Standard: noun – a measure or model used to make comparisons; a level of quality or achievement.
Standardize: verb – cause to conform to a standard.
As an idealistic, twenty-year-old, first year teacher in the fall of 1972, I believed every student who entered my classroom could, and would, be successful. While I was to quickly learn that would not be the case, it was always the goal to which I subscribed. At the first faculty meeting that year, one of the administrators stated our failure rate should never exceed 10% per class – not an average of our five classes. Translated into plain English, this meant a teacher could not use the typically high pass rate in accelerated classes to raise the average of basic or below level classes. Even then, I remember thinking, “Common sense, isn’t it?” Nothing has happened over my forty years of educational experience to change my mind.
How disappointing it was for me to read that my home state, Virginia, announced new math objectives which do not require the same pass rates for four ethnic subgroups. In fact, these goals have been set to calibrate performance targets by race, ethnicity and income. Specifically, the Virginia Department of Education, in its July 24th news release set the following subgroup pass – rate goals (to be met by 2017) for the math standards of learning:
- 89% Asian students
- 78% Caucasian students
- 65% Hispanic students
- 57% African-American students
- 49% Special needs students
There has been individual and group backlash, seemingly stunning members of the Virginia Board of Education. After all, the federal government continues to support this travesty of requiring these different achievement goals. Comments such as those noted below indicate the depth of concern regarding this plan which is both demoralizing and insulting.
- “Insulting and narrow-minded” – characterization of the plan by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in a letter to Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R).
- “My biggest concern is setting lower expectations for minorities than other cultures. If you set low expectations for children, you devalue them, and demoralize them to themselves.” – Carmen Taylor, vice-president, Virginia Chapter of the NAACP
- “Virginia students of all races and incomes go to school together, but ‘together and unequal’ is the message of the new policy.” – Andrew Rotherham, educational columnist for Time; former member of Virginia Board of Education, 2005 – 2009
State officials responded by stating every student, regardless of demographic subgroup, is required to answer the same number of questions correctly to earn a passing grade. Apparently, not demanding the same percentage of those students to pass does not seem to phase them. Even so, the president of the Virginia Board of Education, David M. Foster, announced Wednesday, August 29th he would be requesting the Board to revisit annual measurable objectives set in July and approved by the United States Department of Education.
In what appears to be a reversal of its earlier stance, Board President Foster now indicates the Board of Education and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell are “committed to high expectations of all students.” Could it be this issue has already exposed the Commonwealth of Virginia as continuing a practice former President George W. Bush famously described as the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in education through which some educators and policymakers subtly shortchange certain subgroups of students by expectations?
As I see it, Virginia’s newly revised plan, as written, is not forward-thinking and is far from being subtle. It is a blatant step backwards and is a perfect example of structural racism. While these new standards may be changed at the Board’s September meeting, it will be extremely difficult for many to trust the motives of the current Board no matter what changes are made.