Vol. 4, Issue 4, April 4, 2006
Students Flunking Even When They Set the Standards
A controversial experiment in three Idaho school districts has run into unexpected complications, as students continue to fail in high school even when the only standards they need to meet are those they impose themselves.
"I, like, totally can't believe these bums failed me," said a piqued Tiffany Smith, a senior at the Taft High School in Lamont, Idaho. "I mean, my life skills are totally adequate as far as I know."
The experiment is part of a broad range of pilot programs funded by the Department of Education exploring alternative routes to improving student performance. Since the advent of the "No Child Left Behind" act, states have been required to make sure students meet specific standards before receiving a high school diploma. For many, the institution of standardized high school exit exams has been a disaster.
"It's all well and good to say your students should be reasonably literate and possess basic math skills in order to receive a high school diploma," said Marilyn Lenore Howard, Superintendent of Public Instruction in Idaho. "However, once you set an inflexible standard, you invariably end up with a group that fails to meet that standard. A large one, in this case." Indeed, nationwide states have been finding that up to sixty or seventy percent of their high school seniors are failing to meet the exit exam requirements. Faced with the embarrassment of lowering the passing grade, some states have pursued quiet alternative programs that would allow them to pass more students while remaining compliant with federal law.
In the Idaho program, the students were charged with judging each other's performance.
"Peer review is a respected process, employed by the scientific community worldwide," mumbled Howard, refusing to look reporters in the eye. "It was felt that a peer review process could meet federal standards while avoiding the exit exam quandary."
Students in the schools evaluated each other's performance on a special website. To everyone's surprise, the comments received were astonishingly harsh, if somewhat ungrammatical.
"Tiffany knowz jack about history OMG u LOSER!!111!!!111" read one anonymous comment on Tiffany's page.
"I totally studied that book and all," fumed Smith, "with the myths about Christopher Columbus and the apple that fell from the tree on his head and all that. I am totally about 1492. I know all about it. I even let Josh crib my notes by text message. What is his deal? I'm glad I flunked him in English."
The students' self appraisal ranks their mathematical knowledge as "nonexistent", their English as "utterly atrocious", and their social studies expertise as "severely lacking, yo".
It is not clear what the future of the program is, nor whether Idaho has any backup plans to raise its students' performance to meet federal standards.
"At this point, I kind of think it would be easier just to institute a really big curve, and start drinking heavily," said Howard. "I'll bring the bourbon."