I spoke with a colleague today, and she was flabbergasted at how low skilled her students were in her 11th grade Integrated Communications class. Many of the students could barely read; in fact, one student had yet to pass a class at LC--yet he is somehow in a junior class. This is social promotion gone to a ridiculous extreme. This student is failing himself, but we, as a school system, are not doing anything to help this student the way he needs it.
I, too, have had a wide range of students in my class. For instance, in my 6th period junior Advanced Placement (remember, this is AP!) class, I had two students admit that they didn't know what a pronoun was.
The fact is, our students are mishmashed together into classes and socially promoted, and from one year to the next, we have no idea what skills these kids attain.
Now that the district is moving to a standards-based grading system, we should now be moving toward a standards-based curriculum.
Here is how it might work:
First, let's make all classes have an exit test that is the same between all classes, and the student may not move on to the next English class until the previous one is completed adequately.
The first class freshman year should be reading comprehension. It should be a semester long class. By the end of the semester, the student should test out at grade level. If not, the student takes it again. Clearly the danger here is that we will have a student taking this class multiple times. But what service are we doing passing students on to another class if they CAN'T read at grade level? This model would require many of the English teachers to teach this class, but it would be so standardized that it would be a simple prep for the teachers.
If the student does pass, the second semester class would be expository writing. If the student is able to write an acceptable essay (maybe a WASL style prompt? An SAT style prompt), the student has completed the first year of English.
For those students ready to take the next step, the class could be grammar and vocabulary. The assumption is that if a student is reading at grade level and can write an essay, he should be able to pass this class, so retention will not be as much of an issue.
The fourth class (second semester of the sophomore year) could be an analytical reading class, which puts all the pieces together, presenting students with challenging texts and requiring them to read them analytically, using SAT and AP style multiple choice sections as well as having the students write analytical essays about their readings.
If a student can pass through all four classes, we can be assured the student has a solid foundation. Junior and senior year would change too, as the need for an IC class would be diminished. Students up for the extra challenge could take AP, and other students could take College Prep English. At this point, College Prep would TRULY be a college preparatory class.
I'm just thinking while I type, so I clearly haven't thought out all of the ramifications. But I think it's a discussion we need to begin.