Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Hi, y'all, I'll be taking a little holiday break from blogging this week. However, I've got a few tidbits to leave with you before I go to make merry and celebrate the holidays.
The NCAA is demanding that UNC-Pembroke stop using its "racially-offensive" lndian athletic logo and "Braves" nickname. The NCAA demand would be politial correctness run amuck in any case, but in this case it's particulary obnoxious - UNC-Pembroke was founded for the Lumbee Indians, and was for a time the only four-year institution in the U.S. for Native Americans:
...many Lumbees are chancellors, board members or university staff as well as students and emphasized the Lumbees continued involvement with the school since its inception. In fact, the school has an American Indian Studies department and a Native American museum preserves Indian heritage for coming generations, including exhibits on Indian arts and crafts; Indian language, music, literature and heroes; as well as video biographies of courageous Native American veterans from WWII.
Needless to say, the university is going to battle the NCAA over the right to preserve their heritage.
Best line from this update on the shameful denial of tenure of CUNY history professor Robert David Johnson - "It’s odd that they would choose to go after a historian and assume that he would not have retained all of his documents," Johnson recently remarked in conversation with the author, "that was a bad mistake." CUNY is suffering public-relations disaster from the Johnson case, as well they should.
Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has previously commented on this NY Daily News article about school textbooks that are filled with errors and politically-correct propaganda, but I do have to add one thing. In the article, William Bennetta, head of watchdog group The Textbook League, comments on the fact that some religious groups in Texas have pressured textbook authors to revise scientific timelines. The purpose of the revisions, of course, is to make the timelines more compatible with creationism. Now, Mr. Bennetta has a point when he requests that such religious claims not be taught in a science textbook. But he should leave off calling the Texans "rednecks", as he does in the article. Mr. Bennetta is from California, and not a few ugly epithets could be applied to citizens of that fair state. What's more, anyone who's from the South knows that the categories of religious fundamentalists and rednecks are not one and the same, and in some areas do not overlap at all. So the use of this regional insult is likely to cause more liberal Southerners to dismiss Mr. Bennetta as a sanctimonious secular Left Coast know-it-all, even though he has a point. Just my two cents here.
Via Joanne Jacobs: Carver Academy, built by NBA star David Robinson, is posting stellar test scores after just one year of operation. In every subject, the students beat the national average - and 99 percent of the students are on full or partial scholarship, while 95 percent are black or Hispanic. Think lowered expectations and educational coddling for poor minority kids could produce this? Think again - these students follow "a well-rounded curriculum that incorporates religion, fine arts, languages and technology with core academic subjects...Starting in pre-kindergarten, students receive weekly instruction in Spanish, German and Japanese. Algorithms and negative numbers are taught as early as first grade." Schools such as this one can help reverse the downward trend of American public education, the trend that has led us to our current, ridiculous situation where college seniors now score no better than high-school graduates of fifty years ago on questions assessing general cultural knowledge.
Of course, what do colleges have to do with educational standards nowadays? Go here to find out if you could be admitted to the University of Michigan. These kinds of calculators highlight the problematic nature of affirmative action, both for the recipients of it (who may not be academically prepared for college), and those who are disadvantaged by it.
Another senator who needs to go: Opinion Journal reports on Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State who recently preached the anti-war gospel to a group of high school students. Did she ask them to "consider alternatives to war" because she has a strong religious or philisophical opposition to it? No, it's because Osama bin Laden is the good guy here - he's "been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that." Opinion Journal rightly notes: "Murray must have a screw loose if she thinks al Qaeda has been building 'day care facilities.' What, to cater to all the fundamentalist Muslim families in which the husband and all four wives have to work?"
And on that note, I'm outta here. You guys should all take some time off and be subversive - you know, sing a Christmas carol or two. If anybody complains, tell them that celebrating Christmas is the new trendy and multicultural thing to do. And then go spike the eggnog with Jack Daniels.
A pretty unfunny "joke"
The promotion policy in North Carolina is considered a joke, according to Phil Kirk, the chairman of the State Board of Education. Why?
In both fifth and eighth grades, about 75 percent of students who fell short of the testing standard at the end of the last school year were advanced a grade. In third grade, about 60 percent of those who failed one or both tests were promoted. "The policy has been taken as a joke by many school systems," chairman Phil Kirk said. "Students are being promoted who don't have the basic skills. The ones we were hoping to help are being hurt."
The State Board of Education adopted the rigorous passing rule in 1999 as way to halt the "social promotion" of students from one grade to the next, regardless of their proficiency. The new promotion standard requires that students in grades three, five and eight demonstrate their readiness for the next grade level by passing the state's end-of-grade tests in reading and math. Yet, when the rule first was applied to fifth-graders in 2000-01, about three-quarters of students who failed the tests were promoted anyway.
In 2001-02, when the rule also was applied to grades three and eight, the percentages of students who were held back remained unchanged from the previous year. In eighth grade, 2.3 percent of all students were retained; in fifth grade, 2 percent were kept back. But in third grade, retentions increased from 3.4 percent of all students in 2000-01 to 4.6 percent with the new rule last year.
"We haven't ended social promotion," Kirk said.
I'd love to see a breakdown of this. Are these social promotions common to particular schools, or districts, or counties? Is the number of social promotions related to the school's report card rating? (I bet it is.) Do minorities suffer more from social promotions than non-minority kids? What other measures, besides the test scores, are principals using to justify promoting kids who flunk the exams? Are any of these measures valid for the decision of promoting a kid into another grade? Are the principals required to justify these decisions?
Interesting, very interesting.
Putting the technology to work
The Edison schools in Philadelphia have developed computer labs and are now giving standardized tests on computer. I've always been supportive of this idea, because it can shorten the test turnaround time, is more engaging for kids, and can be cheaper to administer, thus addressing three criticisms often leveled at standardized tests. The article is pretty positive on the subject:
[Regional technical director for Edison Schools David] Vasconez said that when Edison arrived at Potter-Thomas, which is in an impoverished area of Kensington, the "computer lab" was infested with roaches and the old computers were "all over the place." Making [computerized testing program] Benchmarks operational required retrofitting rooms, inputting student data, linking networks, and waiting for the district to do electrical work in many buildings. As Vasconez watched the students work last week, he said the physical transformation symbolized the potential of Benchmarks to change teaching and learning.
"We have a saying in Edison," he said. "Benchmarks don't lie." What they do is allow teachers to track students' monthly progress on the very types of questions and skills they will be expected to master on year-end standardized tests. So when fifth grader Princilla Rosado finished her language arts test last Wednesday, she knew immediately that she had gotten 40 percent of the questions right and that she was good at editing sentences but not so good at composing them.
And minutes after Princilla and her classmates left the room, Vasconez fired up his laptop and received a report. As it turned out, 40 percent was the class average. And he could see, for example, that only 19 percent correctly answered a question that measures understanding of literary devices. A teacher could click on the "19 percent" and immediately see how many students chose each answer - giving valuable information on the nature of their misunderstanding.
This is a rich source of data for teachers and students, and this kind of feedback should be very useful - for teachers who are willing to participate. The teachers' union continues to fight the amount of meeting time that the Edison system requires, but individual teachers appear to be very pleased with the computerized testing system.
Would unisex bathing suits fix this problem?
Of all the explanations I can imagine for why women might score lower than men on math tests, this is one I'd never imagined. JPSP is a fairly respectable journal, which means the study was probably well-designed. However, I want to know what kind of bathing suit the subjects wore. Did the men wear big baggy trunks while the women wore tiny bikinis? That could have an effect.
Of course, the real question here is, how well do men perform on math tests when there's a bikinied woman in the room with them?
Massive fail rates on the TAKS
Daryl Cobranchi caught this story on his homeschooling blog (which is consistently a very good read, by the way) - a "staggering" fail rate is expected on the TAKS, at least according to the headlines:
More than half of public high school students, including a disproportionate number who are minorities or poor, could flunk the state's new graduation exam and face the prospect of not earning a diploma.
"I would hope that those are pessimistic estimates and that the reality of the situation isn't going to be that bad," said John Stevens, executive director of the Texas Business and Education Coalition. "That's my hope, but I wouldn't plan on those bases."
According to new information from the Texas Education Agency, 53 percent of pupils statewide would fail the test if it were given today...
I agree that this estimate is pretty frightening. However, the TAKS was designed be more difficult than the previous exam (TAAS), and it will be administered in 9th and 10th grade, with the exit-level exam being given in 11th grade. The state also has the option to lower the passing standard, and it will probably do so.
The question is, will Texas use this new, more demanding exam to beef up its curriculum and improve the level of eductation in Texas? There's really no hard psychometric evidence in this article, only the pessimistic prediction that results once the passing rates for the end-of-course exams, whose content mirror the new TAKS, are examined. And those numbers are pretty bad:
Previously, students were tested in those subjects only on end-of-course exams. But because the subject matter closely mirrors the new TAKS tests, scores on those end-of-course exams now are being scrutinized.
According to the early indicator reports, last year less than half of all students who took the end-of-course tests in algebra, biology, English II and U.S. history passed. While 42.1 percent of Anglo students were unable to pass those tests, nearly three-quarters of African Americans, two-thirds of Hispanics and 70 percent of low-income students flunked.
So the problem here is not with the TAKS. It's the fact that over half of all students who sit through an entire algebra, biology, English II or U.S. history class can't pass the end-of-course test, and those numbers get worse for certain subgroups. So the predictions, while dire, may be accurate, but the solution is not to make the TAKS easier. The solution is to either create a better match between what the TAKS and end-of-course tests measure and the coursework itself, or, if there already is a match, figure out why teachers aren't getting this information across in the classroom. Changing the TAKS passing level would be tantamount to the State Board of Education sticking its head into the sand and ignoring the awful end-of-course performances.
The Leftist Indoctrination Association
Multiculti nonsense, religious and ethnic bigotry, and historical inaccuracies reign in a Philadelphia school:
In my year-and-a-half spent working as an independent contractor in Philadelphia’s public, private and charter schools, I’ve seen countless politically correct worldviews pass as gospel to kids of all ages and economic levels. But none so much as at my current assignment...
An ominous sign of what was in store came on the first day of classes this past September, when I entered school to the sight of a large banner proclaiming, "We Are Proud To Be A Multicultural Place of Learning." Later that week, the principal called an assembly to announce the school’s monthly "Celebrations of Culture," with a month allotted for virtually every ethnic and racial group except, of course, white European. This blatant snub ignored not only the very culture from which this country originated; it also left the school’s small white student body (under 10 percent) feeling isolated and rootless...
The November arrival of Ramadan was accompanied by great fanfare. In three separate loudspeaker addresses, the school’s principal encouraged faculty and students to be "very respectful and considerate of all Muslims during this important holiday." Meanwhile, Channukah came and went without mention, and Christmas has been presented simply as a secularist, material-driven holiday with no religious link.
The author also discusses the disgraceful inefficiency of the school's ESL (English as a Second Language) program and its politically-driven policies, which gives passing grades to students with no grasp of English. Very disgraceful.
Is it sexist to say "Eight Maids a milkin'?"
Go read Lilek's latest Screed now. It's the story of a Canadian couple who have worked themselves into a furious snit over the fact that Christmas is a religious holiday, and that people actually celebrate the holiday by eating well and buying another gifts. That's just too "exclusionary" and "materialistic" for Mr. and Mrs. Williams, who hired a billboard to make their statement this year: "Gluttony. Envy. Insincerity. Greed. Enjoy Your Christmas." My favorite part is Lilek's reaction to the identification of Mrs. Williams as "a 33-year-old Women's Studies student at the University of Victoria":
You know, if every “Woman’s Studies” department was closed, and the student loans were used to create businesses that hired women instead of studied them like tragic butterflies impaled on the patriarchal pin, we might be better off. Granted, we’d be without PhDs theses like “Rape Symbolism and Beatrix Potter: A Rake’s Progress,” but the culture would survive; the only noticeable effect at all would be a 17% decrease in Frieda Kahlo poster sales, and a 50% decrease in 33-year old college students.
And a 90% decrease in women like Mrs. Williams, who is furious that Santa Claus is depicted as a white, heterosexual man, and who does her best to transmit her "socio-political" views to the children of her friends.
Yup, I was as surprised as you are that she has any friends.
There's no escape
You know, I had planned for this blog to be a Lott-free zone, a sort of oasis of non-debate about our (for now) Senate majority leader and the two feet that he has crammed firmly into his mouth. But then I read this fab oped (registration required) by one of my favorite education experts, Abigail Thernstrom, and I have to quote it at length:
Take what is arguably today's most important civil rights issue: the racial gap in academic achievement. Robert Moses, a luminous figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960's, says that "the absence of math literacy . . . is an issue as urgent as the lack of registered black voters in Mississippi was in 1961." English literacy is equally important.
Yet the political left talks almost entirely of "re-segregated" and underfunded schools, and pushes for more busing and more spending, a strategy that has failed for decades. Democrats also believe in collective bargaining rules that allow dreadful teachers to retain their jobs. Their emphasis on "self-esteem" results in the dumbing-down of educational standards, what President Bush has rightly called "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
After an era of liberal leadership, the typical black or Hispanic student graduates from high school today with junior high skills, according to the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress. If Mr. Lott cedes civil rights issues to the Democrats, how can Republicans in Congress join the majority of black parents who want vouchers so that their children can escape public schools that have become graveyards for hope?
Emphasis mine. Now is an important time for conservatives and Republicans to realize that when it comes to true civil rights in education, when we back standards-based reform and more accountability and more parental choice, we're on the side of the angels.
O Canada! Oh Oh OH!
Anybody happen to know the identity of the merry prankster, with a promising future in the recording industry, who managed to splice 30-seconds of an X-rated film into his school's "O Canada" video - the video that plays on TV's in every classroom, every morning? School officials have no idea who did it, or how he did it without leaving signs of tampering on the tape, but $300 is yours if you rat him out. Of course, that's 300 Canadian dollars, so we're talking, what, 72 cents here?
Those who fight the noble fight...
...against bad standardized tests. Centerville Elementary [Georgia] teacher James Hope posted Gateway exam items on the web, but a Superior Court Judge has cleared him of wrongdoing. Mr. Hope, who was Centerville's Teacher of the Year in 2000-01, didn't help his students cheat or steal live items, although he has been accused of doing both. His reason for posting sample items is simply that he is very frustrated with the exams that allegedly cover material in history and math that was never introduced in class.
Gwinnett County Public Schools cited the teacher for misconduct in April 2000 for having his wife post sample Gateway questions and observations he made about students' struggles with the exam on the Concerned Parents of Gwinnett Web site. The school district spent $6 million developing the test to assess student performance...
The teacher said he felt compelled to tell parents the Gateway was invalid because it covered material in history and math that teachers had not taught in class, Hope said. "I had children crying during the test because some of the questions were so poorly worded. They knew that they weren't giving the right answers and felt they would possibly fail the fourth grade." Hope said he could not share with his students that passing scores on the test had been set so low that virtually anyone could pass. In some cases, a fourth-grade student needed 14 points out of a total 59, or 23.7 percent, to earn a passing grade, he said.
Since the incident, Hope, a teacher for 18 years, has remained at Centerville waiting to learn his fate...During his two-year ordeal, Hope said he has braved the confiscation of his phone records, visits by school police, a lie detector test and threats that an officer was heading to his classroom in 2001 to watch him administer the Gateway.
What aopears to be the case here is that the school district doesn't think a school teacher should be allowed to publicly criticize a standardize test. Mr. Hope won his case, as he should, because he did not post live items, which would have left him open to, at a minimum, theft and copyright violation charges. He appears to have drawn a much-needed spotlight to an test that may well be invalid. If the test content specifications don't match the curriculum, and the passing score is set at 23%, the test is pretty much useless, and Mr. Hope should be free as I am to say that. I don't agree with the Concerned Parents of Gwinnett that standardized tests should be removed completely from the classroom, but if their main experience has been with a test as flawed as this one allegedly is, I can understand their concern.
"Segregation now" - on college campuses, at least
"Programs set up to help minority students are a form of racism and have led to segregation at many universities nationwide", according to a survey by the New York Civil Rights Coalition. This comes as no surprise to people like Joanne Jacobs, who questioned the wisdom of segregated, "theme" dorms in her latest Jewish World Review article.
The summary of the report is here:
"Segregated housing, courses, and programs disseminate poisonous stereotypes and falsehoods about race and ethnicity," the 28-page report states. "They limit interaction between minority and non-minority students, and reward separatist thinking ... They deny equal interaction on campus. Although they claim to have minorities' interests at heart, these colleges in fact take the civil-rights movement giant steps backward." Michael Meyers, the coalition's executive director, who initiated the survey, said Thursday that such programs are paternalistic and racist, and that college officials who promote the programs assume minority students cannot succeed without help. The coalition is a nonprofit group that opposes most forms of affirmative action but promotes racial diversity.
These practices are insidious because they betray the real purposes of higher education," said Mr. Meyers, who is also vice president of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I thought the whole purpose of higher education was to remove narrow constrictions of the mind, extirpate prejudice and remove barriers to the open pursuit of knowledge. But we found that many of these schools are mainly reinforcing the notion of separatism."
And how do the colleges reply?
College officials, however, deny that their services foster segregation. Instead, they argue that the services promote diversity on campus. "We would be remiss if we didn't educate our students about the beauty and richness of the world we live in," said Marisela Martinez, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center at George Washington University, which was one of the universities criticized in the report. "Our center is an all-inclusive center. We have many students from all ethnic backgrounds who take part in the center's programs. It's all about teaching students to be better prepared to live and enjoy the diverse world we live in."
Ah, there's that word, "diversity", that is exalted above all, especially when it's been twisted to mean whatever a college administrator wants it to mean. I fail to understand how segregating students by race into dorms is a means to "educate our students about the beauty and richness of the world we live in". I fail to see how constantly equating a student's identity with his or her race is a means of teaching students to be "better prepared". Better prepared to deal with people like Ms. Martinez, I suppose, who would rather see students go to a multicultural center to practice "diversity" than participate in the genuine diversity of the entire campus environment.
I presume, of course, that all these segregationist tactics are meant to protect non-white students from a culture which allegedly rejects them, but if everyone is supposed to learn about everyone else, why shunt kids off into segregated dorms? How are white kids supposed to learn about Indian kids, and vice versa, if you don't let them room together? How are black kids going to realize that the entire campus, and all the attendant knowledge, is open to them, when segregated dorms and centers keep trying to isolate them?
Educators and civil libertarians said they found the coalition's report "troubling and sad and absolutely accurate." "Colleges and universities have a mania with group identity," said Thor Halvorssen, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "Colleges are underlining the differences between students instead of building bridges. What they are doing is promoting Balkanization, not a humane environment."
And we all know how the Balkan situation ended - at least, those of us who took European history classes, rather than "multicultural studies" classes.
A good kind of co-dependency
The Heartland Institute has a new article about the connection between the relationship between school accountability and school choice. An interview with noted education expert Chester Finn provides the following exchange:
[Interviewer] Clowes: Could you comment on the findings from the Manhattan Institute’s recent report on “What Do Teachers Teach?”
Finn: That report most vividly illustrates one of the hazards with the standards-based reform strategy, which is, of course, designed to change the present public school system. It turns out from the Manhattan data that a goodly fraction of teachers don’t buy into some central assumptions of standards-based reform, which are that states decide what students should learn, that teachers decide what goes on in the classroom, and that there ought to be a uniform standard against which student performance is judged. A lot of teachers don’t think state standards are very important; they prefer student-directed learning to teacher-directed learning, and to say that they grade on a curve would be putting it too kindly. They grade in kind of a relativistic way that seems to be child-specific rather than based in any single standard...That’s why I believe in a common metric against which schools’ performance can be measured. And that’s a seriously missing link in a lot of choice and marketplace scenarios.
Clowes: Do you see that common metric being state-based, or will it be a national standard?
Finn: I’m one of those people who busted a few bones trying, once upon a time, to advance the idea of national standards and national testing. That’s simply a non-starter in political terms in the United States today, however, and so whether I think it’s a good idea or not doesn’t much matter; it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. That leaves us with states as the place we have to look to, and that’s not a bad thing. They really do have both the constitutional and the fiscal responsibility for education, and the feds don’t. I also like the fact that we’re in a kind of naturally occurring experiment here, with different states doing different things, because I’m not sure any one of them has got it completely figured out yet and I don’t think we’re so close to perfect knowledge about education reform that we should be trying to clamp a single reform regimen on the whole country.
That's a neat way of thinking about that I hadn't considered. My hope is that we follow the lead of any state that does figure out the best method of education reform.
When racial epithets go unpunished
Michelle Malkin gets really wound up about a "hate crimes" hoax at Ol' Miss. The dorm rooms of several black students were defaced by horrible racial epithets and vandalism, and it was assumed the perpetrators were white. So it was a hate crime. Now that it's been revealed that several black students did this as a hoax, it's no longer "hate". Neither Ms. Malkin nor I agree with the current climate on campus, in which such crimes can result in federal prison time, if the perpetrator is white, but at most expulsion if the perpetrator is black. Her conclusion is excellent:
Where is the uproar over the hoaxers' callous use of lynching imagery and flagrant exploitation of the N-word--at Ole Miss of all places? And where is the national press on this matter? Fake hate crimes are an abhorrently common phenomenon on modern college campuses, where race-consciousness reigns in such a poisonous way that it would make integrationists weep. "Students of color" are herded into separate dorms, separate departments, and separate graduation ceremonies.
Segregation is back all right. But while the media elite's crack reporters are busy rummaging through the dustbins of old history in an effort to paint all conservatives as racially insensitive relics, they continue to ignore one of the outrageous race scandals of the 21st century: how the young beneficiaries of the civil rights movement are squandering and desecrating its legacy of equal respect and justice for all.
A word to the wise, and the not-so-wise
I'm beginning to notice a trend in the email I've been receiving. Well, several trends, really, some welcome, and some not. I figure now's the time to set a few ground rules:
Emails that are not welcome and will not receive more than a perfunctory, polite answer, if that much:
1. Emails in which the writer bitches non-stop about the existence of psychometrics, and standardized tests, and any sort of objective assessments. Some folks have well-thought-out and logical approaches to this viewpoint, and when I find their writings on the web, I try to link to them (and debunk them, of course). But the email I get along these lines tends to be from "trolls" - people who crank out a highly-emotionally-charged email that they know I'm going to disagree with every word of, and they're just trying to get a rise out of me. Not going to happen.
2. Emails in which the writer expresses his/her intent to sue a testing organization. I can understand that test takers, especially ones who get low and/or failing scores, want to to look for misbehavior (intentional or otherwise) on the part of the testing organization as a reason for their score. I can even understand that they might want to get the legal system involved to right the great wrong that has been done to them.
However, writing every psychometrician on the web isn't a productive means toward that end. The reason is not because we're all involved in some great conspiracy against the test takers, but because every test, and every testing organization, is founded on vastly differing rules when it comes to test scoring, quality analysis, test content, and protocol for dealing with challenges to the test. If you write me and ask me to help you sue, say, ETS because you think your score on the PRAXIS exam is flawed, I'm not going to be able to help you, because I've never worked on the PRAXIS. I don't know their scoring scheme, their test content specifications, or their rules for dealing with test center irregularities. I don't know what policy they follow if they accidentally administer a flawed item. Anyone who is an expert on PRAXIS either works on the exam now, or used to work on it, and they're not going to help you out, because all that material is either copyrighted, or confidential, or both.
This is not to say that no one can challenge a testing organization, because it happens. It just means that you're probably not going to get anyone who is an expert in the particular test you are challenging to help you, and you're certainly not going to be able to enlist random psychometricians in your quest. Proceed with caution.
Emails that are welcome, but that I may never get around to answering:
3. Emails in which the author names a particular new, relatively-unknown, or state-specific standardized exam, and then proceeds to ask me every possible question about that exam. I appreciate your curiosity, I really do, but if you toss an exam at me that I'm not familiar with, it will take me a lot of time to help you find, on the web or in print, public information such as test taker performance on the exam, or the number of years the exam has been operational. Some information I can't help you find, due to confidentiality reasons. I am an "expert" on exactly one test, which no one has ever asked me about, and am becoming an expert on four others, but even for those all I can do is help you find what's been published on these exams. Don't ask me to tell you the exact item content specifications, or the decisions that led to a certain scoring scheme, because I either won't know or can't tell you. I might be willing to forward your email to someone more informed than I, but there's no guarantee that they can or will reply.
Emails that are always welcome and that I will do my best to respond to:
4. Emails that are asking for clarification of general psychometric terms. Anytime you want someone to give you definitions and clarifications related to item response theory, test validity, test reliability, test equating, bias, differential item functioning, ipsative scoring, compensatory scoring, percentiles, norm-referenced or criterion-referenced scoring, computer-adaptive testing, or performance assessments, I'm your girl. I'll do my best to explain things to you.
5. Emails from concerned parents who just want someone to listen while they tear their hair out over the new testing requirements. My shoulder is always here for you to cry on, and I'll agree with you when you say it's idiotic that you weren't given a score report for your daughter's 6th-grade reading exam until after she graduated from Harvard. I may not be able to rectify any wrongs, but I can certainly sympathize with you about them.
6. Emails in which the author tips me off to a testing scandal in their state that didn't make the national news. Oooh, scoops and scandals. Always a good thing - I appreciate you tipsters out there.
7. Emails that tell me I rock, or that my blog is great. Enough said.
The diversity fraud
A good description of the diversity fraud that exists in higher education is in today's FrontPage magazine. Author Bruce Thornton nails the intent behind the lowered standards for minority applicants:
This brings us to the real basis for defining diversity: not the actual variety of Americans in terms of culture, religion, politics, or region, but participation in the exclusive club of anointed victims of white oppression. The black, the Hispanic, the Asian student–– all deemed to be victims of racist oppression no matter what their economic advantages or other differences–– are all courted in order to bring their experiences of oppression to the privileged enclaves of academe, where they can school teachers and fellow students alike about the crimes of white folks and their exclusionary prejudices.
What's happening in Japan?
Test scores are falling for Japan's students. They've apparently revised the school curriculum there, but school officials are quick to say that results are what they expected. Oddly enough, the article seems to focus more on individual items which fewer students answer correctly, rather than on the percentage of students answering items correctly.
The Santa Ana (CA - where else?) has found a way to deal with all those pesky students who insist on failing the exit exams - just create a 13th grade, so they have one more year to learn the material and pass the exam. Betcha didn't see that one coming, did you?
Here's that tough exam that students are being forced to pass in order to receive their diplomas:
The exam, which is geared to between a sixth- and 10th-grade learning level, is meant to ensure that high-school diplomas actually mean something. Students have multiple chances to take and pass the exam. According to recent scores, less than half of 11th-graders statewide passed the English and math portions of the test. In Santa Ana, as of July, about one-third of last year's sophomores had passed those two sections. Such statistics are undeniably challenging.
The exam is "geared to between a sixth- and 10th-grade learning level", but "less than half of 11th-graders statewide" pass it, so the problem must be with that unfair requirement that students learn enough in 12 years to pass a test that contains 8th-grade material. Adding one more year should do the trick - that is, if Santa Ana plans to get around to teaching that material in that 13th year, and can handle the additional cost and scheduling problems that will accompany such a massive change in the school structure. And notice that this means those students who fail the exit exam in the 12th grade aren't even (technically) being held back a year - they're still being promoted to this new grade 13. Wonders never cease.
Aren't teachers always supposed to be "teaching-in"?
The Oakland and San Francisco school districts plan to hold "teach-ins" about the war. Aside from the fact that, well, teachers should always be "teaching in" the classroom, the fact that these "lessons" will be modeled after 1960's anti-war demonstrations makes me skeptical as to whether the purpose here is education or propaganda:
Modeled after the 1960s Vietnam anti-war demonstrations, the intention of these teach-ins is to educate students about the causes and consequences of war, while making sure the information presented is grade-appropriate.
Any chance that one of those consequences of war being presented will be a nation freed from oppression and tyranny? I suppose the kids might not be up to WWI and WWII in their history classes yet, so they might be unaware of those monumental international clashes where violence was the answer. But how have they missed the more recent news of our success in Afghanistan? Perhaps their teachers, so obsessed with Vietnam, have not pointed out the recent celebrations of women freed by the American "war machine".
Oakland plans to provide a program for some 50,000 students that will not be mandatory. [Oakland School Board member and former anti-Vietnam War activist Dan] Siegel points out that educating students from K-12 is important because the war has and will have significant impact on their lives. Because billions of dollars spent on the military budget are siphoning resources from less affluent communities like Oakland, Siegel points out that government policies will directly affect funding for health care, education and social services.
I thought lefties were supposed to care about the oppressed peoples in other countries. And here Dan Siegel wants Oakland's schoolchildren to be concerned only with how fighting terrorism will affect their bottom line? Isn't this isolationist bean-counting something that right-wingers are always being accused of?
"If our government starts bombing Iraq, there can easily be tens of thousands of casualties as American citizens,” Siegel comments. “U.S. troops who will disproportionately represent poor communities like Oakland and working class, poor people and people of color will end up in the military.”
And the last time I checked, our all-volunteer military leaves that choice up to the "poor people and people of color", who presumably can decide for themselves if they'd like some serious technological training along with the pride of serving their country. Something tells me Dan has never felt that pride, or he wouldn't make such a condescending claim about our military's treatment of those minorities.
Teachers like Jonah Zern point out that such dialogue is often muffled by political rhetoric and media sensationalism about “terrorist nations.” “[Students] hear about war and it’s essential that we help them understand it and stop them from developing feelings of hatred,” Zern said. “The main message is to stop prejudice and hatred.”
No, the main message is to stop Islamic fascists from flying more airplanes into American civilian targets. See those "tens of thousands of casualties as American citizens" that Dan mentions above? I include the thousands who died on September 11th in that category, and I feel students should be quite free to hate those who caused these deaths. I also have noticed from reading blogs such as Little Green Footballs that the US mainstream media, especially the left wing, tends to consider any honest reporting about Arab atrocities to be "media sensationalism", rather than reality.
During a preliminary meeting to discuss the curriculum for Oakland schools, four committee members discussed the need to highlight the ramifications of war, terrorism, community safety, global unity, racial profiling and the threat to civil liberties.
Nice that they've dragged "racial profiling" into this. It's hard to have trust in the intentions of those who consider it "racial profiling" to notice the number of terrorist attacks against Americans and Israelis that have been committed by young Muslim men. And do you suppose these committee members will present the viewpoint that a just war could serve the purpose of global unity, mainly by killing off those who would rather die (and take many others with them) than allow religions other than Islam to exist?
Educators emphasized that students should be educated about U.S. relations with foreign countries and the history of the warring states. Board members hope to encourage students to discuss deeper issues of economics and freedom, security and safety and the conflicts that may occur as a result of a counter attack. “We hope that our children can build a better future — one that is based on a common understanding and a common humanity rather than a winner take all mentality,” Zern explained.
They only care about the children, you see, and want to make sure that children desire a "common humanity" with those who perpetrate inhuman acts against us. A common humanity, with those who wish only to kill us all. What a wonderful lesson for schoolchildren to learn.
Siegel points out that discussion with youth about war will be similar to discussion after the Sept. 11 attacks. However, the partially guided lesson plan will allow each school the flexibility to bring in both anti-war and pro-government policy speakers at the school’s discretion.
How nice that the lesson planners pride themselves on giving the schools the flexibility to present both sides of the story, as though they are granting a generous favor. How amusing that, "at the school's discretion", there might be a pro-government speaker. Do you think the San Francisco lefties will allow such a speaker to present freely and unharassed? Doubt it.
San Francisco School District is also planning a teach-in for students. Board members Eric Mar and Mark Sanchez drafted a similar measure for SFUSD shortly after the Oakland School Board passed its resolution. Inspired by community and grassroots groups such as International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), Not in Our Name, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition Against the War and United for Peace/Global Exchange, San Francisco Board members proposed a more detailed agenda.
My, what a balanced set of organizers that is. Nope, no indoctrination or propaganda here, just good old-fashioned historical education from radical socialists and craven, isolationist appeasers. Classic.
Said Zern: “The major problem about U.S. schools is that they’re too removed from engaging student in the world around them. This is just one instance in how teachers should be engaging their students to see how history is not just something of the past but it’s something they create.”
Yes, and they'll create history with these, hopefully.
Joanne Jacobs has the story as well. Kudos to one of her commenters (Jordan of The Passing blog) for pointing out that the Oakland Unified school district, the one that cares enough about its children to schedule these war teach-ins, has a miserable 43% graduation rate, according to this report (scroll to page 25).
The round of holiday parties has begun. Got two parties today - my company party and my local pub party - following a class in Bayesian Data Analysis (so my brain will be appropriately torqued and ready for eggnog). Bloggage will resume tomorrow.
Great moments in scholarship
The Columbia University Board of Trustees has voted to rescind the 2001 Bancroft Prize that was awarded to disgraced scholar Michael Bellesiles. I don't have a link yet, just the email that came around on a mailing list:
Columbia University's Trustees have voted to rescind the Bancroft Prize awarded last year to Michael Bellesiles for his book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture. The Trustees made the decision. Based on a review of an investigation of charges of scholarly misconduct against Professor Bellesiles by Emory University and other assessments by professional historians. They concluded that he had violated basic norms of scholarship and the high standards expected of Bancroft Prize winners. The Trustees voted to rescind the Prize during their regularly scheduled meeting on December 7, 2002 and have notified Professor Bellesiles of their decision.
There will be more to come on the web soon, I'm sure.
Give me a break
I got this in my inbox today, scrolled off a forum. I'm posting it anonymously, for reasons that should be evident. I'm pretty sure it's a hoax, as evidenced by lack of specific information (which test is the author complaining about?) and gross mispellings and grammatical errors, and it's a pretty offensive hoax at that. For future reference, I'm not interested in this kind of correspondence, be it hoax or genuine.
well you can tell me why they even give the tests. do you know how long they take. and you dont even let us study for them. they are not fair to. my friend jacob always get all a but when he take that big test he get so nervus that he do bad. mom said they are a waste of time an money cuz there is no way to say that is how kids realy do. some kids jes dont test well. they are nervus or scared or bored an you cant blame um those tests are sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo long. after while some my friends say they jes mark whatever so they can be done. when i was in 2nd grade all my test score say 11th grade. an 2nd page was all 4s. so wat does that mean. mom said it does not mean i pos to be in 11th grade it jes mean i am doin well. so if results dont mean wat they say an test dont realy show how kids are doin then i do want to know why take um. i dont like um i worry bout takin um an they are a pain in the but.
Making the grade
Thousands of third-graders in Miami might be held back a grade next year if they score in the lowest tier of the reading portion of the FCAT. These standards, if applied last year, would have resulted in over twenty-three times more third-graders being held back than actually were - 8,304 (out of total of 28,050) would have been made to repeat the grade, as opposed to the 350 who were actually held back.
That's a pretty damn big discrepancy. The larger number includes limited-English proficiency students who would be exempt from this rule, although it makes me wonder just how long a student is allowed to have "limited" English proficiency in Miami's schools. What's more, a kid can pass by scoring in any of the top four (of five) levels of the test, which means that only kids who completely bottom out on the test will be held back. Nevertheless, the Chicken Littles are out in force over this one:
''We know that all schools are going to have some'' this year, said Mercedes Toural, Miami-Dade associate superintendent for education. ``You may have in a given school 70 percent of the kids retained....We're going to have kids shaving before they get out of the third grade,'' Toural said.
Well, Ms. Toural, just what is wrong with your school system that you don't think you can teach a kid to read English at a very basic level by the time he hits puberty? Are we supposed to conclude from your statement that the FCAT is somehow at fault here? Here's a specific example:
At Croissant Park Elementary in Fort Lauderdale, 67 of 144 fourth-graders scored at Level 1 -- the lowest reading level -- last year [that's 47%, in case you were wondering]. In the third grade, 50 students of 148 [or 34%] scored that low. Here's what happened -- and what might happen this year.
Of the 67 Level 1 children last year, 12 were promoted because they didn't speak English and 17 were promoted because they are in special education. Thirty-nine students were promoted because they passed a different test that school officials said showed they could read. Seven were retained and one student withdrew.
What different test are we talking about here? When do we expect those 12 students to be able to speak English? Why do we expect them to do well in the fourth grade if they can't speak English?
Under the new rule, only the 12 non-English speakers would be automatically passed. The other 56 would be question marks.
As well they should be. I'd like to know a lot more about that alternate reading test, and I'd like to know how long those 12 non-English-speaking third-graders have been in the Miami school system.
Opponents also point to research that suggests students who have been held back become discouraged and are more likely to drop out when they reach high school. ''I'm concerned about the frustration of children who are making adequate progress in reading but still score low,'' said Alejandro Pérez, first-year principal of Comstock Elementary School in Miami. Last year, 44 percent of Comstock's third-graders scored at the lowest level in reading, and the school received its second F grade in four years from the state.
The test critics seem to be redefining words here. Almost half of Comstock's third-graders scored in the bottom fifth of the FCAT. How on earth does he conclude that any of those children are making adequate progress in reading? You can argue all you want about whether one test should be used to make a pass/fail decision, but it's not as though Florida is setting a draconian reading standard. The state is simply trying to address the fact that substantial amounts of its third-graders can't pass more than 20% of the reading questions on the FCAT.
Here's more on the law:
The law is written in strict language, with only six narrowly defined exceptions. Learning-disabled students would be exempt if standardized testing is considered inappropriate, as would non-English-speaking students who have been in limited-English-proficiency classes for less than two years. A student whose other classroom work demonstrates acceptable reading skills could also be advanced, but neither the state nor the district has decided what that ''classroom portfolio'' would look like.
Ok, so presumably the non-English-speaking third-graders have been in school for less than two years, but again, I don't see how passing them on to the fourth-grade is going to help. And "portfolios" - ooo, now we're talking some tough psychometrics. Portfolios are expensive to administer and to grade, very difficult to grade reliably, very difficult to equate, and subject to variations in rater stringency. They are inherently more tricky to administer and score than multiple-choice items, and although Florida is used to its Everglades and alligators, the state should think carefully before wading into that particular testing swamp.
"We're downplaying the test"
Howard County (MD) schools did worse on MSPAP scores this year, leading a spokesman for the Department of Education to downplay the results. This is the last year this test will be used, however, for it assesses at the school level only. The Maryland School Assessment (MSA) is the replacement for the MSPAP, but the article does not say exactly when the MSA will go into effect. Officials noted that some schools were allowed to opt out of the MSPAP this year.
Teaching the teachers a lesson
Schools in California are holding workshop to help teachers better meet the needs of poverty-stricken students. What are they learning in the workshops led by Paul Slocumb, aTexas-based presenter and former educator?
Children who have a small vocabulary and cannot express themselves may act out in frustration, anger or embarrassment...Boys with limited vocabularies tend to act out more with female teachers because embarrassment in front of women equals shame for them, Slocumb said.
Also, poor children tend to live in homes with little space, loud background noise and many people. They're unlikely to have a consistently quiet place to do homework and they may not do it at all, Slocumb said. To spare themselves embarrassment, children may fabricate reasons why they didn't do homework in order to "save face," he said...
Reaching these students may make a difference in their performance and could increase standardized test scores for a school in the long run, said Moreno Elementary Principal Deborah Fay. "We're trying to raise test scores and we're trying to raise the quality of education for everyone," Fay said. "This helps."
...teachers learned to recognize patterns of behavior and how to get children to plan for tasks they are assigned. When some students receive an assignment, they don't always know the sequence of events needed to accomplish the task, according to Payne's research. Children who cannot plan something perform poorly on tests, Slocumb said.
Not bad. This sounds like genuine,"put yourself in the kid's shoes to help him reach his goals"-type thinking, not an "expect less of these kids" attitude. Teaching kids to plan is a super idea - I could have used that when I was in high school. And perhaps the school can provide a quiet place after hours for homework - an old-fashioned study hall of sort - to counter-balance a noisy home life.
Challenging the MCAS
Teachers are complaining about an item on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) - but state officials are refusing to throw out the item. The item-accuracy record so far is not promising:
By [Education Commissioner] Driscoll's count, since 1998 the state has discovered four multiple-choice questions that had either no correct answer or more than one. The most prominent of those surfaced last week, when officials granted credit to hundreds of high school seniors after one student successfully argued there was an alternate answer to a question on the 10th-grade math test. As a result, 449 more students were lifted over the MCAS hurdle they must clear to graduate from high school.
Four items in six years may not sound like a lot, but not even one item with no key should make it through the inspection process - unless that process is flawed, of course. For the big testing companies, maybe one flawed item makes it onto the test every 10 to 20 years. Four items in six years is worrisome.
''I'm just very concerned about who's responsible for screening items,'' said Anne M. Collins, director of the Partnerships Promoting Student Achievement in Mathematics, housed at Boston College...
...as well she should be...
In the case last week approving an alternative answer in the 10-grade math test, the question required applying the concept of binary numbers and exponential powers to pick the next in the sequences of dot patterns. A senior at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School offered an alternative answer based on a pattern she discerned visually, not mathematically. Math professors at Boston College, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tufts University all agreed that it was appropriate for the state to grant credit. But the question, they said, left much to be desired.
''Standardized test questions that ask students to get the next pattern are inappropriate,'' said Al Cuoco, director of the Center for Mathematics Education at Education Development Center Inc. in Newton. ''What that question asked students to do was guess what's on the mind of the test writers.''
That's never a good thing. A great deal of money and training should be - or should have been - poured into test development and quality assurance for test items. While the schools are under pressure to produce tests very quickly for accountability purposes, they should be sure to keep Minnesota in mind:
Last month, Minnesota's testing contractor agreed to pay $7 million to families of students denied diplomas two years ago because of a scoring error.
A foolproof way to raise the average SAT score
Wow, I think I have my first real "scoop" here. I just got a heads-up from a contact in North Carolina, who says that Fox News was there last week to film a story about a little scandal that the Raleigh News and Observer discovered in late November. The NandO website charges you a fee if you want to download the entire story, but here's the snippet is allegedly available for free from NandO (I used the search engine on the front page but was not able to pull anything up):
Some steered from SAT
SMITHFIELD -- Victoria Strickland, 17, has wanted to be a teacher "forever." Her favorite teachers, such as her social studies instructors at Smithfield-Selma Senior High, "really know their stuff." She hopes to go to community college, then transfer to a four-year school. But according to the Johnston County Schools, she's not the kind of student who should take the SAT. While many school systems in North Carolina encourage all interested
And that's all you get, and I couldn't get to it online, so perhaps that's why I haven't seen it blogged anywhere. What's the actual story? Here's the email from my informant:
Thought you'd also be interested in a topic from here in Johnston County, NC. Apparently, the county school district has urged school counselors to begin dissuading certain high school students from taking the SAT. Those dissuaded are those who don't have plans for college and those who would not likely (in the counselor's opinion) be successful at a traditional four-year institution.
Besides the obvious point that one of the reasons the SAT was created in the first place was to discourage this new example of "the soft bigotry of low expectations," there is the wrinkle of local politics and test score manipulation. Apparently, the school board wanted the district's SAT average to rise so that they could compete with surrounding areas for new residents, industry, etc. Of course, one way to boost SAT scores would be to have kids actually learn more (focus/refine the curriculum, encourage enrollments in honors courses, add AP courses, etc.). Another way to boost scores would be to trim the lower end of the distribution. The route selected by the Johnston County folks is just another example of the way tests are misused and how testing gets a bad rap. I think if there were a Better Business Bureau for testing, these guys would be on the bad list....
Although the NandO covered this story in November, if the Fox News story airs nationally, it won't do so until tonight, so you guys are getting the scoop from me.
I find this as appalling as my informant does (and, presumably, as Fox News does as well). I come from a state that traditionally has low SAT scores - South Carolina - and I believe that one of the reasons for the low average was that, at least at my high school, EVERYONE was encouraged to take the SAT, even those students who didn't plan on attending college. The rationale was that some students who didn't think of themselves as college material might change their minds if they earned a promising SAT score (my mother fell into that category, believe it or not).
Guidance counselors who discourage students from taking the SATs, in order to "trim" the bottom part of the curve and thus improve the average, are acting despicably. I know that college is not for everyone. If a kid decides that he doesn't want to go to college and wants the guidance counselor to tell him what his other options are, that's a case in which perhaps the kid's parents shouldn't waste their money on the SAT. Even in that situation, though, I would expect the guidance counselor to strongly urge the student to take the SAT just to see how they do, and to have that score on file if they change their minds and plan to attend college. Guidance counselors are just as aware as the rest of us that most high-paying jobs these days depend on a college degree.
However, what seesm to be happening here is that students who DO want to go to college, and want guidance as to the best way to get there, are being advised not to take the SAT simply because the guidance counselor doesn't feel they would do well on the exam. There is no reason - not one - to discourage such a student (or any student, really) from taking the exam - except to protect the school's average SAT score. That way, the school can report an "increase" in average SAT score by doing nothing other than discouraging students from attempting even a community college program. Absolutely despicable.
Why can't Johnny stumble?
Steve Giegerich of The Associated Press reports on a disturbing new phenomenon - parents complaining about their children's grades, insisting on classes being rescheduled, and questioning the validity of classroom assignments. You may wonder what's so new or disturbing about that. After all, parents should be involved in their children's education, right?
The new - and VERY disturbing part - is that we're talking about college students here.
Now, to the dismay of...academics, angry parents are introducing themselves much sooner [than at graduation] to professors and departments heads as they complain about their children's grades. Faculty members also say moms and dads sometimes pressure officials to register students in mandatory courses that are filled to capacity and question the intent of classroom assignments...
Academics have several theories on what's caused the spike in complaints. [Professor Gary] Stokley calls it the logical progression for parents accustomed to directing their children's lives. Parents' attitude is "I've been involved with my kid in high school and I want to be involved with my kid in college," Stokley said...
"They don't realize that sometimes they just have to let little Johnny stumble and make his own mistakes and learn from them," said Teresa Sherwood, assistant chair of the mathematics department at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash.
Looks like professors are now dealing with the same group of trouble-making parents that K12 teachers have always dealt with - those parents who confuse being "involved" with being demanding, those who ask for special treatment for their oh-so-special child, and those who feel that if there's any dispute between teacher and child, the teacher simply must be at fault. My guess is that at least some of the time, the student is at fault - those situations in which a student tries to explain away a low grade by complaining about the professor.
I understand that parents are often footing large bills, and that some schools have seriously biased professors who attempt to mold the students' political beliefs rather that imparting any serious knowledge. The website NoIndoctrination.org was started by a concerned parent of a college student, and I'd want to know if my kid's economics class contained nothing but Marxist blather. On the other hand, it's not the parent's role to step in and refuse to be indoctrinated, or debate the professor, or figure out how to make best use of the academic resources. The college education is for the student, not the parent, and college students need to be free to figure things out for themselves.
For example, I know that my own students have complained a bit about my grading scale, which is allegedly tougher than that of any other professor in my department. Yeah, I seriously doubt that too. Regardless, my students are all independent enough that I would imagine any one of them would be mortified if Mom or Pop decided to email me to bitch about their last exam grade, or insist they take the final early in order to come home earlier. If a parent did call me, and ask why I gave "little" Johnny an F in Statistics, I'd have to bite my tongue from spitting out, "I didn't give Johnny that F - he earned it all by himself."
Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for finding the story.
When teachers make the tests
Tennessee high school students are taking the Gateway exams this week - exams that were developed in large part by their teachers. A stroke of genius - or a recipe for disaster? Let's see:
The Gateway exams that Tennessee high school students are taking this week, tests they must pass to graduate, were developed in large part by teachers — teachers who knew best what students were learning in their algebra, biology and English classes but who also had some stake in how well students performed on the exams. A committee of teachers and other educators also set the passing scores for each of the three tests...
States are moving away from one-size-fits-all tests purchased from national testing companies and toward exams tailored for their specific standards and curriculum. But the process isn't foolproof. Teachers could be vulnerable to pressure to make the tests easier to pass so schools' scores look better...
There's another valid criticism of this process quoted in the article that comes from - amazingly - FairTest (it's a shame that the article couldn't interview an actual psychometrician on this topic, though). Teachers could make the tests more difficult, instead of easier. Test developers and item writers are trained to produce items that vary in difficulty, whereas teachers may be more likely to produce items that cluster near the top of the ability scale. Also, there's the possibility that the overall difficulty level of each exam will vary according to which group of teachers are involved, but a solid equating process (and a set of item-writing guidelines) can correct for some of that.
Further down in the article, it becomes apparent that Tennessee put a substantial amount of guidelines in place, and that the items were originally created by trained item writers before being modified with teacher input:
The test questions themselves were written primarily by testing experts from CTB/McGraw-Hill, the company that produces the standardized tests Tennessee students take in grades 3-8. Teachers, however, had input, Deborah Williams said.
''Each (test question) went through a review committee. We measured it against the performance indicators to see if it exactly reflected them. We've rejected lots and lots of them.''
Testing experts also reviewed each question for any potential racial, gender, socioeconomic or other bias. That's an essential part of creating a good test, said Joan Herman, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing.
There's no real basis for saying that teacher input on items produced by testing experts is necessarily a bad thing. The article does note, however, that scores jumped on the teacher-input biology exam to a 94% passing rate, while only about 77% passed the (non-teacher-input) algebra test. But I can think of a reason why this passing rate jumped without resorting to the accusation that teachers made the test easier so that more of their students could pass.
Teachers - at least those who listen to the official proclamation of their unions - tend to be hostile towards testing. Who can blame them? After all, it's the teachers who work hard all year to impart knowledge, and then here comes this official standardized test from up on high, with items written by test developers who don't have to deal with 30 rambunctious kids a day and who aren't responsible for getting the little ones to settle down and learn lots of reading and math and science. The teachers probably feel like they do all the dirty work, and then if the test scores are miserable, the teachers are judged negatively just as much as, if not more than, the kids.
When teachers are given the opportunity to help develop the test items, however, they're going to feel more involved with the process. They're going to see the standards and guidelines clearly laid out, and they're going to learn something new about how to accurately test academic ability. I think that if the teachers' attitude towards testing is improved, and teachers have a better idea of what the test is actually trying to measure, that knowledge and confidence will translate into more effective teaching in the classroom. Hence the higher test scores when teachers become involved.
The Philadelphia Story
A charter school in Philadelphia has gone from being on the verge of extinction, due to rock-bottom test scores, to having some of the top test scores in the state.The World Communications Charter School, located on the historical Avenue of the Arts, turned its students around with smaller classes and - surprise surprise - higher standards, and a more intensive testing schedule:
Over the last four years the school has started monthly student skills tests in all academic subjects. A year-round internship program puts high school students in professional workplaces in lieu of classes one day a week.
There's three hours of mandatory Saturday school for 8th- and 11th-graders and others needing help, a twice-weekly standardized test prep class for 11th-graders and advanced placement reading and math classes...
But the extra work that World Communications loaded on its students is only part of the recipe for its turnaround. Just as important: small class sizes in the upper grades. The senior class is, in fact, a class; there are only 30 of them. And, as Ryder points out, most of its members have been at the school since middle-school age, which means they have had full advantage of World Communications' program...
But the workload's a factor, too. World Communications requires students to take more academic courses than at district schools, including calculus and physics.
Bravo. I particularly like this, which reveals the popularity of the high disciplinary standards that these urban schoolkids adhere to:
World Communications' students appear no different than students at any city school. They wear uniforms. Lots of boys braid their hair like Allen Iverson. They wisecrack and cut up. But what's missing is the environment-shattering violence that too often paralyzes public schools. About three to five students are asked to leave each year due to discipline problems, said Ryder.
Students and teachers also said the school is firm on discipline, which they appreciate.
Yet more evidence that letting urban students off the hook for both academic and behavioral standards, and giving such students credit "just for showing up", doesn't do the school or the students any good.
Psychometricians = fascists
The hyperbole and hysteria of the anti-testing crowd reasserts itself in the letters to the editor of the October 2002 volume of the Sunburst newsletter (California Council for the Social Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1). I don't have the original letter, but here's Professor Bill Evers' (of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution) reply in full:
Professor Perry Marker (Letters, May 2002) asserts that standards and testing are “mayhem” and “madness.” On the contrary, “mayhem” best describes what inadequate education is doing to the lives of children from poor households and racial and language minorities. It would be “madness” to continue to cheat these children out of life’s opportunities. Only if we have high expectations about student performance (and persevere in the tests that tell us how students are actually performing) will the real mayhem and madness end.
Professor Marker also asserts that standards and testing in California are “fascist” approaches to learning. He should study history: The German national socialists had a disdain for book-learning and academic test-taking skills, which they regarded as Jewish. This national-socialist disdain is remarkably similar to some progressive educators’ disdain for factual knowledge, skills, and tests. Likewise, as Cristina Allemann-Ghionda has pointed out, Italians and other Europeans in the child-centered, progressive “éducation nouvelle” movement supported and provided advice for Mussolini’s fascist education reform of 1923. There’s nothing fascist about California’s standards and tests, but it is truly fascist to show disrespect for facts, skills, and tests.
Bill Evers, Ph.D., Stanford University
Way to go, Bill. "Fascist" is definitely one of those labels that left-wingers rush to apply to anyone who disagrees with them, but it has a very specific historical meaning. Any sloppy use of the word quickly reveals the user as a sloppy thinker.
"Eliminate affirmative action"
Wendy McElroy makes a strong argument for eliminating affirmative action in university admissions in this article on the Fox News website. Ms. McElroy has never been shy about stating her mind, and here she takes the left-wingers to task for hijacking the word, "equality", now defined by them as "using a tax-funded institution to systematically privilege one class of people at the expense of another":
Advocates of affirmative action use skin color or gender to create class privileges by harking back to historical inequities. Because some classes were once legally oppressed, it is argued that they must be privileged today. Class privilege becomes good or bad depending on who receives it.
Just one of the problems with this position is the fact that the individuals being privileged today were not the ones oppressed in the past. Moreover, the individuals being legally oppressed today have committed no offense...
The Left has accomplished a political sleight-of-hand par excellence. Arguing for a legal system and tax-supported institutions that are color and gender blind is now called elitist. Equality is now defined as privileges based on color and gender.
These sorts of comments are analogous to test score criticisms that I have read. "Fairness" for tests is now no longer defined as "every test taker is graded objectively on items that measure only the educational ability in question", but instead as "every subgroup must perform at the same level". Group mean differences, which still exist in standardized testing (and almost every other educational assessment) are presented as "proof" that tests are "biased", even though this is not the correct definition of bias, and group mean differences are no proof of item or test bias. It seems that the word "bias" has been hijacked and liberated from any psychometric meaning, so that testing critics can claim that tests are inherently discriminatory against certain subgroups.
Both claims of test bias and the use of affirmative action in college admissions cover up the real problem. SAT items are not biased against minorities, so why the test score gap? Why is it necessary to use affirmative action now in order to boost minority enrollment in college? What happens with the school system so that minorities do less well on the SATs and need a "boost" in order to go to college? The K12 educational system is the means to an end, and "fixing" the ends - revising the SAT, or discounting it altogether - doesn't improve the means.
Because my archives are snafued, I just changed the page so that 75 of my most recent posts will appear (as opposed to 25), and the page will archive on a monthly, rather than weekly, basis. Hence, this page will become very very long, but at least my postings will vanish into the maw of Blogger's "archives" only every month or so.
Interesting email from Devoted (some might say Obsessed) Reader Mike McKeown of Mathematically Correct:
FYI - get it from a second source and it is yours to use.
In your wonderful orgy of posting these last few days, you had one on the new Texas test. I haven't seen the test, but have heard rumors that they made the test harder without actually raising the math level.
As you may remember, there is an article on 2+2 about the previous Texas test in which it was noted that many of the 'algebra' problems could be answered relatively easily without knowing or doing algebra [Not sure, but I think he means this article]. This is one of the things the new test is supposed to fix. Unfortunately, the new test is harder, but by making the trappings of the problem more difficult to sort through, but leaving the non-Algebra back door open.
This is the worst of both worlds. I believe the test designers and ed folk were given this message explicitly, but I don't know if they fixed it.
Verrrrry interesting. I find it hard to believe that test developers were explicitly told to make the problems "more difficult to sort through", but it could be that they were told to make the test more difficult without changing the basic algebra requirements needed to pass it. Which doesn't make sense, I agree. If the algebra items on the old test could be answered without algebra knowledge, then the items are not useful as indicators of algebra mastery. If algebra mastery is the standard, than changing the surface content of the items without changing the algebra knowledge required doesn't improve the item in any way - if anything, adding more words to items makes a test taker's performance more dependent on reading and reasoning ability, rather than math ability.
"We can take your children away"
More homeschooling battles in Illinois - this time the truant officers are after Roger Channell, who is homeschooling his two children in a rural county. Parents are determined to fight what they see as persecution by regional school superintendent Bruce Dennison:
[Mr. Dennison] says it's his duty to make sure children are being educated, either in the classroom or in home schools.Dennison said he sends a truant officer out to homes, usually in response to outside complaints, looking for documents such as lesson plans, textbooks and attendance records."We'd like to work with parents in a variety of ways in an attempt to gain some information. If folks are unwilling to share anything, then we are in a very difficult situation," Dennison said.
So Dennison has sent out letters to some parents summoning them to "pretrial hearings," while his office has referred others to the state's attorney's office for prosecution. [Meanwhile, Roger Channell claims that truant officers said to him, "We can take your children away," during a recent surprise visit to his home.]
At the heart of the controversy is a fundamental disagreement on what the state can demand from home-school families. Both sides agree that Illinois is one of the most lenient settings in the country for home-schooling. State law requires only that parents place children between 7 and 16 in school. Home schools are permitted if they teach the same broad subjects taught to children of the same age and grade in public schools...in Illinois, the law does not even require parents to notify the state or school officials when they are home-schooling their children. Attorneys for home-school parents say Dennison is overstepping his authority, and have advised families not to comply with his demands.
What's his secret?
Whiz kid Craig Chasseur has impressed even the College Board - by making top scores on just about every standardized test he's ever taken. The SAT, the ACT, the PSAT, the AP Calculus exam....Craig chews 'em up and spits 'em out:
The Saginaw News reported in the summer of 2001 that Chasseur, 18, achieved the highest possible scores on the SAT -- a 1,600 -- and the ACT, a 36, as a high school sophomore. Early on in high school, Chasseur also achieved the highest possible score on his PSAT exam, another test used to determine a student's potential to succeed in college....Those tests mark the beginning of a laundry list of grueling exams -- which leave many high-achieving students with nervous stomachs and sleepless nights -- that Chasseur has bested. In the past 16 months, he has aced SAT II subject tests in writing, physics and math. Chasseur also has scored high on eight Advanced Placement Program examinations in a variety of subjects, scoring perfect 5s on two calculus, two physics and a psychology exam.
"For him to score well on exams across so many disciplines is amazing," said Jennifer Topiel, a spokeswoman for The College Board -- which administers the PSAT, SAT and Advanced Placement tests.
Is Craig some sort of dweeby grind who has mastered only the boring, non-creative, lower-order thinking that test critics claim is measured by these tests?
Chasseur also has: Won a national championship in the Junior Engineering Technical Society's Tests of Engineering Aptitude Math and Science -- JETS TEAMS -- contest with his classmates at SASA...Competed as part of Michigan's team in the American Regions Math League, an international math competition...Attended the Equinox program at Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development for the past two summers to take philosophy courses in modern political thought and ethics...Visited cities across Japan -- including Tokushima, Saginaw's sister city -- on a goodwill trip with a contingent of teachers and students from SASA.
Nope, doesn't sound like a "lower-order" thinker to me.
No "wealth test"
This commentary on a study in the Phi Delta Kappan (December 2002, Volume 84, Number 4) showed up in my inbox today. The author of the study is Rebecca Zwick, a well-known and respected psychometrician, and the title is, "Is the SAT a 'Wealth Test?" There's no link, so I'll quote the email in full:
The author shows that yes, scores on the SAT I college entrance test correlate with SES, but no more and no less than every other measure of achievement--coachable and uncoachable tests, curriculum-based tests (SAT II, ACT, Calif. high school exit exam), high-school grades, and NAEP. She shows that SAT I is similar to SAT II in this regard. ("The coefficients for the SAT I tests were not consistently found to be more sensitive to the introduction of the socioeconomic status variables than the coefficients for the SAT II tests." page 309) "[The] evidence fails to support the claim that score gaps result mainly from the inclusion of esoteric test content that is more familiar to upper-crust test-takers or from inequalities in access to coaching services." (p. 310)
This is not surprising. Yes, kids who come from wealthier families have a leg up on the educational process, but there is nothing inherent in the SAT - or in any other high-stakes standardized test - that exacerbates this gap. Critics of high-stakes tests often claim the tests measure nothing but SES, or the parent's income, but that has not been shown to be any more true for standardized tests than for other educational assessments. This study is a good defense against the slippery slope of those who would remove any effect of SES from the educational process - the critics of today who oppose the SAT will be the critics of tomorrow who oppose grades, or NAEP scores, because they're related to family income as well.
Thumbs up for charter schools
The Detroit Free Press reports that 72% of Michiganders (honest, that's the term they use) support charter schools - but, surprise surprise, a bill to create more of them has been stalled by politicians
:A new survey shows 72 percent of Michiganders support charter schools, but a bill to create more of them can't seem to find enough support in the state House. The Republican-controlled House fell five votes shy of a 56-vote majority needed Tuesday night to pass the bill...
Surveys that show large support for charters don't sway people like Brian Whiston, director of legislative affairs at Oakland Schools, the county's intermediate school district. Oakland Schools has opposed the legislation...Charters "sound like a great concept," when people are just asked whether they support them, Whiston said. "Most would say, 'Yeah, parents should have that right.' But when they understand that there's no accountability for their tax dollars and no accountability for student performance," they rebel, he said.
Oh really? Would these be the same parents who are rebelling because the teachers' unions are fighting accountability in public schools? Whose administrators are winning awards solely for fighting standardized test score accountability? Because the public schools have failed their children so miserably that accountability has been federally mandated?
Something tells me Mr. Whiston is doing his best to promote charter schools as anything-goes madhouses where children are allowed to run free all day, rather than the back-to-basics schools that may provide better accountability and better use of tax funds than do the public schools.
No Child Left Untutored
School administrators are struggling to implement tutoring programs mandated by the NCLB act, reports Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. Not only are schools having trouble finding tutors to bring poverty-stricken, low-performing students up-to-speed, per the tutoring requirement of the NCLB act known as the "supplemental services" provision, identifying those students in the first place isn't all that easy:
Identifying eligible students -- those who live in poverty and attend persistently troubled schools -- isn't a cakewalk either. In Baltimore, where administrator Mary Yakimowski is grappling with the law, the high student-mobility rate makes it difficult to determine the number of kids who live in poverty and attend troubled schools...
"Here's an analogy of what it's been like," said Yakimowski, the research, evaluations and accountability officer Baltimore's school system. "Let's say you are building a house, and all the materials are there. You have the lumber, the windows have arrived and the wiring, too. You know the materials are there to build a nice three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath house, but what you haven't received are the blueprints. You don't know where anything is supposed to go."
As a hope-to-be-soon homeowner, I can sympathize.
American History "F"
A Latin American student reports on passing his midterm in an American History class at a public high school in NYC. He did just fine without studying much - and was appalled both at the number of students who failed, and at the coddling attitude of the teacher. He also was offended by the essay topic, taken from a NY Regents' exam:
Then, when I finished that step, I went to the last one, which was the essay. I'll quote to you the topic.
"Theme: Equality. In United States history, the rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", as stated in the Declaration of Independence, have often been denied to certain groups of Americans."
I didn't like this topic. I personally think that, in a school of mostly non-white kids, constantly raising the topic of racism and discrimination (as we do) just keeps people finding excuses for failure, instead of trying to improve themselves. And also, of course, feeling hostility towards the "main oppressor" - whites. (No distinction between them)...
Most kids got low grades. And the teacher, who holds very strong liberal ideals and constantly makes everybody notice how GUILTY she feels for being white, started desperately justifying them, trying to make them feel that, regardless of their poor performance, they were still very intelligent and capable - thus eliminating any possibility of the kids realizing that they need to improve.
I want to make clear that I am not writing this letter in order to demonstrate how intelligent I am for doing better than a bunch of non-white New Yorker kids on a very easy test, no way!
The fact is that this American History test is something that anybody in a well-educated country should be able to pass easily, as I did. But New York City public schools in my experience are designed for non-white kids (the large majority) to graduate without any effort! Most teachers I have encountered are very worried about being politically correct. They don't want to discriminate against school kids. Failing some and passing others would mean that there are indeed superiors and inferiors. We can’t have that!
I think that constantly raising the topics of racism and oppression does make things worse. What's more, I believe that the constant racializing that is currently present on college campuses, in the sense of isolating students of certain races or holding them to a separate set of standards because of race, not only damages race relations, but gives members of minority groups an excuse for any failures, and a false sense of racial identity that is politically motivated. Dr. Alan Kors, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses, and President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has more to say about this:
I think that the more racial, social engineering that universities have tried and the more they have tried to tell people "You are your race," "You are your sex," "You are your sexuality," the worse, not the better human relations have become. It should be obvious to anyone with open eyes that every year, our universities become more balkanized and more segregated.
The second aspect of it that really ought to trouble people is that students who could have applied to historically black colleges and universities, students who could have chosen to go to school with people just like them, but chose to go to universities that are supposed to be in a real sense "diverse," those students are told "Here's what it means to be black," "Here's what it means to be female," "Here's what it means to be Latino," "Here's what it means to be Asian American," "Here's what it means to be gay." And [they are taught] it's one politics, one voice, one worldview, one set of answers that depend upon externalities. You have to go back to the Third Reich and notions of German physics and Jewish physics to find that kind of racialism that exists now.
Think he's exaggerating? Go read Suzanne Field's article in the Washington Times entitled, "The soft bigotry of campus paternalism":
Stanford students and administrators have been mildly embarrassed — there may be hope yet — since a civil rights organization exposed them in a study titled: "The Stigma of Inclusion: Racial Paternalism/Separatism in Higher Education." The New York Civil Rights Coalition reports that color-coded universities encourage a "balkanized campus environment" and that minority students at Stanford are "indoctrinated" into a separate track for "special treatment" that many of them did not ask for, or expect, when they applied for admission.
The New York civil-rights report finds ethnic theme houses part of a larger disturbing "educational" problem. Their survey of colleges reveals a segregationist agenda of race and ethnicity permeating every facet of campus life — academic courses, counseling, remedial programs and socializing, all hiding behind clever euphemisms and pretty facades of diversity. Ethnic houses actually encourage what they decry, by infantilizing students, pampering them in their ethnic insecurities and creating a divisiveness through racial stereotyping.
Can anyone explain to me just how "ethnic housing" is qualitatively different from segregation?
Joanne Jacobs has more on racial excuses and mandatory victimhood at The Jewish World Review today. She has also discovered the excellent blog Discriminations, which is "the place to go for commentary on racial preferences in university admissions". Good stuff.
I figure many of you are already aware of the availability of ETS Research Reports online, but if not, you should head over to ETS's Research Report website and download a few (you'll need Adobe Acrobat on your computer). Here are the direct links to articles related to topics that I've discussed recently on this blog. Oh, and if you're a layperson, don't be afraid - ETS Research Reports are very reader-friendly.
RR-02-17 Burton, N. W., Whitman, N. B., Yepes-Baraya, M., Cline, F., & Myung-in Kim, R. Minority student success: The role of teachers in Advanced Placement Program® (AP®) courses (College Board Research Report 2002-58). (abstract only)
RR-02-11 Cahalan, C.,Mandinach, E. B.,Camara, W. J. Predictive validity of SAT I: Reasoning Test for test-takers with learning disabilities and extended time accommodations (College Board Report No. 2002-05).
And that's just what's online for this year. The sheer volume of high-quality research that flows out of ETS on a near-constant basis never fails to amaze me. I was also happy to see Cara Cahalan as an author on three of the articles listed above. She was an intern at ETS at the same time that I was, and she went to work for them shortly thereafter. She's a super-nice person and a good psychometrician, and it is reassuring to see her name on the articles related to accommodated testing and flagging. A busy woman, she is.
And no, I haven't had time to read all these yet. Got to meet with a real-estate agent on my lunch hour today...
Hi, everyone, the house-hunting (and, hopefully, mortgage-approval-ing) continues apace, so things are a little hectic. I'll update soon as I can...
The Carolina Journal Online has an informative article about North Carolina's standards evaluations and recommendations for the No Child Left Behind Act. Reporter Karen Palasek describes the work that's cut out for all US states:
North Carolina is by no means alone in its need to evaluate standards. As of September, according to Lynn Olson of Education Week and Education Counts, more than half of states were still in the process of defining adequate yearly progress for themselves. For the roughly half of states that have come to a working definition of adequate yearly progress, half of these had no working definition of subgroups, or of how student progress should ideally be spread out over the 12-year elementary-secondary school period.
A good deal of the work state education boards must do involves meshing federal accountability systems with state systems. As states see how their testing and accountability compares to federal guidelines, they can revise their definitions of accountability and progress...
Although North Carolina, Texas, and Florida are some of the higher-ranked states in Accountability Works’ study, there are also common weaknesses and challenges they face. Rebarber noted that mathematics is generally missing rigorous content, and that the “elementary level math is unfocused and does not prepare kids well for middle school math.”
What it is with math instruction these days? It seems like it's always the math test results that garner (bad) news...
The "Black Hole" of special education
Linda Taylor speaks out against the tendency of schools to banish children to special education classes. Her description of how hard she works to get children out of special education classes, and how hard some administrators work to keep these kids in the classes, is heart-rending. More power to her and to her crusade.
Joanne Jacobs uncovers a nifty paper on "value-added testing" by Jonathan Crane of the Public Policy Institute. Mr. Crane's basic premise is that if we are going to reward schools for raising test scores, then we should place more emphasis on the schools who take poorly-performing kids and raise them to average performance, rather than the schools whose students perform well and stay that way. The amount of change, and not the final test score results, is the important school assessment factor.
Mr. Crane points out that while some accountability programs do claim to measure "progress over time", what they actually show is that this year's 8th-graders have higher scores than last year's 8th-graders. This is not the same thing as showing that last year's 7th-graders are now doing better in the 8th-grade this year, which is a little trickier to show. For starters, if the 8th-grade test is more difficult for that grade level than the 7th-grade test, the progress may be obscured, so the test equating has to be effective. Mr. Crane suggests avoiding "teaching to the test" by changing the tests often, but that makes it more difficult for the test developers to ensure that the tests are of equal difficulty for each grade level. The assessment of longitudinal data comes with its own set of pitfalls, and an experience statistician would be required to analyze the testing data. The value that is added is also subject to error, so it is possible that only large gains (or losses) will be evident.
Mr. Crane focuses on Tennessee for his examples, as Tennessee has been doing value-added testing since 1991. Mr. Crane also points out that with value-added testing, teacher quality can be better measured, because the change over time can be measured for all the students of each teacher. All in all, a very interesting paper.
A good lesson for college students
Hey, Daily Cal student workers! Listen up. The politicians have spoken, and have decided that stealing student newspapers is a perfectly legitimate campaign tactic - even when the thief is one of the candidates. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has admitted stealing and trashing 1,000 copies of the Daily Californian student newspaper that carried an editorial endorsing his opponent. And while he's extremely apologetic about it, the Mayor's allies stand by their man:
Bates' strongest political ally in the run up to the election, Councilmember Kriss Worthington, called the newspapers' destruction "stupid behavior." But Worthington stood by Bates.
"Getting rid of the mayor because of this would basically be the same as capital punishment," Worthington said.
Got that? Mayor Bates may have broken the rules and committed a grave violation of trust against the Daily Cal, UC students, and the general public, but to hold him responsible for it would be the same as killing him for it. Or something along those lines. Good to know that Mayor Bates has such a loyal supporter.
As Instapundit puts it: "And this is the home of the Free Speech movement?"
Welcome, fellow psychometricians!
The URL for this blog, along with a little write-up about me, appeared on page 7 of the latest issue of the NCME (National Council for Measurement in Education) newsletter. Greetings to all you fellow NCME members who are discovering my blog for the first time. I welcome your comments!
Also, let me point out that my archives are snafued, because Blogger refuses to update them. Over on the left-hand side of the screen, you can access some older postings under the "Oldies but Goodies" subheading, and I'll try to add some more permalinks to more recent articles that are not accessible through the archives.
Number 2 Pencil - the Down Under version
I discovered today that there's another psychometrician out there with a blog - and an Aussie psychometrician at that! John Ray has a very interesting blog named Dissecting Leftism, and he has written extensively on the psychology and sociology of left-wing political movements. He also keeps up with the "IQ news", which is how he discovered my blog. Go check him out.
The racial preferences flap
Conservative crusader Linda Chavez has another Town Hall article on racial preferences in college admissions. Both cases she discusses involve the University of Michigan, which was explicitly holding white and Asian students to a much higher standard than black students. Not surprisingly, the affirmative action admittees were less likely to graduate:
The University of Michigan, for example, admits more black students under its affirmative action program than it might if colorblind standards were applied, but many marginal black students at Michigan fail to graduate. [Center for Equal Opportunity] CEO found that almost 90 percent of white students graduated within six years, but only about two-thirds of black students did. We saw similar patterns nearly everywhere.
This is related to my post yesterday about schools who lower standards in a false rush for "diversity". It still amazes me that any admissions officer is able to convince him- or herself that admitting a student who cannot do the work is "compassionate", and "fair", and somehow good for both the student and the school. It's not only unfair, it is racist to assume that black students cannot be held to the same academic standards as white and Asian students.
When I did a little bit more web-searching on this topic, I found an old article from 2001 that outlined the testimony of "testing specialist and psychology professor" Martin Shapiro of Emory University in support of Michigan's policies. Dr. Shapiro made the jaw-dropping claim that aptitude tests are inherently biased against minorities and women and that test items are chosen solely on the basis of whether white men do well on them:
Shapiro said the bias that existed then is prevalent today, even as test makers devise new versions of the SAT. To determine what questions will be on future tests, test makers pretest groups of students, he said.
To maintain consistency with past questions, if the group that historically scores well performs well on a pretest, the question is kept. If a group that historically scores poorly does well on a pretest question, that item is tossed out, Shapiro said...Data show that women and minorities traditionally have scored lower than white men on the pretests, Shapiro said.
I don't know much about about Dr. Shapiro's testing expertise credentials, but he's talking out of his hat on this one. Yes, the College Board and ETS pretest items, as do all large-scale standardized testing companies. But, unlike Dr. Shapiro, I have worked at ETS (as an intern) and I have never heard anything about ETS (or any other testing company) retaining items based on "historic scores". This sounds to me like a vast misunderstanding of how psychometricians equate tests, mixed with a big heaping of liberal blather and anti-test, anti-psychometrician rhetoric.
ETS screens all pre-test questions for what is called differential item functioning (DIF). Differential item functioning occurs when matched-ability subgroups perform differently on a particular item. For example, say that only 10% of high-scoring test takers get a particular item right. That percentage should be the same for men and women, for whites and black, for white and Asians, who are all high-scoring. If black test takers with a 1000 on the SAT get an item wrong, while white test takers with a score of 1000 tend to get it right, then the item will either be removed, or it will be balanced with one where the DIF goes in the opposite direction (and such questions do exist). All testing organizations scrutinize their test items in an attempt to remove any item bias that could account for test-score gaps. Presumably, Dr. Shapiro has started with the fact that there is a test-score gap, and has run with the wrong assumption that a difference in group mean scores reflects test bias. This mistake would be understandable in a layman; in someone who bills himself as a "testing expert", it is inexcusable.
Equating, on the other hand, has nothing to do with test bias, and test equating is not done by test taker subgroups. Tests are equated using several fashions, but the most common one is to gather pre-test item statistics, assemble the test to meet the difficulty and content specifications set by a base form, and then scale the test after administration to correct for any changes in overall difficulty. This is done for the test as a whole, not by subgroups, so that equating does not take into account which groups are doing well on each items. If the pre-test DIF analyses were done right, none of the items should favor any particular group at a particular score level.
I assume Dr. Shapiro has this mystical image in his mind of a base form SAT that contains items only white men can pass, and that the presumably all-white, all-male psychometricians at ETS labor to equate the SAT to this each year. What rubbish. Dr. Shapiro's theories that ETS would toss a pre-test item that blacks do well on (I assume that's the group he means with the euphemism "groups that have historically scored lower"), and that ETS works hard to preserve the test-score gap, are as bizarre and insulting as they are wrong. After all, if we only keep the items that "historically-high performing" groups do well on, then how did all those Asian students get near the top? Surely the test, designed in the 1940's, didn't have them in mind.
A great deal of psychometric research involves assessment of items for differential functioning and rooting out the causes of pervasive test-score gaps. And a lot of the psychometricians performing this research are non-white and/or female, for heaven's sakes, myself included. Nothing would make a bigger splash in the psychometric world than the announcement of an educational or testing method that was proven to close the test-score gap, or a sound theory about why certain items display DIF (so that testing companies can save money by not creating those items in the first place). Does he honestly believe that psychometricians deliberately create biased tests? I never fail to be amazed at what nonsense such supposedly intelligent academicians can invent.
Suzanne Fields has more to say on the root causes of affirmative action, and Ben Shapiro's [no relation to Martin] September comments on UCLA's racist policies and fake "diversity" are scathing.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
Ahh, it's piling up outside. I haven't built my fire yet, because I'm too lazy even for that. I'm enjoying my Turner Classic Movies, my Court TV, and my homemade fudge and oatmeal-and-raisin cookies. I also have some fresh walnuts to snack on, and maybe I can hold on until 5 pm or so before fixing a big dinner. Cold weather brings out the lumberjack in me, appetite-wise.
And speaking of fresh nuts, I found out this week about a British "educational" booklet that was released this spring warning teachers of the dangers lurking in the game of Musical Chairs. No, really. This booklet is called Towards a Non-Violent Society, and that name alone makes my skin itch, because it suggests collective mushiness of thought and appeasement in action, rather than individuality, assertiveness and self-defense. Anyway, the author, Sue Finch, suggests that Musical Chairs should be banned, as it could lead to "aggressive behaviour" as the "strongest and fastest" children always win, and she suggests that teachers think up alternative games for youngsters which did not allow the biggest children to "dominate".
Wow. You know, I was a shy child, and not much of an athlete, and while I hated games like Red Rover and Dodgeball, even I never felt "dominated" by anyone in Musical Chairs. Kids in South Carolina were pretty tough, tough enough to wear the title "redneck" with pride, and yet I don't remember too many body slams over a particular chair once the music stopped. There would be a mad dash for the chair between the last two kids left, of course, but that was amusing for the rest of us to watch, and I don't remember too much of the status in preschool society being based on who got the last chair. Two minutes after the games over, the milk and cookies come out, and the kids have forgotten all about it.
What do you want to bet Ms. Finch supports PETA and would like to deprive the little ones of their milk as well?
My job is closing early. I'm going to go home and start a fire. Blogging will be light, because I have a slow modem at home and because I'd rather channel-surf and drink hot chocolate than stare at a computer screen. Hope you're all safe and warm wherever you are.
Death of a Master
Henry Chauncey, founder of ETS, died this week at the age of 97. The NYT obit is quite nice:
"He believed in meritocracy; he believed that the people who should be admitted to colleges were people who deserved it based on their intelligence and achievement," said Mr. Chauncey's son Henry, who is known as Sam...
"He crisscrossed the country, looking for qualified people from little-known high schools," Sam Chauncey said. "He found James Tobin and Casper Weinberger and John Morton Blum. But he knew he needed a better way to measure the young person from Topeka, Kan., against one from a well-known school, and that was his motive in starting E.T.S."
...Mr. Chauncey was president of E.T.S. from its beginning in 1947 until his retirement in 1970. "Henry did much more than make large-scale testing a reality," said Eleanor Horne, a vice president of E.T.S. "He insisted that testing practices be grounded in research and that it be dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals and educational institutions, and not testing companies."
Many psychometricians believe that Henry Chauncey was one of the most important psychometricians, if not the the most important psychometrician, of the 20th century, thanks to his belief in the importance of developing a true American meritocracy. Remember, before WWII, Ivy League universities such as Harvard were only for the blue-bloods, and legacy students from swanky prep schools were more likely to be admitted than any other. Henry Chauncey was determined to change that, so that an intelligent student from "Topeka, Kansas" would have an equal shot at the top schools, and the result was the modern standardized test.
Up is down. Black is white. "F"s mean "success"
Blogger Daryl Cobranchi (who also kept the world notified of my continuing existence this week) spotted a howler at the Education Intelligence Agency - high test scores mean kids aren't learning. No, really, that's what Anthony Ralston, professor emeritus of computer science and mathematics at the State University of New York at Buffalo, says. And he doesn't mean that the curriculum suffers when high-stakes testing is used; he doesn't mean that some kids suffer self-esteem problems if they fail to do well; he means that high test scores indicate that kids are not learning:
Ralston claims that higher scores reflect “the learning of particular skills, often unrelated to the further study of mathematics and often at the expense of a broader curriculum that would really prepare students for the further study of mathematics.” Worst of all, Ralston says, higher scores “give parents a false sense that the learning of their children is improving when it is not.”
Ralston even embraces the internal logic of his own thesis: “Interestingly, just as rising test scores are sure to mask deepening problems in American education, falling test scores may be a good thing although few will recognize this.”
The EIA and Daryl find this ridiculous, and quite rightly so. But I'm wondering, while reading in between the lines, just what's going on here. Although testing critics have been known to go to great lengths to demonize standardized tests, and have said that low test scores are no proof of that a child has failed to learn, this is the first critic I've seen to claim that high test scores are actually an indication of a problem. There must be more to this story. Does Dr. Ralston have a particular test in mind? Has he discovered a standardized math test that is linked to a set of "progressive" math standards so bizarre that the kids are in fact learning, and being tested on, mathematics that have no applications in the real world? Even if this were so, why on earth would he be attacking the tests, rather than the curriculum itself? Does he consider standardized tests to be inherently corrupting, such that no test can measure what he considers to be this valued "broader curriculum"?
Curiouser and curiouser.
"We are losing our boys!"
Queen edu-blogger Joanne Jacobs (who was kind enough to inform the world when Blogger went bye-bye on me this week) uncovered a hair-raising story about the effect of school culture and discipline on test scores. A white teacher at Pasadena's urban Muir High School set off the powder keg by drawing a direct link from the disciplinary problems of black students at the school to the miserable test scores of the school overall:
Scott Phelps wrote in a letter to fellow teachers at Muir, warning that test scores were likely to nose-dive. "Standards of behavior, or the lack thereof" are to blame.
He didn't hesitate to point the finger: "Overwhelmingly, the students whose behavior makes the hallways deafening, who yell out for the teacher and demand immediate attention in class, who cannot seem to stop chatting and are fascinated by each other but not with academics, in short, whose behavior saps the strength and energy of us on the front lines, are African American."
Now, a month later, that letter continues ricocheting around the country, bouncing off assumptions about race, youth and social class.
Boy, Mr. Phelps sure gets my vote for Brass Ones of the Year. Such commentary is, as we all know, extremely politically incorrect - but what's interesting is the reaction by some that are grateful for Mr. Phelps' comments:
...underneath their rancor and their hurt, many blacks felt an odd sort of gratitude. At a neighborhood meeting about the letter, Kitty McKnight, a former teacher, exploded after a district official suggested that the solution to Muir's discipline problems was more tolerance and commitment from teachers.
"I cannot sit and listen to this!" she shouted, rising from her seat. "Our boys are out of control....We have to do something," she told the crowd. "We are losing our boys!" There was scattered applause in the black audience, but many sat in stunned silence.
Later, McKnight admitted that Phelps' letter triggered feelings of anger and frustration, but also guilt. "Having been a teacher all these years, I never made it a point. But it's true. You talk to another black teacher about the behavior of black students and they know exactly what you mean. I feel like I'm at fault for not addressing it sooner."
Mr Phelps attempts to defend his statement, and curb his hostile critics, by saying that it hurts him "to be labeled a racist for 'simply making empirical observations of behavior that are totally supported by data.'" Sorry, Mr. Phelps, but having data to back up empirical observations has never protected any psychometrician from being labeled a racist, so I'm not surprised that it doesn't protect you.
Holding black students responsible for making high test scores and performing up to high standards of behavior is mystifyingly labeled as "racist" by some critics today. These critics believe that poor-performing black students deserve excuses ("post-traumatic slavery disorder", anyone?) and indulgence rather than honest appraisal and criticism, not to mention effective education. As one teacher in the article says, "Some of these kids deserve credit just for showing up" at school, given their chaotic home lives and troubled neighborhoods." No, they don't. No student is done a favor if they are given credit "just for showing up". That's merely an indication that the school has surrendered all its authority and responsibility for educating these youth, for showing them that their chaotic home lives are not the only way to live.
It's not surprising that the result of this sort of "compassion" is low test scores, low-performing schools, and high-performing white, Latino and Asian American teachers who leave such schools, driven away by the pervasive attitude that black students cannot be held to the same standards of behavior as other students. That, in my mind, is the most racist attitude an educator could have.
And Joanne points out:
As faithful readers know, I'm writing a book about Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school that's trying to prepare low-achieving Hispanic students for college. The founders believe in "culture before curriculum, " and they're not talking about Cinco de Mayo. They mean that the school culture must value hard work, educational achievement and respect for others: Ganas, orgullo, communidad. Get the culture right and teaching and curriculum can make a difference.
Many of DCP students come from low-income families, troubled neighborhoods, the whole nine yards. They're not perfect students, but they learn pretty quickly that fighting and mouthing off aren't tolerated. Nobody gets credit just for showing up.
Well, this is certainly an interesting story. A principal in Oakland, California, has been awarded the "Intellectual Freedom Award" from the California Association of Teachers of English for valiantly doing battle against high-stakes testing. Principal Susan Harman has supposedly done all of her students a great favor, and "has advanced the cause of intellectual freedom" by opposing the Stanford 9 exams and exit exams. No information is provided in the article as to whether Principal Harman has developed effective methods of education for the children in her charter school, or whether she able to assess the progress of her children at all - it's apparently good enough for the CAT of E that she merely refuses the exams.
Principal Harman states that "There's no information in these tests that helps us teach better", thus undercutting every high-performing, high-poverty school that depends on rigorous testing, and her claim that standardized tests measure nothing except "the parent's level of education" is, not surprisingly, unsupported by the data (certainly none is provided by Principal Harman). Her cute t-shirt that "has a picture of a tomato vine growing on stakes, with the caption 'high stakes are for tomatoes'" is both bizarre and patronizing. I suppose she also has one that reads, "High standards are for kids in other schools" as well?
This is her take on the high-school exit exams:
Harman also opposes the High School Exit Exam, which she says will discourage students and lead them to drop out. "What we're really doing is creating a huge underclass to discourage labor movements, or we send them to jail," she said.
Hmm, no political bias there. And funny, but I thought it was lousy high-school education, and lousy high-school teachers, that are capable of creating a "huge underclass", not the exit exams themselves. I must say, as a psychometrician, I've been called almost every name in the book, but this is the first time I've ever been accused of trying to "discourage labor movements".
More campus nonsense
"Student for Justice in Palestine" is the new trendy left-wing campus movement, and it appears to be spreading across the US, leaving hostility, hate crimes, and inflammatory misinformation in its wake. These are the moral idiots who are urging universities to divest from companies that do business with Israel - somehow, they've determined that the cause of all the suicide bombings and violent unrest is a direct result of the US doing business with the only democracy in the Middle East, and they believe that Israel is solely to blame for the massive loss of life of Arabs and Jews. Both sides of the story, and the responsibility that Palestinian terrorists owe to the entire mess, are rarely if ever presented. What nonsense.
Some students and professors are fighting back. A new website, No Indoctrination, gives students a place to vent (accurately) about professors with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel biases. And Campus Watch was developed specifically to combat the reams of misinformation about Middle East politics and violence that are being circulated on campuses today. Not surprisingly, both websites have been labeled as "hate sites" by various left-wing radicals, who don't seem to comprehend that criticism, regardless of its political correctness, is protected by the First Amendment. Stanley Kurtz provides a useful summary to the controversy. Another blog, Campus Nonsense, is run by students, and aims to combat the "left-wing lunacy" that is sweeping universities everywhere.
I wish I could say that the college at which I teach has proved impervious to the nonsense, but no such luck. In the past few weeks, I've seen many flyers advertising "anti-war rallies" and no flyers urging an honest and open discussion of why such a war might be necessary and what it means for all of us. The most egregious notice was one that was slipped under my office door yesterday, asking professors to attend today's anti-war rallies and telling us to "urge" our students to attend as well.
That really pissed me off. I teach a statistics class, people, and I trust my students are not only intelligent enough to understand scientific and mathematical concepts, they're also intelligent enough to make up their own minds about whether an anti-war rally is a meaningful use of their time. What's more, the classroom is no place for professors to urge students to participate in radical political activities. My students didn't enroll in my class to hear my views on the war, nor are they my little pieces of clay just waiting to be molded into anti-Semitic radicals. Any professor who wastes classroom time to urge students to get involved in a political movement, or who makes students feel that their grade might depend on such involvement, is a professor who is choosing indoctrination and intimidation over education. And I hope any student at my college who is "urged" by their professor to attend this rally realizes this.
Note: This piece was updated at 1:24 pm after faithful reader Daryl Cobranchi pointed out that my original language was rather inflammatory and unbalanced as well. I think what's up there now is more faithful to the topic, not to mention more accurate.
A quick round-up of testing news....
Rule One for passing your e-commerce class: Don't show off your technological know-how by cheating via cell phone during the exam. The professor didn't notice the high-tech sneakiness at the time, but he caught the cheaters using the good old-fashioned method of noticing that, well, they all had the exact same exam answers.
Is the new Texas standardized test too difficult? Some critics claim that the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) is much harder than the old Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). According to the article, all public-school students in grades 3 through 9 must take the test every year, and then must pass an additional exit-level exam to graduate from high school. The criticisms appear to be the standard, "More minority students than whites will fail!", vs. the test developers' claim that higher standards will help all students to perform better.
An additional article on the alleged TAKS difficulty is presented in the Daily Texan. The State Board of Education disputes the claim that the test is too difficult, while critics claim that the standards are also too broad and the concepts not taught in schools. One critic claims that introducing harder standards for third graders is in effect holding second-graders "hostage", which is a pretty inflammatory term to describe an attempt to improve education. Also, one board member points out that if many students fail, teachers should be held accountable, which explains why teachers' unions almost uniformly opposed accountability based on standardized exams. More commentary on the new TAKS can be found here and here.
"Race-neutral" admissions policies are in effect in states which have outlawed affirmative action, but the focus still seems to be on admitting as many minority students as possible, regardless of their capability to do the work. The article notes that "In Texas, for example, students are guaranteed a spot in the public university of their choice so long as they graduate in the top 10 percent of their high-school class. California guarantees admission to students who graduate in the top 4 percent, while Florida guarantees admission to any student who graduates in the top 20 percent.". Great, if you come from a good high school. But what if you don't? And the article focuses on minority enrollment, when minority graduation rates are going to be the key to deciding if such methods are effective in actually helping more minorities gain the benefits of a college education. Minority students who are admitted in order to make the college seem "diverse", but then do not graduate, are being cheated twice. Once by the high-school system that did not adequately prepare them for college (even though they graduated in the top 20 percent), and again by the colleges so hungry for "diversity" that they fail to consider whether a student is capable of completing their college academic requirements.
Nothing to cheer about: Alabama high school cheerleaders must choose between taking the ACT and remaining on their cheerleading squad. The ACT is the same day as a cheerleading competitation and the coach isn't willing to make allowances for that. And the assistant superintendent says, "Kids who commit should learn to fulfill that obligation to school and teammates. These girls are letting their team down.", as though the girls were blowing off a big day to go shopping. C'mon, guys, give 'em a break. These girls want to go to college, they have no say as to when the ACT is administered, the test only comes around four times a year, and next spring is too late to take it if they want to attend college next year - and they're supposed to pass on all that to make sure their teammates can win a cheerleading trophy? I say it's the fault of the cheerleading competition sponsors for scheduling a huge competition that is likely to feature a lot of juniors and seniors on the day scheduled for the ACT.
Well, it looks like Blogger is back up and running. It's been down for a couple of days (and Homestead even went down for a day as well). Thanks to those who were willing to post on their blogs to let people know that I was offline. Also, thanks to everyone for the advice (which was mainly, "Get off of Blogger!", but some of it was more specific and helpful than that).
The problem is that the group who plans to do my site redesign has asked me to wait until I go with them before I change anything, and I'm not going to do my redesign until January. Coincidentally, that's when I plan to buy a house, so it's going to be a bit hectic, but by my first blogiversary in February, I hope to be in new digs all the way around.