Will school districts really close the achievement gap by 2014?
Case in point--Lower Merion.
Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Pennsylvania education secretary, said the standardized competency exams would hold school districts and students accountable.
In December of 2006 Govenor Rendell's Commission on College and Career Success– a group of civic, education and business leaders– unanimously called for a statewide graduation requirement, including the use of Graduation Competency Assessments as a way for Pennsylvania to set high and uniform standards to ensure all graduating students are prepared for higher education or the knowledge-based workforce.
- The achievement gap must be closed by all means necessary if exit exams are to become state law.
- Students need to be educated by proficient, knowledgeable teachers who thoroughly understand PDE's academic standards and its relevancy to the curriculum and their lesson plans.
- Students need teachers who have the capacity to decipher the standardized data results in real-time in order to identify achievement--standard--gaps and provide informed pedagogy to fill them in a timely fashion.
- Students need school board members, administrators and teachers who understand the need for measurable goals and effective methods to address the impact of low expectations, academic tracking of students into below standard level courses, and sustained enrollment of students in special education whose primary "learning disability" is underachievement in reading and mathematics.
- Students need school districts to do more than talk about parent engagement and community collaboration. Parents do not know the academic standards, the curriculum or a teacher's lessons plans, yet they are often blamed for student failure. Parent and community engagement programs such as Dr. Joyce Epstein's can be employed to assist school administrators in engaging parents beyond the school's open house, parent conferences, PTA/HSA sessions, special events, and disciplinary hearings. Details on the Center for School, Family, and School Partnership at John Hopkins University can be read on the website http://www.csos.jhu.edu/P2000/center.htm
- Students need curriculum that is relevant, rigorous and relational to their lives.
- Students need to understand what is expected of them and what they should know and be able to do at each grade level, and so should their parents.
- Students need to understand the Zero Disciplinary Tolerance policy and how infractions lead to underachievement due to suspensions and loss of direct instruction, alternative school placements, or even time in detention centers and criminal records.
- How is it that a "master" educator like Marva Collins is well-able to circumvent student behavior problems in the classroom. What does she know that other teachers need to know in order to reduce the incidents of disciplinary actions that lead students down the road to prison from the school building. What do PDE and districts need to grasp about the relationship of a students' ability to read by the fourth grade and higher probability they will be ordered to a county detention center when they cannot read; disproportionately if the student is black or Latino.
- All school board members, administrators, and teachers should receive professional development and training on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline as presented by the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), headed by Marian Wright Edelman. CDF has made understanding these matters easier with "America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline Report," which can be downloaded here http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/cradle-prison-pipeline-report-2007-full-highres.html Further the CDF researched the status of Pennsylvania's students and provides a fact sheet that can be viewed online here: http://www.childrensdefense.org/child-research-data-publications/data/state-data-repository/cradle-to-prison-pipeline/cradle-prison-pipeline-pennsylvania-2009-fact-sheet.pdf.
A final word on exit exams by Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak,
“In the end, all of us will achieve our common goal of ensuring Pennsylvania produces high school graduates who can compete with students from across the country and around the world”