The Double-Edged Sword of College and Career Readiness

Let’s get one thing clear immediately. District and state officials always have a choice when it comes to testing and education. Florida is rolling back assessments in grade K-2, while other districts require more practice assessments. Some school districts support teachers who refuse to administer the high-stakes tests, while others threaten and suspend teachers who do so. Some of the more courageous states and districts are opting out of high-stakes testing, while others are swallowing PARCC and the Smarter Balanced assessments, among others, hook, line, and sinker.

Bad Grade by Robert HruzekThat’s why I had to chuckle when Glen Ridge High School, in New Jersey, recently made the news for cutting midterms and finals to prepare for the new PARCC test. Our school district revamped its secondary grading policy and did away with midterms and finals nearly ten years ago and adopted a retest policy to mirror that of the Pennsylvania Keystone Exams. The grading policy still is a point of contention in the district, as is the elimination of midterms and finals.

The problem with high schools moving in this direction is the mixed message that it sends. On one hand, we have schools adopting the Common Core State Standards that assert the “college and career readiness” mantra. If students are to be ready for college and a career, so the thinking goes, they need to demonstrate proficiency on a slew of standards. Yet, the first round of Smarter Balanced cut scores shows that a mere 11% of students will score at a Level 4 in either ELA or math and be ready for college. The very tests that are supposed to prepare students for college project that the vast majority won’t be ready.

Along with the Common Core come the high-stakes assessments – PARCC, Smarter Balanced, MAP, and so on. Schools lose weeks of instruction in the name of test preparation and administration. Teachers lose the ability to teach curriculum ripe with collaboration, meaningful activities, and real-world application as they are handed packaged materials from big-money companies like Pearson or their own district officials. Secondary students lose out on electives and vocational/technical classes as they are scheduled for more math and ELA classes to get them ready for the test. Let’s be honest: the standards and tests do nothing other than prepare students for the test, not for college and their career.

On the other hand, college is synonymous with midterms and finals. Students from our local high schools, Glen Ridge High School, and other schools that have eliminated midterms and finals will enter these institutions of higher learning unprepared to tackle midterms and finals. One argument is that high schools should not follow what colleges do, just because colleges do it. Admittedly, there is some validity to that argument. But, until colleges make a drastic change and overhaul their own assessment systems (which doesn’t seem likely in the near future), school districts are doing a disservice to their students when they say they are taking part in “college and career readiness” but are not providing the study skills and experience necessary to prepare students for midterms and finals.

School districts cannot have it both ways. They cannot adopt the Common Core State Standards and claim to be moving students toward “college and career readiness” when the standards and tests aimed at doing just that are failing students. Districts also cannot tout “college and career readiness” when they eliminate midterms and finals.

Glen Ridge board member Michael de Leeuw was wrong when he said, “We don’t have a choice – that’s just the way it is.” Districts always have a choice. They need to choose to do what’s right for students.

Image via Flickr by Robert Hruz

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