Perhaps a better question would be, how do we resolve this dilemma?
A fellow teacher participated in an interesting conversation this past week, and she shared it with me while we took a few laps around the track to clear our heads. It's long been a complaint of high school teachers that junior high teachers aren't adequately preparing their students, especially in math. However, when you look at standardized test scores for freshmen arriving at our school, a large number of them are categorized as "proficient". What gives?
Some might say that perhaps our teachers aren't that good, but we have plenty of objective evidence that we are. Our AP teachers consistently get extremely good results--and I do mean extremely good results--from our students on AP tests. At various times I've been able to compare my Algebra 1 and/or 2 students to others in the district, and my students fare favorably. Our geometry scores have risen nicely the past few years. I know our math teachers, and I know how competent they are--honestly, and I say this without any reservation, we don't have a bad one in the bunch at my school. And I can recognize bad ones, as I've worked with some before. And these aren't bad. Not even close.
So what gives? There are several possibilities.
One is that our teachers aren't very good. I was willing to entertain that thought, but after considering it in depth, I don't think that's the issue. Even if we have one teacher who isn't the strongest, all our teachers are at least competent, and mostly more so. Again, I say that honestly. I have no reason to lie here.
Another possibility is that the best students are used to cruising through school without much effort, and unless you're an Einstein, that's not going to continue at our school! So the freshmen take some time adjusting to new standards.
Another possibility is the high school culture. Junior highs are much more "nurturing" and accommodating of mistakes; students get several chances to correct their mistakes. In high school, they're expected to be much more independent, much more responsible for themselves. That doesn't mean we're cold and heartless--at my school, nothing could be further from the truth. But in many cases, flunking a test means flunking a test, without the chance to take it over to get a better grade. In other words, freshmen experience a culture shock when leaving an environment where adults supervise them to the nth degree and arriving in an environment where they're expected operate with significantly less supervision.
Yet another possibility is that students, particularly freshmen, take a significant number of AP/honors/advanced courses, and aren't prepared for the workload.
And there's also the possibility, another one I'm not yet prepared to accept, that standards for lower math courses don't adequately prepare students for upper math courses.
And lastly, there's the anti-testing argument that says that the tests don't tell us what we'd like to think they tell us.
So there are all the reasons I've been able to come up with. Might there be others? I'm sure the actual reason is some combination of the the ones listed above, along with some others not yet listed.
So we don't think our freshmen come to us as prepared as they should. Where does the fault lie?