Sunday, May 07, 2006


The closer the pass-rate gets to 100%, the more meaningless it becomes. Why have it if 100% pass? But I guess it makes some kids work for a change

The high school graduation season is weeks away, and nearly 47,000 California seniors -10.7 percent of the class of 2006 - have yet to pass the test required for a diploma, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Education. "We're making progress," said Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, in a telephone news conference. "Every student needs the skills to have success in the new global economy, and that's what we're measuring with this test." Students in the class of 2006 are the first required to pass the California High School Exit Exam to graduate. It measures achievement in math and English. Students started taking the test their sophomore year, and more students have passed the test each time it has been administered. Another test is scheduled for later this month.

Some groups of students have fared better than others: 97 percent of whites have passed, as have 95 percent of Asians. Meanwhile, the pass rate is 83 percent for Latino students and 81 percent for African Americans. Students considered "economically disadvantaged" are passing at a rate of 83 percent. And for those who don't speak English as a first language, the rate drops to 71 percent. Disabled students are exempt from taking the test this year as the result of a lawsuit. "The gaps are scary, disappointing, sad," said Russlynn Ali, director of Education Trust West, an Oakland group pushing for high standards for disadvantaged students. But overall, she said, "The progress is hopeful. We're on a steady trajectory."

Some critics say it's unfair to demand that everyone pass such an exam when the school system isn't doing a good enough job educating students, especially those in poorer districts that tend to have less-experienced teachers and older textbooks. "Before we can morally or constitutionally apply the exam to all students, we need to ensure all students' constitutional rights have been served and they have been adequately prepared," said Jeff Affeldt, managing attorney for San Francisco-based Public Advocates, which is involved in one of two lawsuits filed against the state over the test.

O'Connell said he has asked the Legislature to approve additional money that will allow struggling students more chances to take the test during the summer and on Saturdays. Students can still pass the test after their classmates graduate. Exit exam or not, the state never graduates every student. Every year, about 45,000 to 50,000 high school seniors don't graduate with their class, according to the Department of Education. Most members of the class of 2006 - 68 percent - passed the exam on their first try as sophomores. In March, the state announced the pass rate had risen to 88 percent. Since that report, another 6,931 students have passed. But those gains have largely been offset because the state identified 5,774 students who hadn't previously taken the test.

The state isn't sure why those students didn't take the test earlier, but it offered three theories: The students missed previous test dates, recently moved to the state or repeated part of their junior year and were recently reclassified as seniors. The state's figures are tallied by a consultant, the Human Resources Research Organization, which has tracked the exit exam for six years.



Teaching of basic anatomy in Australia's medical schools is so inadequate that students are increasingly unable to locate important body parts - and in some cases even confuse one vital organ with another. Senior doctors claim teaching hours for anatomy have been slashed by 80 per cent in some medical schools to make way for "touchy-feely" subjects such as "cultural sensitivity", communication and ethics. The time devoted to other basic sciences - including biochemistry, physiology and pathology - has also been reduced.

Several senior consultants have told The Weekend Australian they have been "horrified" to encounter final-year medical students who do not know where the prostate gland is, or what a healthy liver feels like. When asked by a cardiac surgeon during a live operation to identify a part of the heart that he was pointing to, one group of final-year students thought it was the patient's liver.

A coalition of senior doctors appealed this week to the federal Government to step in, claiming public safety was at stake and that national benchmarks for teaching the basic medical sciences were urgently needed. The Australian Doctors Fund lodged a 70-page submission with the federal Department of Education, Science and Training this week, listing arguments from more than two dozen professors, consultants and medical academics for a rethink on medical education. The document warned of a "rising chorus of concern across the medical profession" that students were not getting "exposure to the necessary amount of training in anatomy" and other key sciences.

The heads of Australia's medical schools fiercely contest the criticisms, saying there has been an "explosion" of medical knowledge that doctors need to know, in fields such as genetics and new drugs, and that other areas have to be cut to accommodate the newer topics. They also strenuously deny that they are turning out inadequately trained doctors. But many students are also unhappy about core science training. One group of students wrote anonymously to two noted academics last year, saying they were "sick of being asked, 'Didn't you study anatomy?"' by consultants amazed by the gaps in their knowledge. "How can we learn if we are not taught the basics?" they wrote.

One of the two recipients of the letter, Barry Oakes, a former anatomy teacher at Monash University, said part of the problem was the "fads and trends" now current in medical education, and that students were "not taught where the body parts are - they are not even taught the organisation of the nervous system". "We will be turning out Dr Deaths out of our own medical schools," he said. "They (doctors) won't be competent to manage patients ... it's just appalling. "It's part of the new educational dictums - 'don't put any stress on them (students) ... it doesn't matter if they don't know anything'." Associate Professor Oakes plans to provide voluntary anatomy lessons for Monash students.

Michael Gardner, 22, a fifth-year medical student at Monash, said that when he posted this fact on a student discussion board last year, 60 out of the 200 students in the year expressed interest in attending. "I think probably the old curriculum had too much emphasis on anatomy, but the new course has probably swung a little bit too far in the other direction," he said. "If you are assessing (a patient) who has had a stroke, if you do not have a good knowledge of the different parts of the brain, it can be difficult to assess which parts have been compromised and what treatment is warranted."

The criticisms of teaching methods are fiercely contested by the heads of Australia's 17 medical schools. Lindon Wing, chairman of the Committee of Deans of Australian Medical Schools, dismissed the examples of student ignorance as anecdotal and said the attacks stemmed from a "clash of cultures" within the profession. "It's the difference between people who have been brought up (through medical school) in a certain way, and want it to stay that way, and the people who are leading a revolution," Professor Wing said. "I have never seen any evidence ... in any of our disciplines that would show we are deficient." Ed Byrne, dean of medical, nursing and health sciences at Monash University, said his university's teaching was "superb" and said a redesigned medical course would graduate its first doctors this year. Although the amount of anatomy teaching had been cut from "several hundred" hours a few years ago to about 100 hours now, this had been matched by many new and better methods for teaching the subject. "We now teach anatomy in a more sophisticated way, using electronic models, images such as X-rays and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging)," Professor Byrne said. "The fact that we have to reduce some of the things we taught in the past to make way for new areas of knowledge is a worldwide tendency."

Nick Lee, 22, is a fourth-year medical student at the University of NSW, and was part of the university's last intake before the course was remodelled. "I prefer the old method because that prepares us before we enter the hospitals," he said.



Joanne Jacobs has two book events coming up for "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds" -- her book about a charter school that prepares Hispanic students for college. Joanne writes:

"I'll speak and sign books on Thursday, May 11 at 5:30 pm at William E. Doar Jr. (WEDJ) Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, 705 Edgewood St. NE, Washington, DC (near the Rhode Island and Brookland-CUA metro stops). In addition, the school's musical troupe will perform and I'll ask guests to donate a children's book to the school library.

Founded in 2004, WEDJ School enrolls students from all over the city. Students take classes in music, dance and theater and perform in at least one public exhibition or performance each year. A longer school day and Saturday classes ensure enough time for academics and arts. Currently an elementary, the school is adding middle and high school classes in the fall.

On Wednesday, May 17 at 5:30 pm, I'll speak at Russell Byers Charter School, 1911 Arch St., in downtown Philadelphia. I'll also do a "bookraiser" for the school's library.

Founded in 2001, the school educates children in kindergarten (a two-year program starting at age four) through sixth grade using the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound program. The school was created to honor the memory of Russell Byers, a Daily News columnist killed in a mugging.

Both the Washington and Philadelphia charter schools primarily serve black students. "Our School" follows the principal, teachers and students at Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school that's 90 percent Hispanic. Most students come from Spanish-speaking immigrant families; most earned D's and F's in middle school and enter ninth grade with fifth-grade reading and math skills. They were left behind academically but promoted anyhow. Operating with a work-your-butt-off philosophy, Downtown College Prep now outscores the average California high school on the state's Academic Performance Index and sends all graduates to four-year colleges.

After 19 years as a San Jose Mercury News editorial writer and Knight Ridder columnist, I quit in 2001 to freelance, start an education blog at and report and write "Our School." I think "Our School" enables readers to step inside a charter school that's struggling, learning from mistakes, adapting and improving."


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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