Once again, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District is patting itself on the back for a job well done. The article, 'Schools earn best grades' in last week's Tidings, confirms that in most subjects, 95 percent of students are meeting the state's standards. But what is the reality behind these numbers?
A visit to the Oregon Department of Education's Web site is quite illuminating to anyone determined enough to get to the bottom of this. Try printing some of the sample state tests and giving them to your child. Let's take math, for example.
The sample tests have 25 questions, while the real test would have 50 or 60 questions. However, the small print at the end of the test tells you that a child getting around 13 out of 25 answers correct is likely to meet the state standard on the actual test. I don't know about you, but when I went to school, 13/25 worked out at little more than 50 percent and was a fail! The actual test also allows unlimited time, and the child can use a calculator! Since each question has four possible answers, simply guessing already gives you a 25 percent. Just slightly more thinking and figuring it out with a calculator and bingo! You've passed the state test.
I have written to three people at the ODE about this and not one of them will answer my email. Do they not want to admit that their tests are too easy? My fourth grade daughter just took the fifth grade sample math test, and without a calculator or any help, even without being taught the fifth grade math curriculum, she got 23 out of 25 correct. She is bright, but looking at the test, it's easy to see that the standards are not that difficult to meet.
Today's math curriculum emphasizes problem solving and math concepts, but before children have mastered concrete facts by memorization. Since children are no longer taught addition and multiplication tables so that they can instantly retrieve these essential math facts from memory, they are left without essential skills for long division and pre-algebra. I found out that a significant number of sixth graders still don't know these math facts, yet fourth graders are told that they should already know them. Is it any wonder that kids go through to high school still struggling with basic math? That few high schoolers, let alone primary school kids, can even read an analog clock (try asking a child what time it is without looking at their cell phone or reading a digital clock)? And that in a recent report in the Tidings headlined 'Brainy teens say top scores no big deal' the National Merit Scholars were more interested in creative arts than academic skills?
The Beaverton school district, one of the best in the area, is already re-evaluating its math curriculum in response to growing concern from parents that problem-solving is being emphasized at the expense of memorization.
A report in the Oregonian recently highlighted the fact that only 15 percent of Oregon ninth grade students end up graduating from college. Are we failing to teach appropriately at the primary school level, thus producing middle schoolers and ultimately high schoolers who are not equipped to deal with academic subjects? Last week's Tidings reported that the WLWV school district is enhancing its arts curriculum. Administrator Jane Stickney is quoted as saying:
'In the arts, students learn that there is not just one right answer or one way to solve a problem, They learn to exercise judgment, and they learn to connect ideas with purpose.'
I believe children, at least at the primary level, need to know facts, not 100 different ways of looking at something. Later they can build interpretive skills. She also said:
'The technologies are creating a strong need to know the principles of design, color, line, form and music, as students attempt to represent learning in powerful digital formats'.
Come again? Aren't we running before we can walk here? While in third grade, my daughter was being taught to use PowerPoint, at a time when most of the class was still struggling with basic multiplication. I send my kids to school to learn academics, not how to present their latest composition about a pet kitten with techno-flair. Let them play at home, not at school. Teach them the facts, please, and let them succeed.
WLWV schools may believe they are clothed in the finest fabric, but are they really naked after all?
Margaret Groves is a West Linn resident.