America’s Need for Education Reform: An Op-Ed

Patrick Kissel, Reporter

According to Business Insider, the United States, who once ranked among the top 10 countries in education has dropped in those standings significantly, with America now being placed at 38th, according to a Pew research poll. The dominant countries are now mainly in northern European nations like Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.

The question becomes, why did this drop occur? According to U.S. News, the funding spent on elementary and secondary education in the United States dropped by three percent from 2010 to 2014, despite a growth in the population of the American education system of one percent. This can serves as one explanation, but the issue goes deeper.

In Norway, the education system, like in the United States, is divided into three sections: barneskole, ungdomsskole and the videregående skole. During barneskole, the equivalent of primary school covering grades one through seven in the United States, students are introduced to basic STEM topics, as well as English, geography, history and social studies, but what is truly different about the Norwegian barneskole is that no grades are given.

There are other differences to the Norwegian system as well, with smaller class sizes than in the United States, and having not only a main instructor teaching each course, but also one or two other teachers depending on the class size are two. The smaller class size and the more teachers means more students can be helped at any one time, and it is an easier place for the teacher to teach, and allows more time to spent on each individual person.

This is the way the American system needs to change. Currently in the United States, grades are given on every assignment. Depending on the teacher, students may never receive homework, or students may receive it, but it is for a completion grade. Other teachers give homework, and it is not for completion, but correctness. This is not how it should be done. Homework assignments are meant to help the student learn and get the information they very possibly learned early that day to click. By taking it for anything other than completion, the grade is simply showing whether or not that information has yet clicked, and can harm a student who may later get to understand the information, but now cannot change that.

Another issue with the education system in the United States, and more specifically in Wentzville, are student growth assessments (SGAs) which, while initially intended to help judge how well a teacher is doing, have turned into faulty data that does not actually show that. In Wentzville, the end of year SGA is taken for a grade. Some teachers take it as your final score on it, while others attempt to gauge it based on your overall development from SGA occuring before the class to the SGA at the end of it. Both of these have faults though, with the first fault being that SGAs in Wentzville are given in February, and not at the end of the year, meaning that the full growth of the student is not properly gauged, and the student can get questions wrong simply because they have not learned information yet. Another issue is that, because some teachers put the final grade as being based on growth, it can be unfair to the students who score higher on the first SGA, leading to them getting a lower score instead of being rewarded for already having prior knowledge, but also can jeopardize the entire reason an SGA exists, which is to evaluate the teacher. If the teacher does take the grade based on growth, then students purposely get questions wrong on the first SGA so they can look better on the last one, completely negating the original purpose of the SGA. Simply put, SGAs should not be taken for a grade.

A final issue with the American education system is the way tests are taken for grades and are given. Tests are meant to look for how much a student learned, but tests are taken as a significant portion of a grade in a class, so students will study, which artificially inflates the grade and does not show what the student truly learned and retained. Instead, tests should not be recorded as a grade, or should be a much smaller portion of the grade overall to discourage obsessive studying and allow for students to not study to show what they actually learned. The final exam should be a significant portion of the grade, but should not be difficult, instead asking extremely clear, basic questions that are straight to the point of the material without any tricks so it can truly measure how much the student learned. For example, a student in a chemistry class taking the final, questions should be, whether you are in an advanced course or the basic one, extremely simple. One possible question could be asking what the atomic number of a certain element is. Questions should be simple, and easy on tests, so that the student’s knowledge and not their complex comprehension skills are tested.

Ultimately none of these changes will have a massive effect unless the concept of the grade alters dramatically. In America, it is forgotten that the purpose of a school is to educate and not to be a taxing obstacle course that forces challenge after challenge at the student. Grades need to viewed as far less important, as right now if someone does poor on a final, it can ruin their chances at getting into a decent college and getting a better education, or even getting a job. Until our society shifts how we think of grades and shifts the way we think of education from being a brick wall designed to stand right in the path of advancement and a successful and satisfactory life for the student, and instead thinks of it simply as a place to gain knowledge, the United States’ ability to become a nation that produces great philosophers, writers, politicians, scientists and political theorists cannot be achieved.