Back in the good old days of the pandemic, school systems across the country had to find inventive ways to make sure they kept their high school graduation numbers up while ensuring that those graduates maintained at least a modicum of proficiency in life skills basics. You know – reading, writing, ’rithmetic. Some districts waived the taking of end-of-year comprehensive tests, attendance (even remote attendance) requirements went out the window, and the number of credit hours necessary for graduation were lessened or even eliminated. Basically, teachers and administrators coped as best they could with the effects of Covid.
Since that viral time, some requirements have come back to the level they were before. But there also have been numerous resulting changes to the way education is approached today. There are those who feel as if a dumbing-down theory has been put in place by Boards of Education in many areas. That theory basically holds that there needs to be a diminishing of learning standards and even a trivialization of meaningful information.
Rumor has it that in some states there is a movement afoot to make the graduation requirements as basic as possible. It seems there is a fear that some students might feel badly if they don’t pass all their classes. Very few, if any, though, would be content receiving a Certificate of Attendance à la Forest Gump in lieu of an actual diploma.
Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t exactly setting the standards for excellence in education as it is. One recent report indicated some 25 countries, including include China, South Korea, Japan, and even Canada, outperformed American K-12 students overall. (That report, by the way, placed China first and dominating every individual subject as well.)
Just recently, at least one state passed a measure that temporarily eliminates basic skills testing in math, reading, and writing in order for students to graduate from high school.
I wonder if suggestions such as the following will set the standards in the future:
English: Students must be able to name and write at least 22 of the 26 letters of the alphabet. In addition, they must be able to spell their own name correctly. This must be accomplished with a pen and/or pencil on an actual piece of paper and not simply punching letters on a computer keyboard. They also must create a sentence that includes a person, place, or thing and an action word. (It’s not necessary they know the words “noun” and “verb.”) Bonus points will be given to anyone who adds an adverb or adjective to their sentence, whether intentionally done or not.
Math: The main requirement in this area is to be able to count from 1 to 100, by ones, without using fingers and/or toes. Props such as apples, building blocks, spaghetti noodles, or other physical items may be utilized to help with this task. Those same visual aids may be employed to illustrate the skills of basic addition and subtraction. Students must also know that the letter “x” signifies multiplication, and a line with a dot above and under it is a symbol for division. Knowing that any number multiplied by 1 or divided by 1 equals that same number is a plus. (Major kudos to anyone actually able to figure out how to solve multiplication problems involving two-and three-digit numbers. Doing a long division problem without the aid of a calculator puts a student’s name on the school marquee.)
Reading: Students must be able to explain the plot of Harold and the Purple Crayon, know all the words in the entire Down by the Bay book, and memorize at least one Dr. Suess story to learn all about rhyming.
Civics/History: Students must know the words to at least half a dozen songs from the musical Hamilton. They must also identify the presidents appearing on the $1, $5, and $20 bills. And they have to know what person currently lives in the White House and where it’s located. Additional credit will be awarded to anyone knowing how many U.S. Senators each state is allotted and what the opening line to our national anthem is.
Geography: Students must be able to pinpoint within 500 miles the location of five of the seven continents and must correctly identify on a map one of four given states (Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, or Arkansas) in the middle of the U.S. They also have to be able to correctly label China and one country in South America besides Brazil (because that’s too easy).
Hopefully those requirements won’t be too strenuous for the vast majority of high school learners. I’m not sure that shallow depth of knowledge bodes well for tomorrow’s society, but graduation rates should get better.
©MMXXIII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer