Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Approaching Adequate

And let the celebration of mediocity continue. Yep it's report card time. If there's one thing I have learned this past year, it's not to sweat the small stuff.  You gotta pick your battles. When Phillip started school here, I wrote the DOE numerous letters regarding the inadequacy of the grading system here. In an effort to make sure no one gets left behind, everyone gets pushed forward whether they are ready or not. It's kinda like pushing kids off into the deep end of the pool. You can let them wade in the shallow end and play, eventually they will learn by trial and error how to combine leg and arm movements to propel themselves around. You could teach them to swim using time honored approaches reducing the amount of time it takes them to learn to propel themselves. Or you could toss them into the deep end and see who swims and who almost drowns. Then you save the kids who almost drown and take them even deeper and toss them in again until they get it.  That's what no child left behind does. 

Here there used to be 3 grades, ME(exceeds expectations, A), MP(Meets ExpectationsB,C,D), WB(Approaching expectations, F)- in my mind it has always been Meets Expectations, Mediocre Performance, Well Below. The grades do not necessarily indicate performance and are not based on numbers whatsoever. . Huh? The first parent teacher conference goes over the grading system and how it is applied to their work. The reports are to"inform you of the progress towards achieving the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards". They do not assign grades- they merely indicate if your child progresses along this same pattern, they probably will achieve that result on standardized tests.   Now they have added a fourth criteria, because 'well above', 'at' and 'below' didn't give parents enough info to go on, go figure. I guess some parents were put-off that their ME children were scoring in the 50th percentile nationwide. I thought we didn't have to know numbers? Now we have DP-which is Developing Proficiency(mine) Approaching Expectations(theirs). WB is now Well Below Expectations.  I guess in about 3-4 years they will add MA, Above Expectations. And then in another few years they will eliminate the confusion and attach an alphabet related scale with A being the highest and F being the lowest- or failing- no I'm sorry that is politically incorrect- well, well below expectations.  After that they will start attaching percentile ranks to said numbers and like that- It will have taken Hawaii 10 years to reinvent the grading scale and prove why it works. Don't even get me started on the poor military families who have to PCS with the worthless report cards from here.  Had to do it in Colorado when we put Phillip in school there- the admin said they would just test him since the reports told them nothing they needed to know. Bingo. Look at the state test scores and you know.We have this nebulous curriculum based entirely on a standardized test results so children are programmed to perform well towards that test whose numbers drive the entire educational system here. The children do well on the Hawaii test- but nationally are failing miserably- aka below 50th percentile. But numbers don't matter.

There's an Australian comedian that Phil has me watch sometimes on YouTube. His schtick is "Harden the F#@! Up." It's like Jay Walking, but pointing out the complete lack of tenacity in certain people.   Sure Hawaii wants every child to succeed, great. Handing a child a piece of paper that says "You succeed" does not success make.  Not only that, It devalues the piece of paper that children who truly do well get that says they succeed.   Hawaii's grading system needs to Harden the F#@! up.

So yesterday we get the kids report cards. I do the cursory scan and a lump gets stuck in my throat. Kiera has a WB. I am a failure. I have failed. (See we had grades when I went to school and I am quick to accept accountability and blame. I know that failure IS an option in life and am glad I was prepared for that fact growing up.  After all, winning is the sweetest after the spoils of defeat. )  I start back at the top. She has 2 WB's overall and DP's in every content area(what most people call subjects). But I got 3 MP's- she points out.  I feel like I am going to be sick. I knew I needed to work more with her- I just had NO idea how MUCH more. Not that this card tells me what I need to do. I read the teacher comments, hoping for some modicum of guidance, Kiera is a pleasure to have in class, follows directions and works well with others. She needs to make extra effort to ask for help. A good worker and wonderful friend.

Translated: Kiera is a budding socialite. But mostly my problem is that a month ago when I had our conference she was doing well and there were no major concerns. How are her grades? Oh we don't compile grades at this point. Huh?   To me, WB's mean poor performance across the board and the past month is only 1/3 of the quarter, so she had to have been performing poorly at conference time.  I look closer at the grades. One WB is in algebra. Yes folks, they now teach algebra before multiplication and division. Try teaching an 8 year old to conceptualize that n represents a number- it could be any number, but it is a specific number and then solve for it. I was mystified by that concept in HIGH SCHOOL. I went in to talk to her teacher about that. She said oh no we don't expect them to understand that, we just want them to find the number. Trial and error algebra.  Not really algebra at all then- it's just a guessing game. Kinda like the report cards.  They also have kids do word problems before they read well enough to understand them and the fun abstract math that they represent.  It's hard enough to be analytical when you have all the tools you need- it's tons o fun when you have less than half the tools you need. Yes learning can be fun. But you can also make basics tougher than they need to be. Sometimes you need to get on your hands and knees and scrub the floor. Sure it takes longer than going over it with a mop, but the results are noticeable. I am a purist/ Do times tables and rote math, nothing fancy.  Teach the basics. Nope -we've got this goofy curriculum that has them applying math in everyday circumstances as opposed to learning how to DO math in everyday circumstances. Isn't that the point of becoming an adult- you have to take all this stuff you learned and now apply it? And to top it off- not only do they have to apply it- they have to be able to show different ways to achieve that answer.  Have you ever known someone who just does math in their head?  These brilliant poor souls will fail miserably at math in this curriculum.  It's not that you get the answer- it's HOW you get the answer. LOV ED that concept in Organic Chemistry- think it sucks for addition in the 3rd grade.  31 + 59 is 90. I don't care if you forgot to carry the 1, it's wrong.  The answer is not 80. I don't care if you drew 9 weird liney things and 10 dots and circled the wrong groups- add it.   I think you are wasting your time drawing out 90 dots and you run the risk of counting wrong. Add it. I talked to Kiera's teacher who said that the standardized tests actually test the various methods and they need to know them. MMM hmmm. So let me get this straight- Kiera can add, she just can't show you how she added and therefore gets a WB? Well, since the benchmark is not adding but learning to add using various methods, yes, she demonstrates WB.

So what is a mom to do?  She spends her time printing out worksheets and hours, teaching basic math so my child can use that to figure out her math homework and unfortunately this past quarter, it was not enough.  AND if she continues along this path someday she will get to high school where an A is 90-100% and an F represents below 50% and she will be applying the algebra she learned in the 3rd grade, wait there are no numbers- maybe that is next year. I am not for devaluing children's self worth. I don't want them to feel like failures. I also like Kiera's teacher and think she is a tough grader, which Kiera needs.  Kiera was completely apathetic to the grades. Of course- they are so padded, she doesn't feel the fall. And she is falling. All I know is that if she continues approaching this path she might approach this path sometime in the future when there is a standardized test to test path approachment.


Amy said...

What a convoluted mess! I know you've been frustrated w/ the education system out there, but I had NO IDEA how crazy it was! Yikes!

NCLB "teaching to the test" drives my teacher-mom batty too, and she works with some 5th graders who are still using the little number squiggles & dots to figure out simple addition problems. That would be why she spent her short visit quizzing my kids on their addition facts... :)

Robert C. said...

As a former student in the Hawaiian education system I will say this.... I forgot what I was going to say.... see how much I learned!

Seriously it is bad. It's the disconnect from the mainland. Hawaii does have a habit of doing it's own thing from time-to-time... ok, most of the time and it's a huge setback in the area of education.

Kevin said...

HOMESCHOOL! I'm not a huge proponent of denying kids the expereince provided by social interaction with both peers and outside-the-home authority figures (aka school), and what parent doesn't crave that extra time to work on other things in their lives.

However, school is supposed to HELP young minds develop into socially functioning old minds, not cripple everyone right out of the starting gate so that they are all equal. If Hawaii doesn't care that your daughter can't figure out how to give proper change to a customer who hands over $10.25 for a $7.20 meal, then you must take over. Because Hawaii isn't going to hug her when she gets fired from McDonalds at 16 yrs old for giving away the company profits.

...of course I was a Math Major and feel pretty strongly on the subject. Can you tell?