By Daniel Downs
Xenia City Schools didn’t do so well on Ohio standardized tests. The XCS district got an F on their report card. As explained in a number Gazette articles, achievement levels were increased. State legislators raised grade level achievement requirements for reading, mathematics, and other subjects. I heard one of the key sponsors of the education reform bill SB2 comment that they raised the percent of students required to pass each test from 30 percent to 80 percent and from 8th grade level graduation tests to 12th grade level. In other words, our schools now have to give taxpayers an adequate return on their investment and students a globally competitive education.
Of special interest are the language skills and language skills in particular. All of us who have an education–such as it is–have experienced reading comprehension quizzes and exams. Those of us with degrees in English education know how to create them. Therefore, failure of our students to pass a reading comprehension test reflects the failure of our teachers and parents to teach a most basic skill necessary for future learning, careers, and social life. And, maybe that why our society seems to have a problem remembering, and consequently to comprehend, the value and purpose of important principles of our past as well as past issues and problems that have arisen because of forgetting them. For example, the value and purpose of the Protest Reformation, which was freedom of the press especially the printing of bibles in the common language and the freedom of religion in terms of reading and interpreting the bible. If it had not occurred colonizing of America by Protestant Puritans would have never happened. Another example is the American Revolution against the legal, social and economic abuses committed by the parent government of the colonies, the British King. The abuses accredited to him (and actually the British Parliament) were enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. For early American history to mean anything, American citizen must comprehend it, value it, and consequently, remember it.
But, so what?
During the era of the Revolution and the remaking of our national constitution, one of the principle reasons for both was forgetting the past. The British government forgot the ancient rights of colonial Englishmen, why and how they came to be, resulting in the war for Independence, which in turn necessitated those in the Constitutional Convention to consult many works of history and law in order to establish a body of national law that fulfilled the principles and rights declared in the compact of Independence.
America is facing the same problems today.
Did I mention that the failure lays on the shoulders of both teachers and parents and I should add on all of our institutions. In the classroom, developing the skills of evaluating, analyzing, interpreting, and enjoying literature of all kinds is a continual process. But, actually that earning these begins at home when parents teach their children the symbolism of language. This takes place while helping them learn the words for dogs, cats, trees, flowers, noses, ears, running and walking, cars, trucks, wheat, corn, apples and peaches, dog chasing a cat, a boy running after a rabbit, bear hold its cub, a girl cuddling her doll, and all of those symbols and there meaning of life. Parents are responsible for continuing to motivate their children to read and to learn. Those skills cannot fully develop in a classroom. The corporate media, entertainment, professional sports, governments, and even religious institutions all contribute disincentives to read and especially to comprehend the truth about our past. The one media that offers a vast array of reading materials including classics of all subjects e.g. fiction, politics, law, finance, science, and et cetera is the Internet. Ebooks are much cheaper than print media and books, but some still prefer library books. Free is good.
By the way, our schools have no reason to blame on-line testing as part of the reason for poor performance on last year’s state achievement tests. Teachers, parents, students, and anyone else (even me) had access to examples of all on-line tests. Teachers and parents could have had their student practicing to become nearly perfect.
Ohio government is now holding our schools to a higher standard. May be a dumbed-down education is a thing of the past. Before new schools were built, the achievement gap was mostly closed at least as represented by one year of achievement tests. With the new gap, restructuring students and classroom instruction per student level of prior achievement may be necessary.