I'm embarassed

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 31, 2003 at 5:12 AM

I'm embarassed that I use a text editor that carries the same name as Florida's governor. That's a messed up state. I'm still unclear on exactly what New York's promotion policies are, but I hope they're not as extreme as Florida's. I fear they might.

The basic idea is that Florida uses standardized testing as the only measure of whether a student should be promoted. Now, suppose I agree with the tests, and suppose I say that they are good measures of students' abilities and that they shouldn't move on unless they can do well on them. Even if I believed that, this law would be ludicrous, because students have to score in the 51st percentile or better to be promoted.

Yes, you read that right. Students now have to be above average just to be deemed good enough to move on. What kind of sense does that make? Gregg Easterbrook is a fan of pointing out grade inflation at well known colleges (Harvard, I'm looking at you), noting that these are places where everyone is above average (which, if we're looking at the nation, then sure, but how can everyone be above average when compared to their peers [other Harvard students]?). Well, Florida now requires that everyone be above average.
There's some faulty math going on.

One interesting quote:

In Florida's push to get every child reading by third grade, politicians have ignored the scientific studies on retention, which overwhelmingly conclude that students held back suffer academically, dropping out at a higher rate.

I will presume that these studies tried to eliminate the bias inherent in this kind of study, namely that students who are held back for academic reasons are precisely the type who might drop out anyway, regardless of whether they're held back or not. Some children just aren't very bright, and some children are sabotaged by poor parenting and poor early education. Does repeating the sixth grade make a difference in whether those children finish school or not? It makes sense that it would, but I wonder how you eliminate that variable. I guess by just comparing students with similar performance where some were held back and others were not. But that begs the question of why the latter group was not held back. Perhaps they were promoted for the same reasons that they eventually pushed on and graduated, whatever those reasons happened to be.

I'm not disbelieving, per se, so much as I am expressing curiosty about the evidence these papers the article refers to present.