Setting standards for education

[From Bill Powers (931012.1115 MDT)]

Thomas Baines (931012) --

In replying to Chuck Tucker, you say

Standards for pass/fail should be a joint matter among those
who must deal with the consequences - teachers, business
people, those responsible for the administration of justice,

This is the "user-oriented" way of setting standards. The
"student-oriented" approach would be concerned with the education
of the students at least as much as the requirements of the big
wide world into which they will be going. To some extent the two
are related, but if the "user-oriented" approach is given too
much weight, what we get is a regression toward mediocrity and a
continual dumbing-down of the educational system.

The problem with pass-fail is that it's a sliding standard. The
passing mark is always set considerably lower than perfection, so
those who pass will have mastered only a fraction of the
material. When they get around to setting standards in their
turn, they will consider their own achievements to be at the high
end, and will set the break-point lower than the best they could
do (they don't know what they _might_ have learned -- only what
they _did_ learn). So each succeeding generation will learn less
and less and less, and still pass. What we get is what we've got:
a generation of ignoramuses who see little value in eduation.
They might be right.

I think Bill Glasser's idea of "Schools without failure" is the
right approach: never let a student out of a course until it is
perfectly clear that the student has maxed out. And then plan
what comes next on the basis of where that maximum is.

This, of course, places a burden on the teaching system. In the
first place, the course material has to be learnable. That is,
there has to be something to teach that is clearly defineable
enough that both teacher and student can know when it's been
learned. A course on music appreciation or poetry is pretty hard
to set up that way, because there are no clearly right or wrong
matters to be learned. In courses like that, the material to be
learned has to be defined at a higher level: how to approach a
subject, what principles apply. And testing has to be concerned
with that level more than with procedures and facts.

Mathematics and the sciences have it easier: right and wrong
answers are obvious. Even so, the higher levels are at least as
important as the lower; understanding principles is far more
useful than being able to execute procedures, because you can
always look up the procedures once you know what kind of
procedure is needed.

I think that pass-fail is really a declaration of no confidence
in students. It says that this poor dumb inattentive joker with a
ghetto accent and color couldn't possibly aim for perfection;
let's just give this person a low hurdle to jump and get it over
with. This leads to teachers spending the most time with good
students and ignoring bad ones, which is exactly the opposite of
what is needed.

The measure of a good teacher is the improvement in performance
by bad students; the good ones are no challenge. It's always
amused me that the "best" institutions of higher learning pride
themselves on their high standards of admission. The higher you
set those standards for incoming students, the less their
achievements say about your teaching. A real teacher goes for the
tough cases, not the easy ones.

I think we could go for a long time without considering the
requirements of educators, industry, or the legal system. If we
raised the standards and required more of teachers, we could
start turning out people who know _more_ than what is required by
the poorly-educated people who now set the standards.



Bill P.

**************** FROM CHUCK TUCKER 931012 ***************

   Thanks for all of the comments on grades. It turns out that my
   post was send to sevral other lists and I have received about
   50 posts on the topic. Some of the people interpreted my comment
   to be about "grade inflation" rather than about a PCT view of
   grades but that, for me, is an indication (in part) of how grades
   are viewed in ordinary terms rather than in coercive ways. I will
   post to all of the list my summary of the suggestions and some
   recommendations from a PCT prespective. Maybe even some of the
   PCTers will agree with me.


   I have tried to follow the exchanges regarding language and I must
   admit that I don't find it very useful. It seems to be that there
   is a great deal of confusion over what to name the levels, whether
   the levels exist (or can be established by THE TEST), what is
   perception about anyway, "did I understand what you wrote?", "this
   is what I REALLY meant to say", and on and on. Perhaps someone
   should propose a way the TEST all of these ideas about the use of
   words beginning with some very simple observations of a child as
   it begins to use words. Maybe Bruner's CHILD'S TALK would be a
   place to begin to design a study. Maybe Bill can give us some
   data from his most recent grand child. Let me give you some data
   observed Clark's grandson too - most of what I write about is on

   When I last interacted with my granddaugher before this last weekend
   it was August 21st - she was 1 year old on July 3rd so she is now
   15 months old. In August she was saying sounds which I (and others
   in addition to her parents) took as "fish", "juice", "da" and a
   sound much like "dat" which we called "an all-purpose word" which
   she seems to use (not all of the time but about 1/2) when asked
   questions like "What is this Sondra?" by me and other silly adults
   "talking" to her. Now she has many sounds that even I can recognize
   without the assistance of her parents - such as BABY, BYE BYE, BOOK,
   DUCK, TURTLE, JUICE, FISH, DADA, MOMMIE (which she sometimes says to
   her father and he says "I'm not Mommie I am Daddy, Sondra!" but she
   also seems to use "Mommie" to complain or "ask to be picked up"
   since she referred to me several times with "Mommie" {she and her
   Mother can converse much better than anyone I observed this week-end})
   She seems to be able to understand requests even though she can not
   say any of the words in the request. For example, I said, "Sondra
   let's blow your nose" and she walked to the bathroom where I got a
   facial tissue and wiped her nose. I said to her "Sondra, leave your
   juice in the kitchen don't take it is the living room" and she turned
   around looked at me and placed her bootle with some juice in it on the
   table and walked into the living room [she did this several times during
   the weekend]. So any research on talk should recognize that a child
   can control outcomes BEFORE being able to use the words that are
   relevant to those outcomes [on some of these outcomes I used THE TEST
   to see what her intentions were and she did resist]. But there was a
   use of a word that I had never heard of before that was quite interest-
   ing to me and to her parents. This was the use of the word "I" as the
   the word "mine". She has a stuffed bear the she calls her "baby" and
   if you try to take it from her she will sometimes say "I, I, I" and
   grasp it and pull it to herself. She and her brother were in the
   yard and he was trying to take the bike from her and she said "I, I"
   followed by a look at her brother and saying "NO" rather loudly [she
   also tells her brother to STOP]. She seemed to want a toy that her
   brother was playing with which she grabbed and said "I, I" but her
   brother refused to give it to her. Moments later when her brother
   had put the toy down she grabbed it and said "I, I, I" ran down the
   hall with the toy pressed to her chest, then turned around looking
   her brother saying "NO, NO". I inquired of her parents about how this
   use of "I" developed and they say that her brother tells her "I want
   it" all of the time when he wants something that she has that she
   refuses to give to him. They also said that he rarely uses the word
   "mine" {I have never heard him use it either}. This example points
   out to me that research on talk must be interactive and in context
   and from the child's point of view to be useful to PCT.



from my most recent grand child who I visited last weekend (I also