Get real about student achievement

It’s one thing for school boards to establish educational goals and quite another to lose sight of reality in doing so (“Here’s the problem with L.A. Unified’s latest pie-in-the-sky ideas – they’re likely to fail,” Los Angeles Times, Jun. 12).  The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, is a case in point.  A new resolution originally called for all third-graders to meet standards on the state’s annual standardized tests, for all eighth-graders to earn at least a C in English and math, and for all high school graduates get a C or better in all courses required for admission to the University of California and California State University.

I can understand if the board had stipulated a realistic percentage who would achieve these objectives.  But instead it said 100 percent.  That’s impossible in a district as large and diverse as the LAUSD.  The large number of students from impoverished backgrounds alone would make this impossible.  In fact, even the best school districts can’t be expected to do so.

What will surely happen is that widespread cheating by teachers and principals will follow.  That’s because of the existence of Campbell’s Law: the more any quantitative indicator is used for decision-making, the more it will be subject to corruption and the more it will corrupt the very process it is intended to monitor.  We saw that happen in other school districts.  Why would the LAUSD be any different?  The best any district can hope for is that scores will improve over time.  Even then, not all students will show improvement for one reason or another.

Recognizing its unrealistic thinking, the LAUSD board reversed itself by saying that the goal was to “prepare” all high school graduates to be eligible to apply to a California four-year university.  I still maintain that the board is living in a dreamworld.

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