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Iowa’s proficiency standard is hurting Iowa students

Published: Monday, April 14, 2014 11:15 a.m. CST

To the editor:

With 2014 high school graduation approaching, keep in mind this is the thirteenth year of No Child Left Behind, when all students were supposed to be at grade level.  Iowa students are not graduating at grade level because of the low proficiency standard of the 41st national percentile.

In 2003, I contacted the Iowa Department of Education about the grade equivalencies at the 41st national percentile.  Their response was that fourth graders end their school year at the beginning of the fourth-grade level for both reading and math; eighth graders end their year at the end of the seventh-grade level (one year behind); and 11th graders end their year at the beginning of the 10th-grade level. 

This means Iowa students are graduating two years behind grade level when they complete high school. 

Iowa stands in the bottom one-third of the nation in student achievement, while the nation stands in the bottom one-third internationally in student achievement.  This fails to prepare students for global competition, and is a major factor in the loss of the middle class.

The reason for the continued slide from grade level while processing through the system lies with the lack of concepts in the curriculum and teachers untrained to effectively teach concepts. The rest of the world is not burdened with this because they are moving farther ahead of the grade level selected for our country: 65th national percentile. 

This fact was reported in a December 2013 international report to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

An analogy for the difference between concepts vs memorization would be an exercise regimen.  

Learning concepts is comparable to a workout routine sufficient to allow an individual to successfully apply the development to a number of other things, forming a solid foundation on which to continue to develop. Memorization is comparable to watching an individual do the exercises and then attempting to copy the applications while lacking the actual development. 

When U.S. public schools made the switch from concepts to memorization in the middle-to-late 1950s, they had no idea of the damage they were doing.  The rest of the world did not make this mistake, and is presently taking advantage of it to be more globally competitive. 

An international report from February of this year shows that all of the countries out-educating us are doing so with the demographic groups of students our U.S. system blames for making us “look bad”.

Sue Atkinson, Ph.D.


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