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June 29, 2005 Extra Credit
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June 29, 2005

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“To Demand Anything Less Than Excellence From Our Students is To Do Them -- and Society -- an Enormous Disservice”

The following are excerpts from a recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer article about the changing attitude of students towards testing under No Child Left Behind written by Mary Sanford who teaches education and sociology at Olympic Community College.

“Recent conversation heard at the college bookstore:

“She: ‘You wouldn't believe my math final! Man, it was so easy.’

“He: ‘What did they test you on? Fractions?’

“She: ‘Ha! Just formulas and something called the least common multiple. I thought the exams would be much harder than this, even if they're just math review courses. Weird.’

“What's going on here?

“I am a college professor who teaches at Olympic Community College in Bremerton. As far as I am concerned, the conversation could be taking place on any college campus. It was the second conversation I overheard during finals week -- with students commenting on how easy college seems.

“The students I encountered are fairly recent high school graduates -- 18-19 years of age. Their comments are at once exhilarating and disturbing to me, a 16-year veteran educator who has the reputation, according to my peers, as being warm-hearted but academically demanding.”

“Now, with passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and the focus on high-stakes testing, students are growing up accustomed to being held accountable for their actions. In this state, for example, students take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in fourth, seventh and 10th grades. And the state has moved to make passing the test a requirement for graduation. Thank goodness.

“I am a firm believer in holding students to high levels of expectations. In the 1989 documentary about Jaime R. Escalante, the barrio teacher who converts a group of remedial math students into Advanced Placement scholars, he passionately argues the need for calculus classes for his young charges. His colleagues discourage him, warning him that these students already have fragile self-esteem. Failure would be devastating. Escalante replied: People rise to the level of expectations set for them. And he went on to create the classes.

“College is a training ground for real life. Today's students learn how to read in kindergarten and have technology skills that often shock their own parents. They are used to testing in school and have a solid grasp on what it means to be held accountable.

“As a community college professor, I truly believe my students want to earn the grade. They crave being pushed and prodded and made to excel. True self-esteem comes from striving, failing, only to finally succeed. It takes guts to persevere, but courage builds character -- builds decent human beings who contribute back to society.

“There is amazing genius in all of us. We are all capable of more than we do. Thank goodness. To demand anything less than excellence from our students is to do them -- and society -- an enormous disservice.”

The complete text of this article is available online.

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 06/29/2005