May 312012

Much has been written about declining scores on the Florida FCAT writing test. Kingsley Guy reports, “When the passing rate for students taking the writing FCAT dropped to 30 percent this year, compared to 80 percent last year, the Florida Board of Education addressed the problem with typical aplomb: It changed the grading scale.”

This is dismal news no matter how you slice it. As someone who works in higher education (I instruct business communications classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, for two different universities), I can personally attest to a lack of writing skills among recent and even not-so-recent high school graduates. Many of my students are dismayed when they receive their first graded papers. Often, they indignantly report that they received all A’s in their high school English classes so who am I to claim that their sentence structure, spelling, and grammar are lacking? I used to brush off these claims, believing them to be over-stated by students. But articles such as Kingsley’s have made me realise that many students truly are receiving A grades… for D work.

Giving students grades they haven’t earned is tragic. To be sure, it appeases students, parents and tax-payers in the short run. After all, who can be unhappy when there are so many A students and A schools around us? But something is seriously wrong when the average high school gpa continues to climb as both ACT and SAT scores remain flat.

Not only does it deprive students of the opportunity to improve their skills, but it creates a population of graduates who don’t have the skills needed to be successful in college or career. And this isn’t just the perspective of a homeschooling parent, but of many of the country’s largest and most prestigious employers. For instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website states:

America’s schools are failing to provide all students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed beyond high school—in college, career, and life.

As homeschoolers, we are fortunate not to be limited by what the public schools teach (or don’t). But as citizens, we should surely be concerned when the Board of Education addresses students’ inability to write by changing the grading scale rather than looking at why schools are failing so many students.