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BESE can save academic integrity by applying GEE

All throughout the process, the defenders of legislation recently passed by the Louisiana Legislature that relaxed significantly the classroom requirements to graduate high school with an alternative diploma argued they were not dumbing down the curriculum in order to boost artificially graduation rates. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has the chance to help them put their money where their mouths are.

At BESE’s regular meeting next month, it will get the chance to promulgate final rules about the installation and operation of the new curriculum. In part because the law only specifies broad unit requirements and leaves much up to BESE as far as details, many districts are opting out of starting the curriculum this year, as permitted by law by approved waiver, since their terms begin for some as early as in two weeks and guidance still is lacking. (Interestingly, all of the lower-achieving urban systems in the state except Orleans have not asked for waivers to date; Orleans however hardly has any schools left under its jurisdiction).

Of all the rules that need to be laid down by BESE, by far the most crucial will be whether those in the new curriculum must take the Graduate Exit Exam to graduate. This assesses whether students have learned sufficiently material that they must know theoretically to pass essential classes that make up the existing curriculum. It sparks some controversy because some students fail it even though they were given passing marks in all of their courses.

But as far as the integrity of raising and maintaining academic standards goes, there is nothing more crucial than the requirement to pass the GEE. Prior to its introduction and requirement of it to graduate in the past decade, the dirty secret of Louisiana public education for decades was that some schools were passing through and handing diplomas to students who could not do some very basic things expected of graduates. Even now, you find some schools were some students complete their coursework near the top of their classes yet cannot pass the GEE even after multiple attempts. This is because these school lack rigor in their approaches and quality in their instruction (often the teachers themselves do not have sufficient mastery of the subjects they teach; Louisiana has no requirement that at regular intervals teachers be able to demonstrate subject mastery). The GEE was designed to solve for this by making sure uniform and adequate standards were being employed in instruction regardless of where instruction was taking place.

Backers of the bill kept saying the new curriculum, which would reduce the number of units taken in some areas, would still leave a student prepared with meaningful skills. The GEE itself is not based upon the entire four-year courses of study, but on the first couple of years where the most basic skills are learned (which is why the English and mathematics components are taken as many as two years prior to graduation, and the science and social studies parts a year ahead, leaving time in hand for remediation and retaking of the test if necessary). In fact, at present a student doesn’t even have to “pass” (score at the “basic” level) either the science or social studies section of the GEE to qualify for graduation. In other words, this material should be covered in the new curriculum, and therefore there is no reason that the GEE should not be required of students in the new curriculum.

BESE was lukewarm to the new curriculum, so let’s hope it asserts itself and requires the GEE of all students, as it does now of the present college-preparation curriculum and the relatively new, technical-based alternative that already exists. Exempting this third, new “career” track would make BESE an accomplice showing the whole idea behind this in fact was to dumb down the curriculum to boost statistics, putting politicians ahead of children.

1 comment:

R G Sanders said...

This "diploma for dummies" was a terribly bad idea from the start. Basic skills are basic skills-- whether you're holding the shovel digging the ditch, or supervising the twelve ditch diggers.

Two plus three has to equal five.

What would have been FAR better would have been the introduction of a "trade" school or "career" school curriculum, which would have still allowed those not college-bound to begin the process of learning to earn...but still focused on skills we view as basic.

Now, we're just saying "congratulations, you're breathing, here's your diploma." It upsets me that Jindal (who should know better) supported this foolishness.

I'm totally with you in hoping that the BESE Board plants their feet on this matter.