Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Your daily Emily Litella moment 

So in 1999 California passes a law requiring Algebra I concepts to appear on the California High School Exit Exam. The next year the California legislature, a bunch of right-wing nut jobs if I ever saw one, go ahead and make Algebra I a graduation requirement. Schools are given four years to phase in the requirement. It does not require algebra to recognize that this would be the first year it is enforced.

But it's not.

This past January, the Santa Cruz City School District asked the board for a waiver because the district had failed to inform students and teachers of the Algebra I requirement. Santa Cruz officials say they assumed that when the board delayed the graduation exit exam until 2006, they had also put off instituting the algebra requirement. One would think administrators, paid handsomely for their nonteaching jobs, would have clarified the matter with state officials. Not so.

Once the board granted Santa Cruz its waiver, the floodgates opened. Everyone who felt the requirement was onerous came forward to request waivers for regular students, special-education pupils, adult learners and kids in continuation schools. Nearly 5 percent of the state's high school seniors have not successfully completed Algebra I, yet they expect to march down the aisle and receive their diploma this spring.
The article, authored by Jennifer Nelson, has some pistols for quotes from teachers and curriculum directors who don't like the standard, such as "The law says every student must take and pass an algebra course. That isn't going to happen." (Nelson asks "Why not? It's the law!") and this humdinger:
The downside is for the bottom percentage of students. They're just not there conceptually, and the [graduation requirement] is like pounding them over the head with a hammer. They were frustrated with algebra before, and now we're just ratcheting up the pressure some more.
What's all this fuss I hear about academic standards? Oh, nevermind. (Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs, whose comments section should be read for more insight.)

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports on the Maryland teacher's union trying to evade testing that includes algebra.

At a public hearing yesterday in Baltimore, state teachers union President Patricia A. Foerster urged the board to do away with that idea. Representatives of several groups that advocate for special education students also reiterated concerns that high-stakes testing puts those with disabilities at a disadvantage.

"There is so much more to learning that cannot be assessed by a paper-and-pencil test," Foerster said.
In algebra?