Monday, January 13, 2014

Admitting we're wrong

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The Las Vegas-Review Journal reported today that high school students in Clark County School District would no longer be required to pass proficiency exams in order to receive a high school diploma. I welcome this decision, but am disappointed with one item that was reported in the article.

The high school proficiency exams have been derided ever since their inception. They forced hundreds, if not thousands, of high school students to receive a certificate of attendance rather than a high school diploma. Teachers and students complained that the exams were not aligned with the curriculum students were actually taught. In other words, the exams tested them on items they were never taught. In addition, students already proved they mastered the concepts when they passed the class.

The exams created a host of problems for students. Many students and parents, including myself, dreaded the exams. Students became stressed and over anxious because of the pressure brought on by these exams. Parents would have to pay for tutors just so their child could have extra help to pass the exams.

The section of the article that bothered me the most:
The Nevada State Board of Education decided in June that students who were freshmen, sophomores and juniors in 2012-13 must still take and pass the existing proficiency exams to graduate.
The rationale: It’s bad policy, perhaps illegal, to change students’ graduation requirements midway through high school.
“You have to maintain the rules for them,” Jhone Ebert, the district’s chief innovation and productivity officer, told the School Board on Thursday.
So if we know something is wrong, that it's ineffective, and that it harms students more than it helps, we can't just admit that it's wrong and immediately stop it? We have to phase it out, thus harming even more students?

How many times do we do this in the classroom? How many times do we trudge through a program, technique, policy or philosophy because it's the newest thing to try? Or we keep at it because the school spent a lot of money on it? Or it was paid with a federal grant and the feds want some accountability? Maybe we keep reading a novel with the class because we started it, so we need to finish it? Maybe that worksheet or test wasn't well designed.

I'm all for trying new things. But when we get into them and realize it was a mistake, why can't we just say that? It was a mistake! Stop using that teaching technique or that program, stop following that philosophy. If the proficiency exams are wrong, why do we have to keep them around for another 3 years? Do what's best for the students!

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