Report Cards Bring More Bad News To Trench-dwellers

Rating Schools Is Morale-crushing Time-waster, Says Teacher

November 24, 1991|By Phil Greenfield

These are not happy days in Anne Arundel's halls of academe, as you can well imagine.

Bobby Neall, the accounting whiz who taught Draco to balance his checkbook, has a lot of us "in-the-trenches" types wondering exactly what we're doing absorbing the brunt of these budgetcuts when the bureaucratic dead wood of the rear echelon remains sacrosanct, a petrified forest of waste that apparently must be spared the knife for reasons no teacher begins to understand.

At the same time that many of us are writing resumes, arranging for job counseling and feverishly seeking to refinance our homes comesanother big boost for morale: the long-ballyhooed release of the Maryland School Performance Program "report cards."

Issued by our omniscient overseers at the Maryland Board of Education, these reports make it clear that the state finds a great deal of fault with our performance. To be blunt, these "report cards" MSPP all over us.

"Schools fail to meet state goals" shrieked the front page of the Anne Arundel County Sun on Wednesday, Nov. 13. The Capital's ever-alert graphics division took the trouble to highlight our "NM's" (standards Not Met) in blue ink, the better to call attention to your ignominious failure, my dear.

As reported in blue ink that day, the news seemed grim. On the reading, math, writing and citizenship scores, county ninth-graders who for the first time took these tests failed to meet any of the state's satisfactory standards, let alone the mandated levels of excellence.

The point is clear: There is a crisis. We are delinquent. The state knows what excellence is, and by God, we're just not cutting the mustard, delivering the goods, hurtling the obstacles -- pick the metaphor you like.

Ladies and gentlemen: This teacher is tired, tired of being patronized, tired of being furloughed, tiredof being manipulated, upset by the prospect of financial loss, and -- most of all -- tired of being characterized as a failure because ofthese inane test results.

In my opinion, this "functional crisis"is being sold to us as an accurate measure of our high schools by a bunch of bureaucratic pinwheels who haven't taught in a classroom since Marcus Welby made house calls. It's being mindlessly bought as objective fact by the media, which should damned well know better, and by a public that has hitched its wagon to yet another group of costly experts out to reinvent the wheel.

I submit that these scores are just plain silly and should be dismissed accordingly.

Go back to that blue ink for a moment. Those scores were nothing more than ninth-grade results. The reading and math figures were achieved in October,a mere six weeks after those kids walked in the door for the first time. These bureaucrats are actually assessing the viability of an entire high school on the basis of freshman scores.

So what do these "failing rates" of 75.4 percent on math, 69.8 percent on citizenship.70.9 percent on writing and 94.1 percent in reading really tell us?

They tell us that a lot of ninth-graders don't know very much. Stop the presses! Hold the afternoon edition! We have a scoop!

The sum total of this expensive, time-consuming orgy of test designing, test teaching, test grading, test recording and test reporting is the grand epiphany that numerous high school freshmen needn't be wasting their time on the Rhodes Scholarship paperwork just yet.

Folks! Theyshould have asked me. I'd have told them that for nothing.

And why should these kids be expected to know anything? Often, they are lazy, immature, and perpetually distracted by hormones, drugs, alcohol, the divorce, the step-parent they can't stand and the grand social feast that is the high school of the '90s. And worst of all, they're the product of a state system designed and overseen by the very same desk jockeys who now bring us these functional tests. You can't fail a child (damages self-esteem), you can't require a kid to flat-out memorize material (too demeaning), you can't deny them promotion (too traumatic), and you can't throw them out (too little due process).

So, it's the ninth grade and -- all of a sudden -- Johnny is supposed to know and care how long a senator serves and how to write a letter to a friend describing his most useful day on earth.

He can't do either one, but he is at peace with himself, enchanted by his ignorance. We are the children; we are the world.

Ah, but there are 11th-grade results, too. Look at them. By grade 11, our passing rate on the reading test is 99.5 percent. "Excellent," says the state.

And 98.3 percent have passed the math test. "Only satisfactory," says the state, which has defined 99 percent as excellent.

The writing score has climbed to 97.8 percent, which is also "satisfactory." Only citizenship lags behind at an "unsatisfactory" 96.1 percent.

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