. Astonishingly, if in the same year a 7th grade student takes the 7th grade math CRCT, they can get 47 percent correct and also earn a “meets the standard.”  Not only does the percent correct that earns you a meets vary from grade to grade, it varies in each grade from year to year. Absolutely not clean.

What is the academic standard where you can know less than half of the material and still meet the expectations of learning for the standard? The question rings like a riddle from an alternate reality of education.  Georgia consistently ranks in the bottom five states in the country in education.  Maybe it is an alternate reality where 50 is the new 65, and 78 is the new excellent.  In 2013, 71 percent of all Georgia students graduated from high school. Only 50 percent graduated from high school in the Atlanta Public School District.  In this new reality maybe Georgia exceeds the standard, Atlanta meets it and I just don’t understand.