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I saw a link to an article today in my twitter feed from @MorningsideCtr.  It was an article from The New York Times, featuring stories from high school students about their use of study drugs to compete in some of the elite schools in the States. A similar conversation had come up in my EPSY 322 - Students with Special Needs - course the other night after one of my classmates presented on the topic of ADHD.  And after reading some of the accounts from students, most of them agreed that it had nothing to do with getting high.  Instead, many of these students felt they needed the help of drugs to cope with the overwhelming demands placed on them by schools and society.  

A 17-year-old girl from Austin, Texas said that she started taking her younger brother's Focalin prescription to get caught up after she missed a week of school:

        "The benefits were amazing. I had been sick a week before, and in one night, I caught up on several physics         and calculus assignments and knocked-out the first act of Hamlet. But the productivity was just one of three
        perks that came from that little 20mg pill: I was able to stay up until 3am, then get up again at 6am feeling
        completely rested, more so than if I had slept ten hours."

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I wondered why students in high school would feel such an enormous amount of pressure; I don't recall high school being that way for me.  Then I remembered that getting into University in the United States is a completely different ball game than it is here in Regina.  A young woman from Pittsburgh explained how Adderall helped her deal with the added pressure the economic crisis has placed on students:

        "Young adults today feel like they need straight-A's, a good internship, a jam-packed social life and more or
        we're failures. We're worried about our future . . . We know we're going into an abysmal job market and
        need any edge we can get, and no effort feels like its enough. You have to pick two: sleep, social life or
        grades.  Stimulants like Adderall give you a much needed boost when your in such a high-stress, exhausting
        situation."

Is this the type of message schools are sending to children?  The competitive nature of post-secondary schooling seems to have created an every-person-for-themselves mentality that has young adults grasping at whatever tools will give them the extra edge they need to get ahead.  Some of the students end up addicted to the pills, claiming that the effects of not taking them daily has left them unable to function.  One boy from New York City was fortunate to have kicked the habit after being accepted to college:

        "The last time I used it in high school was around the end of my first semester of senior year. I was admitted
        to college at that point and high school seemed less stressful to me, and thus the reliance on drugs for good
        grades dissipated."

Although standardized testing in Canada has not been awarded the same level of value as it has in the US, some provinces have begun taking more stock in their results than others.  The pressure to perform on these exams can increase levels of stress in both students and teachers.  However, stress can come from many areas of our lives.  It is important that educators equip students with healthy coping strategies to deal with the added stress that getting older seems to bring along with it, so that they don't begin misusing or abusing drugs to deal.

What are some ways that you deal with the stresses in your life?  Mine is making lists to keep organized and to help put things into perspective.  Post your advice below!

 
 
ac*count*a*ble |əˈkountəbəl|
adjective
1 (of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible : government must be accountable to its citizens | parents could be held accountable for their children's actions

That is the definition from my Apple Dictionary for a word that gets tossed around a lot in education.  My professor, Dean, just posted his thoughts on the word the other day.  And it has been coming up a lot around the light of recent events.  Back in 2010, the Saskatoon Public School Division announced a policy for its high schools that mandated late assignments and plagiarism be "reported in student evaluations, but not reflected in academic assessments" (CBC News, September 2010).  Here is CBC's short video reporting the story:
Needless to say, people had a lot negative opinions about the new policy.  One comment that stood out to me was written by the alias, raceguy:

        "The whole approach to this dumbing down of the system by officials in Sakatoon [sic] is absurd. Should
        we not be looking at opportunities to drive our students to success and excellence by improving the
        education progams [sic]. 
        The fact that there are no provincial or national standards to measure students academic achievements
        is even more of a concern. I personally would have loved to know how my children were stacking up
        against students from other communities in Saskatchewan while they were in high school.
        Oh, sorry that would mean making teachers and the school system accountable to someone. Good grief,
        don't want to pick on the good teachers but isn't it time to hold some of these useless educators
        responsible for their actions?"

This type of attitude is exactly the one that Dean mentioned, that lowers teachers from their role of professional to that of a factory worker, administering tests.  Education is a topic everyone has an opinion about, and rightfully so.  It is something that everyone participates in to some extent.  I just wish that people would gather all of the facts before making a statement like the one above, requesting accountability through standardized testing.  I invite anyone who thinks that ranking teachers by test scores is a good idea, to read about how this worked out for teachers in New York.

Along the same story, in a CBC Radio interview* (September 2010), Saskatchewan's Premier made it very clear that he was opposed to Saskatoon's assessment strategy.  He gave an example of one of his own children losing marks for turning some things in late and how he appreciated the repercussions because he thought it had taught his child a lesson about life in the real world.  I would imagine that Brad Wall provides a stable and supportive home environment, yet if his children struggle to get their homework done sometimes, how about the children who are responsible for providing the care of younger siblings?  Or the students who live on their own and work to support themselves?  I have had many professors extend or negotiate the deadlines on assignments because students had approached them about conflicting schedules.  Life happens and teachers need to be flexible to allow for that.

But maybe instead of the directive coming from the administration that teachers are no longer to hand out zeros for late or plagiarized assignments, that they instead mandate teachers to be flexible with deadlines on a needs basis and use less punitive approaches to punishment when problems do arise; turn a mistake like plagiarism into an opportunity for growth and learning instead of assigning a zero without explanation.  In the radio interview, Mr. Wall agreed that teachers need to make special considerations for students they know are struggling and admitted that teachers are the ones who are working alongside the students and would therefore know what is best for them.  But instead of allowing teachers to make that call, he feels that more standardized approaches are necessary for consistency.

There are no standardized students or standardized classrooms.  Teachers do not come in a standardized package like houses in new subdivisions.  Why would standardized tests be the answer?  This again comes down to what Dean said about teachers being reduced to factory workers instead of the professionals we once were.  I worry that we are headed in the direction of the United States, where schools and their teachers are ranked according to obscure test results.  It will be a sad day for education if that is the case.  Our children deserve better than that.

*I did not have permission to share the radio interview, otherwise I would have posted it here for you all to listen.  If I am able to get permission, I will post it for your listening pleasure!