Monday, March 26, 2007

Zero intelligence, XCV

I don't know what to make of this story. The state of Washington public school system appears to be ready to change the content of the state-wide 10th grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) by removing the math and science sections. It appears that the reason is that too many students were flunking those parts of the test:
But the proposed remedy is generating a lot of concern because it could mean big changes in what students are expected to learn, and how they're tested.

Nearly 85 percent of the students in that class who've taken the exam have passed reading and writing. But it's a different story in math and science, with just 56 percent passing math and 38 percent passing science.

Two bills under consideration — one passed by the House, a similar version by the Senate — would phase out math and science on the 10th-grade WASL. The state Board of Education then would select new tests in algebra, geometry and biology to be given right after students finish courses in those subjects.

The math WASL now includes probability and other topics in addition to algebra and geometry. The science WASL covers more than biology.

The House bill also says the new exams "must rely" on multiple-choice questions, which the WASL doesn't. It has some fill-in-the-bubble items, but among its hallmarks are short-answer and "extended response" items that require students to solve problems, apply what they've learned, or explain how they arrived at an answer.

I have very mixed feelings about all of this. My wife and I have just brought our sophomore back into our home-based private education program. We had serious concerns about the school environment and its contribution our 10th-grader's unwillingness to work. So, from that perspective, it's not hard for me to believe that test scores in math and science have tanked.

On the other hand, I was not in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act. It urged states to try a bit too hard to get a share of some serious federal dollars. Now those states have found that it isn't so easy feeding from the federal trough.

On the gripping hand, Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy holds for school systems as well as big companies and the government. The government-funded public matriculation centers have made their own bed. It's unfortunate that we spend so much for such mediocre results, but it's apparently what we want. At least in Neenah the majority voted for the lastest school funding referendum and I'm sure there are more to come.

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