To my future president:
Your country’s value is determined by the exceptionalism of its youth. Your youth need to be educated properly. If students of today become adults of tomorrow, then the best thing you can do today to ensure your country’s future is teach your youth. It also happens to be the best way to improve the views of our country in the eyes of competing nations. “Education should not be the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” proclaims William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet. Students graduating high school today are not ready for college. High-stakes tests are extinguishing our “lighting of a fire.” The United States is falling behind.
Today in high school, we depend too heavily on high-stakes tests. Those who test well are those who succeed. I have come to find that tests are not always accurate in detecting those students who learned the material as opposed to those who can retain information for a short period of time. I speak not as one who is pleading for tests to be extinguished, leaving me to breeze through the smoky cloud of high school. I speak as a student of the United States who tests exceptionally well and has used in multiple instances the cram-study technique to pass an important test. I remember critical information until the unit is done with. Then the seemingly useless knowledge sinks into my brain’s watery memories of past lectures until it erodes with the others.
The information I am tested on does not last a semester, let alone long enough for me to carry it through college. There are better options than current United States testing for our long-term knowledge. People all over the country are seeing a problem in the United States education system. We have been ranked anywhere from fifth to seventeenth in education internationally. It is hard to rank based on education, something so unique to each culture, but there is always room to improve. Feelings of injustice from Common Core programs teaching outlandish curriculum along with scholarships hinging dependently on ACT tests are heard through the hallways of my high school. The United States has not been living up to its potential, and people know it.
FairTest complains in their article on graduation tests and how they relate to high school diplomas in 2008. They point out multiple ways that the United States graduation tests fail to provide possible employers with meaningful information. Specifically, the article shows that most knowledge-based workplaces need employees who gather and analyze data, who have well-rounded skills to communicate effectively with others, and who come to conclusions even when evidence is complex and open-ended. Attributes such as these do not come from graduation tests. Statistics show that when these high-stake tests have been introduced, more college students enroll in remedial classes in order to get further help in their subjects. The students need more help to be ready for college courses. FairTest summarizes this fault in graduation tests by emphasizing how multiple choice tests do not require the necessary attributes mentioned and by showing that the tests are not working efficiently. They end the article by suggesting performances, exhibitions, and portfolios as quality alternatives to standard testing.
The concern is that our school system focuses on achievement so much that we lose sight of learning material for life. Some colleges throughout the country have even gone so far as to abstain from using letter grades. Some ideas put into practice by private schools may be able to be incorporated into American high schools. Bestcollegereviews.org lists descriptions of 10 Colleges Without Letter Grades. In the article, Sarah Lawrence College is noted for its conferences, “Conferences are one-on-one interactions between a student and their professor. The written evaluations fits within this education system by providing a culmination of the dialogue between professors and students over the course of the year.” Logic would look at this route of education and see that if a teacher truly knows their student, they will be better able to teach them. By having one-on-one conferences with each student over the entire year, this goal could be accomplished.
Another approach taken by Brown University emphasizes that students should prove they have done something worthwhile in class, “The rationale behind this system of grading is that students are not encouraged to use their transcript as the only proof of their academic achievements and progress. Instead, they are encouraged to establish a portfolio of work and experience that is only supplemented by their grades... It also allows students to personalize their transcripts and customize it according to their needs and strengths.” Students get to create a collection of what they have done in class. This can then solve the problem with employers reviewing graduates who have no recollection of any hands-on experience they gained by completing their entire education.
The United States have seen some clever options arise from the dilemma our nation faces in education. With so many takes on how to maximize education’s benefits, it is hard to find stable ground; you can drown effortlessly in a sea of good options. My main focus is on how we can incorporate these attempts into United States high schools. While the trend seems to be to eliminate achievement-based school structure, I contend that both learning and achievement in education systems are necessary for our high schools to fill their time in order to receive the best denouement.
Conventional wisdom has it that we have school for two reasons. One, we have school to promote competence. We need to learn to talk with others in an educated manner. We must be able to complete tasks. If this were the only reason, then learning would be the only importance of the educational system. However, we must not forget reason two: we must make something of ourselves. We need to earn stability to live with success, and with success, we may secure a legacy. For this reason, achievement education must also be factored in. Our grade point average, test scores, and extracurricular involvement today, aids us in getting to a career or prestige in order to make something of ourselves.
A wise conclusion would be to maintain a form of grades to support the achievement side of education and to add in portfolios, narrative assessments, and written assessments into our high schools to support the learning side of education. These options excel those of common-day multiple choice tests, especially in high-stakes situations. Graduating high school is a critical time in a student’s development. You, dear President, can change it for the better. Students will be better prepared for college seeing as how they will be pushed to prepare with a long-term portfolio. Work forces will have something to view from potential employees. High school will mean something again.
Some disagree with evidence of our problem. They may say our education is acceptable; therefore, we have no reason the go about changing things. Unfortunately, this optimistic attitude avoids how badly the meaning of a high school diploma is degrading by the decade. High school is not fulfilling what we could and are expected to accomplish by graduation. Before we enter college, we are still being spoon fed, cradled, and carried direction each teacher wants us to go. We do not think through what we are doing; we simply follow mama duck and do what we are told. College is a bright awakening; it is the glaring light of an oncoming tractor uprooting autonomy in a field of wide-eyed children. High school students graduate and still stand unprepared on how to succeed in college.
California gives us a good standing point to view how we are doing in the United States: “68% of the 50,000 entering freshmen at CSU campuses require remediation in English language arts, or math, or both. Should the same standards be applied by the California Community Colleges with their open admissions policies, their remediation rates would exceed 80%,” claims highereducation.org in Beyond the Rhetoric. Remedial classes do not give college credit. They are simply in place to help students catch up in places where they are behind or need more knowledge for their classes which do earn credit. If more than half of college students (all the way up to 80 percent of them) require extra classes in order to make it though essential material, then the minority are those who are prepared for college.
Mournful as this may be, it is manageable, until you see how well Americans are doing in high school. The U.S. Department of Education itself proclaims, “The nation's high school graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14, the highest level since states adopted a new uniform way of calculating graduation rates five years ago.” If students are excelling in secondary school, we should definitely be ready for the next step: higher education. With students doing so well nationally throughout our high schools, why is there such paucity in preparedness for college? Plainly, United States high schools are inadequately preparing their students for higher education. Students are not learning as efficiently as is due, and are half-cocked for sequential advancement. Students face an inherent problem; it is not fading away.
I leave the judgement up to you, dear President. United States high schools are problematic, and I have pointed out many approaches to solve this widely discussed predicament. Take your pick. My suggestion remains a letter grade, portfolio, written assessment, and narrative assessment influenced high school curriculum. I graduate high school next year. Therefore, any beneficial changes made to our high schools will most likely not be implemented in time to affect my experience. Rather, I urge you in the name of future generations, please make a high school diploma worth four years of their time. Let our high schools avouch your country’s name. The class of 2020 could be voting for you one day: light the fire.
Creative Commons Image by Christopher Allen https://www.flickr.com/photos/christophera/25944042393