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Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns are satire and parody based on current events and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
Seeking a bold stroke to make California once more a bellwether for the nation, Howard Bashford called to tell me he had devised a plan to require a high school “exit examination” without denying diplomas to large numbers of seniors.
Howard, the Golden State’s High Commissioner for Education, cited a study by the Human Resources Research Organization that showed from 20 to 30 percent of seniors were doomed to fail the test and be denied diplomas.
“I was wringing my hands at the thought of turning uneducated young men and women into the streets,” Howard said. “We’re doing that now, but at least they have diplomas.”
“Then the solution hit me like midnight heartburn after a Mexican dinner. The solution was so obvious, everybody had overlooked it.”
Conventional thinking by the education establishment, he said, had produced the conventional solution of lowing standards (a passing score on the math section already was set at an abysmal 55 percent).
Suggestions ranged from “eliminating sections giving current students the most difficulty” to allowing a kind of averaging of the math and verbal sections.
Howard smirked at these ideas.
“I’m going to issue a proclamation this week declaring the solution,” he said. “It’s so easy, even a 10th grader could see it.”
With this, he leered at me and raised one eyebrow, waiting for me to beg for the answer.
I complied, and he asked, “What’s the actual grade level of the work students must achieve to get a passing grade?”
“Tenth grade,” I answered.
“You’ve got it,” he said. “That’s both the problem and the solution. Many of our 12th graders can’t do 10th-grade work, so – obviously – 10th-grade work is really 12th-grade work.
“I will declare this week that henceforth the 10th grade will be the 12th grade. Thus the eighth grade will be the 10th grade, and what is now eighth grade work will become the measuring stick for high school graduation.
“We won’t even have to lower our standards!”
Howard beamed in satisfaction and handed me a more detailed, printed outline of his plan. This I leafed through quickly, then posed the inescapable question:
“What about the age problem? Are you going to have kids start school at age three, or have them graduate at age 20?”
“You aren’t thinking outside the box,” he said, barely suppressing a sneer. “Why do grades have to advance an integer per year?”
Again he awaited my reply, but I fear I simply looked at him blankly until he explained: “Kids will start school at around age five, but once they get to the eighth grade, they enter the ‘new math,’ which allows us to change our numbering system.
“We’ll change from base 10 to base 12 and back to base eight, then go to subset ‘C’ which allows us to introduce a new set of integers that we can multiply by Avogadro’s number to achieve the sequence: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 12, 12a, 12b.”
“In other words,” I said, “students will have four or five years to come up to move from seventh-grade to eighth-grade abilities. I don’t know how you can say this isn’t lowering standards.”
“You’re forgetting: Tenth grade already is 12th grade – for purposes of granting a diploma,” he said desperately. “So eighth grade really is 10th grade and if we’re using the 10th grade as the standard for a diploma. Well … it’s only fair … isn’t it?”
Howard appeared crestfallen as I said, “I’m afraid you’re not going to get a passing grade on this. There’s no way you should issue an announcement this week.”
“Well, I’m going to!” he almost shouted, visibly bracing up. “At least the educational establishment will be with me. I don’t have exactly the right answer, but I have the concept, I can express myself, and I’ll get some credit for showing my work.”