RAISING OUR STANDARDS

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Many of today's students are graduating from high school dismally unprepared for higher learning and employment, say parents, teachers, college professors and employers, according to a recent study by Public Agenda, a New York-based nonprofit research firm, and Education Week magazine. And more tests, they say, may be part of the solution. Fully 85 percent of parents, 75 percent of teachers and 79 percent of professors and employers believe that students work harder if they know they will have to pass a test to graduate or to be promoted.

Perhaps with a similar sentiment, President George W. Bush enacted the “No Child Left Behind� bill earlier this year, which calls for federally mandated annual testing in reading and math for all students in grades 3 through 8 by the 2005 academic year. These new tests will be an addition to state-level testing already in place.

To document the attitudes toward the increased standardized testing of schoolchildren, Public Agenda conducted its fifth annual Reality Check survey in December 2001. The study polled 600 students at the middle and high school levels nationwide, along with 610 parents of public school students in grades K-12, 600 K-12 public school teachers, 252 college professors who had taught freshman and sophomore students during the previous two years and 251 employers who were making hiring decisions. The results were released in March.

Although they do believe more testing is necessary, many educators are concerned about the effect the preparations will have on the quality of classroom learning. Nearly 8 in 10 (79 percent) professors and teachers agree that “teachers will end up teaching the test instead of making sure real learning takes place.� Moreover, 84 percent of teachers and 60 percent of parents say that “far too much emphasis is placed on scoring.�

Students, however, are actually the least fazed by the bombardment of tests. While 80 percent admit their teachers use classroom time to help prepare them for tests, most students (78 percent) say this prep time does not come at the expense of other schoolwork. In fact, 96 percent of students say they don't worry or are convinced they can deal with the stress, and 71 percent think the number of tests they currently take is perfectly reasonable. But when it comes to how these tests are used, 45 percent of students agree that there is “far too much emphasis� placed on test scores, and 62 percent think it is wrong to use the results of just one test as the basis for graduation or promotion.

Most parents, teachers, professors and employers do agree that one test should not determine a student's promotion or graduation, yet they plainly see the need for some standardization. Merely 2 percent of parents, 2 percent of college professors and 1 percent each of teachers and employers think the standards movement should be halted. With 7 in 10 students admitting that “most students do the bare minimum they need to get by� and almost half (45 percent) sheepishly agreeing that “some kids graduate from my school even though they haven't learned what they are supposed to,� perhaps the standards should be raised higher yet.


For more information, log on to www.publicagenda.org.

BEHIND ON THE BASICS

About 80 percent of college professors and 70 percent of employers say students have good or excellent computer skills. As for the rest of their skills…

PERCENT WHO AGREE: COLLEGE PROFESSORS EMPLOYERS
Young people have fair or poor skills in grammar and spelling 74% 73%
Young people have fair or poor ability to write clearly 75% 73%
Young people rate fair or poor in terms of work habits, such as being organized and on time 74% 69%
Young people have fair or poor skills in basic math 65% 63%
Young people rate fair or poor in terms of being motivated and conscientious 58% 72%
Young people rate fair or poor in terms of being curious and interested in learning 51% 53%
Young people rate fair or poor in terms of speaking English well 46% 47%
A high school diploma is evidence that a student has mastered the basics 31% 39%
There's a noticeable improvement in the quality of high school students in recent years 24% 16%
Source: Public Agenda
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