Friday, December 7, 2007

State Mandated Graduation Requirements Planned For Connecticut

What's the best way to close the so-called "achievement gap"? Just demand higher standards of course.

That's like telling a lame person to walk faster.

The Hartford Courant came out with this news item about the CT State Board of Education just endorsed plans to create graduation requirements statewide, which of course represent more state unfunded mandates and supersedes the traditionally practiced concept of "home rule". (I actually posted a piece about this already).

The article says this:
The State Board Of Education on Wednesday endorsed a proposal that would require high school students to pass end-of-course exams, complete an independent study, and take at least 24 credits in specific courses to earn a diploma.
And they are planning to obtain public comment about this throughout 2008 and submit a final proposal to the State Legislature by the end of 2008, in order to prepare for implementation in the 2011-2012 school year.

Of course this will not be without a plea for more funding from the taxpayer. This will most likely carry with it an astronomical price tag. State Commissioner of Education, Mark McQuillan, has already begun to seek funding from the state legislature to study the costs of the changes.

Here are some of the major points of this plan:
Under the proposal, many courses, such as algebra II, international studies and biology, would be required. At the moment, only a half-credit course in civics and American government are required.

An earlier proposal called for students to take one credit of U.S. history, 1860 to the present, with the intention of teaching pre-Civil War U.S. history in middle school, officials said. But word of the requirement generated concern that students would not learn about the Constitution, prompting board members to change the requirement name to "U.S. history."

The new requirements would also include two years of world languages — none are presently required — and three years of lab sciences, changes that would mean hiring more teachers and building more labs in many schools.
Heaven forbid they require kids to learn about the Constitution in high school! (Perhaps by 2011 we will not have one anyway, so no biggie). And of course we'll just have to spend more money on teachers and school construction. Why don't they just call this the "education employment guarantee bill"?

Apparently this move would insure that CT join the crowd of those states, like Massachusetts where Commissioner of Education, Mark McQuillan, has been imported from, which require end-of-course exams which one needs to pass in order to graduate. Of course they are considering some sort of "safety net" for students who are unable to pass the exams. (Maybe they can funnel them right into the army or instant hires for McDonalds). One Board member, Donald J. Coolican asked whether a safety net for students who cannot pass the end-of-course exams would undermine the exams. Well, Donald, you could always dumb down the exams if that happens. I mean, you can't have lots of kids failing because then what would you do with them all? On the other hand, those kids would probably drop out before that happens anyway. It has been reported in other states that minority students fail these exit exams at a higher rate. (Read here at "School Matters" and read this article by Stateline about lowering the bar.)

Monty Neill and Lisa Guisbond have this to say to CT:
The Connecticut State Board of Education is considering some form of exit exams as a graduation requirement from high school. The board is likely to make its recommendations to the Legislature by the end of the year.

Connecticut should think twice before going down this road. Evidence shows ''highstakes'' tests like exit exams that determine whether a student can graduate, are the wrong prescription for what ails public education.

The ills of many public schools are undeniable. Like other states, Connecticut has vast disparities in educational access, quality and outcomes. The record demonstrates, however, that exit exams are a false solution for these problems. Graduation tests that deny diplomas are simply another way to punish the victims of inadequately financed education. The victims are disproportionately low-income and minority students, some of them learning-disabled or immigrants for whom English is not the first language.

Proponents of graduation tests ignore the real consequences. Like snake-oil salesmen, they promise miracle cures. In reality, the harmful side effects of exit exams include a curriculum narrowed to a few subjects, teaching reduced to little more than test preparation, increased dropout rates and demoralized students.

The choice is not between imposing graduation tests and doing nothing to improve education. Solving the problem of unequal schools and inadequate outcomes requires many actions, from ensuring financial equity for the Bridgeports and Hartfords to better K-12 programs to having expectations of a well-rounded education for all children.

Connecticut must reorder its priorities and pursue public policies that address the foundations of children's academic success: health care, nutrition and living wages for working parents, along with high-quality teachers, a strong curriculum and well-financed schools.

I couldn't agree more.
The fact of the matter is that we need to get the federal government and the State to stop micro-managing our schools, and handing us unfunded mandates and bogus requirements that are really meant to benefit everyone else but the kids.

The school model is what needs to be overhauled.
The addition of high stakes testing is not the answer.
Exit exams will not force improvements in CT's education system, and they will only serve to punish students who are receiving substandard schooling.

Let's find out why CT schools are graduating kids who need remedial training in college (and why do colleges accept them anyway?)
Let's find out why the teachers are not delivering appropriate curriculum effectively (especially since they are being so well compensated in CT).
Let's find out why schools are failing the kids.
Let's find out why (insert your own failing school problem here).

Why do homeschoolers, and private schools, and urban charter schools like Jumoke Academy do so well?

Ned Vare knows. Ask him.

One thing is for certain, more high stakes testing is not the answer, but it will sure add dollars to the education coffers!

"The sad truth is that public education has destroyed the American dream for countless numbers of young people by preventing them from acquiring those academic skills needed to achieve success." - Samuel Blumenfeld , Educator and Author

“The difficulty is not that children don’t learn to read, write and do arithmetic very well – it is that kids don’t learn at all the way schools insist on teaching.” – J. T. Gatto

Update: Great editorial piece in the Courant Today (Dec 8) by Stan Simpson
"Let's Focus On Early Grades".
These new standards sound reasonable, but the reality is that right now they would have a punitive effect on urban schools. .... Two state principals — one urban, one suburban — have grave concerns about the commissioner's proposed restructuring of the high schools.


Dana said...

"Heaven forbid they require kids to learn about the Constitution in high school!"

That's what Constitution Day is day a year we set everything aside and learn that we have on. And that it is a living document. And while it is outdated, it is still pretty cool because we can do what we want despite what it says.

Principled Discovery

Crimson Wife said...

Here in California the exit exam tests 10th grade English and 8th/9th grade math (Algebra I). I'm sorry, but if a kid has passed 4 years' worth of high school coursework, he/she should be able to demonstrate competency at that minimal level. I share your concerns about state & Federal control over education but if local districts were actually awarding meaningful diplomas it's wouldn't even be an issue.

Judy Aron said...

Crimson Wife - Sorry but I disagree on these grounds: Why should a kid suffer failure on an exit exam after years of substandard teaching coupled with social promotion?
I agree that a kid should have a level of competency upon graduation - but what is actually happening with these exit exams is that a kid is punished for being unable to do something that the school and teachers have not adequately prepared him for. It looks like a classic example of the kids being blamed for not learning when the teachers and curriculum have been the actual reasons for failure. Where are the consequences for substandard teaching methods and those who deliver it?

Anonymous said...


Too easy: Have an exit exam for each grade. Fire teachers when too many of their students fail to pass.

The tests already mostly exist (I took "Iowa Basics" exams in 1980s) so there is not much cost there. They might have to be tweaked a bit to make them fit every grade instead of every couple years.

It's one day of school time. Zero teacher time - they are graded by scanners.

Alternatively: Do it every time a student changes school levels (elementary, middle, high) and fire all the teachers of particular subjects when the failure rate gets too high.

If Suzy is socially promoted from 2nd to 3rd grade, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers are equally culpable for passing her along.

- Mark

Rational Jenn said...

I see much irony in the fact that the purple states which currently require exams are among those with the reputation for poor educational systems (SAT scores and the like). I'd be interested to learn just exactly when these states mandated the exams and if any significant improvement has been made since the institution of the exams.