About a year ago, the Programme for International Student Assessment results were released, revealing that the U.S. has flatlined. Again, it was a drop in ranking – this time out of the top 20. As American Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted at the time, the best interest of the U.S. would be to “invest in early education, raise academic standards.”
In October, the New York Board of Regents failed the Empire State’s educational future by backtracking both of Duncan’s points. The decision, honoring the controversial Common Core system, was unanimously passed to declare that students no longer need to pass U.S. History and Global Studies exams to pass high school. A tech or local exam can be substituted, however, no plan has been made for such a change … en chair et en os (“in reality”).
Take a breather with me.
What did that official say? Something about raising standards?
As a concerned student, hear my plea to the gods of education.
History always has appeared to be a maligned subject in the school system: memorize names one may never utter again, sequences of dynasties, essay epics that challenge one’s focus. On the surface, there is a generous amount of “what” and “when.” What matters in history is the “why” and “how.”
To disagree with the benefits of knowing history would be a tragic act. If one knows history well, he or she can learn from it, and make the present better, as well as the future. The relieved stress on this subject can begin to put students “out of the know” in current affairs, and being able to form connections and solutions.
Is there a saving quality in the reforms made? Despite the test requirements changing, the curriculum appears to sharpen.
Mark Jones, chairman of Amherst’s Common Core Learning Standards social studies curriculum team for grades six to 12, believes that these reforms do rare good for the subject.
“The new CCLS in social studies places an emphasis on making students think, read, speak and write like a social scientist,” he said. “In other words, history is not just rote memorization and dull facts regurgitated from secondary textbook sources. History should be about reading multiple primary accounts of critical events, passing judgment on those experiences and coming to one’s own conclusions through collaboration with one’s peers and using higher order thinking skills.”
He continued to explain and clarify a misconception of the test requirements: “The new Global History and Geography Exam will finally become equitable with every other Regents exam in that it will be based upon one year of learning instead of the current two year setup. This will allow students to delve deeper into modern history and in my opinion perform much better on a graduation requirement … Statewide data and trends have shown this exam to be quite a roadblock for many New York State students to achieve a Regents diploma.”
According to Jones, the course is translated into a one-year exam, and the U.S. History exam will remain in place as a requirement, however, neither test needs to be passed – just simply taken.
These contradicting decisions demonstrate the “evil” that lies within the board of education.
It does not appear to matter anymore about the effort that students are going to put in. If the school tells them that a class is no longer necessary to pass, then it is going to be disregarded entirely by a large portion of the students.
This logic of taking a test and equating the nihilistic result to comprehension is the same as myself taking an AP level course that I had not taken, not answering a single question correctly, and flaunting the receipt of my test to employers and universities, claiming that I comprehend the subject, only due to the fact that I took the exam.
Does that make much sense? It shouldn’t. I would hope that the board reconsiders this decision and places more emphasis back onto the subject.
John H. Coudriet is a junior at Amherst High School.