Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Not Sure I Agree . . .

Your results:
You are James T. Kirk (Captain)

James T. Kirk (Captain)
Jean-Luc Picard
Will Riker
Geordi LaForge
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Deanna Troi
Mr. Sulu
Mr. Scott
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Beverly Crusher
You are often exaggerated and over-the-top
in your speech and expressions.
You are a romantic at heart and a natural leader.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Test

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Exit Exam, Round 2

Let's hear it for California's Supreme Court. The justices reversed the decision in an Alameda court thirteen days ago and, in the process, reaffirmed the validity of the state's high school exit exam.

About 47,000 students who failed the exam three times—an exam that tests math and language skills at the 8th grade level—while meeting every other requirement for graduation with a California high school diploma. Those students will be allowed to walk in commencement ceremonies but will not receive diplomas. Instead, they will get additional instruction over the summer and more chances to pass the exam.

It is true that the state—more accurately, the school districts—did, in some cases, fail to provide sufficient remediation after first and second failures, and that is something that must be fixed, ideally before the class of 2007 runs out of time. However, this exam has suffered three years of delays, and a fourth would continue to provide reasons for students and their parents to brush of a failure. No, I do not think that was the main cause, or even a frequent one, for the failures of 47,000 students, but I would be more than a little surprised if some students (thousands?) didn't think it really mattered.

This decision brings its fallout, of course, and that is a problem. There will be years of cases, many of them for individual students who were accepted to four-year schools (if people think that students are smarting, consider the egg on the faces of admissions counselors) that can no longer grant them admission. My own students—the much-maligned community college crowd—have commented on how simple the exam is, yet students admitted to CSUs and UCs fail it? Three times? There is a problem with this picture.

Not all of the fallout will fall under the heading of litigious hell. Indeed, next year California will probably see its highest levels of parent involvement in education in decades. Shaken from the comfortable thought that more delays might be coming, parents are going to have to do more to ensure their children measure up come test day. Districts, too, are going to have to hike up their britches and wade far into the mess of (justified) blame. I'll take this mess over the alternative. Any. Day.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Accountability Delayed

Judge Robert Freedman of the Alameda County Superior Court suspended the graduation exam requirement (free registration required) for California's high school seniors. Set up in 1999, the exit exam is comprised of math (through basic algebra) and reading comprehension. The lawyer for the 47,000 students who failed the exam—many failed it three times—argued that a number of schools had failed to teach the necessary materials and that those students who did not pass the first time were not given the state-mandated remedial assistance before retaking the exam.

Now, don't think I have no sympathy for these students (they represent roughly 11% of the state's seniors who would graduate if the exam is not factored in). With the suspension of the exam's results, they are headed for the work force, for community colleges, for CSUs, and even for UCs, as well as private colleges and universities around the nation and perhaps the world. Somehow some of these students are heading for a selection of the top regional and national universities, yet they are unable to comprehend what they read and/or handle basic algebra.

We do a disservice when we say that these students, having thrice failed to demonstrate 8th grade reading and math skills, are prepared for UC and CSU admission. Indeed, admission to a university is an argument against today's ruling, not in favor of it. A student who cannot perform at the 8th grade level has no business at CSU Northridge or at UCLA—schools that do not offer the remediation the community college system is prepared to provide. Every year I have students from CSUs (and sometimes UCs). In some cases their writing skills are below college level, even when they have taken the same courses at a university that they are taking from me.

The worst thing that we can do is stall yet again in our enforcement of this exam. We cheapen the degrees of those who did pass, and we are asking students finishing their sophomore and junior years to take a deep breath and relax since there is a greater chance they will not have to meet this measurement either. The best way to get more from students, as educators well know, is to ask more of those students, holding them accountable when they miss the mark. Anything less threatens to return the diploma to an attendance certificate, little more than the worst of social promotion.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Zacarias Massaoui

Every week more than a couple people find their way here by searching for information about Zacarias Massaoui. It has been just over a year since my original post suggesting we use life in prison as the ultimate punishment. My logic was not the same as the jury's, but that's OK. The jury thought it was giving the lighter sentence, but paradise won't reach inside Massaoui's cell walls, and suicide just won't get him the glory he was promised.

I am pleased about the sentencing for a number of reasons. I don't support the death penalty, so I am always pleased to see another life sentence chosen over that less moral (my perspective) option of execution. I have read, too, enough about some of the drivel poured into the ears of the modern hashishins to understand that life in prison is cruelty on a stick wrapped in razor wired and inserted in, well, it's prison . . . you can work out the rest.

I am keeping my eyes out for the debate about what Massaoui deserved, what is wrong with life in prison, how many people would volunteer to shoot him on the government's behalf, blah, blah, blah. Sadly, many of the supporters of executing Massaoui will claim they want to do it in order to protect the American way of life. Hmmm, so the criminal court system that convicted Massaoui and sentenced him to life in prison would not qualify? Let the selective argumentation begin!

p.s. This post is here and not on Intentional Fallacy because it is a follow-up. Normally, these days, such matters as this would not surface on this site, but I shall not start addressing something of this magnitude in one place and end in another.