It is no secret that the Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Joshua Starr is a proponent of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, Paul Tough’s “grit” mantra, and of course, social and emotional learning. Just today, November 29, 2012, the Superintendent re-tweeted “we don’t need students to be test takers, we need students to be critical thinkers = 21st cent. learning skills”
The problem is that the school system is taking actions that don’t seem to reflect these ideologies. Take for example, the new report cards that are being implemented by the system. Those old letter grades that were the staple of report cards that you and I saw have been jettisoned in favor of “Exceptional at the grade-level standard ,” “Meets the grade-level standard by demonstrating proficiency of the content or processes for the Measurement Topic ,” “Not yet making progress or making minimal progress toward meeting the grade-level standard,” etc. No one will have their sensibilities offended by a failing grade, like an “E.”
The feel-good mantra effectively deprives a student of the opportunity to take risks or exhibit grit. On November 23, 2012, Elizabeth Gerber, writing in US News, argued that STEM students must be taught to fail.
Frankly, I believe, all students must be taught to fail and dust themselves off and persevere. How else would we teach them “grit?” By showing them sandpaper “grit?” How could we teach a student to develop the strength of character when we make every effort to ensure they don’t get the opportunities that help develop it?
On November 14, 2012, self-professed AP guru, the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews, argued that even a bad AP score can be good. A bad score can be good, if used as a motivator to do better, but it shouldn’t be acceptable. In fairness, it must be acknowledged that Mathews’ argument is that the Mass Math + Science Initiative (MMSI), has issued a report indicating that students in the program, minorities in particular, showed a greater persistence rate once admitted to college and were admitted to college at a higher rate than non-MMSI students. However, Mathews fails to address the question whether the stated performance, if true, was due the greater teacher involvement, and student buy-in to the culture of high-expectations.
MCPS has come under withering criticism for its new curriculum which some parents view as promoting low expectations. In fact, MCPS was among the large suburban school districts, singled out by Arthur Levine, for underperforming the international competition.
The fact is that “critical thinkers” need a sound foundation of knowledge upon which to base their critical thinking. A test is a form of feedback, a measure if you will, of how well the teacher has imparted that knowledge.
Consequently, tests and grades are an essential component of promoting “21st cent. learning skills”