H. S. Curriculum Dilemma

As the school year has come to close for the 2012-13 year and I think back on all of the progress we made in helping our students learn more about themselves and their learning abilities my mind wanders to “purpose.” Education continues to evolve as it shapes itself to those non-educators who think it best to tear down education as it is and promote a more accountable, test driven model, much like, a business model. From what is taught, to how it should be taught, to who it should be taught and by whom it should be taught. Included is the idea of evaluation for teachers and principals. Merit pay is seemingly on the horizon as we get more and more into data and added value evaluation. But, what about the students? What about their real learning? Not just their test scores in each course or on a state college entrance exam should matter but rather their real learning both in the academic realm and in their personal realm. How do we measure these types of “student growth” and which is more important?

Scenario #1: An 8th grade student enters high school after having failed every class as an 8th grader. He has no use for school, doesn’t see the point and can’t make a connection between school and his future. He has some ability in basketball and enjoys being on a team. His state test scores rank his ability in math in the bottom quartile and his English scores put him in the at-risk category as he is just ranked barely “basic.” His NWEA baseline testing puts his math ability at the 5th grade 4th month and his reading ability is at a 4th grade 6th month.

The NWEA testing says he could grow in each area with a full year of instruction to the 6th grade 7th month in math and the 5th grade 5th month in reading. He now enters high school and is placed in Algerbra I A and English 9A first term. He is asked to learn Algebra content and read about Shakespeare. High school is about teaching the content for the most part. It may or may not have interventions put in place for a young man like the one I am describing. If there are interventions in place, most likely they will concentrate on helping the student “pass” his Algebra I and English 9 classes. But what about his learning? Will he make progress on his quest to pick up a grade level in math and/or reading? High school teachers are not asked to teach students basic skills in either subject area; again, they expect to receive students mostly ready for that content. Those who are usually thrive, and those who aren’t usually struggle and most likely fail.

High schools must be concerned with drop out rate, graduation rate, attendance rates, state test scores, college entrance exam scores, special education test scores, failure rates in classes, and through all of this the question not being asked or answered is “is this student learning/growing?” I mean in a way that matters; not passing classes but learning how to do the basic math skills needed or to read and comprehend and write to communicate clearly. What are we truly measuring by comparing ACT test scores or state exam test scores? Is it student learning? I think not.

Where the system is “broken” is in the parameters set forth by the legislative branch of government. We must have “cohorts” and they must arrive at high school and leave high school at the same time while earning the right amount of “credits” as deemed by our state legislature. No matter the research is clear…students arrive at every level of school in different places, academically, emotionally, physically, and even their attitudes are different towards school. How does an educator make a difference in a student’s life? By teaching content? By helping them overcome their lack of knowledge in a specific area? People seem to think student growth is an easy measurement to make. It is not. There are so many varying factors that play a role and factor into a student’s ability to “learn.” Students are not all the same!! Hello!

We must understand the problem before recommending solutions and lumping all learning as the same. Being a student is a challenge in today’s school system; being an educator is even more challenging. For once I wish they would let us be the professionals we are and do what is best for our students, each one of them, instead of trying to make them all the same when we know they are not remotely the same in oh, so many ways.

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About pshepich58

I am married and have one son. I have a black lab. I live in Livonia, Michigan where I am a superintendent of a public school district. I was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I attended Central Michigan University for both my undergrad & graduate degrees. My educational career has spanned stops in Clear Lake (Houston) Texas, Scottville, Hart, Custer and currently, Livonia Michigan. I will be starting my 32ndth year in public education this fall, 2014. I am a huge Green Bay Packer's fan; I love the Detroit Tigers, Pistons & Wings. I pull for the CMU Chippewas but am a huge college sports fan that supports the MSU Spartans (where my son is a student).
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