Seven keys for standard inflation

Oct. 8, 2009, midnight | By Nellie Beckett | 10 years, 4 months ago

MCPS sets arbitrary guidelines that rely on standardized testing for college readiness

Envision stimulating classroom discussion, thought-provoking literature and appropriately challenging curriculum tailored to each student. Now scrap all thoughts of MCPS as an enriching learning environment in favor of Superintendent Jerry Weast's new plan for MCPS as an intensive 12-year college prep course.

As current high school seniors gear up for the stressful college application process, MCPS has already started the onslaught of college prep - starting with kindergarteners. Weast unveiled the plan in April, when the $18,895 campaign of glossy brochures and a flashy section of the MCPS web site equipped with informational videos began to deluge schools.

The Seven Keys Guidelines are challenging but arbitrary. Granted, not all MCPS students meet the stereotype of affluent, upper middle class suburbanites on a college track. For many families, the guidelines may have serious value. Yes, the connections are obvious, that a student who reads at an advanced level in kindergarten is more likely to be a smart, well-prepared learner. However, three out of the seven keys require students to score a certain minimum on standardized tests, a practice with questionable goals and debatable success rates across the nation. Though it sounds trite, each student is in fact unique and one standardized test does not fit all.

It's doubtful that SAT scores or elementary MSA scores are foolproof indicators of college or elementary MSA scores are foolproof indicators of college readiness. When the MCPS class of 2010 was in third grade, they weren't even tested with MSAs (remember the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP from the early 2000s?). By the time all of those high-achieving elementary schoolers reach high school, MCPS may well have revamped standardized tests, not to mention increased the minimum requirements for college preparation - but none of that would change education quality, which is what really determines college readiness.

SAT scores are also problematic, as affluent students are far more likely to pay for pricey prep courses and books and gain an unfair advantage. The guidelines are also flawed in their value of academic inflation.

If all students are reading on an "above average" level, for example, then the county sets a new basic standard and pushes MCPS to be an even more competitive district than it already is.

A far more effective and sustainable method of college preparation is for schools to focus on what MCPS touts as student assets in the Seven Keys glossy brochure: strong communication, problem-solving skills and respect for diverse cultures. College requires curiosity, a love of learning and finding one's passion - which will be difficult for students pushed into classes for which they are not ready.

Of course, all students should be able to go to college if they want to. However, different students require different levels of preparation. If a student isn't an "advanced" reader in kindergarten, that stigma shouldn't banish the child to a non-college track. Similarly, it's unrealistic to expect that all MCPS students will take Algebra 1 in eighth grade and receive a "C" or higher.

At least MCPS acknowledges that students may not meet all of the keys. The press packet offers some consolation that "each student is unique" and if a student doesn't meet them, MCPS will offer support. K-12 is not a 13-year college prep course - it's a formative education that should exist for teaching literacy, mathematical and analytical skills.

The Seven Keys brochure rightly points out that students should "work toward the Seven Keys in the context of a broad-based curriculum." Now, the school system must follow that promise by providing appropriate education and attention to all students, not just those who are on the track for college readiness. This curriculum should include holistic understanding of concepts, not just high test scores. Let's see the school system follow that promise by providing appropriate education and attention to all students, not just those who are on the track for college readiness. Most of all, school exists for the sake of learning as an end, not a means toward higher test scores.

True, Weast's plan to prepare all MCPS students for college is admirable in its scope and ambition. It seems inevitable that MCPS should not only exceed Maryland state graduation requirements but also set the bar high for college-bound students across the nation. But in all the hubbub over test scores and "advanced" courses, let's not forget that quantitative academic achievement isn't the sole marker of intellectual readiness. Only a quality education and strong support can better prepare students for college, no matter how many bubbles they fill in or "advanced" courses they take.

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