September 30, 2002

More California testing folliesA startling

More California testing follies

A startling figure from CA's state high-school exit exam results - more than 90% of disabled students did not pass the exam. That's the big, attention-grabbing headline in the SF Gate, which gives plenty of attention to trigger-happy lawyer Sid Wolinsky, who's suing California on behalf of all 173,470 of its disabled high-school students.

You see, beginning in 2004, California's student will have to pass an exit exam in order to receive a diploma. They get three chances per year, meaning 12 chances in all, and despite the fact that California's schools extend to the 12th grade, the exit exam is pitched at the 10th-grade level. But, California has "nearly 580,000 students in all grades have a variety of impairments, from learning difficulties such as dyslexia to physical disabilities such as blindness", and I bet Sid would like to file a lawsuit on behalf of all of them. Despite that, while I realize that all those categories listed in the article qualify as disabilities, they certainly aren't equal with respect to the abilities required to pass a 10th-grade-level exam, and they certainly don't preclude the possibility that a student can have a disability and lack the cognitive ability to pass the exam.

Sigh. This is indeed a mess, but it isn't the fault of the exams, nor even necessarily of the state of California. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements specify that test developers remove any and every obstacle that a disability might pose to a test-taker, but the exam itself must test the same constructs for disabled and non-disabled test-takers alike. When it comes to physical disabilities, such as blindness, it's obvious that it would be blatantly unfair not to offer a blind student a test in Braille, or on audio-cassette, or with a personalized reader. Such disabilities pose mainly logistical problems for test developers and administrators, and once the test is modified to be fully accessible to a blind student, it's easy enough to support the decision to pass or fail the student on purely cognitive grounds.

It's the cognitive disabilities, and lawsuit-happy organizations such as Disability Rights Inc., who are causing most of the problems for test developers. How on earth do you decide what cognitive obstacles to remove from a test that is meant to be a measure of cognitive ability? As Rae Belisle, the counsel to the state Board of Education, puts it:

Belisle says that even though 90 percent of disabled students who took the exit exam in March did not pass it, no one actually "failed" it.It is true that some students have cognitive impairments so severe "that they won't get a diploma," she said. "That's the reality of it." But included among the tens of thousands of disabled students who did not pass the test are some -- she did not know how many -- who answered enough questions correctly to be eligible for a waiver from their local school board, allowing them to graduate.

These students did not actually pass the test because they took it using a "modification," Belisle said. A modification may be a device, such as a calculator, or even a human, such as a reader for a blind student, without which a student would be unable to take the test. Some students may require a calculator because their own brain cannot perform the calculation process. Experts are in wide agreement that such difficulties are organic and not a measure of intelligence or laziness.

Nevertheless, "using a modification changes what the exam is measuring," Belisle said, so that if a student uses a calculator or reader, the test is not measuring how well the student can read or do math. By contrast, an "accommodation," such as extra time or special lighting, does not change what skills are measured, she said.

Interesting. This is the first time I've seen a distinction made between accommodations that do not change the construct, which is what is required of test developers by the ADA, and accommodations that do change the construct, which is not required of test developers and which don't make a lot of sense to boot. I disagree with Belisle about the timing issue, because changing the time limits may very well affect the test construct, but it's possible that in this particular case, the timing won't make much difference.

Anyway, before you FairTesters out there compose your angry emails in response to my criticism of the disabled and their advocates, let me make a few comments:

1. According to the SFGate article, 90% of the disabled students did not pass the test. For some percentage of them, this was an accurate representation of their scholastic abilities - presumably, a percentage roughly equal to the non-disabled students who did not pass the test. When we compare those two numbers, it's really only the difference that should concern us.

I looked on the CA Dept. of Education website. The only press release for today that I could find doesn't say anything at all about disabled test-takers. It does separate out the "Special Education" students, and while 87% of those students failed, 48% of students who aren't considered Special Education failed. This, to me, indicates a miserable state of affairs for all students, not just the disabled ones, if in fact I'm suppose to equate "disabled" with "Special Education" and I'm not sure that I am.

What's more, one reason that there were so many non-passing is that students who took the test with special modifications for a cognitive disability, such as the use of a calculator on a math exam, are automatically judged as non-passing, and must pass a certain number of items and obtain a waiver. Sid considers the "test not valid" label given to the modified exams, and the waivers, to be indicators of "second-class status", rather than a vain attempt by California to preserve some sort of integrity for the test as it stands.

2. The reason I refer to organizations such as Disability Rights, Inc., as "lawsuit-happy" is because they seem unable to concede point 1, above. Not every student with a learning disorder flunks a test because the test is unfair. Somehow, the burden of proof for acheivement and ability seems to have shifted from the test-taker to the test developer. We're put in the position of trying to prove that someone with a cognitive disability really and truly doesn't have the cognitive skills that the test is trying to measure. We're put in the position of drawing the line between "cognitive disability" and lacking in cognitive function. And thanks to such lawsuits, it has apparently become politically incorrect to suggest, via test scores or otherwise, that someone with a cognitive disability might not deserve a high school diploma, because they lack the cognitive skills in addition to the disability. I don't mind a requirement that test developers try to remove obstacles for cognitive disabilities; I do mind the recent assertions that test developers are pushing "second-class status" on everyone with a cognitive disability who flunks a cognitive-skills-based exam.

3. Rae Belisle hit the nail on the head, psychometrically. A test is only valid if it measures what we intend it to measure. If we modify it beyond all recognition, then it no longer measures what it's supposed to measure, and there's no point in administering it. I am not in favor of high school exit exams, but if a state insists on having them, every test-taker should be held to the same standards. Otherwise, you might as well follow Nova Scotia's example and issue "special" diplomas to students who can't read (via Joanne Jacobs). (David Janes cites this as evidence in the Most Moronic Province Contest).

The point of high school exit exams is so that schools can claim that every student who receives a diploma - not every "temporarily abled" student, but every student - was exposed to a certain curriculum and performed up to a certain set of standards for that curriculum. If as Sid Wolinsky claims, Special Education students are not being taught the material on the exam, or if the exam is going to modified for a subpopulation of the students, then the exam results are invalid, and the exam shouldn't be administered.

4. If students with cognitive disabilities receive special treatment, students without disabilities will have incentives to fake such disabilities. Students who would not dream of faking blindness or motor disability may not have a problem with getting a learning disability diagnosis from a doctor, if it's going to give them a free pass through an exam. There are rumors, and anecdotal evidence, to suggest that the sharpest rise in cognitive-disability diagnoses is among the wealthy, white, upper-middle class kids. Ten percent of the California kids were enrolled in Special Education. Will that number rise in the future?

UPDATE: An Interested Reader wrote in to say, "I assume you saw that headline in the NYTimes last Thursday about rich kids paying to get learning disability diagnoses". Um, er, uh - of course I did! Yeah, just thought I'd give the story a little time to breathe before blogging about it. Yeah, that's it.

No, that's not it. I've been swamped, and it's been difficult to post something everyday. Many thanks to the reader who notified me of this story, because there's no excuse for me to have missed it. Unfortunately, I can't link to it because it's now a payment-required article. What's happening is exactly what I predicted would happen once the College Board announced that it would stop flagging SAT scores given under extra time. And the NYTimes coverage is just what I would have predicted - according to the article, the fact that rich kids are willing to pay people to essentially help them cheat is just more proof that these tests are inherently biased against poor students and further "privilege the privileged". Um, no. The College Board caved under pressure from disability advocates and the politically-correct, with the predictable result that learning disability diagnoses have become more prized. I don't see it as an indictment of the test so much as it's an indictment of the College Board's decision, and I think the politically-correct, anti-test philosophy pushed by FairTest and the NYTimes make it easier for diagnosis-fakers to justify their actions.

How can the NYTimes run a story on the flagging of accommodated test scores that doesn't contain one single quote about the psychometric reasons for flagging, a story that suggests that test developers are evil for making any distinction between accommodated and non-accommodated test scores, and then turn around and run this recent story, which bemoans the booming business in faking disabilities? Hello, doesn't the Times see that one necessarily follows from the other? If it's "wrong" to make a distinction between disabled students and non-disabled students, all students will have the incentive to fake a disability. This is the bed you helped make, NYTimes and FairTest. The money angle is the least important angle to this story (probably why the Times took it), because the educrats will make sure that fake diagnoses are available to all as soon as possible.

Posted by kswygert at 05:44 PM | Comments (1)

What's wrong with this picture

What's wrong with this picture in Pennsylvania?

Let's see, two more otherwise untroublesome students have been suspended and were in danger of expulsion from their school in Allegheny, PA, due to their violation of a "zero-tolerance" policy. Did they threaten a teacher? Pull a knife in class? Wave a joint around? Nah, they had BB guns in their cars when they went to football practice.

BB guns. In the car. Not necessarily loaded, not being used, just in the car. At a football practice that was not on school grounds.

How did the school know about it? Why, a passing motorist saw the rifles in the car and called 911. Can't be too careful with those BB guns, you know - you could put someone's eye out. Or help destroy two innocent students' burgeoning athletic careers and academic records.

On the other hand, if you turn over desks during class in a Philadelphia inner-city school, grab a pair of scissors, and threaten to cut open the face of the boy you're fighting with, the school's principal may decide to wait a week before notifying the police, and he may even smooth things over by not mentioning that nasty stabbing threat. The end result may be teacher resignations, school investigation, and ugly controversy, but hey, a 10-year-old girl with multiple disciplinary infractions and a yen for violence deserves a second chance.

What is going on? Is this an open admission that suburban students are held to a much higher standard of behavior than inner-city students? Do we expect one group to be perfect and just hope the other group doesn't kill anyone? Are zero-tolerance rules necessary to guide empty-headed principals such as the one in Philadelphia?

Posted by kswygert at 09:37 AM | Comments (0)

More on demanding perfectionJoanne Jacobs

More on demanding perfection

Joanne Jacobs points out that even high-poverty schools succeed when they teach reading via phonics instruction and tie lessons closely to state standards:

The eight schools studied all use a scripted, phonics-based reading program, Open Court. Most use Saxon, Excel and/or Harcourt-Brace math books. All pay close attention to the state's academic standards, and make sure lessons are linked to the standards. Teacher training is focused on subject matter. All use frequent testing to monitor students' progress. Essentially, the teacher is in charge of teaching; students don't "construct" or "discover" knowledge for themselves. Creativity is confined mostly to science, social studies, art and music classes. While critics of structured, scripted lessons says it's just "drill and kill," principals say students now read enthusiastically -- because they can read.

Posted by kswygert at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

Demanding perfectionNancy Blackwell, the principal

Demanding perfection

Nancy Blackwell, the principal of Hambrick Middle School in Dallas, TX, wears sensible, low-heeled shoes - because she's always on her feet. A good principal should be walking from classroom to classroom all day,claims Ms. Blackwell, and her status as a good principal is supported by the numbers:

Last year, 99.3 percent of Hambrick's students passed the state math test. And the success cut across all student groups: The passing rates for black, white, Hispanic and poor students were all above 98 percent. That's despite the fact that more than three-quarters of its students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Her secret?

Her first task was improving discipline. There was some gang activity on campus, and the administration didn't have a firm grip on students' activities. "The kids were really in control of the school," she said...Quickly, she removed all the school's lockers to make hallways wider and make the time between classes less chaotic. She eliminated all the bells between classes to create a calmer atmosphere. Later, she added a strict dress code and metal detectors at school entrances...There were little details, too. Lunch periods now end with a few minutes of mandatory silence so students are calm when they head back to class.

In every academic subject, students take six "checkpoint" tests a year – locally designed exams linked to state curriculum standards. If the eighth-grade social studies Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test includes a section on the development of the American economic system, so does the checkpoint..."People say, 'You're teaching to the test,' " Ms. Blackwell said. "But that test covers the state curriculum, and if you're not teaching it, you're not doing your job. Every skill on that test is something a child needs to know. It's purposeful."

Her success is not measured only in test scores:

What a difference a few years makes. Teacher turnover has now dropped to about 5 percent a year, Ms. Blackwell said. Now the biggest enrollment problems are the parents who fake addresses in the school's attendance zone so their kids can attend Hambrick. The open house at the start of this school year attracted more than 1,200 parents. Ten years ago, it might have drawn 300.

Who knew that comfy shoes could make so much of a difference?

Posted by kswygert at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

A worthy opponentJay Mathews has

A worthy opponent

Jay Mathews has discovered a rare individual indeed - a testing critic who relies on data, experience, and logical arguments, instead of the hysteria, hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, and non-existent or misinterpreted research that make up the usual "arguments" of such critics. As Jay Mathews, who is himself pro-testing, puts it, "No more cheap victories for us."

The movement against standardized testing has finally found a champion who cannot be dismissed as a country club obstructionist. She is Deborah Meier, a fierce opponent of standardized tests who is also founder of the Central Park East School in East Harlem, co-principal of the Mission Hill School in Boston, and one of the most knowledgeable and innovative inner city educators the country has ever seen...

Meier reduced our trust of ordinary teachers by raising our expectations. With a few other rebel teachers and administrators, she created small, intimate learning communities for Harlem kids and succeeded in preparing large numbers of them for college. She joined with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform to bring the idea to several other New York schools, and helped start a revolution in small urban schools that--with a big new dose of money from computer magnate Bill Gates--is changing education in several cities...

She starts with the fairest and most accurate summary of the standards movement ever written by a critic of standardized testing: "It's built around the idea that the villain is mostly low expectations and a failure of will power. Since both are indisputably factors in failure and less onerous to tackle than poverty, for example, this notion eliminates victimology..."But the trouble is, as we keep relearning generation after generation, it contradicts what we know about how human beings learn and what tests can and cannot do. That a standardized one-size-fits-all test could be invented and imposed by the state, that teachers could unashamedly teach to such a test, that all kids could theoretically succeed at this test, and that it could be true to any form of serious intellectual and/or technical psychometric standards is just plain undoable.

Jay Mathews actually called Ms. Meier up to question her further on her arguments, which center on the idea that the ideal way to teach inner-city kids is to use the graduate school model - in small seminar classes that focus on writing, debate, and research. Assessment would be via independent panels who examine the each child's written work and administer a face-to-face, hour-long oral exam. Jay found Ms. Meiers to be honest, enthusiastic, experienced, fiercely devoted to children, and with a sense of humor and perspective about her work and her ideas. All of which places her head and shoulders above the usual testing critics, and I'm glad to see that she's out stirring up the hornet's nest.

This is not to say I agree with her ideas, of course. Yes, it would be ideal if children could be taught in graduate school formats, but how practical or affordable is that? What's more, the graduate school format works in part because every student in the room is committed to learning and has reached a certain level of dedication and accomplishment (and is paying their own way). I think that children of vastly different potentials may find it frustrating to be in very small classes with each other, unless you plan to track by ability, which is all it takes to get some "equity is everything" pedagogues fired up.

What's more, the intense subjectivity of Ms. Meier's proposed exams is what standardized tests were intended to counteract. The independence of the panels is a step towards preserving objectivity, but the end result is that the grade in the class would be based on a face-to-face test. It would be very difficult to prove that some unscholastic attribute of the child - such as race, sex, accent, speaking style, or level of enthusiasm and extroversion - was not taken into account when the grade was assigned. Some people, like me, consider this one step back towards the old methods of grading and admissions, when you had to please the teacher or the grader - and be the "right" color, sex, or religion - in order to get a decent grade.

In the field of psychometric research surrounding performance assessment (which is the technical term for the kind of of assessment Ms. Meier is referring to), it is accepted that even anonymous essays should be assessed for rater bias, because it's possible that the rater may have guessed the essay-writer's sex or ethnicity, and their rating is assumed to be affected by that knowledge. Certainly, then, these "independent panels" would need to assure the public that they are not letting any factors about the child other than scholastic performance affect the child's grade, and that seems like a very difficult task.

Posted by kswygert at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2002

Tech Central Station has another

Tech Central Station has another good education-related article up; this one, by Howard Fienberg, is about California's failed Academic Performance Index, or API. Fienberg's description of the problem:

The regime under which improving schools and their teachers receive cash awards fails to include the test scores of one out of every 5 students in the state. According to an investigative series from the Orange County Register, that omission results in an average 20 point margin of error in schools' test scores. It may be that some California schools which got awards did not actually earn them, while other schools were unfairly left wanting...

Schools get an API score out of a possible 1,000 points, based on the Stanford 9 standardized test. Score improvements are rewarded with cash. But it seems that some details were never really worked out - the margin of error was never discussed, except for in passing at a September meeting that year...

Not only are some students not taking the exams, but many others that do take them have their scores removed afterwards. California claims that 98-99 percent of all its students are tested, but it appears that, on average, only 82 percent of students are counted in the end

Both of these problems are serious ones. For starters, the API score is high-stakes, because the cash awards are based on it. But every measurement contains some error, and you cannot make even low-stakes decisions based on measurements without some knowledge of the amount of error in your data. Does California know why the margin of error is 20 points? That's not huge, considering the 0-1000 point range, although if in reality few schools score below 500, or 600, the 20 points becomes more problematic. Assessment of error, and allowance for it when making a high-stakes decision, should have been two of California's first priorities.

I've also blogged before about California's tendency to leave out certain students' test scores, and Fienberg doesn't find it any more acceptable than I do. He also comments on the "grouping" mechanism that was certainly intended to benefit minorities but has ended up having the opposite effect:

The API awards system was not only designed to reward improvements in overall scores, but also scores in each major ethnic and racial group, as well as among the poorest students. The OC Register found the unintended consequence of the 'grouping' system was favoritism for the least diverse schools when it came to getting awards. The paper compares it to the difficulty of winning consecutive coin tosses. "The fewer groups, the fewer coin tosses a school has to win." About 58 percent of schools statewide with only one major ethnic/racial group won awards in 2001, compared to almost 29 percent of schools with four or more groups. As a result, mostly white schools received an average of $21 per student, while the most diverse schools nabbed an average of only $9 per student...Such disparities in outcome would not be quite so disturbing were it not for the API's margin of error. The complexity of the state's 'grouping' system creates extra problems on top of the regular error. Error rates grow as the API measures smaller and smaller sub-groups, inevitably obscuring real gains and losses. While schools with less than 100 students don't receive API awards because of the unreliability of their scores, the OC Register points out that the scores of groups can include as few as 30 students.

My favorite attributed comment is at the end of the article:

State officials told the OC Register they didn't disclose the API's error rate for three years because it would have been too confusing to the public.

Wow. So, we' re supposed to believe that California has ignored the margin of error and bollixed up their API results for three years in order to avoid confusing the public? Yeah, right. How about, "to avoid enraging the public", because margin of error is not a difficult concept to understand, or to explain, and "the public" might be pretty pissed to discover just how badly California is mismanaging the state education budget.

Posted by kswygert at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2002

More zero-tolerance nonsenseRemember when I

More zero-tolerance nonsense

Remember when I blogged back at the beginning of the school year about the idiocy of the teachers' union protecting a cocaine-using teacher from being fired? Well, that school is back in the news, for, you guessed it, applying a tyrannical "zero-tolerance" policy against a student.

As the WSJ reports, a student may be expelled for finding a bag of pills on school grounds. That's right. Unlike the teacher, who came to school intoxicated on cocaine and yet was allowed to stay on the payroll and was not terminated by the school (he chose to resign), this Honor Society student may be terminated for simply finding a bag of pills and making the mistake of picking them up.

You know, I hear a lot complaints about students not learning higher-order thinking skills in school. But wwhen a situation like this occurs, I bet the student body learns to recognize hypocrisy, dishonesty, and stupidity just fine, and their sense of irony becomes stronger to boot. Funny, I thought Dubya's act was called "Leave No Child Behind", and not "Leave No Teacher Out Of Work Despite Drug Abuse, But Kick Children Out For Nothing."

Posted by kswygert at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2002

New job and allSo, my

New job and all

So, my life is still a little insane. Just started the new job, and while I can post to Blogger from work, I can't check my email for this site. So if you write it, I won't be able to read it until the evening.

I have time for a couple of quick hits this evening, before I start working on my statistics lecture. Sigh. My life is too busy. My cable was disconnected last week and it was three days before I realized it was out.

Maryland's getting rid of those old MSPAP tests, and replacing them with the Maryland School Assessment, which will be a mix of multiple-choice questions and longer essay questions. Hmm, interesting. The article says, "Tests in science, social studies and writing are gone; the focus will instead be on reading and math", which I''m sure will set off a few testing critics who think that science and social studies education will be downplayed. Not necessarily - this doesn't mean teachers won't be teaching science, social studies, and writing, just that the kids won't be tested on it. Eventually, there will be a science component to the test. The new MSA is shorter and is supposed to address the concerns of parents who felt that too much time was spent preparing for the MSPAP. The MSA will also provide individual student scores. One interesting quote:

Grasmick was at first reluctant to endorse a multiple-choice test, one completed as children fill in bubbles with No. 2 pencils. They, however, are simpler and cheaper to grade - and will help the state have test results available by the end of the school year in which they are given, starting in 2004. About 25 percent to 30 percent of the test will be essay questions; most of the rest will be multiple-choice..."It's a myth that you can't test higher-order thinking with the multiple-choice questions," said Mark Moody, the assistant state superintendent who oversees testing. "[The questions are] just more difficult to write."

Thank you, Mr. Moody. Multiple-choice items, if slapped together quickly and carelessly, will test only recall, but good multiple-choice items can test higher-order thinking, and will still be more reliable than short-answer or essay questions to boot.

Are states defining down the standards for failing schools? The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) thinks so. Their site has a plethora of interesting testing and education-related articles available on this page. I can't find the link to the lowered-standards story, though, so I will just quote it at length:


The new federal education law lets students leave failing high-poverty schools -- and requires the states to provide free transportation to better schools. But with states in the position of defining failure, states with high standards are punished by having to bus thousands of children to other schools -- while those with low standards aren't, critics observe.
o Low-income eighth-graders in Arkansas, for example, are among the nation's worst readers -- but the law mandates not a single school there to bus children out this year.
o Meanwhile, New York's low-income eighth-graders score seventh-highest in the nation on the national reading test, but because of its high standards federal rules require 19 percent of the state's low-income schools to spend money on transportation to a different school.
o Massachusetts's low-income eighth-graders score about in the middle of the nation in reading, but 24 percent of the state's low-income schools are deemed failures -- so many students are now being bused from "failing" schools that are actually better than schools in other states that are deemed successful.
The federal rules require busing from any school that does not make steady progress toward the state goal, whatever that might be. In Ohio, bizarrely, students could be bused from a school where 70 percent of students were reading-proficient two years in a row to one that showed "progress" by increasing the number of proficient students from 15 percent to 20 percent. So Ohio changed its rules. Now a school just needs 42 percent of its students to reach proficiency. That cut the number of schools subject to the federal busing requirement nearly in half.

The email I received about this ends there; I'm not sure if that's the entire article. I'm not sure if I understand exactly what's going on, either. So, the federal government says "failing" schools must bus to "non-failing" schools, but in practice this means some students at high-performing schools that don't make steep progress are bussed to lower-performing schools that just happen to be improving at a higher rate? Man, no wonder many parents are ready to homeschool.

In other news, our future CEOs might have to face certification exams - The International Certification Institute has now produced an exam for MBA graduates.The exams are apparently supposed to be the business world's equivalent of the medical board or bar exams:

They [ICI] have tried to produce a test that calculates an MBA candidate's understanding of financial reporting, analysis and markets, human behavior in organizations and other universal courses taught within MBA programs during the first year. Second-year business school students concentrate on specialized areas of study...[Test developer W. Michael] Mebane said the purpose of the test is to level the playing field for MBA graduates from programs that rank below the top-tiered schools, while providing corporations and businesses with a gauge to evaluate job candidates. The company recently sent advertising fliers to business schools.

The "chorus of academicians" have, predictably, chimed in with anti-testing commentary:

A chorus of academicians...fear widespread acceptance of a standardized test will result in the International Certification Institute setting the agenda for MBA programs. "If places start to teach the test, that means the people in the testing center have become the most trusted judges of what constitutes an excellent education," said Ann McGill, deputy dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Actually, I shouldn't pick on Dr. McGill, because keeping a close eye on a testing company is never a bad idea. However, no one ever seems to make this complaint about the medical boards or the bar exams, perhaps because the organizations who produce those tests work closely with the medical schools and law schools, perhaps because our culture wants business students to be free to be innovative, while demanding that potential doctors and lawyers learn a specific, narrow set of facts that are relatively easy to test.

Posted by kswygert at 07:26 PM | Comments (0)

Apologies for the light posting...I

Apologies for the light posting...

I start a new job today, and have been busy either preparing for it or relaxing in my jammies, getting caught up on sleep and otherwise performing non-web activities. Once I get settled into a routine, daily posting will resume.

But I just have to mention a New York Post article I read today. Ralph Peters pays homage to American women and talks about those "root causes" that make the Isamafascists so angry at us. It seems that the late Mohammed Atta and his buddies are "the world's most sexually insecure males this side of a child-molesters' convention", and the traditional Muslim communities are stalled because women are forbidden to move about in society:

For backward - that taboo word fits - societies, such as those that paralyze all hope in the Middle East, there isn't a chance of challenging America's pre-eminence. It's not just our head start: Our society is structured for ceaseless self-improvement. Much of the Arab world prefers self-delusion. And there's a "No Women or Dogs" sign above every doorway that could lead to national development.

THE math isn't hard. No society that oppresses half its population - the female half - can compete with a society that exploits the majority of its talents.

Worse, countries that revel in gender oppression consistently waste even more talent by excluding males who weren't born into the right families or tribes from the possibility of social and economic advancement. Woman-hating cultures, such as those of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, also fit a pattern of stifling the freedom of expression, shortchanging education, imposing a harsh religious orthodoxy, employing corruption as a tool of social control and blaming others for home-grown ills. This is not a formula for success in the 21st century.

If there is any single indicator of which societies will succeed or fail in the coming decades, it is the status of women. Societies where the girls get a fair shot at beating the boys at soccer, university studies or software writing are going to leave those whose sexual terrors are expressed in veils and an obsession with virginity in the dust.

Oh, and those 70 virgins? Sounds like a lot of dreary work to me. I'll take one American career-woman any day (ain't nothing like a major babe in a tailored suit who picks up the dinner tab).

American career-woman? That's me. I have the tailored suits, I can pick up the dinner tab (I know where the good, cheap restaurants are in Philly), and on a good day, I can pass for a babe. In low lighting. Over a bottle of wine. When I've gotten a good night's sleep.

Anyway, I've also had the chance to appreciate those shattered glass ceilings first-hand. Psychometrics is a relatively young field, and, from its beginning in the 1920's until the early 1970s, was composed of almost exclusively male researchers. Since then, women have been welcome into the field and now make up (by my estimate) half of all psychometrics graduate students. I've had the good fortune to work with nine talented, intelligent psychometric research assistants who are employed at testing companies while simultaneously working on their advanced degrees, and eight of them are women. And this growth is not attributable any quotas, or because of lowered standards. A high GRE (including on Analytical) and statistics courses and research experience are still necessary for graduate school admission, and a Ph.D. is required to work in the field. No exceptions.

I'm thankful to Ralph Peters for his article - in addition to setting the women-hating Muslims straight, he takes a delicious swipe at the reactionary, self-centered "feminists" on college campuses who bewail the state of American women. The article reminds me, amidst all my stress about the new job and the blog and life in general, just how lucky I am to live in a country that allows women so much freedom.

Posted by kswygert at 06:49 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2002

On today's comics page...Not one

On today's comics page...

Not one but two comics related to standardized testing (and ragging on it, of course).

9 Chickweed Lane:

9 Chickweed Lane, by Brooke McEldowney.  September 20, 2002

On The Fastrack:

On the Fastrack, by Bill Holbrook.  September 6, 2002

Posted by kswygert at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

It's a beautiful mornin'So, I'm

It's a beautiful mornin'

So, I'm leaving my old job today. I had to rent a UHaul van to move my office, because I have a lot of textbooks, journals, articles, and other researchy stuff. I rented the van in South Philly, and everything went smoothly right up to the point where I had to get in the van and drive it through Philly's heinous inner-city morning traffic. South Philly (where I used to live) is always a traffic mess and today was even worse, because Washington Ave (the main artery) was closed for construction. So I wound up on a narrow two-way street that bypassed the Italian Market but was at a complete standstill. I had expected traffic to be bad, but not this bad, and I couldn't imagine what the holdup was.

Then I get to the corner and realize - there's a new charter school in South Philly. A big ol' brick building had a cheery sign hanging outside, "Christopher Columbus Charter School", complete with decorations of the three Spanish Armada ships. Kids were scurrying into the courtyard in their khakis and navy shirts, ready to be lined up with their class and marched inside. Everyone had tons of books, in bookbags, in messenger bags, in little wheeled duffels that the kids were hauling behind them. The traffic mess was the result of a zillion parents outside - parking, unparking, dropping off kids, lollygagging on the sidewalk, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, talking to other parents, talking to the teachers. It was already shaping up to be a gorgeous day outside, and the parents were in no hurry to leave.

What a glorious mess. What a wonderful reason for a traffic jam. Suddenly, I was in a great mood. Philly's schools need help, and here was a definite sign of improvement. "Christopher Columbus" as the name of the school - methinks the tots will learn some genuine history, and not any "evil white imperialist" nonsense. The parents are obviously very involved - they have to drop their kids off, because there's no school bus (not that you could get one down Christian Street at 8 am, anyway), but you could see that they were eager to talk with the teachers and with each other. It was just wonderful to see, school as it should be - as a social and learning event that energized the community. And the kids were every race, every shade, every size, all united in their little uniforms and their massive bookbags. Made me optimistic about the state of education in this country, that's for sure.

Posted by kswygert at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2002

Good commentsThe folks at Mathematically

Good comments

The folks at Mathematically Correct left a few good comments on previous posts of mine, and I thought the comments deserved greater attention. So here they are:

For a discussion of issues related to fuzzy math, go to This contains video and transcripts of an American Enterprise Institute forum on math education.
The conference summary alone contains more common-sense knowledge than an entire year's worth of fuzzy math instruction. What's more, one of the presenters at this conference is David Klein, the math professor who tipped me off to CSU Northridge's new remedial math policy.

Setting cut points or content levels on exams for broad ranges of students is difficult, but there are negative consequences of setting too low as well as of setting too high... The link below discusses the negative consequences of setting the bar too low in terms of raising student achievement beyond merely fair to middling: This document includes a review of test items across all tested grades and multiple years, as well as a statistical analysis of student performance.
David Klein appears here, once again. I'm putting the links up now; I'll have comments on this second one later today.

Posted by kswygert at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

The tests we needThe always-pertinent

The tests we need

The always-pertinent Hoover Institution has a new essay on "The Tests We Need", by Herbert Walberg. The Institute tends to be pretty pro-testing, in general, so I'm not surprised to find a lot of arguments in favor of testing here, and I'm also not surprised to find that the arguments are sound. The people at HI know what they're talking about.

Selected quotes:

First, we need to know how our students compare with those in other countries. The 1983 report A Nation at Risk began shifting policy-makers' and the public's concerns to student achievement. The report showed that American students lagged behind those in other countries and argued that the best jobs, including those in the industries of greatest growth, required general knowledge, language mastery, and mathematical, scientific, and technical skills...Even with our high per-student spending (compared to the rest of the industrialized world), the longer U.S. students are in school, the farther behind they fall. If our students are to meet world standards, we need to measure their progress and find out what works best.

Second, systematic testing provides useful information. School boards should hold educators accountable for the results they produce; they should examine educators' progress compared to that of others in attaining well-defined achievement standards...Moreover, frequent examinations help provide teachers with information about what students are learning.

Third, national surveys indicate that educators are much less enthusiastic about tests than citizens, parents, and even students...Tests help teachers concentrate on what parents and the public expect children to accomplish. For children in poverty and related conditions, school provides the best opportunity to rise above their circumstances. Finally, tests are cheap. Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby estimates that we annually spend $4.96 per pupil on commercial tests and from $1.79 to $34.02 on state tests—tiny fractions of average per-student spending of $8,157.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Often, we hear educators complain that testing destroys "critical thinking", when in fact tests can measure critical thinking just fine. Educators are often the first ones, and the only ones, to claim that tests over-stress kids and destroy their self-esteem, but tests that measure factual knowledge can boost self-esteem - if the teachers do their best to impart that knowledge. Kids like to know how much they've learned, and they enjoy knowing when they've made progress. Testing can help with that.

Of course not all tests are perfect, and some tests may be so poorly designed that they are invalid, unreliable, and overly-stressful. However, a well-made test that properly measures the state standards will be none of those things. If we're going to hold a reasonable discussion on the pros and cons of testing, then the arguments, made by many testing critics, that tests are by default stressful, invalid, or biased should be ignored, because these positions deny reality and add nothing to the debate.

Posted by kswygert at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2002

CSU expulsion policy updateA few

CSU expulsion policy update

A few days ago, I said my piece on CSU's recent decision to expel students who don't pass their remedial math and writing courses in one year. The essence of the story is this: CSU is telling their students that one year of remedial courses on the public dime are enough, and I agree with CSU's decision. I also heartily disagreed with the spokesperson for "developmental education" quoted in the original article, who complained that such students were being labeled stupid and were disadvantaged by being expelled from a public university. I argued that no one had a right to a college education, that such students were free to enter other colleges, and, if we must drag the student's self-image into it, that students who entered colleges at which their education was not at the remedial level would be better off and would feel better about themselves. As I put it, who do you think feels more "stupid", the student who has to repeat classes that are all marked "remedial" at Cal State, or the student who blazes through two years of community college and then enters Cal State completely prepared?

In response to this post, I got two very interesting emails. The first was from one of the rebels (I won't give his name, because I haven't yet gotten his permission to do so) at Mathematically Correct, who said, in part:

Your support of the Cal State U system's plan to ask students to leave if they don't pass remedial math or reading in a year is correct but premature. At least one campus, Northridge, is doing everything possible to remove remedial math from the control of the math department (novel place for it, eh?) and instead put it under the control of some sort of undergrad studies dean who will be more sensitive to student learning styles and backgrounds...

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I noticed that the email was cc'd to David Klein, who is a Professor of Math at CSU Northridge. Professor Klein then replied to both of us:'s now a done deal. The CSU Northridge administration took the developmental math program out of the math department at the behest of Chicano Studies and Pan African Studies dept., as well as others on campus (most notably the provost). The complaint was that not enough students were passing the developmental math courses (which were pitched at around the 7th or 8th grade level), and the math department was racially insensitive to this problem. About 81% were passing, and this was considered too low. The upshot is that the courses have been dumbed down even further so that virtually everyone passes now, and the courses are no longer under the control of the math dept...There was a huge war over this, and the good guys (including a majority in the math dept.) lost.

If I wasn't shocked before, I am now.

But, then again, why should I be shocked? After all, the only reason remedial classes are available in universities is because universities admit students who are not performing at the same scholarly level as the rest of the student body. Some of those students are underachievers who have potential, and others are there to add "diversity" through the policy of affirmative action. But when a university admits those students, the university has to educate them, otherwise the whole policy is a failure, with the university taking in tuition and getting dropouts in return. CSU's policy of expelling students who can't pass remedial courses after one year is a recognition that some students are not yet ready to be educated at CSU, and those students should attend a different college that has lower academic standards. Apparently, this idea is now unacceptable to some at CSU Northridge.

I also shouldn't be shocked that a remedial math course has now been racialized, and the math professors, whose jobs are to teach at the college level, have been labeled "racially insensitive" because CSU admitted students who cannot solve math problems at the 8th-grade level. I suppose people are angry because the math department was not allowing any "affirmative action", but the hard reality is that either you can solve math problems at that level, or you cannot. A mathematics exam that some students fail is not "racially insensitive". It is nonsensical to label math "racially insensitive", but math is color-blind. Apparently, some at CSU Northridge now consider color-blind and "racially insensitive" to mean the same thing.

So now, remedial math at CSU Northridge will not be taught through the math department, and we won't be seeing any more of those "racially insensitive" classes that 19% of remedial students fail. Might I just point out, though, that while I understand that the Chicano Studies and Pan African Studies departments are mad because, presumably, it is students in those departments who are not passing these tests, their anger could best be directed somewhere else? Say, at a high school system that allows students to graduate with such poor knowledge of math, and at CSU for admitting such students?

As for the students themselves, I suppose they will now go through CSU Northridge with the knowledge that a college that has admitted them does not trust them to pass a math class given in the math department, nor does it feel they can handle math taught at the 8th-grade level. I'm sure that will do wonders for their self-confidence.

Posted by kswygert at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2002

Once again, I'm swamped, so

Once again, I'm swamped, so I might not update the page until much later today. I do have a couple of interesting things to report, though, so please check back later.

Posted by kswygert at 11:43 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2002

The great learning disabilities debate

The great learning disabilities debate continues...

Those nasty old Florida tests, the FCATs, might be holding back learning-disabled students from graduation. The actor Tom Cruise is mystifyingly held up as an example of learning-disabled person; the mystifying part is because Tom happens to be very profitably ensconced in a field that doesn't require a high school diploma. The more cynical among us might suggest that the learning-disabled kids should aspire to Tom's position, drop out of high school, and make their way to Hollywood.

But I'm not that cynical. Not yet, anyway. A charter school in Florida that specializes in learning-disabled students is worried about the FCAT's, because only eight of their 25 seniors have passed both the math and reading portions of the FCAT's 10th-grade level.

Educators anticipate lawsuits challenging the high- stakes test from some who fail the FCAT but meet all other graduation requirements. Students with learning disabilities are a particular concern because they also are protected by federal legislation.

How far Florida should go in accommodating students with learning disabilities on the FCAT is being debated by a governor's task force that met last week in Tampa. Task force members cite plenty of accommodations already, from Braille or large- print tests to extra time and proctors reading math questions.

Remember when I said, two posts ago, that I wouldn't want to work on a high school exit exam because nobody knows just what we're supposed to be measuring with them? This is a great example. The theory seems to be that the high school exit exams measure the minimal requirements that absolutely every student should master in order to graduate. But no one can agree on what the minimum should be, and it doesn't seem likely that everyone can agree on one standard test for graduation. Some worry that allowing accommodations will continue the "devaluation" of high school diplomas, but it seems to me that the diploma has been pretty devalued already, in the sense that it is no longer is a standard measure of what students know or whether they can take in information without special accommodation.

My theory is that those who are staunchly defending the FCAT are doing so because they feel that high school courses have been dumbed down or "multiculturalized" beyond all recognition, and so the test is seemingly the only way to insure some kind of proof of standardized educational achievement for high school graduates. But with the apparent growth industry of disabilities and accommodations, students who can't read as well as other students are going to claim that they should be tested in a different way. I agree that it's inconsistent to give students accommodations in class and not on the test, which is why Florida finds itself in the situation of having students who fulfill every requirement for graduation except for a passing FCAT score. But I also sympathize with those who don't want to grant test accommodations (unlike some of the test critics mentioned in the article, I don't consider the word "Republican" to be an epithet).

I don't have an answer for this thorny dilemma, and neither, it seems, does anyone else.

Posted by kswygert at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

The New Math - be

The New Math - be afraid. Be very afraid.

In the time-honored educational tradition of "fixing" something that ain't broke, Bethlehem (PA) students are being required to "throw out the textbooks" and learn math in a new group-oriented (and presumably touchy-feely) method that has parents worried. Students work in groups (with any pressure for individual acheivement thus removed) to solve word problems that show practical applications of math, although how they can demonstrate any practical knowledge of math without memorizing the basic theorems and equations, I don't know. Mathematical principles don't apply themselves simply because a group of students who don't have the basic knowledge all work together. The proponents of the New Math trumpet the fact that the students require days to solve the problems, but is that because of the intellectual challenge of the problems, or because the children are groping around in the dark, without the necessary tools to come to a swift solution?

The article notes that:

The parents with the loudest [critical] voices usually are upper-middle class professionals — doctors, lawyers and teachers — who complain that they cannot help their children with their math homework. They are unnerved that children who used to get A's in math are now struggling to earn C's. They worry that their children will not learn the basics, do poorly on the SAT and be unprepared for college math courses.

Altogether now - who's surprised to see that a local educational community, which is most likely very sensitive to any charges of sexism, racism or unfairness, is completely ignoring concerns from those problematic "upper-middle class" parents? You know, the parents with traditionally higher-achieving students who don't need group support to demonstrate their understanding of the quadratic equation? Amazing, isn't it, to see the unresponsiveness of the schools to the concerns of these parents?

Luckily, other parents in similar situations have banded together to make their concerns heard:

A grassroots rebellion began building a couple of years ago in Texas, California, Virginia and Michigan school districts that piloted some of the new programs. Parents in Texas sued, and the battle in California pitted legislators against school districts. Parents say they have college mathematicians on their side.

Three years ago, almost 200 professors and scholars denounced an endorsement of reformed math programs by the U.S. Department of Education. The department had bestowed an ''exemplary'' rating upon Connected Math and Core-Plus, as well as other programs.

Their main objections: The new math programs relied too heavily on calculators and building blocks and neglected important skills such as dividing fractions and multiplying multidigit numbers. Without the basics, the critics said, students had little hope of mastering algebra, physics and other advanced concepts.

The article doesn't specifically refer to the rebellious chaps at Mathematically Correct, but if you're a concerned parent or teacher and you haven't read their website, go check it out immediately.

Posted by kswygert at 12:25 PM | Comments (0)

High school exit exams in

High school exit exams in California

This "little test" now determines graduation in California. My thoughts? I wonder just how useful an exam is when you only need to score 54 percent on the math section and 75 percent on the English section to pass. Is the test that hard, or has the passing rate been dumbed down far enough to satisfy anti-testing activists? If so, why give a test? Especially considering that students get a total of seven attempts before graduation.

Interesting information from the district testing coordinator Mark Frazier:

Countywide, students passed the 2001 testing at a rate of 47 percent in math and 67 percent in English, with statewide scores of 44 and 64 percent respectively. "We're still in the learning phase of this test," Frazier said. "Right now students only need 55 percent correct in math and 60 percent correct in English to pass. That will certainly change as the test evolves."

Well, I certainly hope so.

The politics and psychometrics of high school exit exams are tricky, and I can't say I'd ever work on one if given the chance. At the heart of it, there seems to be fundamental disagreement within the school system about what the exit exams are supposed to measure, and such disagreement always bodes ill for the exam itself. On the surface, it seems like a simple question - the exams should measure how well the kid has been educated in high school.

But at what level? Should the test be set so that college-bound students will find it easy to pass, and others might have to re-take it? Should it be set so low that even students who don't plan to attend college will pass it, thus removing any diagnostic potential from the test for the college-bound students?

Can kids with a high SAT and AP courses under their belts opt out of the exam, on the grounds that they've already demonstrated their achievements? New York and Virginia have already implemented such plans. Will some parents interpret this as "discrimination" if their youngsters don't do well on the SAT?

What happens if different minority groups pass at different rates? Will a separate scoring be used for different groups, much like SAT scores are weighted differently in college admissions, so that a member of one group needs a lower or higher score to graduate than a member of another group? That's not inconsistent with the direction in which college admissions are moving, you know. Does it make sense to hold all the students to the same standards for exit exams, when minority students are often admitted to colleges with lower SAT scores than white students?

What is not helpful to this discussion are the comments from testing critics:

Critics contend, however, that the tests will place too much pressure on students which could lead to higher dropout rates by placing too much importance on single imperfect areas of academia, with no assurance that the students will have had the opportunity to learn the material being tested.

Yeah, right. Define "too much pressure". Convince me that a student with no intention of dropping out will do so when faced with a test that allows seven attempts and requires them to get only half of the math items correct. Explain to me what you mean by "single imperfect areas of academia", since the areas of math and verbal skills seem broad enough to cover a great deal of what we consider "education", and no test is perfect anyway. And "no assurance that the students will have had the opportunity to learn the material being tested"? The exit exams measure what math and verbal skills students learn in high school, so if they take any math and English classes in high school, they will have had the opportunity to learn the material. The way this criticism is worded, you'd think the exam questions cover AP-level course material and esoteric subjects. It's basic math and English skills, people. If some students in California don't have the opportunity to learn these at any point in their entire high school career, don't tell me the problem is with the tests.

Posted by kswygert at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

We now return to your

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming

Wasn't anticipating a break from blogging over the weekend, but I had to work on my house and on my lectures for stats class. Got a little more breathing room now, time-wise...

Students in Indiana are preparing for the ISTEP+ onslaught, and some feel the pressure may be too great:

[The ISTEP+ is] given to third-, sixth-, eighth- and 10th-graders, [and] has gained in weightiness, becoming the test by which the state and federal government measures success in its schools. The country's No Child Left Behind act stipulates who will take -- and must pass -- the ISTEP+ test. Indiana Public Law 221 calls for marked improvement in test scores each year, threatening school choice or funding cuts if scores don't come up.

I'm not sure "weightiness" is a word, but I understand what the writer is trying to convey. The ISTEP+ has an impact on the schools, and it impacts the students directly - at some schools, students who don't pass the ISTEP+ go into remediation courses. The concerns listed are the usual "the teachers are stressed, so the students are stressed" comments. Also as usual, there is no information listed to support the conclusions that (a) students are so stressed so as to be negatively affected, rather than simply motivated, and (b) education is being harmed by the tests, despite the fact that these sorts of article usually push readers in the direction of such conclusions. Students are motivated. The pressure is on. No information is given, though, to show why that's a bad thing.

Posted by kswygert at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2002

Apologies for the light (as

Apologies for the light (as in, none) bloggage today. Thursdays have now become my hell days. I was up until midnight last night grading papers, and then was at work, teaching class or in transit between the two for a total of 12 hours today. My brain is completely fried, my feet hurt, my eyes are bloodshot, and my eyeliner is smeared all over my eyes.

And I'm not even going to mention here that a friend of mine poked his head in my office this week and said, "I love your blog, and I think your posts over the last few days have been interesting, but, um, isn't your blog supposed to be about psychometrics? Where's the psychometrics?"

Hmph. Fine. Once I get 12 hours of sleep and bathe in some beauty mud, I'll go find enough numbers to choke a bull and slap 'em up on here. Never let it be said that I don't deliver. =)

Posted by kswygert at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2002

Remembering September 11thI wasn't sure

Remembering September 11th

I wasn't sure what to post on September 11th, because at the heart of it, this isn't a political blog, and despite the fact that the cataclysmic events of last year had an effect on almost every part of American (and world) society, I can't claim that the topic of standardized testing was too affected by it. SAT critics and wrong-headed educrats were with us before September 11th, and they're still with us now. What's more, there are many other bloggers, with more powerful voices than I, who have done an amazing job of posting something today that is haunting, or hopeful, or bittersweet. I refer you to John Paczkowski, and Asparagirl, and Cut on the Bias, and Samizdata, and James Lileks, if impressive September 11th musings are what you're after.

I can say, however, that I was inspired to start this blog during the during the post-September-11th time when political blogs sprung up everywhere, like mushrooms after the rain. It seemed that an awful lot of people, real journalists and ordinary folk alike, were not happy with what was happening in the world, nor with what they were hearing on CNN, and they were determined to put have their say. After reading several hundred or so of these blogs, I was inspired to start my own.

So even though the content of this blog was inspired by my psychometric knowledge and the reams of public testing misinformation that I wanted to correct, the actual existence of this blog is because of the numerous intelligent, funny people who are using their blogs to gripe about their respective school systems, push for more realistic education reform, and generally make fun of the politicians and activists who make boneheaded comments about the direction in which our schools, and thus our country, should be moving.

So, I figured I'd give this last bit of space today to edubloggers who manage to wedge in level-headed political commentary along with their educational reporting and informed (and often sarcastic) opinions. The bloggers below have served as an inspiration for me. All of them are run by educators, or people involved with or concerned about the education system. And they all have something unique, and informative, to say.

Joanne Jacobs - Edublogger plus ultra. She was also very encouraging to me when I emailed her, back in February, with my ideas for starting Number 2 Pencil.

The Volokh Conspiracy - UCLA law school professor Eugene Volokh keeps us informed about the Constitution and the silly politics you might find at various law schools.

The Cranky Professor - He's here to tell you why you're wrong.

The Confidence Man - He's no scam. Jeff Sackman's working on a Ph.D. in English Lit and follows all sorts of education news.

Education Weak - Get all the news from RPPI's Director of Education and Child Welfare Lisa Snell.

CantWatch - English professor Erin O'Connor gives in-depth commentary on the state of higher education.

Highered Intelligence - One of the new guys. Lawyer Michael Lopez hopes to open a school someday that will transform the teaching profession. It certainly needs it.

Homeschool and Other Educational Stuff - Daryl Cobranchi's take on the homeschooling revolution.

Unsullied and Undismayed - The Colonel is a Virginia college professor, and yes, he does have a string tie.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but every blogger on here either inspired me to start this blog, or inspires me to update it every day. They're out on the side of the angels, digging up the dirt on the newest educational lunacies, so I'm motivated to do so as well. Thanks to everyone here, and thanks to my readers. You guys make this all worthwhile.

Posted by kswygert at 05:17 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2002

Digression #4 - A genuinely

Digression #4 - A genuinely brave stance

While anti-American activists safely ensconced in US universities cry "censorship" every time someone disagrees with them, this group is taking a truly brave dissenting stance. My choice for today's site for the 9/11 remembrance is the site of the "Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran". These are students in Iran who are calling for a public remembrance of September 11th, in order to show their solidarity, despite the fact that they truly place their lives in danger by taking this stance.

A Public Call For Rememberance of the 9/11 Tragedy

SMCCDI Political Committee
September 10, 2002

Free spirited Iranians,

It has been a year since the terrorist attack on the military and commercial centers of the United States of America. Consequences of the events of that fateful day were so immense and far reaching that they truly will be known as the turning point in the recent political history of the world.

On those days that America was mourning and Iran was directly or implicitly being called a “haven for terrorists”, we remember how, despite the violent crack down and repression of the “Hezbollah” forces roaming the streets, hundreds of our youth poured into the streets and lit candles in memory of the victims of that tragedy and showed the world that they sympathized with the families of the victims and extended their condolences to them.
That night, our youth made it crystal clear that they were with the world coalition for the elimination of “religious” terrorism.

We remember how the reactionary, backwards, Taliban loving, self-elected rulers of Iran tried to down grade that humanistic and thoughtful sympathy action of our youth by calling them a “bunch of candle in hand sissies!,” and once again showed, with their short-sighted vision of reality, how far away they are from virtue of humanity.

Bravo to you nation who, despite lack of leadership, embarked in that spontaneous movement, and with your sensational presence in the streets of the capital, you saved Iran from a catastrophe, as you showed in the best possible way, Iranian nation’s excellence in love of humanity to the free world.

Now, with the first anniversary of 9/11 tragedy upon us, as SMCCDI expresses its sympathy to the families of the victims and survivors of that ungodly event, and the honorable nation of America; it invites all free spirited Iranians to honor the memory of the victims of that day by gathering and lighting a candle in front of the main entrance of the Tehran university and major public squares in Tehran, and the main squares in other cities and townships, from 6:00 PM till 9:00 PM, on Wednesday 11 September.
Also, from all those Iranians who feel they share the sorrow and pain of the American nation, it is requested that they turn off all their light on that same night from 10:30 PM till 11:30 PM in a silent, but much telling gesture of sympathy and solidarity with the bereaved nation of America. Without a doubt, in this age of high-resolution satellite cameras, your message of sympathy will reach the Americans loud and clear!

Posted by kswygert at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

CSU's controversial policyOn the one

CSU's controversial policy

On the one end of the spectrum, there's the left-wing radicalism and idiocy of the University of California system (mentioned all over this blog, and others). On the other end, there's the Cal State system, the nation's largest university system, which has just begun the truly radical (in this politically-correct climate) and unpopular practice of booting out students who don't pass remedial math or writing classes after one year. Can you imagine? A university, in this day and age, taking a hard stance on remedial education and telling students who don't make it past remedial ed that perhaps they'd be better off in a community college somewhere? Don't they realize that this culture now considers it everyone's God-given right not only to attend college, but to attend the college of their choice, whether or not they're qualified for it? As one person puts it,

"I think it's a bad idea to kick students out and cut back on remedial help," says Melodye Wiens, president elect of the National Association for Developmental Education. "It's not that the kids are stupid, it's just that most of them haven't taken college prep courses, so they're underprepared"

This assumes, of course, that it is the college's obligation to make up for the fact that students don't take college prep courses and then choose to attend college. By this logic, I could refuse to take any biology or chemistry courses in college and then demand to be let into medical school, with the argument that "remedial" scientific courses must be offered to me.

Ms. Wiens' statement completely ignores the obligation of the students to prepare themselves for college, and to not attend universities for which they are not ready. Members of my family have traditionally avoided the remedial education route by starting out in community colleges, and then switching to larger universities once their GPA's are up and their skills are strengthened. But Ms. Wiens apparently thinks that community colleges are not acceptable choices, so the result is students being pushed into more difficult college settings right off the bat, where they end up in remedial education courses, where the curriculum is watered down to what is probably lower-than-community-college level.

So, Ms. Wiens, who do you think feels more "stupid", the student who struggles with classes that are all marked "remedial" at Cal State, or the student who blazes through two years of community college and enters Cal State completely prepared?

The article points out that one function of the university in this country, traditionally, has been to make up for courses not taught in high school, which was news to me. I don't see how it is the obligation of the colleges to reduce the level of their education so far that all they're doing is counterbalancing the sorry state of K12 schooling. Rather, they should be providing impetus for a change, by letting students know that one year of remedial classes is the limit in a college education.

Kudos to Cal State for taking this stance.

Posted by kswygert at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

New Jacobs article at Tech

New Jacobs article at Tech Central Station

Joanne's got a new article up, about the opportunities on the Internet for parents seeking comprehensive homeschooling curricula. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett has started his own company, K12, and you can download an extensive set of lessons that are integrated with technology-teaching skills from the website. According to Joanne (who would know), it's good stuff:

...there are few options designed for home use and for online delivery that cover the complete K-12 curriculum, as K12 is supposed to do in two to three years. With Bennett, author of the best-selling "Book of Virtues" as its founder, K12 has the chance to develop a strong brand name...Of course, there's another big-name, education for-profit - Edison Schools, Inc. - and it's struggling to survive in the marketplace. But, unlike Edison, which must fight vicious political battles to implement its school design in the worst public schools, K12 has a business plan that makes sense: Invest in developing a curriculum and let educated, motivated parents do the implementation...K12 doesn't threaten the status quo like Edison because the supply of parents willing and able to be home teachers is limited. But it's likely that K12's comprehensive curriculum will empower more parents to try teaching their own children, and perhaps encourage more states to authorize virtual charters.

Good to know. And Mr. Bennett has some good advice for teaching your kids about 9/11 as well.

Posted by kswygert at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2002

Digression #3 The next set

Digression #3

The next set of links for this week of remembrance goes to the twin powerhouses known as Cold Fury and the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler.

I've linked to Mike Hendrix of Cold Fury before, but I just can't get enough of the guy. Don't miss his "New York Thoughts" post from September 7th. And the Rottweiler, a proud friend of Israel and member of the "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy", regularly sinks his teeth into the arses of the "Idiotarians" - the term coined by the libertarian, conservative, and generally pro-American blogosphere for the terror apologists and the Blame-America-First crowd. No one is having to urge these guys to get mad or stay mad, and I'm very glad they're on my side.

Posted by kswygert at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

Smartass Canadian Colby Cosh posts

Smartass Canadian Colby Cosh posts an amusing memo about the "inclusive" September 11th assembly at (presumably fictional) Frampton Central school. Sample:

(2) We advise a slight restatement of your chosen theme for the assembly, "Remembering an Unfortunate Event". The word "unfortunate" may have the unintended effect of disenfranchising the unique postcolonial emotional experiences of those students who may actually have felt approval and/or pleasure 9/11 last. As you are aware (please consult 1.A.ii of the panel report), de-privileging these reactions is a form of cultural violence. Better theme choices may include:
· Remembering an Important Event
· Remembering a Memorable Event
· Let's Remember Together--Whatever Our Colour and Orientation!
Bowell Jr. High is going with "Coping With Healing, Nurturing Our Remembering." You might want to use that!


Posted by kswygert at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

WowI don't think every school


I don't think every school can be like this school, because you just can't find teachers this dedicated everywhere (or principals with enough cojones to show up on the doorsteps of truant children). But man, wouldn't it be nice? Every story like this refutes the claims that minority and poverty-stricken kids should be held to lower standards than others, and that test such as the TAAS are biased, or that they destroy the self-esteem of minority kids. Of all the challenges the kids in Julia C. Frazier Elementary will face in the future, I don't think any of them are going to suffer from lack of self-esteem - or from subpar reading and math skills. Look at those TAAS scores - no one, not any politically-correct college admissions officer, nor any civil-rights activist, is going to be able to tell these kids, "You can't perform as well on tests as white kids perform, and you shouldn't be expected to."

Posted by kswygert at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

Pennsylvania education and testing newsFirst

Pennsylvania education and testing news

First off, the University of Pittsburgh appears to be fudging their SAT numbers. Every year, the average SAT scores of incoming freshman rises, sometimes dramatically. Post-Gazette writer Bill Shackner says that's because Pitt isn't counting all their freshmen:

Pitt excludes test scores of students it classifies as "special access" -- athletes and students enrolled in three programs serving "underrepresented populations," including African-American and Hispanic students, on its main Oakland campus. This year, the practice meant that Pitt excluded roughly one in 10 freshmen, or 305 students, and in years past it has meant as many as 448 students were excluded. By dropping them from the tally, Pitt in effect inflates its SAT average....Pitt's SAT average would have risen just as quickly over the last decade if all the scores had been counted, but the average score itself would have been lower than the school now reports. Excluding certain groups gave Pitt a 1220 average this fall, 19 points higher than if all the students were counted.

Pitt administrators said they believed that the practice, in use since the 1960s, was sound. It's not an attempt to deceive, they said, but rather an attempt to give guidance counselors, families and others a more realistic picture of the competitive environment applicants to Pitt will face...."These groups are taken out, not because they have the lower scores," [Vice Provost Robert Pack] said. "They are groups that are taken out because they are admitted on a set of criteria that places much less emphasis on prior levels of academic attainment." Pack said he doubted anyone would choose a school based on 19 extra SAT points.

No, but perhaps they'll choose a different school based on the fact that Pitt, by its own admission, considers one out of ten of its freshmen to be "special access" students who don't give a "realistic" picture of the merit of the student body as a whole, and upon whom have been placed much lower standards of "adademic acheivement". One-tenth seems like a mighty big percentage of the incoming freshman population who receive special treatment because they aren't required to perform up to Pitt's more "realistic" standards (which is what the situation is, politically-correct obfuscation aside).

On the other side of the state, the nation's most ambitious experiment in school privitization begins in Philadelphia. Forty-five Philly schools are under private management, as a last-ditch attempt to improve schools like this one:

Test scores at Morton McMichael [Middle School] are dismal. More than 88 percent of the fifth-graders scored "below basic" on a standardized math test last spring, and almost 74 percent scored "below basic" on the reading test. Statewide, the percentages were about 22 percent and 23 percent...The Philadelphia school system has been beset for decades by poor test scores, violence and crumbling buildings. Lawmakers finally seized control in December and created a five-member commission to oversee the privatization.

Luckily, the chairman of the School Reform Committee realizes that the decline of these schools took time, and so the improvement of them won't be an overnight phenomenon either.

Finally, in a suburb of Philly, teachers have resolved a strike for better pay. Although the specifics of the agreement were not publicized, one of the areas of dispute was teacher salaries. The district's proposal would have agree to paid teachers of the Council Rock school district, in Newtown, as much as $91,065 in 2004-2005, the last year of the contract. In the teachers' proposal, pay would have reached $94,720.

Yep, you're reading those numbers correctly. The national average for teacher pay is $41,724 (1999-2000), according to the NEA; Pennsylvania averages around $50,000. I've lived in Newtown. I know it's an expensive place to live - Newtown is populated with six-bedroom houses and expensive SUV's. Bear in mind I'm a true-blue capitalist, and I believe in the free market. I believe everyone should have the chance to get rich. But still, I just find it amusing that teachers at Council Rock feel the need to earn almost double the state's average in teaching salaries, and are willing to go on strike for it. Are they really worth that much?

Posted by kswygert at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2002

Digression continued Link #2 for

Digression continued

Link #2 for the September 11th remembrance week goes to Samizdata.Net. A self-described "blog for people with a critically rational libertarian perspective", Samizdata blends hard-hitting economic and political thought with extreme sarcasm and photos of drunken bloggers. A delight for the eyes and the brain. Start with the alternate universe news story, "The Root Causes of American Anger" (warning: another unpleasant photo).

Posted by kswygert at 07:07 PM | Comments (0)

A font of wisdomI just

A font of wisdom

I just discovered, in a roundabout reverse-Google search, a blog entitled Common Sense and Wonder. Boy, is it ever satisfying. The collective works of four level-headed writers, CS&W welcomes skeptics, cynics, and anyone else with a working brain. Needless to say, many of their permalinks are to libertarian and conservative blogs.

They even caught an affirmative action travesty that I missed (because it wasn't about college admissions) - Loyola College turned down Denys Blell, a qualified applicant for the position of assistant vice president for academic affairs and diversity, because despite Mr Blell's African and Lebanese heritage, his skin wasn't a dark enough shade of brown.

Can someone - anyone - explain to me just why this is not racial discrimination, and how it is no different from past refusals to hire people whose skin is not light enough? Loyola may think that they're addressing past wrongs by making these decisions, but in fact Loyola's policy differs from Ku Klux Klan philosophy only in direction, not in degree nor in shamefulness. The self-described "light-skinned" Mr. Blell is suing, and I hope he wins.

Posted by kswygert at 06:53 PM | Comments (0)

More digressionsMuch as I'd like

More digressions

Much as I'd like to stay within the comfort zone of nattering about the predictability of SAT scores and the n-th percent rise in testing scores in one state or another, I think that this week, I can't just talk about that. I feel I must link to the sites that are doing the most to make sure that we remember September 11th, for what it took from us, and where we must go from here.

Link #1 has to be to Charles Johnson's Little Green Footballs. Charles is intelligent, passionate, and relentless in his criticism and damnation of those who would excuse terrorism and blame innocents for the slaughter on that day. Although Charles specializes in exposing the most unbelievable statements and acts of moral equivalence and anti-Semitism, he nevers seems to be sensationalizing the issues. He just doesn't shrink from stating, or presenting, the truth. So be warned before you go - he is now posting photos of people who jumped from the WTC out of fear and desperation, and he is interspersing those pictures with photos of the Palestinians who celebrated on that day as they watched US civilians die for the brutal folly of militant Islam. It's not for the faint of heart. But it is necessary that we listen what he has to say.

Posted by kswygert at 02:09 AM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2002

A digression I try to

A digression

I try to keep this blog focused on standardized testing and education reform, and occasionally I'll branch out with a "Can you believe this?" story about some idiocy taking place in this middle school or in that university. By and large, I think I've succeeded in keeping my posts focused on testing and relevant to readers who are interested in the state of our educational system, and the role that testing plays in that system.

However, this means I normally don't blog about tiny little oddball current events that catch my eye, and today, I saw one that I just can't resist commenting on.

Go read the radio station's blurb about the story here - the gist is that an Akron man has been ordered, as punishment for not paying child support, not to reproduce for the next five years.

Now that you're back - did you notice the idiocy of the last sentence? This quote: "His girlfriend is incensed, saying the ruling is also a sentence on her, since it also takes from her the option of having a child."

Wow. I just have to say a few things to the girlfriend:

Miss, since when do we take into account the "fairness" of the effect of a sentencing on a next-of-kin, much less a girlfriend? Sure, family members are allowed to have their say in order to keep murderous relatives off death row, but normally judges are not required to consider the inconvenience to a girlfriend when deciding whether a man should be punished for not paying child support. We can argue the appropriateness of the judge's sentence - although I think it's great, because your boyfriend remains free not only to be with you, but to work and thus pay the support - and we can argue about what should happen if he defies the judge's orders. But your anger is incredibly self-centered, and I hope the judge is not swayed by it. Our justice system is allowed to deprive convicted criminals of life, liberty, and money, and the feelings of petulant girlfriends have nothing to do with it.

Plus, you are only a girlfriend, and not a wife, so why are you thinking about children already? And what's stopping you from marrying someone else and having children with them? You have no legal ties to the man, and you should thank your lucky stars for that. He hasn't bothered to marry you yet, so what's with all the indignation about being deprived of kids? Did I miss a law being passed that gives you the right to demand to be impregnated by any man of your choice? What is it that causes you to attach so much more importance to your potential offspring with this man than to the financial needs of his existing children? Methinks you are a native of Me-Ville, and you'll never relocate.

Also, for the love of God, woman, don't you see the judge has just done you a huge favor? His ruling will keep you from starting a family with a man who has fathered seven children with five women and isn't supporting any of them. Your boyfriend is obviously not cut out to be a father, and unless you want to be suing him next year, I'd suggest not getting pregnant by him this year. Five years from now, even if you're still with this deadbeat, I hope you'll be sending the judge a thank-you note.

Okay, I'll try to go back to thinking about SAT scores now. =) Thanks to PhotoDude for the "Me-Ville" concept, and for his excellent site in general.

Posted by kswygert at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

More silliness from Bruce TinsleyAuthor

More silliness from Bruce Tinsley

Author and illustrator of the immortal Mallard Filmore. My favorite cartoon this week:

Mallard Filmore, by Bruce Tinsley.  September 7, 2002

Posted by kswygert at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

Berkeley backpedalsMy, my, my. When

Berkeley backpedals

My, my, my. When I posted yesterday on the shameful "Remembrance Day" that UC Berkeley was advertising, I had no idea just how furiously UCB would backpedal. The inane comments of students Hazel Wong and Jessica Quindel have been mercilessly mocked, both by the Cal Patriot and throughout the Blogosphere, and now Ms. Quindel claims she was misquoted. I've selected a blog posting from Rachel Lucas, Anti-Idiotarian and all-around fierce woman:

She [Jessica] says there was no ban on the flag or patriotic songs, and:

"I think it would be very appropriate if someone wants to sing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' or 'God Bless America'."

She also wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Californian, saying that

"The joint decision to pass out white ribbons as opposed to red, white and blue was made in order to include all members of the campus community, including those who are not American and/or do not agree with the government's response to the events of Sept. 11."


Notice she said that the article "distorted" events - not that they lied or said something that wasn't true. They "distorted."

I call this backpedaling. Quindel got a lot of hate mail and criticism for her statements about the flag and patriotism, and now she's trying to fix it. And good for her. But the fact remains that she said

"The flag has become a symbol of U.S. aggression towards other countries. It seems hostile."

Whatever, Jessie. It doesn't symbolize that to me.

And you know, while sitting in my "American History from 1920 to 1945" class this morning, my anger was renewed. I listened to an hour-long lecture about why World War I began, and basically it comes down to extreme aggression and imperialism on the part of European countries. So it stands to reason that their flags are symbols of aggression toward other countries. And so what? Every country on this planet has been aggressive toward somebody else at some point in time. So are ALL flags "hostile"? Just wondering.

Rachel also takes gleeful note of Ms. Quindel getting slammed, in print, by UC's Chancellor:

"Jessica does not speak for the university. I speak for the university. [Red, white and blue] ribbons don't offend anyone."

As Rachel says:

Ha-HA! Take that, Jessica Quindel, you commie. There is nothing better than seeing an stupid little 20-something liberal who knows nothing about the world get knocked down a notch.

Another way to put it, because Number 2 Pencil is allegedly an edublog and I have to twist the conversation back in that direction, is that, by publishing her inane comments, the Blogosphere is making sure that Ms. Quindel is finally getting a real education at UCB. Presumably she now understands that her viewpoints are in the minority, and that the mere act of attending UCB doesn't mean the world is going to fall at her feet and worship her little pearls of wisdom. She's having to endure ridicule, contempt, and counter-argument, to which I can only say, welcome to the real world. Ms. Quindel.

Posted by kswygert at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2002

Charter schools scores are increasing

Charter schools scores are increasing rapidly

In Michigan, the MEAP test scores of charter school students are increasing at a faster rate than the scores of traditional public school students. Good news, although the overall academic achievement is still lower than that the of the public school students. That may be the case because the charter schools may now contain the students who were doing the worst or who were stuck in the worst public schools - but at this rate, they won't be doing worse for long.

Posted by kswygert at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)

Pennsylvania parents are keeping their

Pennsylvania parents are keeping their kids home

Homeschooling is on the rise in my home state, for a variety of reasons:

Nancy Grosser began homeschooling her children 13 years ago, when her eldest son was in first grade. The lad had asthma, and she wanted to let him get more rest. Kim Evans began teaching her children at home 10 years ago because she wanted them to learn religious values. Anne Jenkins is two weeks into homeschooling her 10-year-old daughter to boost a lackluster school performance.

Pennsylvania began allowing parents to homeschool their children in 1988. Then 2,152 students were homeschooled. By last year, the number had grown to 24,019, just over 1 percent of the total number of students enrolled in public and nonpublic schools, according to the state Department of Education.

For more information, go to

Posted by kswygert at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

Marianne Jennings on the "New

Marianne Jennings on the "New Ageism" prevalent at her child's middle-school:

While my son is graced with several dedicated teachers, New Ageites abound. His geography teacher pledges to teach him to "think outside the box." Dear woman, the purpose of geography is to teach the box, or at least a flat surface map. Geography once meant learning of cities, rivers and countries blessed with bauxite. Instead, my son will learn Socratic latitude and longitude, environmentalism, and AIDS.

Our socioeconomic location breeds quite a cross-section at the junior high. Students in my son's elective computer course struggle to read aloud, stumbling over words. "Metal" was eventually pronounced "Ma -TALL." Hail, whole languageites!...Evidence of deportment lingers on the campus via thousands of black spots on the walkways where the cherubs have spat their Juicy Fruit. Student attitude is comparable to that of pink-slipped adults: angry and not planning on working any time soon.

The spoon-feeding program includes a mandatory 25-minute class in which, get this, students must read. I quote from one of the many advisors, reading coordinators, counselors, shrinks, or media specialists who spout talking points, "We find that students just don't read or study at home. Reading gets test scores up; so it's required at school." There is also a reading class that was once only for remedial readers. Now everyone suffers through a bureaucratic nightmare of a program that dictates which books they can read. It took me a week to find someone who could approve To Kill a Mockingbird.

Every teacher speaks of tests: Stanford tests, Arizona AIMS test, district tests. Tests, tests, tests. Their fear is palpable for they know parents will descend upon them if those scores don't improve. Parents should neither expect nor demand higher test scores...Arizona test scores show that there is little discernible improvement after eighth grade.

A sad indictment from one observant, and pessimistic, parent.

Posted by kswygert at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

With friends like these...[Part 2]Thomas

With friends like these...[Part 2]

Thomas Sowell follows up on his commentary from earlier this week with further condemnation of civil rights groups and politicians that ignore the needs of black schoolchildren:

Controlling millions of votes and millions of dollars in campaign contributions, the teachers unions' interests prevail, even when that sacrifices the future of a whole generation of young blacks. But, despite polls which show that blacks favor vouchers more than any other group, black votes continue to go to Democrats who sacrifice their children on the altar to the teachers' unions....Black 4th graders scored higher on tests in Texas than in any other state. But 92 percent of black votes went against the Republican governor of Texas in the 2000 presidential election. Democrats had rhetoric, symbolism, and inertia going for them.

Posted by kswygert at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

Standardized testing critics are always

Standardized testing critics are always saying that the college admissions process shouldn't rely heavily on just a "number", that admissions officers should take a more well-rounded look at the applicants. Tricky to do when there are 7,000 applicants for 200 slots, but okay. Perhaps the application essay should be given more weight - that's a good way to measure the applicant's reasoning and writing skills, and it gives the applicants the chance to present themselves in a unique and memorable way, right?

Or maybe the essay is just where applicants write whatever they think the college wants to hear, which these days are sob stories and passionate descriptions of hardships:

This cult of personal authenticity merges with the academic fetish for "diversity" in the policy of the California university system, which gives favorable consideration to applicants who have met and surmounted "life challenges"--including the challenge of belonging to a minority thought to be under-represented in the state's universities. According to a source quoted by The Wall Street Journal's Daniel Golden, "the new standard has led to a flood of sob stories on college-application essays, in some cases after university staffers have coached minority students on how to identify and present their hardships."

Could there be a better method of allowing the student to supplement their SAT and GPA numbers?

Something much closer to a candid and unmediated picture of an applicant will emerge if you sit him down and tell him he's got three hours to write on, say, "three of the following 25 questions." That, at least, is what they did on one of the several parts of the entrance exam for Oxford and Cambridge that applicants used to have to take when I was teaching in England some years ago. The students were, naturally, subjected to exams on what they knew...But they were also asked to write essays that would reveal their nimbleness of mind and reasoning powers, things rarely on display in maudlin self-description.

So what kinds of questions were they asked? Here are some that I remember: • Is popular culture a contradiction in terms? • Is it possible to be tolerant towards different religions only if one is deeply attached to none? • "Behind every form of government there lurks an oligarchy" (Ronald Syme). Discuss....

The point of such questions was to look for signs of intelligence and reasoning ability... Beyond that, there was the hope that someone answering a question like "Why should we save the whales?" would react with intellect, not just feelings... Questioners, that is, would tempt candidates by wording questions as invitations merely to regurgitate their prejudices--and then reward those who didn't, who could look at a question from both sides, with all the argumentative logic and imaginative sympathy that such an exercise may require.

Posted by kswygert at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)

UC Berkeley now outranks Harvard......when

UC Berkeley now outranks Harvard...

...when it comes to extremist stupidity, that is. UCB is planning a Remembrance Day for next Wednesday, in honor of September 11th. How thoughtful, and appropriate. Only problem is, UCB considers the colors red, white, and blue to be "too patriotic", any "go-USA" sentiments to be too "centered on nationalism", and any support of President Bush to be "isolating" people who don't agree with him. Oh, and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" would be too "divisive" and "exclusive" - after all, perish the thought that some people might come away from the Remembrance Day celebration feeling as though UCB was endorsing any support, supernatural or otherwise, for the country in which UCB is based. God forbid (whoops) that should happen.

Um, so what's left?

The Sept. 11 Day of Remembrance, sponsored by the Chancellor's office, the student body government and the Graduate Assembly, will also feature student leaders distributing white ribbons, instead of the red, white and blue ones they had originally planned. "We thought that may be just too political, too patriotic," said Hazel Wong, chief organizer for the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). "We didn't want anything too centered on nationalism-anything that is 'Go U.S.A.'" Wong said the event organizers are "trying to steer away" from anything political, and that, she said, includes singing the National Anthem and displaying the red, white, and blue. She said they don't want politics disrupting mourning and grieving...

We are trying to stay away from supporting Bush," [Jessica] Quindel [President of the Graduate Assembly] said. "We don't want to isolate people on this campus who disagree with the reaction to Sept. 11." Quindel, a self avowed hater of the American Flag, the federal government, and the "Star Spangled Banner," said she is still patriotic. "It depends on your definition of patriotism. Everyone has a different definition," she said. Patriotic songs may exclude and offend people, Quindel said, "because there are so many people who don't agree with the songs." "God Bless America" is "very exclusive" because it mentions God, she said....

Though plans call for four university music and song groups to perform at an evening vigil, not a single patriotic song will be sung, at the behest of organizers. Instead, songs of remembrance will be offered up. Also, to prevent the exclusion of those who don't believe in the American Flag, there will be no tribute to the flag. "The flag has become a symbol of U.S. aggression towards other countries. It seems hostile," Quindel said. Quindel will be one of two people selecting speakers for short speeches by students during a noontime event on Memorial Glade. Students must pre-register indicating the topic of the comments they wish to make-classifying them into categories of mourning, religious and political.

Um, wasn't Ms. Wong quoted as saying that the purpose of ignoring the national anthem and the use of white ribbons was to avoid bringing politics into the situation? And here Ms. Quindel is going to be allowed to decide what students are allowed to give speeches in the "political" category. Someone needs to tell these ladies to get their stories straight before they talk to the press. Someone should also explain to Ms. Wong that a white ribbon does indeed make a political statement - that of appeasement and surrender. Ms. Quindel should be made to explain, to the families of the survivors, her theory that Old Glory was the "root cause" of September 11, and that perhaps the thousands who were killed that day deserved it, for all those days they spent singing the national anthem at ball games and waving flags during Fourth of July parades.

Three guesses as to what narrow, extremist political views will be welcome at this shameful event. And the first two don't count.

Posted by kswygert at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2002

As always, welcome to all

As always, welcome to all readers from the blog of Joanne Jacobs, the High Priestess of EduBlogs. The Edublogger Grand Poo-bah. The CEO (Chief Edublogging Officer). And so on. =)

Sorry for the light blogging today, though; I'm busy getting ready for my class. Who knew so much work went into preparing statistics overheads? Who knew it took this much preparation to figure out the best way to describe how to calculate means and standard deviations? Sheesh.

Posted by kswygert at 02:25 PM | Comments (0)

An indictment of the power

An indictment of the power of the teacher unions, from Paul Peterson of the Hoover Institution. Mr. Peterson traces the current deluge of unqualified and underpaid teachers, and the recent calls for accountability, straight back to the inflexible, heavy-handed demands made by the powerful NEA and AFT unions.

Update: The Cato Institute echoes Mr. Peterson's sentiments. This article describes the NEA and AFT as "juggernauts" that crush all opposition and do a grave disservice to teachers and students.

Posted by kswygert at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

Harvard's hate-mongererHarvard apparently encourages its

Harvard's hate-mongerer

Harvard apparently encourages its professors to exercise their First Amendment privileges, and the result is this - a call from a Harvard professor to abolish the white race. If that's all it takes to be a Harvard professor, I expect to see a David Duke Chair in Human Relations anytime soon. Presuming that Harvard would allow any professor to make such a statement about any race otherthan the white race, that is:

Mr. Ignatiev, who is white, writes that "every group within white America," including "labor unionists, ethnic groups, college students, schoolteachers, taxpayers and white women" has at one time or another "advanced its particular and narrowly defined interests at the expense of black people as a race."

Let's see, I fit now, or once have fit, four of those categories; five if you count "ethnic groups" as Caucasians, which I do. It boggles the mind to see a Harvard professor state that such broad categories as "ethnic groups" and "white women" all have "narrowly defined interests", and it's absolutely preposterous to see it stated that all members of these groups acheived great heights only by deliberately stepping on black heads.

And parents are willing to pay $23,500 a year for this?

Posted by kswygert at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2002

And a tip of the

And a tip of the hat to Bas Braams, who has a page containing essays and opinions about K-12 Math education. Bas discovered my blog last night and read darn near everything I've ever written (I could tell from my counter how many of my archived pages were accessed, and I think he hit them all), and he's graciously added me to his list of links. One example essay linked on his page is an AFT publication on what students abroad are expected to know about mathematics (it's a lot more than what's expected of American students). Go check him out.

Posted by kswygert at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

Little things that make me

Little things that make me itch with irritation...

(1) Parents who look for racism under every stone, and school administrators who cave in to them. The word "niggardly" was taught, appropriately, as part of a vocabulary lesson at Williams Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware. No children were offended, apparently, but one parent was. Despite the fact that the word is not related to the racial slur and was not used in that context, Ms. Walker (the offended parent) wants the teacher fired. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the aggrieved Ms. Walker claims that "it was inappropriate to use [niggardly] because it sounds similar to a racial slur" because she "doesn't think fourth-graders can distinguish between the two words." And if a teacher can be fired for using it, there no longer is much of a difference between the two words, is there? Rather than making sure her daughter understands the difference between an incendiary racial slur and a perfectly useful word, Ms. Walker prefers to have the words treated as the same, and leave her daughter ignorant of the distinction. She also prefers to have a teacher fired for using a word that J.R.R. Tolkien thought was just fine.

Update: Guffzilla takes me to task for using JRR as an example here, because, in the Guff's words, "I'm trying to think back to when I last saw JRRT used as a signal for race awareness and tolerance. Hmm, I believe that would be 'never'. This is the same British author of books which make absolutely no mention of any "human" race other than white, correct?" Guff thus deftly misses my point. I was not pointing to JRRT as a racial awareness activist, but instead as an example of an extremely talented English writer, and JRRT used the word "niggardly" correctly. I could have used any other writer who employed the word; JRRT was convenient because he's mentioned in the original article. Miseducation could lead one to believe that JRRT was being racist in using that term, but he was not. My point is, today's fourth-graders could be reading The Two Towers within the next five years, and they should be taught that no one, including JRRT, is making a grammatical error, nor would they be making a racial statement, by using the word "niggardly" to mean "stingy".

(2) Today on MSN: "Do IQ Tests Lie"? (I've lost the URL - sorry). Let me answer that in one word - No. IQ tests do not lie, nor do any other tests. Human beings can lie, which is to say, they can willfully misrepresent, distort, or omit the truth. Tests, being inanimate objects, cannot lie. Tests can range anywhere from completely invalid, meaning they give no useful information, to highly valid, meaning they are useful for the purpose for which they were designed, but they do not "lie". I know, I know, this seems like a picky little point. But I mention it because I think that the public can be taught to understand test validity without cutesy little anthorpomorphic phrases, and because to suggest that tests "lie" is really to suggest that test developers are dishonest and willfully misrepresent what tests measure.

Posted by kswygert at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

With friends like these...Another insightful

With friends like these...

Another insightful and provocative article from Thomas Sowell, this time on the negative influence of "friends" of black students. The "friends" he has in mind are the ones who advocate affirmative action and affirmative grading, which Mr. Sowell calls by their real names - lowerering the standards. He also mentions a bit of standardized testing trivia that all psychometricians know, but few anti-testing activists do:

We have gotten so used to abysmal performances from black students, beginning in failing ghetto schools, that it is hard for some to believe that black students once did a lot better than they do today, at least in places and times with good schools. As far back as the First World War, black soldiers from New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio scored higher on mental tests than white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

During the 1940s, black students in Harlem schools had test scores very similar to those of white working class students on the lower east side of New York. Sometimes the Harlem scores were a little higher or a little lower, but they were never miles behind, the way they are today in many ghetto schools.

Yet more evidence that the tests are not biased instruments of discrimination, but instead are necessary indicators that something has gone terribly wrong in the ghetto schools of today.

Posted by kswygert at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

Sorry, wrong numberJay Mathews of

Sorry, wrong number

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post describes the sorry state of basic arithmetic education today. What's the main problem with it? Computation scores on standardized tests are either flat or declining, in part because the cornerstones of mathematics - addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division - have been deemed "shopkeeper arithmetics" and relegated to calculators. Tom Loveless, of the Brown Center for Education Policy at Brookings, says that the NAEP scores have presented a deceptively cheery picture of arithmetic knowledge over the last decade:

In his report, Loveless laments a decision by the federal board that oversees NAEP. The decision relegated the test of students' basic math skills without the aid of calculators -- derided by some experts as "shopkeeper arithmetic" -- to a part of a larger test. As a result, the computation scores are not reported separately.

"So we arrived where we are today: a federally endorsed state of ignorance on the computation skills of American students," said Loveless, a former elementary school teacher and Harvard professor who writes extensively on education policy.

In the meantime, he said, the fraction of 17-year-olds correctly answering NAEP questions requiring basic arithmetic skills has declined from 76.3 percent in 1990 to 71.9 percent in 1999, on the test given every four years or so. The drop was particularly noticeable in fraction problems...

Loveless believes it is shortsighted to shrug off the decline. Computation scores reveal understanding of arithmetic, he said, and that leads to success in higher math, in college and in the workplace. "There are large numbers of kids at the bottom of the achievement distribution -- the non-SAT takers -- who are going in the wrong direction," he said.

I've been out of the public school system since 1986, so I was unaware of the pernicious influence of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, who advocated, without research backing, a move away from basic skills (e.g., the "drudgery" of learning multiplication tables). Did I hate learning my multiplication tables? Yes, I did. Do I feel that I benefit every day from having memorized them, when I have to calculate sales tax, or balance my checkbook, in my head? Yes, I do.

Do students who didn't benefit from basic, solid arithmetic training feel cheated? Just ask Jonathan Raviv, who scored 790 out of 800 on his SAT math test and was just accepted into Johns Hopkins. He was chosen to compete with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School team in the quiz show, "It's Academic", yet when the host for the show asked the simple question: "How much is a 4 percent sales tax if the purchase price is $90?", Jonathan was unable to answer it:

He said that when the sales tax question came up, he froze for a moment under the lights and the time pressure. He said he would have succeeded if he had had a few more seconds to think, but he does not rule out the possibility that lack of computation practice hurt him. He tried to estimate the answer -- a tactic strongly encouraged by the math teachers group -- but his method gave him a 5 percent, not a 4 percent, tax....Raviv said he knows the slip-up was trivial, but he still felt bad. "I blew it," he said. "I was very disappointed in myself."

Jonathan, you can thank the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for that.

Posted by kswygert at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Commentary Magazine has a fascinating

Commentary Magazine has a fascinating book review of The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, written by Jacques Steinberg. The college in question is Wesleyan, which is highly selective - they accept only 15% of their applicants each year. Does Wesleyan select the most qualified 15% of applicants? Depends on how you define it:

They want to show high average SAT scores—freshmen at Wesleyan can generally point to a combined math-verbal score around 1350, out of a possible 1600—even while admitting a fair number of low-scoring minority students. A claim to be elite requires low over-all acceptance rates, and Wesleyan’s 15 percent or so is excellent...

[Admissions officer] Figueroa tells Steinberg that he sympathizes with the huge public universities that lack “the time and resources to put a student’s SAT scores in context [and] often had to choose many of their students by feeding a combination of grades and test scores into a computer.” How dreadful, the reader is invited to think. Yet a case could be made that Wesleyan itself would do far less damage in its admissions process if it simply settled for the computer. The school’s elaborate procedures for reinterpreting grades and test scores in order to guarantee high admission rates for minorities—blacks are targeted to get 11 percent of the freshman class—are patently unfair and, arguably, have created illegal quotas...

Steinberg’s reporting allows us to see the elaborate dodges that Wesleyan has developed for defining “merit” down—that is, for finding that the low-scoring minority applicant is somehow more qualified than the white or Asian with a stellar SAT score. His portraits of selected students—selected apparently because they were of special interest to Ralph Figueroa—repeatedly demonstrate that the SAT is an extremely good predictor of college success, especially as compared to the wishful sociological forecasting of admissions officers.

This is the first book I've seen that really gets inside the head of an admissions officer and the workings of the new admissions processes, where the definition of "merit" must be upheld, yet is often so broadly defined as to lose most of its meaning. Fascinating stuff.

Posted by kswygert at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

Fighting the "diversity" myth Kenneth

Fighting the "diversity" myth

Kenneth Lee of The American Enterprise has a lengthy article today on fighting fire with fire - he believes conservatives and Republicans may begin using lawsuits to counteract the shameful imbalance of political diversity on university faculties. As has been reported in numerous articles, most of them at FrontPage Magazine, academics with right-of-center political views have very little chance of being offered tenure-track positions at American colleges and universities. Statistically speaking, they're a very under-represented minority, and statistical under-representation has been the rallying cry of many civil rights activists:

Over the past few decades, studies that show statistical underrepresentation of minorities have become the cornerstone of civil rights litigation. Plaintiffs invariably cite statistical dispanties in work forces, bank loans, arrest rates, application acceptances, housing ownership, and scores of other measures as proof of discrimination. Courts were not always receptive to such statistical claims. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly stated that it did not require the work force to mirror the general population. LBJ's Justice Department assured skeptics that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would be used only to combat intentional discrimination against individual members of minority groups, not ever to force numerical "racial balance." But as with so many other laws, administrative agencies and courts gradually transformed the plain language of the statute to mean something very different....

In two landmark decisions in the 1970s, the Supreme Court made it considerably easier for plaintiffs to prove discrimination with simple numbers... it allowed plaintiffs to claim "disparate treatment" — that is, intentional discrimination — when statistics showed an under-representation of minorities...Though commentators like Thomas Sowell pointed out that the court's reasoning is questionable — many variables other than discrimination can account for representational disparities — this thinking has become an established part of the civil rights legal firmament...

In addition to this "disparate treatment" theory of discrimination, the Supreme Court also accepted the novel notion of "disparate impact" ... According to this theory, even a neutral hiring practice or procedure can be found discriminatory if it results in a disproportionate impact on minority groups. The plaintiff in a disparate impact case need not even allege that the employer has a biased bone in his body....Civil rights groups have challenged the use of standardized tests on these grounds, claiming that since minority students score lower on the SAT it is biased by definition. Laws and enforcement practices that lead to heavy minority arrests are similarly attacked....

The kicker? "By simple logic, both disparate treatment and disparate impact theories support a legal case against universities for discriminating against conservative Republicans." In other words, he who lives by statistical representation will die by statistical representation.

Let me hasten to say that I don't agree with the Supreme Court's decisions regarding disparate impact, and I feel that civil rights groups who claim that group mean differences on standardized tests are indicators of bias are dead wrong. But it's nice to see the tables turned and the "disparate impact" argument used in favor of the new minorities in higher education.

Posted by kswygert at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2002

Back-to-school commentaryIt's back-to-school time, which

Back-to-school commentary

It's back-to-school time, which for the right-wing and conservative websites translates as "back-to-kvetching-about-the-sorry-state-of-modern-education time" (I say this with affection, because I kvetch about the same things).

Front Page Magazine has an entire page bemoaning the problems associated with higher education. The best article, on missing diversity on college campuses, is here.

The Jewish World Review, whose insightful commentators all seem to be concerned parents, contains articles on the rise of testing for kindergarteners, California's shameful attack on homeschooling parents, and various educational musings by edublog royalty Joanne Jacobs.

National Review Online has only one education-related article, but it's a great one, by college professor Mark Goldblatt - Kids Don't Know What They're Supposed To Know.

And various and sundry other education-related articles: Yet more NEA September 11th criticism (John Leo, NY Daily News), expanding technology for school-age kids (Liza Porteus, Fox News), teachers' unions vs. charter schools (Lynn Vincent, World Mag), "Free the Universities, Fund the Students" - requires Adobe Acrobat reader (Cascade Commentary), and politics' obsession with standardized testing (Jim Boren, Fresno Bee).

And, all smart-ass comments and educational criticism aside, it's time to give thanks that in American society, we needn't worry about kindergarten teachers harboring explosives - and suicide bombers.

Posted by kswygert at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)