Kingman Letter: Improving the quality of education

I see we have another 'reform' program for public education ("Arizona Ready sets high education goals," Kingman Daily Miner, Dec. 12). There have been several such efforts over the years, but nothing seems to work. Even in small town Kingman there have been exploratory meetings this year attended by many influential citizens. Apparently the results of these gatherings were not considered beneficial.

In any case, the reforms cited in the Miner are all too familiar. They propose massive change to everything in public education. Three items for reform are always included in each new program: 1) more hours and harder work for students; 2) increased training for teachers; and 3) more emphasis on science and mathematics. It is what I call the Sputnick Syndrome. In 1957, America was shocked when the Russians launched the first space satellite. Public education has been in a constant state of crisis ever since.

Judging from current and previous news articles, Academia has discarded the cognitive theory of child development in favor of the Pavlov Dog approach. Do we really need another massive assessment and accountability system? I hope not.

Today's public education process is based on the idea that if a student is presented with information often enough, knowledge is acquired and a proper response is achieved. If nothing else, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) assessment and accountability system has documented the failure of this process. The hope of increasing the educational quality of high school graduates to pre-determined, acceptable levels remains a distant goal. This computerized assessment and accountability system has only institutionalized the very thing that most professional educators abhor: memorize and recall (rote learning).

The AIMS system measures achievement. Test results show how students compare to the 'normative' group - not how well they are educated. Over the years, AIMS has consistently shown a significant change in student achievement after the third grade. Although AIMS does not provide a reason for this change, the Arizona Ready Education Council seems to believe that reading difficulties are responsible.

I think that the Arizona Ready Education Council would be well advised to reconsider its plan for Arizona's educational future. I contend that the existing AIMS system, the new internationally benchmarked assessment and accountability system, and the proposed career- and college-ready diagnostic tests are flawed in that they are based on normative scales (pre-defined grade levels and expectations), the rest on mathematical (counting) concepts. Such systems have no way of accounting for the uniqueness of individual students and their needs.

I believe that the best way to improve the quality of high school graduates is to embrace an ordinal (sequential) education process. This would require acknowledging that the interaction of teacher-student is where education actually occurs; where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Teachers know their students. They already know or are able to determine where gaps in individual student education exist.

After a decade of extensive involvement with the current AIMS assessment and accountability system, I think the general public deserves a specific answer to a simple question:

How is academic achievement of primary and/or secondary students improved by: AIMS nationally based, norm-reference, standardized tests, new internationally based, norm-referenced, standardized tests, career- and college-ready cognitive tests, mandatory academic standards by pre-determined grade levels, and the requirement that textbooks meet pre-determined grade-level standards?

I firmly believe that there is a worldwide, first order phase transition (paradigm shift) coming within the next 30 years. I would hate to see the America's innovative nature and can-do attitude relegated to history's file cabinet.