May 25, 2012
I believe Sister Ignatius was my third grade teacher. She was 10 years older than God when I had her at Corpus Christi Elementary School in Mineola, N.Y. I spent my 1st through 8th grade at that Parochial School. In the third grade I cannot tell you what I learned, read, wrote, but I can tell you of my experience on the playground and the times I got wacked with the ruler. The playground behind and beside the school was the coolest. Trains passed just outside the fence. A couple of really tall cedar trees provided needed shade. The enormous size of the playground allowed all types of games from tag, to stickball. I cannot tell you when I learned to read – I can tell you what my small life was like because of the friends I had, the bike I rode, and the games I played. Third grade is not an academic endeavor; third grade is social growth.
Many states are adopting a policy where in the third grade there is a pass or fail reading test. Florida has had this policy for more than ten years; Florida has a miserable academic record. In an interview with a boy who had failed the test in a northern state the boy said that he was “stupid.” Stupid. I hate to beat this dead horse but we’ve got to recognize, from coast to coast that not everyone is academically equal — nor will they be despite how many times you leave them back a grade.
I’m not advocating that in this early grade we begin separating the academically inclined and those who are not but I am suggesting that given all the testing evidence, that it is clear that we have students who should continue to be challenged with academic rigor, and those who should be challenged with career training. Research into the Florida plan that has ten years of data on their 3rd grade testing plan indicates mixed results. While Johnny does better in the 4th grade after being held back a year in 3rd (duh) the gain tapers off over time. It appears that those held back are more likely to drop out than others. Socially those held back are viewed differently by teachers, parents, and peers. The social stigma does not wear off easily. The emotional impact lasts a lifetime. And what have we gained? What’s the point? What’s the cost?
The national curriculum standards going into effect will certainly help to level the academic playing field across the country. I believe 48 of the 50 states have adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) where by the end of the 2014 academic year all schools will be rowing in the same direction to the same music just up different rivers and this common ground will help schools to better access their students given common country wide standards. Great. That still does not change the fact that some students are going to pass and some fail due to no fault of the parents or the school. It is what it is!
Along with CCSS we need a national policy to address three paths through school. Three socially and legally acceptable paths through the 13 years of school life and paths that academically and physically diverge at a given point. The paths would consist of the academic path – on through high school to a four year college. Additionally another path would be the career/life path where at 16 years of age, around students sophomore year, the student and parent choose a life skills path where the student receives enough training to allow them to transition into the working life immediately following graduation from high school. The third path would be for those not able to finish school due to some health, emotional, life problem that just prohibits them from attending school. These students currently count against schools in graduation rates and academic testing because the school still must keep them enrolled, they still receive funding for that student from the state, but cannot dis-enroll the students unless some other action takes place. This third path would alleviate this problem. The student would be released to parent/guardian and once the issue has resolved itself or another solutions is reached, the student would then be allowed to resume studies through adult high school path. What’s wrong with this way? Why can’t we accept these academic truths?