THE STANDARDS DEBATE 

9/01/1997

It is almost impossible to read a newspaper or watch TV without engaging the subject of academic standards. The subject is so hot that it was even at the center of the last presidential election. As the nation debates whether or not we will have national standards and voluntary tests in 4th and 8th grades to see if students are meeting them, it would seem to be appropriate for there to be a local debate about standards right here in Plainview-Old Bethpage. The fact of the matter is that the odds are quite good that no matter what national standards are adopted, an overwhelming number of Plainview-Old Bethpage students will not only meet them but exceed them. It is important to remember that in the national debate, the goal is to have many of our nation's schools catch up to us.

That does not mean that we can be complacent. While it is true that our students do very well when compared to others across the country, are they doing as well as they might? The uncomfortable answer is that they are not. In recent years there has been gradual erosion of our teachers' authority to set and maintain high academic standards. Student failure to perform has often been interpreted by those in authority to be teacher failure, with some students learning all too well that a lack of effort can be easily overcome by and abundance of political pressure. Failing a high school student today is almost an act of courage. To do so, even when a student has made no effort to pass and may have even disrupted other students from learning, is to invite countless phone calls and meetings with one's supervisors, all challenging the teacher's judgment, few, if any, focused on the student's failure to perform.

In his first year as our Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Cavanna has challenged the staff to make Plainview-Old Bethpage the number one district in the state. While it is hard to be precise as to what that would mean and how we would measure it, clearly being number one would include a new support for higher academic standards from the entire school community. This in turn would mean an end to social promotion, a commitment from the Superintendent and the Board of Education to encourage teachers to develop high standards and defend them when they are challenged and a vital parent community dedicated to our students being all they can be and recognizing that that is what we teachers are about.

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