Doug Robinson: The teachers respond to last week's column

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 2 2013 3:20 p.m. MDT

Cheri Robinson, a teacher in Colorado, wrote, “Is it legal to punish one person for another person’s free will and choice? … What can a teacher do to force students to actually take the tests instead of just faking it? Colorado configures the mandatory tests over a seven-day period each spring. The kids just get tired of it, and then some of them refuse to try. I have proctored one-hour tests that students complete in five minutes simply by filling in the bubbles and writing nonsense on a few lines. Those scores will be close to zero. Average them into a group of 45 students and the group average plummets through no fault of the teacher. Test results are only valid if the students actually read the questions and try to find the correct answer. Students who pretend to take the test may take the entire hour, but later admit to just pretending.

“It is only when the students and their families are held responsible for their attendance and effort in class and on tests that scores will improve. If you check out the National Research Council on student achievement, you will see that test scores nationwide have been flat or declining for many years, in spite of multiple new teaching methods and new teaching reforms. Perhaps it's time to examine the students … If a high school student is responsible enough to have a driver's license, shouldn't the same student be able to show up to class on time with books, homework, pencils and papers, and be ready to take personal responsibility for learning?

Tracy Gruber, senior policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children, wrote, “I was thrilled to see your column today discussing chronic absence. Our hope is that parents, schools and community leaders will better understand the relationship between school attendance and academic outcomes even as early as kindergarten. We believe it is one of the least expensive ways to improve academic achievement while reducing school dropout rates.”

A teacher named Roger Williams wrote, “In recent articles about school/teacher accountability, this important aspect (absenteeism) was missed, so as a retired teacher, I was delighted to see it addressed clearly and persuasively. A related aspect is the student who is there physically but not mentally. In my 39 years of teaching, I called them ‘floaters.’ Often they refused to do assignments or to put forth any effort. So I ramped up my efforts to make instruction entertaining, interesting, relevant, dynamic. That did rope in a few more, but not the hardcore floaters.”

And finally, from Lynn Stoddard, a retired teacher who wrote a book — “Educating for Human Greatness” — that offers a way to revamp public education: “Why do kids not want to be in school? One reason is that NCLB forced teachers to do things that were harmful to children, causing many to drop out or go to school as little as possible and many others have dropped out emotionally. The idea of grading schools according to student achievement test scores is a carry over of the NCLB law and is an awful way to try to improve public education. It again will force teachers to use high-pressure methods to teach basic skills, causing more students to hate school and develop an aversion to learning. If we are really serious about students coming to school, we will do some things that will influence them to want to be there. How about starting with meeting each child's learning needs, not the needs of the state, the federal government or the needs of business executives?”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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