Journal: News & Comment

Thursday, November 28, 2002
# 9:46:00 AM:

Missing the point on course changes

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The Vancouver Sun's editorial writers' recent piece on Simon Fraser University's laudable changes to its course requirements misplaces the blame when it says that:

You might think that students should have mastered [writing and numeracy] before they entered university -- and you'd be right. So, in a move that should give our high school administrators pause [my emphasis - D.], SFU is also considering entrance exams to ensure that incoming students have adequate math and writing skills.

School administrators, and, implicitly, the teachers they work with, face pressure from government, parents, businesses, universities, and others to inflate student marks, improve their survey rankings (happily published by the Sun), and run more standardized tests -- in short, to generate "better" numbers. Universities have some of the same pressures.

But what good are the numbers? University admissions that required a C+ or B average a decade ago now need straight A's. Meanwhile, SFU finds that many students meeting those standards still have poor literacy and numeracy -- both before and after their degrees. So the students' numbers don't reflect a sufficiently well-rounded education at either level. And yet the public, media, and governments advocate more standardized testing. Testing, testing, testing, while funds wane for arts, music, and history (which apparently help math scores too), as well as for the increasing numbers of ESL and disabled students.

Maybe we should focus less on making our elementary, secondary, and university students into test-taking, marks-generating machines, and more on actually educating them. You know, teaching them how to understand math and statistics, to read and write (more than one language too), to know our history and geography, to handle money and be literate about media. I think schools would like to do that. It's unfortunate the rest of us, fixated on the numbers, won't allow it.


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