The answer, it seems, to a poor showing on a test is to lower the test’s passing threshold, and not to lower the teachers who did such a poor job of teaching. How does this help our children learn? How does this help our society raise children into capable adults who can help our nation compete in the world?
I do not understand how a fourth-grader comes to be ignorant about camels. Don’t we teach our children anything, anymore, about the Middle East—a region that has a role in civilization’s beginnings, a role in the evolution of Western civilization, and a very significant role in today’s events?
The matter comes up because only 27% of Florida’s fourth-graders scored a four or better (four is passing), on a one to six scale, on this year’s Florida Department of Education fourth-grader standardized writing exam.
The test question (which, in an idiotic example of today’s substitution of jargon evolution for actual teaching development, is called a “prompt”) at the center of the failure rate was this:
Suppose you or someone else had a chance to ride a camel. Imagine what happens on this camel ride. Write a story about what happens on this camel ride.
How hard is that?
Ann Egitto, a Longwood, FL, Rock Lake Middle School language arts teacher (they taught English in my middle school, and French and Spanish. “Language Arts” teaches all of these together? Painting with words? Is this more cutesy naming in place of actual teaching?), says this about the question [I'm assuming the grammar error is Ms Bisram's transcription error and not Ms Egitto's]:
It was just a very poor prompt, when do we see camels in Central Florida…. I couldn’t even write about the camel prompt and I’ve been writing for 40 plus years[.]
Really? You don’t feel constrained to teach the children entrusted to you for an actual education something about the wider world beyond Central Florida? Say, Jacksonville, or the Everglades, or Alabama or Georgia? Perhaps Europe, or Asia? Maybe the Middle East?
Does this say more about the question’s difficulty, or about teaching skills—and initiative? And by extension, since I hardly believe she’s unique in this regard, about Florida’s union teachers generally?
Lisa Wright, an Idyllwilde Elementary School teacher, added [again, I'm assuming the grammar error is Ms Bisram's transcription error]:
A lot fourth graders in my school probably don’t even know what a camel really is[.]
Whose fault is that, Madam?
Ms Egitto continued [sigh]:
I’m teaching my kids about punctuation and grammar every day and the state is just failing us miserably.
Yeah. It’s somebody else’s fault. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Never mind that the Florida DoE says that the question was extensively reviewed and well-received by about 1,500 students who were selected to take it during a field-testing period.
The point is not whether a fourth-grader is able to write about Middle Eastern transportation. The point is what we are (not) teaching our children that they’re unable to pick up this sort of useful detail (including, perhaps, sheep, or Mediterranean Grass, or…) in the course of teaching our children about the Middle East. Or, again I ask, are we not teaching the Middle East? teaching nothing about Capt Thomas Edward Lawrence helping the Arabs attempt to throw off Turkish, German, and English yokes during WWI (oh, by the way, they used camels on their way across the desert to attack the Germans at Aqaba…).