Monday, July 13, 2009

School Rankings and Fishing Lures

Ranking schools is somewhat like ranking fishing lures. There are many ways to rank schools and there are many types of fishing lures. All work to a degree. None is perfect.

I begin to quake with fear when someone mentions something about "raising educational standards' or "educational reform." My experience with these is that most people simply mean that we need to add more stuff and to make it harder for students. I often wonder if the 15 year-old brain is more highly evolved now than, say, fifty years ago. I doubt it.

I’m not even sure if any educational debaters even think that the 2009 meaning of the word, “educated,” may be somewhat different from what it was in 1950 and even different from what it was in 1900, etc. Things do change – really. To think that we can continue to teach and evaluate today’s students in the same way that students were taught and evaluated in 1950 or whenever may be unrealistic.

There seems to be special concern over whether or not students have “gained” from one year to the next. How this can be accomplished with a paper/pencil multiple-guess-type test has never been clear to me. Whether or not students have learned anything may not be apparent for a while. Students do not really learn according to someone’s time-table as might be inferred in the very familiar saying. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Or, as my daddy used to tell me, “Boy, one day you will understand.”

Kinda makes you wonder why sometimes students who struggled through and hated high school wind up doing very well in college.

And speaking of testing, the other nugget comes to mind. “You can’t fatten a pig by weighing it over and over.”

Most recently, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth because our high school was not included on the list of the top 1500 high schools -- according to one ranking measure. Apparently, for some reason or other (certainly not purposefully), data were not submitted in time. This ranking/rating of high schools is calculated by taking all advanced placement (AP) tests taken (not necessarily "passed") and dividing by the number of graduating seniors. Our data have now been submitted and the ratio has been calculated -- 1.665, a ratio higher than last year's 1.465.

That our data were not submitted does not change the facts that 541 AP tests were taken and 325 seniors graduated. The AP teachers are doing their job. The AP students are doing their job. Nothing changes that. The mere act of submitting data, however, propels our high school from nothing to one of the 1500 top high schools in the nation -- according to this particular ranking system.

In “The Wizard of Oz,” why is Scarecrow smarter just because the wizard gives him a diploma?

It is a sad state of affairs when we get caught up in jumping through these kinds of hoops.

I have issues with ranking systems of any stripe.

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