Kroner Commentary: Will book smart children function in the “real world?”

Don’t misunderstand this commentary.

I am all about honoring and applauding deserving individuals for outstanding achievements, whether in the classroom, the workforce or the athletic arena.

Often, the chance to earn recognition can in itself be a motivating force.

Any opportunity to encourage someone to do well, or perhaps better than they have done, is commendable.

So, what follows might seem like a contradiction, but I view it as symbolic of a bigger problem.

Yes, right here in our community, though we are not unique.

I believe it is prevalent in many locales. I just don’t have the data to support it.

In a recent edition, the Mahomet Citizen ran a complete list of honor roll students at the junior high.

Clearly, they are learning the material that is being taught.

As I compiled the list of honorees, it struck me that this was an unusually large number of students, but it didn’t occupy a lot of my time.

I am aware of the standard of academic excellence in the district, which is not a subjective opinion. Statistics support this contention on an annual basis, whether it’s the number of students who register the perfect score (36) on an ACT test or who far surpass state averages on
standardized tests.

Just last week, the school board heard an update from Dr. Nicole Rummel (M-S Director of Instruction) with some of the latest numbers. The results were from the current senior class and based on tests taken last spring.

The average SAT score for those from M-S was 130 points higher than the state average. A total of 64 percent are considered proficient, compared to a state average of 39 percent.

The PARCC results revealed a similar pattern. In all, 52 percent of the M-S students tested met the standards, compared to 34 percent statewide.

It was an impressive, feel-good story.

Except for one point.

At that same school board meeting, those in attendance listened to comments from a parent with three children in the district between grades 6 and 11.

In her talk, Dani Tietz asked, “is the honor roll really an honor?”

She had taken the data from the newspaper and put it in a different perspective.

It’s what trained journalists do. They don’t just look at a story as it’s given, they look into a story for what it means.

Tietz tracked down the six-day enrollment figures for the junior high and compared those totals to the numbers on the honor roll.

The results are staggering.

She found:
— 83 percent of the sixth-graders were on the first-quarter honor roll;
— 86 percent of the seventh-graders were on the first-quarter honor roll;
— 87 percent of the eighth-graders were on the first-quarter honor roll.

Tietz went on to share information about her son, a junior high honor roll student.

“He rarely uses punctuation. His sentences are difficult to read. He doesn’t capitalize the word ‘I’ “ she said, adding, “I’ve asked the teachers to correct him.”

Though I don’t know the exact response she received, I suspect it paralleled what I received 15 years earlier when my son was in school here.

I was told the students were not graded on spelling, grammar and punctuation or neatness of the written sentence.

As I reflect on my life, I was graded on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and neatness of the written sentence, and it has been much more valuable to me that what I learned about congruent triangles and the War of 1812.

A few years ago, I became aware of a story involving an athlete from east-Central Illinois whom I have interviewed multiple times.

He was (is) an outstanding athlete and his prowess in his sport had resulted in a college scholarship,

On the day that he was to sign his national letter of intent, he spent time that morning as a high school senior with his mother, being instructed on how to sign his name, because he did not know how to write in cursive.

Others have heard this story and had the reaction, “isn’t that cute?”

Personally, I find it one of the saddest commentaries imaginable on today’s educational values.

Should we be surprised? Disgusted? Outraged? Or, apathetic?

For me, after decades of communicating with coaches and other school personnel throughout a large portion of east Central Illinois — originally through written letters, then via faxes and finally with email — the shock factor is long gone.

I’ve seen it all. Repeatedly.

Most months I would receive dozens of letters/faxes/emails (depending on the year) saying,

“Here are there stats.”

Not, “Here are their stats.”

I’ve read sentences that don’t end and words that don’t match the spelling in any dictionary. My thought was always the same: This wasn’t part of the

criteria to become a teacher.
While these observations are not specifically related to Mahomet-Seymour, it would be folly to think our district is immune.

As the test scores here are examined and exalted, and the honor roll students lauded, there’s one question that appears to be harder to answer satisfactorily.

Are these book-smart children going to be fully functional when they reach what is commonly referred to as “the real world?”

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