16 February 2005

No Teen Left Behind

The science department at my school is, for the most part, committed to doing what we can to improve our students' ability to meet the standards. Every year in April, our 10th graders sit for the "WASL" (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) in four areas: reading, writing, math, and science. Standards based testing in science is a relatively new phenomenon and we are still trying to wrap our heads around it.

Our current crop of sophomores represents the last graduating class for whom passing the WASL will not be required for a diploma. However, even though this year's scores won't "matter" to kids in terms of graduation, we do want to know that we have improved our ability in preparing students to meet the world after they leave our charge. According to a recent report both employers and college professors estimate that about 4 in 10 high school graduates are not prepared for their roles as a worker and/or student. We want to do what we can to decrease that statistic.

This year, we have attempted several alterations to our curriculum and instruction. We are also going to try an in-house tutoring program next month. Using a variety of data on kids, we have identified a core group who look like they'll be able to pass the test, but would probably benefit from some targeted help. We're going to pull them out of their regular science class twice in March and provide some additional instruction in their area of need. Maybe it will work...maybe not. But I'm hopeful. If anything, I believe it will boost kids' confidence going into the exam.

I have one colleague in the department who is completely opposed to all of this. After all, what does the test matter to these kids? And isn't it unethical to not be doing more for the low kids (instead of the ones in the middle)? He is a smart man with some good ideas---but he is unwilling to share them with us. And in the meantime, he has caused a great deal of uneasiness in what is usually a very fun group of people.

It is true that we are "writing off" the low kids this year. There are just some who aren't going to make it, no matter what we do or have already done. Our "tutoring lifeboat" is being built to support those who have a fighting chance. Is it kosher? In the grand scheme of things: no. But we are doing what we can do for this year...and continuing to make plans for the road ahead.

Today, I talked to my 8 that I'm putting in the lifeboat. I was honest with them about where they are and what things are looking like. I told them that there is going to be additional help, if they want it. And every one of them smiled and asked to participate. They want to do well---it doesn't matter to them whether or not they need good scores for graduation. They have something to prove to themselves and I know we're doing the right thing.

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