Who gets the F for poor test scores?

The headline read: "Ed boss tags parents for poor test scores." The question is, do you know in which state that headline appeared last week? It turns out it was Massachusetts, but the simple truth is that headline could appear in any of the states implementing high stakes tests.

The Boston Herald's story indicated that the education commissioner said the scores were unacceptable and blamed the dismal scores on parents who fail to help their students with their homework. He went on to say that, "In some cases, it is their (parents') F."

In Massachusetts, these tests take effect in 2003 for high school graduation. Students were having difficulty with basic math and reading. See if this sounds familiar: 32 percent failed the English section, 53 percent failed the math and 38 percent failed the science/technology test.

The bad news for the Bay Staters is the percent of failure actually increased in math and science over the previous year. These are the results after Massachusetts spent $3.5 billion last year that increased the amount of money spent in education reform to over $6 billion since their 1993 Ed Reform Act. The state now seems posed to pump more money into remediation programs, such as Saturday and summer school.

To give you a better idea of the commitment of the Massachusetts Legislature to increasing student achievement, the 25,000 student Worcester School District's budget jumped from $100 million in 1990 to $192 million this year. That's a commitment you do not see in Nevada.

While many complain about the test results in Massachusetts and in Nevada, it's never been clear to me that the average person on the street really knows what is being tested.

Let's look at a few of the basic math questions that could easily appear on Nevada's high school proficiency examination in math this year and see how you would fare.

First question: Three coins are tossed in the air. What is the probability that they will all match when they land? Match means all the coins land heads or all land tails.

Question 2. A rectangular room measures 15 feet 6 inches by 18 feet. If tile sells for $4 per square yard, how much would it cost to tile that room?

Question 3. A store owner buys a compact stereo for $300. She wants to price it so she can offer a 20 percent discount off the posted price and make a profit of 25 percent of the price she paid. What will the posted price of the stereo be?

Question 4. Which measure of central tendency (average) should be used to best describe a family's average income: mean, median or mode?

Question 5. Find the median of the following scores: 8, 7, 2, 6, 1, 4.

Let's see how well you did on these basic math questions that will determine high school graduation.

The answers are 1. 1/4, 2. $124, 3. $468.75, 4. median and 5. 5. These questions reflect the old standards adopted by the state board in 1994, not the new more rigorous standards being developed by the Council to Establish Academic Standards that will be tested in the 2001-2002 school year that will include polynomial factoring, solving systems of equations, quadratic equations or trigonometry.

I know for a fact that public school teachers support higher academic standards if they are appropriate and reasonably attainable. I also know that these same teachers are working very hard in their classrooms each and every day to help students meet these standards. My concern is that while educators are working hard, their activity level is up. I'm not sure a lot of parents have made the necessary changes at home to ensure their own kids are successful.

And while the Legislature can call for higher standards, they must also provide the resources to ensure that all kids have a chance at reaching these standards. Compared to states that Nevada legislators want to be compared to for academic standards, Nevada would receive an F for funding and ensuring our students have access to the nation's best teachers. Anyone can call for higher standards; it's just almost impossible to implement them successfully without the necessary resources or without parental support.

Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is bhanlon@accessnv.com.


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