Failing the test

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Saturday's Voice of The (Anchorage) Times:

It's no wonder parents and the general public are confused about educational standards in Alaska schools.

The situation gets more baffling as the days go on.

It all began when the Legislature enacted a law requiring that high school students pass a standard set of tests if they were to receive a diploma at graduation.

Since then, the first tests produced some astonishingly low scores. Not to worry, we were told. The tests were administered to sophomores who had not yet been exposed to all the subjects they would need to know before graduation two years later.

But wait. There then came reports that the grading on the so-called exit exams was too tough. Maybe the scores themselves should be rejuggled, to give everyone a higher grade.

Much hand-wringing of one kind or another has ensued. And there was reason for it. The results indeed were scary.

Gov. Tony Knowles, speaking at a statewide educational summit last week in Girdwood, said it's clear the state is not ready to impose such rigid graduation rules on students now in school. More time, maybe even four more years, he said, would be needed to get everybody up to speed.

After all, he noted, two-thirds of the sophomores statewide who took the tests last year failed the math portion of the test. "That's neither acceptable nor fair," Knowles said.

We don't know about the fairness. But we certainly concur as to the lack of acceptability.

Look at some of the results:

In reading, 22 percent of Anchorage 10th graders failed.

In writing, 49 percent of Anchorage 10th graders couldn't pass muster.

In math, 64 percent of Anchorage 10th graders missed the boat.

Those results are shocking.

"By kicking in too soon, the existing law traps too many students in an unfair predicament," Knowles said, "requiring them to pass a test based on standards they haven't necessarily been taught."

Good grief. What is that but an admission that existing education practices in Alaska's public schools are, in general at least, a failure?

For now, apparently, the governor would let everybody off the hook. "Students who go to school faithfully and work as hard as they can deserve a diploma," Knowles said.

No matter, evidently, whether they have learned enough to read, write and do enough math to get by in life.

The governor said something else that was deeply telling:

"Let's recognize that for too long the good job opportunities in construction, oil and gas development, mining and health care have not been filled by young Alaskans."

Now we know why.

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