[tags]Teaching, math, high school, diploma, education[/tags]
A very interesting email came across the Project NExT email list yesterday. It concerns, of all things, fish-packing; turns out that the Gorton‘s fishery in Gloucester, MA is requiring that prospective employees take a mathematics test as part of the hiring process. The author of the email called up the human resources department at Gorton’s and found out a little more about it. Here’s a snippet that I am reprinting with the author’s permission (emphases added):
Requiring a high-school diploma turned out not to be a sufficient qualification for a Gorton’s production position, because it does not guarantee that a potential employee can read, write, or do basic mathematics. So, in 1997 or 1998, Gorton’s instituted a mathematics test for potential production employees. It tests at approximately the 8th-grade level, with questions such as “What is 20% of 300?” or “If you are manufacturing 500 automobiles, and each needs 4 tires plus a spare, how many tires total are needed?” One of the purposes of the test is to see if the applicants can read the questions.
Most applicants for production positions at Gorton’s are in their late 20’s, and many do not have skills in reading, mathematics, or reasoning, even though they have high-school diplomas. The test has 50 questions, some on logic, and some on math. It has been successful in the eyes of HR, because since instituting the exam, they’ve been able to do more with their production employees. These are people who can be reassigned from position to position. Gorton’s employees tend to stay with the company for the duration of their careers, so the company has an interest in bringing in people who can move on to college, or move through manufacturing up to management later. They want employees who can think logically.
Holy mackerel, so to speak. When a high school diploma is no longer a guarantee that a person can perform at the middle-school level in reading and mathematics, something is seriously — seriously — wrong. What is that high school diploma supposed to represent, anyway? Survival? What schooling has in fact taken place?
I’m no fan of NCLB or any strain of high-stakes testing, but stuff like this makes a pretty good argument for strict graduation standards enforced by an objective test. If a student cannot do simple percentage calculations — stuff you need for everyday life! — correctly nearly 100% of the time, or can’t correctly parse a quantitative question consisting of a single English sentence, I think you can make a strong case that the person has not attained a high school education and should not be allowed to graduate.
At the very least, it should be clear that we are doing people like this no favors by allowing them to graduate, to enter a workforce where they’re not even qualified to pack cartons of fish sticks into a case, much less try to take calculus or statistics in college. Perhaps a little tough love is needed.