I’ve done this rant before– so, so many times– so I’ll spare you the full version right now. But two pieces of information have recently crossed my radar and I thought I’d take a moment with them.
First, a report on Twitter– I’m not going to dig it up, just trust me– that half of American adults can’t read at an 8th grade level. Which … y’know, that sounds pretty alarming! 8th graders are kinda young and have a decent amount of school left to go through, so you’d hope that adults would be able to read as well as them, right?
Second, and I found this out today, that less than five percent– rather significantly less, unfortunately– of the students in my school passed the Math portion of the ILEARN last year. Lower than one in twenty, to phrase it differently. And the scary thing is, looking across my district, my school doesn’t really stand out against the scores most of the rest of the schools got.
I’m going to make two points here. Well, maybe three, depending on how you count the points. First, that if half of American adults can’t read at an 8th grade level, it stands to reason that more than half, in fact probably significantly more than half of actual 8th graders probably cannot read at an 8th grade level. Which, okay, we can all shake our heads sadly at that if we want to, and we probably should, but it brings this question to mind: what exactly does the phrase “8th grade reading level” mean in this context, and who decides what an 8th grade reading level is? Because if (to make up a number) 70% of American 8th graders and half of American adults can’t read at an “8th grade level,” I feel like it stands to reason to suggest that perhaps whatever that level is, it isn’t actually an 8th grade level. Further, that we can talk about having high standards as much as we like, but at some point does it ever make sense to suggest that the bar we’ve set for our kids is actually and genuinely too fucking high? And that if less than a twentieth of 8th grade students can’t pass what is supposed to be an 8th grade test, maybe we should blame the assessment and not the kids?
The problem is, of course, that I and every other teacher I know who has been doing this job for more than a few years are fully aware that our kids have been getting dumber, every year, for our entire careers. My 8th graders fifteen years ago make my current 8th graders look like kindergartners. They know nothing, and it’s not a demographic thing, because I’ve been working in the same kinds of communities for more or less my entire career. They get dumber every. Fucking. Year. They know less every. Fucking. Year.
Go ahead, find an educator with more than, say, seven or eight years of experience who disagrees with me. You won’t be able to do it. As soon as we started focusing on Test Scores Uber Alles a couple of years into the Bush administration, the kids started knowing less and less as every year went past, and at this point they’re so far behind that the notion of them actually internalizing 8th grade work is laughable. I can get some of them to be successful in the moment. Two weeks later none of them will remember any of it. Then there’s the third of my class that is literally in school for no reason at all, who go all day without a pencil and do no work of any kind. I never had to deal with that shit earlier on in my career. Maybe a kid or two. It’s literally a third to a half of every class now that does nothing all day. I mean that literally. Not a single stitch of work. No supplies. Nothing.
Now, this “eighth-grade level” thing is probably more a failure of journalism than it is of pedagogy; what it probably is referring to is some sort of lexile scale or something similar, where some lexile (YES AUTOCORRECT LEXILE IS A FUCKING WORD CUT THE SHIT) band has been arbitrarily assigned to “8th grade level,” and currently half of adults are below that. But you can’t tell newspaper readers that half of American adults read at lower than 1000L or whatever; it’s not meaningful information and “8th grade level” makes sense in a way “1000L” doesn’t even if the lexile level is more technically accurate.
(It’s still arbitrary, btw, but it’s nonetheless more precise.)
Anyway, long story short, I’m shit at my job apparently, and while I haven’t been able to gain access to my kids or my grade level’s results, I’m willing to bet that the school as a whole outperformed them anyway, so it’s not like it’s going to put me in a better mood.
tl;dr education is bullshit, Americans are awful and I hate it here.