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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » students taking harder classes, learning less

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Author Topic: students taking harder classes, learning less
philnotfil
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LATimes

quote:
U.S. high school students are taking tougher classes, receiving better grades and, apparently, learning less than their counterparts of 15 years ago.

Those were the discouraging implications of two reports issued Thursday by the federal Department of Education, assessing the performance of students in both public and private schools. Together, the reports raised sobering questions about the past two decades of educational reform, including whether the movement to raise school standards has amounted to much more than window dressing.

quote:
The reports summarized two major government efforts to measure the performance of high school seniors as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One was a standardized test of 12th graders conducted in 2005. The other was an analysis of the transcripts of students who graduated from high school that year.

The transcript study showed that, compared to students in similar studies going back to 1990, the 2005 graduates had racked up more high school credits, had taken more college preparatory classes and had strikingly higher grade point averages. The average GPA rose from 2.68 in 1990 to 2.98 -- close to a solid B -- in 2005.

That was the good news -- or so it seemed. But the standardized test results showed that 12th grade reading scores have generally been dropping since 1992, casting doubt on what students are learning in those college prep classes.

quote:
Among other things, Hall said the transcript study provided clear evidence of grade inflation, as well as "course inflation" -- offering high-level courses that have "the right names" but a dumbed-down curriculum.
Yay for parents! Now Johnny can be in an honors class without having to worry about how it will affect his GPA. I wonder if these are weighted or unweighted GPA's?

You could say that this is more reason for more testing in schools, but the state tests are even less accurate than the GPA's.

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hobsen
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The grade inflation and probably course inflation is certainly proven, but the lower test scores may simply mean students are now learning skills other than those the tests measure. I doubt people on Ornery read and write as well as corresponding individuals would have in 1900, but that simply means people in 1900 devoted a much larger proportion of their education to grammar and vocabulary. Knowledge in general has expanded while a student's time remains the same, so something must suffer. Inferiority in that respect does not mean people today are generally inferior to their predecessors a hundred years ago; in fact, reading magazines and the like from that era, they show often show an awkwardness and ignorance which would get them ridiculed today. And if we were to believe all news reports of this type, civilization has declined steadily since the Romans, and perhaps since the time of Neanderthal Man.
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Clark
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The study the article mentions compares students today to those of 15 years ago, not 100. High school material today should be largely unchanged from what it was 15 years ago. Math is still math, and science is essentially the same, at the high school level. 15 years of additional history is a small increase, though history classes tend to spend very little time on the most recent stuff, in my experience.

The only significant addition to learning between 2007 and 1992 that I see is computer technology. However, many students are likely to learn computer skills outside of school, and other skills, such as penmenship is being de-emphasized. The arguements that hobsen makes about education in the year 1900 don't seem to hold up when applied to the year 1992.

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hobsen
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That is an effective rebuttal, Clark. After only fifteen years, it may be that so much is still the same that a valid comparison can be made. I am very skeptical about comparisons between countries, or over long time periods; but I went too far in implying that no comparisons can ever be made. And it is fair to ask whether the "movement to raise standards" may have done nothing at all.
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TommySama
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If IB and AP are high standards for America's youth, I weep for our country.
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Clark
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I graduated from high school in 1999, right in the middle of the two groups being discussed (1992 and 2007). Obviously it is difficult for me to gauge how much I knew coming out of high school compared to other groups, but . . .

I graduated from HS with a pretty darn good understanding of integral and differential calculus. I took half a dozen other AP classes, got good grades, etc. etc. I was an above average student. I bring up the calculus specifically to make the following point. My parents graduated from HS in the late 60s, and never would have dreamed of taking calculus (let alone 2 years of it) in high school. I took classes in art history, European history, chemistry, physics, blah blah blah. I feel that the education available to many students (me, at least) was superior to that of a generation ago (from the stories from my parents).

That said, studies show that on the whole, high school students are learning less. IMO, a greater percentage of students now are receiving absolutely no education. The causes are many. Lower-class urban society, lack of parental involvement, drugs, violence, gangs, children, student apathy, teacher apathy, the list goes on and on. My feelings is that the distribution of students is widening. I'd like to see a study out there that perhaps looks at the distribution of students in the past and currently.

Anyone out there with their own high school age kids want to weigh in? Potentially your kids are only 20-30 years younger than you. How would you compare their education to yours? What about their peers?

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simplybiological
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First of all, standardized testing sucks. No matter WHAT course you are *theoretically* testing, primarily you are testing reading comprehension and vocabulary. I put some TAKS [the Texas standardized test] questions on a test, and an ESL student asked me what "soil" was. Her knowledge of science can't be tested, because she doesn't speak enough English. I have to stop teaching actual content in a couple weeks to browbeat TAKS objectives to my students. Gosh, that's valuable.

Second of all, you pay teachers crap and put them in harsh environments, and wonder why they don't go all "Dangerous Minds" on them. We go through teacher prep programs that teach us all kinds of neat innovative stuff supported by the literature, then we go into the classroom and the school, administration, district, etc don't support us. Most teachers quit within the first three years. It's not teacher apathy so much as teacher frustration and attrition.

Third of all, teachers get blamed for EVERYTHING. These days (and i would say this is different from ten years ago when I was in high school), parents will call you and freak out on you if you suggest their sweet baby is a bit of a pain in the ass. The other day, I had a parent call me and suggest I "Learn how to take attendence" because her sweet baby swears he was in class on Monday and I marked him absent. He skipped. Duh. I asked him about it on Wednesday, and he said, "Well, yeah, I TOLD my ma I was here." Right. When we asked the principal how we might motivate students to get to class without getting told to "f--- off," she suggested we ask NICER. Right.

The majority of people sit outside the system and point fingers and tsk tsk about how the Education system is broken. Go fix it.

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hobsen
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A school at which I taught years ago admitted maybe 120 students as freshmen and encouraged ESL students to drop out during the high school years. They ended with maybe thirty graduates with one Hispanic among them. Does this still go on? If ESL students are being kept in school instead of dumped on the streets, the average achievement of graduates will decline.
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Lisa M.
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Hobsen - it looks really bad for a school's statistics if the ESL kids drop out. They keep track of that stuff nowadays.

You also have to keep in mind that there's an increase in fully-integrated classrooms that include special-ed students as well as general-ed students. If this is handled properly (gened teachers work with sped teachers to find out how to get things done, and all students actually benefit), it's good. Nine times out of ten, the school just dumps a sped student in the gened class and says "here ya go!"

In Western New York, at least. I can't speak for the rest of the country.

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Gaoics79
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quote:
First of all, standardized testing sucks. No matter WHAT course you are *theoretically* testing, primarily you are testing reading comprehension and vocabulary.
It's a fair point, but then again, reading comprehension and vocabulary are a pretty important component with respect to a good many professions. And the ones that don't engage reading comprehension skills typically rely on math and logic skills, which also happen to be tested for in standardized tests.

Alot of people say that these tests don't mean anything, or that they only test your ability to take the test, etc... But it's been my (admittedly anecdotal) observation that, for the most part, when it comes to the standardized tests like the LSATs or SATs, smart people tend to do well, mediocre people tend to do mediocre, and dumb people do lousy. That sounds about right to me.

When I was in high school and me and my friends took the PSATs, our scores pretty much lined up with what I already knew about each of my friends' levels of intellect. My smart friends scored really high, and my relatively less intelligent friends, including me, scored less high.

I'm not saying these tests are perfect. But they have the advantage of being level across the board. If you get stuck with the English teacher who doesn't believe in giving A's unless you write like Shakespeare, at least the colleges have some fairly unbiased baseline to compare you to, versus, say, the guy in the next class, who just happened to get the teacher who hands out A's so long as you spell your name right on the form.

I'm a big fan of these standardized tests. They cut through grade inflation, teacher bias, parental pressure, and all the other BS that makes judging a child's academic performance like trying to read tea leaves.

[ February 28, 2007, 11:21 AM: Message edited by: jasonr ]

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LoverOfJoy
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How do teacher's salaries now compare to what they were 15 years ago? Have the work environments declined significantly in that time? To what would you attribute the changes in parents attitudes? I'm skeptical that it's changed as much as you think it has, simplybiological. As a teacher, the problem students (and their parents) stand out. As a student, I had no idea how other kids' parents acted with teachers. That's not to say you're wrong in your assessment but I'd be curious if your fellow teachers that have been working there for 10 years ever had parents back then swear that they must not be taking attendance properly because their sweet little Johnny said he was in class. While I wouldn't be surprised to hear they feel like things are getting worse, I'd be very surprised if that sort of thing wasn't happening 10, 20, and even 30 years ago.

Sure, YOUR parents didn't do that 10 years ago. Maybe none of your friends' parents did either. But I suspect it happened and possibly a lot more than either of us would guess.

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LoverOfJoy
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quote:
Anyone out there with their own high school age kids want to weigh in? Potentially your kids are only 20-30 years younger than you. How would you compare their education to yours? What about their peers?
I don't have any high school kids but my son is 9. I can't really compare quality of teaching. My son is struggling with mild ADD and I didn't have any troubles in elementary school (I was in the gifted program). My son has been to 4 different schools so far and the main difference I've noticed is the amount of parent involvement that the schools now push for.

I could be off in my memory but I don't remember parents helping out in classrooms except in kindergarten (for all I knew they were just there to help their kid adjust to school--*shrug*). I don't remember a teacher's aide or student teacher in the class until high school.

Every one of my son's classes have had at least one teacher's aide for much if not all of the year. Perhaps this is because I've been in college and so we of course live in a college town with a lot of el ed students who need the experience. Every class has asked parents to sign up to come into the class and help at various times during the day.

Every year he's had lots of homework that parents have to sign. I can't remember a time growing up when I had to show my homework to my parents. At the most I remember giving permission slips to my parents to be able to go on the occasional field trip.

edited to add: I DO remember going to a preschool where college or high school students and possibly parents came to help out.

[ February 28, 2007, 11:58 AM: Message edited by: LoverOfJoy ]

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simplybiological
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LOJ- I linked to this on another thread a while back... teacher's salaries essentially haven't changed in most states, while other salaries continue to adjust for COL and inflation. http://www.nea.org/edstats/losingground.html

I would say the work environment is different- with the added emphasis on standardized testing and school accountability, teachers have very little freedom regarding their instruction and a lot of people breathing down their necks.

I can't say what happened that I didn't see- I will say that many of the veteran teachers at my school observe things getting worse.

Jason-
Just about all the literature in Education goes against standardized testing as a measure of learning and educational quality. I can post it if you want, but a simple google search will yield more than you ever wanted to know.

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Gaoics79
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quote:
Just about all the literature in Education goes against standardized testing as a measure of learning and educational quality. I can post it if you want, but a simple google search will yield more than you ever wanted to know.
Well the expert, not me. I was just speaking from personal experience. I really wouldn't know where to look for objective sources. Let's start though, by explaining what "learning and educational quality" means. Exactly how is that defined, and how does this literature you allude to measure these things?
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