While Governor Gavin Newsom was accepting a laughable award for California’s supposed innovation in education, student achievement in the state’s classrooms is spiraling downward due to failed government education policies.
The Education Commission of the States, which gave the innovation award to California, lauded all the tax dollars that Newsom and the Legislature have poured into the state’s public schools, but, tellingly, did not cite a single performance indicator showing that all that spending improved student achievement.
That omission says it all because student learning in California is crashing through the floor.
State data released earlier this year showed that more than half of California students between third and eighth grade failed to meet state reading standards.
Worse, a shocking two-thirds of students in those grades failed to meet state math standards.
In fact, an analysis of California’s 2021 state test scores found that the math knowledge of the average eighth grader was at the fifth-grade level.
Students know that they are being shortchanged.
Adam Abolfazli is a 15-year-old Northern California student who has just written an amazing exposé of what is really going on in his classrooms.
“Like many students,” he writes, “I am frustrated to see rigorous instruction slipping away.” Although, he says, “Maintaining excellence is key to recovering from COVID-caused learning loss as well as for the long-term education of students,” public schools have implemented policies that undercut and ultimately destroy academic excellence.
For example, “I experienced a class in which an extra 10 points was added to every test, not to mention the teacher stating that no students would receive lower than a 50% grade in the class.” This class was no anomaly.
“In another class,” he states, “once a student reached 70%, they were welcome to stop doing the assigned work because they reached a passing grade.” In other words, the school promoted simply passing, not excelling, in classwork.
These grading practices, he points out, “foster laziness” and he cites several of his classmates “saying—without hesitation or shame—that they ‘did no work but still got straight As.’”
In addition to lenient grading, teachers would also accept “late assignments and allow assignments to be redone, sometimes within days of the end of a report card period.” However, this misplaced compassion has negative consequences for students.
“When students turn in late work,” said Adam, “they cannot correct their work in the classroom on the due date or assess their mastery of the concepts they are supposed to learn.” So, because their work is not done, “they cannot participate in class discussions related to the assignment,” which “leaves students in a constant ‘catch-up mode,’ preventing learning progress as a direct result of declining standards.”
Students have also been allowed to re-take exams as many times as they want. Referring to an important science test, one classmate told Adam, “I can just do the retest; there’s no need to study.”
Another classmate told him, “It’s not as if she (the teacher) even grades the assignments, anyway.” “That is a dangerous promotion of carelessness,” he observed.
Lack of rigor has consequences for student achievement. Adam cited data from the 2020 “Great Expectations” study that found that student test scores “can improve by nearly 17% with top-quartile teachers who use strict grading practices.” He emphasizes, “17% could mean the difference between two letter grades and the learning that these grades represent.”
The bottom line, concluded Adam: “This decline in standards is an extremely pressing issue, and the approach to education that has produced these grading and policy changes must be reversed to ensure a rebound from learning loss and a future of hardworking, successful members of the community in California. Rigorous practices—meant not for punishment but to teach grit and legitimate achievement—are necessary to compete in the 21st century, tackle the problems they face and succeed in the real world.”
If Californians want to reclaim K-12 public education excellence, they should ignore the insider back-patting of Governor Newsom and instead heed the wise words of 15-year-old Adam Abolfazli.
Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the 2021 PRI book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.