On Wednesday, I had the honor of delivering the keynote speech at NEOEA’s Summer Leadership Conference. Continue reading NEOEA SLC Keynote
Todd Jones thinks that a diploma is a trophy, and he’s wrong.
The most-talked-about decision of the State Board of Education last week concerned the setting of cut scores for two math tests on which scores had come in lower than expected.
As Patrick O’Donnell’s article for The Plain Dealer reports, Jones, the Board’s leading conservative, derided the lowering of cut scores as the product of what he called “the trophies-for-all movement.”
But a high school diploma is not a trophy: not literally, not figuratively. A trophy is a recognition of exceptional achievement, and a high school diploma isn’t: it’s a statement that a school system judges a student to have accomplished what students are expected to accomplish in high school. It’s a credential, not an honor.
That’s why we call a graduation ceremony a “commencement”: the awarding of the diploma is a recognition that the student is ready to “commence” getting on with his or her life.
Reasonable people hold many different viewpoints on what we should expect of a high school graduate. Some argue that all graduates should be college-ready, which implies that all students should go to college. That doesn’t match my experience–not as a student, not as a parent, and not as a teacher. And yet, it seems undeniable that graduates will need to know and be able to do more and different kinds of things in the future than in the past.
The task of K-12 education is neither to prepare all students for careers nor to prepare them for college: it’s to prepare them to do whatever they are capable of. And that’s not something that’s well decided by politicians or bureaucrats.
Not all should get trophies, but nearly all should get diplomas. And if they don’t, we need to look deeply at the reasons why they don’t. Obviously, diplomas must mean something; but “raising the bar” by insisting on an arbitrary cut score without a clear idea of why, or because the right number of children must fall below that mark, is cruel and counterproductive.
On the State Board of Education, I will advocate for high expectations that are also realistic and fair. That’s a tall order, but it’s one that educators are used to. If it gets done, it will be through thoughtful consideration, not slogans.
I spent much of Tuesday at the State Board of Education meeting. Others will cover it as a news story in greater detail than I will here–for example, here’s some early coverage from the Dayton Daily News. Although the Board did plenty of business, few will disagree that the main event was the setting of cut scores for two math tests on which the scores came back unexpectedly low.
This is a complex topic, and these few hundred words aren’t enough to cover it in all the detail it deserves. What I want to do here is to offer some reflections on the topic and the process.
- We got into this mess because politicians decided to focus on school “accountability.” The “accountability movement” has been embraced by politicians of both parties, and the thing about the word that rankles most educators, including me, is the implication that before lawmakers decided to focus on it, schools were unaccountable. In fact, they were quite accountable–to publicly-elected local boards of education. Somewhere along the line, the idea grew that schools would improve if the pressures on them were increased. Ohio’s accountability system that began modestly in the late 80s was the first symptom of this trend, and the pressures to improve test results have ratcheted up ever since.
- Remember the classroom tests you took in school? Chances are that you knew that certain percentages would earn an A, a B, and so forth. These tests aren’t like that: they are “norm-referenced,” which means, in the words of Alfie Kohn in The Schools Our Children Deserve, that they “aren’t intended to to find out how much students know. These tests were created only to find out how well your child does compared to every other child taking the test.” On these tests, there is no standard of performance except the “norms” assigned by the Board of Education, which assigns “cut scores” that determine which of five labels to apply to a student’s score.
- This means that assigning a cut score is a political act. When the State Board of Education performs its statutory duty to assign assign cut scores, it is determining how many children will be winners and losers.
- This underscores the importance of getting the right people on the State Board of Education. But it was the General Assembly and Governor who created this system in the first place. (Even while ignoring a school funding system that the Ohio Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional four times.) Since then they’ve been reinforced at the national level by administrations of both parties.
It’s a flawed system, and the Board didn’t create it. If elected I plan to be in the thick of the argument to try to mitigate the effects of bad law.
It’s Ohio’s responsibility to make sure that every student has a great public school, and it’s hard to imagine a great school of any sort without high-quality teachers. Continue reading Better Teaching
Recent comments by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost highlight a difference between our views on the Ohio Department of Education, and I think it highlights existing differences regarding public education in general. Continue reading Auditor’s Comments Raise Questions