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In her speech as the union opens its biennial convention here, Sandra Feldman, the AFT president, will call for a "transitional year" program, either before ninth grade or in high school, in which adult-literacy specialists would help teen-agers lacking basic skills catch up so they could confront more challenging course work.

Why are 8th grade graduates lacking basic skills?!?!?

"I'm talking about a segment of kids who are just absolutely falling through the cracks because no one's paying attention to them," Feldman said.

Why not? Can't Feldman's teachers do their jobs? Aren't teachers supposed to teach, and promote only those who have mastered the skills necessary for the next grade?

"Something's going to give here. Either people are going to talk about lowering the standards, which I think would be disastrous, or we're going to take it very seriously and provide whatever those kids need to meet the standards."

Lowering the standards???? I learned multiplication tables in 2nd grade - and there was no kindergarten. Now kids are being introduced to multiplication in 3rd grade - their 4th year of school. Am I missing something? Besides, how much lower can the standards get if someone leaving 8th grade hasn't mastered the "basic skills."

"When it comes to stigmatizing students,..."

In the real world, no one cares if you have been stigmatized, no one cares if you took an extra year or two to master the skills required for a job. They only care that you have mastered the skills.

Olympic High School Principal Dale Lamb said a fifth year would benefit both disadvantaged students and those who are doing well academically.


Strict graduation requirements have caused some students not to take challenging course loads because they fear they won't graduate , Lamb said. An additional year would give them more time.

Why are they given the option of taking less than challenging courses? If they are not challenged, then they are not being taught. If they are not being taught, what are the teachers, guidence counselors, principals, etc. doing for their paycheck?

Lamb also noted that it's hard in four years for teachers to catch up students who come to high school ill prepared.

Again, why are the there in the first place?

"That might cause them to drop out, not save them from dropping out," Carpenter said.

The current drop out rate in many places is approaching, if not passing, 50%. Who are they trying to keep from dropping out?

After a decade in which every state but Iowa has adopted higher standards for achievement - and 26 states have required new tests for graduation by 2003 - Feldman's proposal comes as many are suggesting that the school calendar is inadequate.

Districts have already expanded after-school programs and summer school classes to address deficits in literacy and mathematics, primarily in the early grades.

More of what doesn't work, still won't work.

Noting that children start with different levels of knowledge and learn at different paces, one expert drew an analogy to a hospital.

"No one would think of prescribing a term of treatment for all conditions," said Paul Reville, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "They're trying to bring you up to a standard of health. Some people are going to be there for two weeks and some will be there two hours."

As a doctor, I don't understand this analogy. Kids don't come to school suffering from some illness - they are all lacking in knowledge, to pretty much the same extent; some kids may be a little ahead of others; but after the first year, they should all have mastered the same information (some may have master more). So going into the second year, the same base of knowledge could be assumed. This should continue until the 8th grade - eliminating the need for this extra year.

"If one of your children takes longer to master any one of those skills, you don't say, `Oh, she's a failure.' We can expect kids to acquire certain skills over an academic career that may be 12 years, may be 13 years - may be 11 or 10 years."

No. You don't say she is a failure. But you don't pretend that she has mastered the skills, and promote her anyway. If there hadn't been social promotions, this would not be an issue.

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