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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Covert Operations of My Al Gebra Sleeper Cell

Today’s Pearls Before Swine comic strip sums up what’s wrong with Algebra in our schools.

Here in California, the educational bureaucracy has more or less legislated that Algebra proficiency is a big deal. Students are subject to two batteries of testing.

The State requires STAR Testing (Stupid Tests Are Required) as its effort in complying with the Federal No Child Left Behind excuse for education policy. Every State has to do something like this. STAR tests are used to evaluate school-wide performance, as well as to cull students into three broad categories; below proficiency, proficiency, and above proficiency. Students’ individual results are used to place them in remedial, standard, or accelerated classes. Anyone remember “tracking’ from the 1960s? The Star testing process takes two to three weeks out of the instruction schedule. The actual tests take less than a week to administer, but the schools spend a couple of weeks before the tests reinforcing test-taking skills (an orgy of drill-and-kill instruction), rather than moving forward in the course syllabus. Schools feel pressure to cram their students for the STAR tests because disappointing school-wide performance will result in funding reductions and the threat of school closure.

As if STAR testing isn’t enough, students must pass another test to demonstrate the rather modest level of Algebra and English proficiency required to get a High School Diploma in California, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our legislature. Perhaps if the legislature required math proficiency from themselves, we could get a reasonable budget some day. This introduces another battery of tests called the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) . The first lines of the first two tables in the incredibly long and boring report in this link tells the story; about 25% percent of students fail this test in their sophomore years, but only 5% to 10% fail when tested again in their senior year. Schools get their failing sophomores into intensive test-taking drill programs to get them through the test. That takes kids who aren’t learning as well as average out of their instruction. Brilliant, I say. After all, I can’t tell you how many employers have told me that they need kids with advanced multiple choice test-taking skills. As an aside, note the scores for “economically disadvantaged students”. In addition to all the other great virtues of this graduation requirement, it also helps assure that 25% of poor children will grow up to be poor adults. Hip Hip Hooray. Certainly, the best way to solve any social problem is by punishing the poor (see the recent California Budget May Revise).

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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