The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon...  ...E.M. Forster (7 Oct. 1951)

Commentary of the Day - October 16, 1999:

Social Promotion and Grade Inflation:

One of the current evils of the American educational system, in the opinion of the Irascible Professor, is the social promotion of grade school children who have failed to master at some minimal level basic subjects such as English and mathematics.  Another evil is the tendency of elementary and high school teachers to award grades that do not reflect actual achievement levels in these basic subjects.  In many cases the student is passed on to the next grade even though he or she has failed.  This is bad enough, but too often the student is  given a passing grade that has not been earned along with the unearned promotion, or the student is given an inflated grade.  This is even worse, because the student then believes that he or she has mastered the material.  Whatever may be the short term social benefits of these policies, the end result is a horde of high school graduates who lack basic skills needed to succeed on the job or in college.

Here at Krispy Kreme U. (Cal State Fullerton) more than half of the entering freshmen (freshpeople?) cannot pass a basic English exam, and more than half of them cannot pass a basic mathematics exam.  In the words of the Irascible Professor, more than half of our students can't count to twenty without taking off their shoes, and more than half can't write a sentence in the English language.  Actually, he doubts that many of the students who fail the English Placement Test could write a coherent sentence in any language!  This would be bad enough if we had an "open admissions" policy.  But we don't!  To qualify for admission to a California State University campus, a student must have graduated from high school with a B average or better (or otherwise show that he or she is in the top one-third of graduating high school students).

Both the English Placement Test (EPT) and Entry Level Mathematics Test (ELM) are trivial.  They measure only the ability of the student to write a basic paragraph, and to carry out simple algebraic operations.  The students who take these tests all have taken four years of high school English, and three years of high school mathematics.  All of them have received grades of C or higher in these courses.  Yet we find that remedial English and remedial math are among our most heavily enrolled classes.

Most of the students in these remedial classes suffer only from ignorance rather than stupidity.  However, their need to master basic skills in college that they should have learned in grade school represents a waste of scarce instructional resources as well as a waste of taxpayer money.  The California State University system is woefully underfunded.  We are barely able to keep up with pressing crush of new students who are crowding our campuses today.  We should not have to bear the burden of remediation to rescue a failed K-12 system.  The Irascible Professor believes that if the K-12 schools were required to cover the costs of college level remedial classes for each of their students who have received a passing grade in the subject in high school but who have failed the EPT and/or the ELM, there would be many fewer students failing these tests.


The Irascible Professor invites your comments.
©1999 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.