Catholic schools have enjoyed educational success for over 100 years. Dr. Eric Westley, Principal of Saint Patrick Catholic School in Fayetteville NC, suggests using that past success as a guideline for future student accomplishment.
“In early grades we teach skills that will carry children successfully through high school, college and life, using principles and techniques that have stood the test of time,” admonishes Dr. Westley.
Cognizant of the contribution to that success in parochial school’s traditional seven point grading scale, he is wary of the public school adoption of a ten point scale for grading. Using 90 to 100 as an ‘A’ instead of 93-100 means that 33% of students that used to get B’s now achieve A’s for the same work. To Dr. Westley that is the definition of ‘dumbing down.’
He says, “We maintain the expectation of intellectual and academic accomplishment.” Later on, that shows up in meeting and exceeding the competition in high school and then college admissions. He believes that if a student has achieved at a school using a seven-point scale, colleges know it. He thinks educators ignoring that fact and adopting the ten point scale deny their students that advantage.
Dr. Westley tells us that for anecdotal proof, one only has to speak with high school teachers. They will readily affirm the good educational foundation Catholic school students bring to high school.
Dr. Westley suggests that supporting data gathered over the years bolsters the conclusion that the sooner a child begins Catholic education that child fares better in all areas. Standardized test scores back from the publishers, separated by the number of years Catholic students have been in the process, show demonstrably better results in eighth grade from those who started in kindergarten as compared with those who started in the sixth grade. This stems from better preparation through the process. Students show an increased capacity to do what needs to be done to use their education successfully.
In the early grades rote and memorization and the honing of basics, attending to things some do not see as that important, establishes the foundation.
As an example; when four divided by two equals two becomes automatic, then later, when needed in algebra, geometry or trigonometry, the order of operations is what the student concentrates on rather than the computational elements of the math problem.
The current controversies of common core have not invaded Catholic schools in the Raleigh diocese because Catholic Schools in the Diocese follow the Diocese Catholic Schools’ curriculum, which is regularly reviewed by Catholic School teachers and administrators and supports the content and methodologies that have been and are still the basis for academic success.
For example science class in Saint Patrick School has been taught without using a textbook for years. Science at St. Patrick is lab-based and involves experiential, hands-on lessons. Students understand much better when deciding on whether clay or loam is more conducive to growing things when they see loam and clay side by side, wetting each and thinking about their observations.
When it comes to reading, Dr. Westley believes in the declaration that in early grades we learn to read so that throughout our lives we can read to learn. When the ‘whole language’ movement designed to replace phonics came along, he was glad that Catholic education stayed with the tried and true phonics.
The phonics structure of letter-sound-word-meaning, using consonants and vowels, then words-sentence-paragraph to expresses thoughts provides children with a system for attacking new and unfamiliar words and phrases. Diagramming the sentences, also still prevalent in Catholic schools, clarifies the grammatical functions the words serve in language and helps to cement understanding.
Of course not everyone learns phonics, memorizes or performs at above average capacity, so Dr. Westley suggests dealing with the exceptions on a case-by-case basis rather than changing the entire structure for everyone.
These educational experiences that affect the lives of children are not something to experiment with when those things have been validated over decades.
Dr. Westley sums it up this way, “Children will not be more successful in the world marketplace because instead of a ‘B’ they get an ‘A.’ Children benefit from measuring up to standards that are higher than average while young so they’ll be more successful when they are older. A more challenging achievement scale increases the chances of children reaching their maximum potential, becoming more successful in life. And after all, isn’t that the goal?”