I recently came into possession of one the Philadelphia School District Parent Teacher Brochures, which breaks down the goals that each Philadelphia School District student should be able to meet by the end of each grade level. Since I'm homeschooling my 5th grade daughter, I was particularly interested in the goals for fifth grade. And I was shocked, shocked, to find myself more baffled than enlightened after reading through these goals.
The language arts goals are all about process, purposes, and genres, with a developmentally inappropriate assignment thrown in in the form of a research project:
•Continue to build a reading, writing and speaking vocabularyNot a word about specific reading skills (vocabulary level, sentence complexity, making deductions and bridging inferences within the context of the text) or writing skills (grammar and punctuation, sentence construction, paragraph construction).
•Read to learn new information
•Read a wide range of stories, books and magazines for enjoyment
•Understand a problem or conflict in stories or books and talk or write about an appropriate solution
•Make connections between stories and texts that they have read and the world around them
•Tell and/ or write a summary that gives the main idea of what they read and the most important details or events
•Complete a research project including a written report
•Write stories with several paragraphs
•Write poems, plays, and reports
As for the math goals, most are vague ("compute" and "find the relationships"), easy (locating numbers on a number line; comparing numbers; sorting shapes), and emphasize verbal explanations over mathematical performance. Four out of the 13 goals are about data and probability. Here the developmentally inappropriate goal (especially given what isn't covered here) involves algebra:
• Compute and find the relationships using whole numbers, fractions, and decimalsNot a word about which computation skills the child should develop, what sorts of numbers, fractions, and decimals the child should be able to do computations on (perhaps only the "friendly" fractions and decimals), and what level of computational fluency the child should have. Not a word about multiplication tables, long division, repeating decimals, ratios and percents, and multi-step word problems.
• Locate positive and negative numbers on a number line (integers)
• Explain to you what prime numbers, factors, multiples and compositie numbers mean
• Compare numbers (equal to, greater than, and less than)
• Collect, organize, display, and analyze data in a variety of ways
• Find mean (average), median (middle number), mode (most frequent) and range (difference between largest and smallest) of data
• Predict or determine all possible combinations and outcomes, such as, "How many outfits can be created with six shirts and eight pants?"
• Calculate the chance of a simple event happening
• Use a variety of methods to solve for unknown quantities in simple one-step algebra equations (solve for x)
• Sort polygons according to their properties and angles, such as triangles, rhombi, and parallelograms
• Define and compare perimeter (distance around) and area (amount covered inside) of shapes
• Understand properties of a circle
• Explain how they solved a math problem in their own words.
Turning to science, only one substantive topic is mentioned (solar energy) and goals pertaining to it remain vague ("build an understanding;" "recognize"). Most the goals pertain to process rather than achievement, many of them involving developmentally inappropriate activities that wrongly assume that children can function as little scientists:
• Develop skills that will emphasize the five senses while doing scienceIt would seem that, "goals" aside, the Philadelphia Schools are avoiding any commitment to help your 5th grader increase his or her vocabulary, reading level, sentence construction skills, or computational fluency with "unfriendly" numbers; or learn any scientific content other than a few vague propositions about solar energy.
• Use prior knowledge when making observations
• Make predictions and hypotheses based on observations
• Design investigations with a control and one or two variables
• Gather, organize and display data independently
• Build an understanding of how solar energy is transferred
• Recognize that the sun is the main source of energy for people and they use it in various ways
• Design and conduct experiments with variables. Students should be able to explain cause and effect
• Study the relationship in an ecosystem that shows the relationship of an organism to its environment
• Conduct hands-on investigations to discover and understand their world
• Record observations in science notebooks