An intriguing letter to the editor just appeared on a major nationwide newspaper. Its author, Dennis J. Frailey of Fairview, Texas, identifies himself as “a specialist in measurement for almost 40 years in the U.S. high-tech industry and a part-time university professor teaching this subject.”
In his letter, Mr. Frailey describes one of the major problems with measurements to be that “they induce behavior modifications but often don’t achieve the goals.” As an example, he points out how, in an effort to raise the academic performance of students, the faculty will simply give higher grades to those who, in many instances, don’t deserve to pass. In this way, the graduation rate increases and the school district can boast of the numerical improvement.
Let me spread a little light on this subject. Education in the United States is not as grim as reported. The focus on the failing school distorts the picture. By definition, a school is “failing” if it’s in the bottom 5% of schools across the state based on combined English Language Arts and math scores. With deference to Mr. Frailey, by mathematical necessity, five percent of the schools in every state must be designated as failing, and this is so regardless of the quality of teaching, the condition of the campus or a positive attitude of the students. If a school falls into this category because a large portion of the student body is not proficient in English, or perhaps not inherently scholastic by nature, or that many must work to help support their family, it will remain a failing school.
Despite the stigma assigned to a failing school, there’s no reason why highly-motivated pupils cannot do well in such a setting. Provided no actual hostility to education exists, a relatively bright and attentive student can both master the required subjects and maintain a high academic standing in the class. The fact a school may be designated as “failing” need not rub off on those who attend.
A final though: If the media would concentrate on the ninety-five percent of schools which are not failing, we’d discover there are many fine institutions, a huge pool of dedicated instructors and a nation brimming with educated youngsters.