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Listen to Educators

Let's not create tiers of students to be funneled into certain jobs.

There is little doubt that we are in a process of dumbing down the quality of students that are going through Oregon's schools. You ask, what do you mean, "dumbing down?"

Less than two generations ago, when students entered Oregon's schools, they faced the real possibility that if they didn't pass enough class work each year, they could and would be held back a grade. Sometime in the last 20 years, a benevolent educational system decided that holding students back, even if they weren't academically ready to move forward could create too many emotional scars. So students were no longer to be flunked. Teachers were coaxed and prodded to soften their grading so that all students would pass and eventually graduate. Some school systems even considered doing away with number or letter grades and moved to pass, no-pass courses.

AS HOARDS OF STUDENTS began failing SAT scores and standards dropped, teachers found it tougher to teach in the classroom. More and more students moved forward through the grades without adequate skills in reading, math, spelling, grammar etc. The school system had been so dumbed down, that employers were faced with teaching new employees basic skills. The effect was a work force unable to function at work.

Finally business owners and other concerned people have forced both politicians and educators to do something about the failure to educate students. Their answer has been an approach toward creating certificates of mastery. For those not familiar, the state Department of Education will now be testing students. Sophomores in 1999 will be tested in two subject areas, and those who pass will graduate with a CIM (certificate of initial mastery) and eventually a CAM (certificate of advanced mastery). The state already is trying to sell the concept to business leaders in hopes that those businesses will recognize the certificates. Even though students will be tested, those failing to earn these certificates can still graduate from high school. The reality is that the school system will be creating a three-tiered approach to graduating.

THIS APPROACH IS SIMILAR to one that has been in practice in Europe for decades. Students there are tested before high school to determine which career path they will take - laborers, skilled laborers, professionals, and so on. Eventually, America could find itself encumbered with a system that tracks youth into future employment with little chance to escape.

Some teachers are already expressing their frustration with these new certificates, because the state is rushing the program without providing educators the necessary tools to do the job. Teachers are saying that in the rush they are being told to make it possible for students to pass, even if it means reducing the quality of the educational experience. They see that the end result will be a continued dumbing down of Oregon's students.

So what do we do? Why not stop the process immediately and listen to classroom teachers and educators who are plugged into the needs of students? We should not develop a program that will create tiers or classes of students who will be funneled into types of jobs. Instead, we should work on improving the quality of education so that over the next generation we can turn out students who can read and spell and function in a variety of jobs. The dumbing down of our classrooms took a long time. Why should we not expect to take an equally long time to improve the educational system? Throwing a poor new approach at a bad environment isn't the right answer.

The Observer, La Grande, Oregon. Saturday, October 3, 1998

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