You’re not doin’ fine, Oklahoma (cont’d)

March 12, 2012

In 1998 the essayist and former National Review senior editor Joseph Sobran came to Oklahoma City to give a talk for OCPA. After first taking him to speak to students at Edmond Santa Fe High School, I took him to the old Applewoods restaurant, where some 300 friends of OCPA heard him discuss “How the Constitution Was Stolen.”

As we drove around town that day, he said something (a classic Sobran epigram, it turns out, which I would later see in print) that I’ve never forgotten: “We’ve gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college.”

Indeed, remediation in college is a problem, and as University of Oklahoma president David Boren has delicately pointed out, “I’m sorry to say this may be a statement as to how well students are being prepared in the rest of our education system.” When an Oklahoma institution of “higher” education offers a course called “Basic College Reading” (the goal of which “is to read at or above the 8th grade level”)—and offers another course for students who scored between 0 and 14 on the math portion of the ACT—clearly something is amiss.

The grades one receives in high school “can no longer be trusted as a measure of competence, never mind excellence,” law professor Andrew Spiropoulos pointed out last week in The Journal Record.

This is because rampant grade inflation has plagued our schools for the last several decades. There are countless examples of students who have been passed along or have received good grades who, when tested by the rigors of a good university or a worthwhile job, lack basic skills and fail miserably. The entire point of graduation tests, just as with the bar examination for attorneys or medical boards, is to find the people who squeezed through school but didn’t really learn the material. The goal is to provide not just a diploma, but an education.

“That’s why it’s so frustrating,” Spiropoulos writes, “to hear about a group of Oklahoma educators who, after six years to prepare their institutions and students, want to delay requiring Oklahoma high school graduates to pass end-of-the-year exams in four out of seven subjects.”

And I’m not even sure “pass” is the right word here. Jason Brunk, the principal of Newcastle High School, points out that “students must pass the English II test, the Algebra I test, and two of the remaining five end-of-instruction (EOI) exams. They must pass a total of four EOIs or their equivalent.

During the 2011 spring testing, the following approximate scores were required to “pass” these tests: Algebra I (49 percent), English II (62), geometry (51), Algebra II (47), biology (55), U.S. history (55) and English III (50).

Setting the bar this low is nothing new in Oklahoma. And unlike Mr. Sobran, I suspect most educators have no idea just how low it is.