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Not Accepting Student Failure Essay

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Not Accepting Student Failure
Williamsen, Kurt
New American, The
10-29-2007
Measuring Success
Many schools in the United States, but especially the inner-city schools, are failing to properly educate students and many, if not most, of the students actively avoid being taught. Incredibly, education professionals often defend students' efforts to remain ignorant.

Such a sweeping statement obviously needs corroboration because, without it, the literary equivalent of hit men will likely be quick to point out facts that would seemingly confirm that public schools are succeeding. For instance, according to the New York Times, "the traditional gaps in [SAT] scores between minority students and all test-takers had narrowed," even as the percentage of minorities taking the SATs reached an all-time high in 2007. Moreover, more whites are taking the SATs and scoring higher as well.

Sounds impressive, doesn't it? But using test scores, especially from the SAT, to evaluate what is being learned in schools can lead to faulty conclusions - alternately showing U.S. educational attainment to be both better and worse than it really is. Until 1995, all SAT test scores were scaled against the SAT scores from a group of test-takers from 1941. However, in 1995, that scaling stopped and the test scores were "recentered," essentially to offset a growing number of low test scores. Thus in 1995, the bulk of scores on both the verbal and math sections of the test were artificially raised, according to a report entitled "The Recentering of SAT Scales and Its Effects on Score Distributions and Score Interpretations," created by the College Board Corporation, which administers the SAT.

The recentering of the test had another side effect: the gap between minorities and whites tended to appear to close. In 2005, the test was changed again.

On the other hand, tests that purport to show that U.S. students lag behind students from around the world generally have methodological flaws and tend to understate U.S. achievement. In an article in Scientific American entitled "The False Crisis in Science Education," the authors conclude: "The fact that U.S. 12th-graders fall behind on international [science] tests does not mean that Americans know less about science than adults in other nations do. In fact, U.S. residents have consistently demonstrated a firmer grasp of basic science facts than have the denizens of many countries that outperformed the U.S. on TIMMS [Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study]." Moreover, the fact that Asian Americans tend to do very well on national math tests, including the pre-1995 version of the SAT, shows that the opportunity to get a good mathematics education is available in most schools, but that most students are not putting in enough study time to master the material. Asians, by the way, don't shine so brightly as a group verbally because for many English is their second language.

In reality, comparing the results from yearly tests only weakly indicates how well students and schools are achieving - unless students take identical tests from year to year, which could not be done from a practical standpoint because students would cheat. But these tests do show an important fact that should be examined - the gap between how white students are doing as compared to minorities. Notably, the knowledge gap remains.

If test scores don't reliably indicate how well schools are doing, how can it be claimed that schools need improvement - let alone that education professionals are helping the students fail?

We can make an educated guess based on observable phenomena:

* By the number of children deemed to have learning disabilities. (The numbers are skyrocketing.)

* By how many parents are turning to tutoring services to help their children succeed in school. (In just the first quarter of 2006, one education-service company, Educate, Inc., made $92.9 million, an increase of 13 percent over 2005.)

* By dropout rates. (Low estimates place the overall dropout rate at 18 percent and the dropout rate for blacks and hispanics at about 25 percent. Inner-city areas tend to have much higher dropout rates: Detroit's dropout rate was estimated as high as 78.3 percent last year.)

* By the percentage of students who begin college who actually finish college. (A 2002 study done by ACT News showed that the percentage of college freshmen attending four-year public institutions who graduate within five years has dropped seven percentage points between 1989 and 2002 - despite the fact that most colleges offer remedial classes, tutoring, and mathematics and writing centers where students can go for one-on-one help.)

Indefensible Defenses
We can also ascertain that many education professionals are aiding students to fail. We know this by both statistics and firsthand accounts by those in the schools. College Board Corporation President Gaston Caperton indicated that "a full 41 percent of the 2001 college-bound seniors reported ...

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