Here’s the third of a run of three impressive Comments of the Day from two days ago: a dissenting take on the pandemic-linked Oregon law allowing students to receive a high school diploma despite not possessing documented proof of basic academic skills at the high school level. Since the author, the much esteemed Curmie, is a professional educator (and not in Oregon) his analysis carries due weight, and is worth pondering.
Below is his Comment of the Day on my post, “It’s A “Ripley”! Oregon High School Grads No Longer Have To Know How To Read, Write, Or Do Math At High School Levels.” And I apologize for the inexcusably clichéd musical accompaniment. At least it isn’t the Art Garfunkle version…
I’ll stipulate that the argumentation is stupid. That said, the actual change in policy is at the very least far less laughable than you suggest; indeed, I’d argue it’s a net positive.
What has actually happened is that Oregon has decided not to put all its faith in a standardized test run by a for-profit corporation. I don’t think that’s a bad call. Even the most professionally run of these exams have histories of major problems. Numerous math questions aren’t age-appropriate. (The people who write the exams aren’t educators–they’re often education majors who couldn’t get a job as a teacher.) There was a case few years ago where a reading comprehension problem was leaked, and a poet got two out of five questions “wrong” about his own work!
But the writing sections are the worst. Even the testing companies aren’t brash enough to argue that computers can score writing (although some are experimenting with the idea). So they hire graders. These jobs generally pay less than $12 an hour and require only a college degree… in anything! For that kind of money, you’re not going to get someone who can tell the difference between a sonnet and a laundry list.
So the company makes it easy for them: there’s a formula. Five paragraphs. First one says what you’re going to say. Next three, you say it (actually saying anything is more or less optional). Last paragraph: say what you just said. Follow this, without any enormous grammatical errors, and you’ll be fine. But woe betide the student who writes a coherent and persuasive essay… but wraps it up in four paragraphs. (The sonnet/laundry list line is an exaggeration; the five paragraphs or you fail part is not.)
The serious decline in writing skills I see in today’s students relative to their peers of even two decades ago (in the same courses at the same university) has occurred not despite the Great God Accountability (worshiped by both political parties, albeit in different ways), but because of it. I’ve seldom had students question their grades on essays, but when they do, I almost always have to control my urge to scream at them, “you got a bad grade because you didn’t freaking say anything.” But… but… it was five paragraphs, and…