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article imageOp-Ed: ACT report reveals need for allowing teachers to fail students

By Calvin Wolf     Aug 6, 2014 in Politics
We want our high school academics to be very rigorous. As rigorous as possible. So long as every student passes, that is. And that is why American education is not improving.
As we begin to shop for back-to-school, Richard Buddin and Michelle Cross have published an eye-opening study that should make parents and policymakers think twice about the usual jabber over STEM courses and college readiness. This report, titled Missing the Mark, finds that adding more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) courses does not actually improve college readiness. Test scores have remained the same in districts introducing more "rigorous" graduation requirements: Despite taking more math and science courses, high school students are not scoring any higher in those subjects.
This research is important in that it highlights the need for academic rigor and honest grading, not simply packing in more courses. Buddin and Cross theorize that rampant grade inflation removes the benefits of taking the new STEM classes, with students completing more and more watered-down material over time to ensure that everyone passes. This is a tremendous problem in secondary education, where teachers and administrators are now ranked and graded according to student pass/fail rates. We want our course work to be rigorous as long as nobody fails.
As a high school economics teacher, I struggle with the duel between rigor and universal success. I am supposed to make my course thorough and challenging, yet pass everyone. Any teacher of high school seniors can elaborate on how hard it is to actually fail an apathetic and underperforming student, with most teachers deciding to pass a student who does not deserve to pass simply to avoid the hassles. We pay lip service to the concept of academic rigor and hard work but then quietly sweep them under the rug.
Instead of passing more policies and laws increasing the number of courses high school students must take in order to graduate, why not just let teachers teach? Teachers want to uphold academic rigor. Teachers want students to learn. The system has broken down because we want teachers to give students credits, not make them learn or prepare them for higher education. Ignoring the need for academic rigor and trying to "fix" secondary education through countless standardized tests and additional course requirements is expensive and time-consuming. Giving teachers a freer hand No additional charge to taxpayers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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