July 31, 2003

Apologies for the non-existent blogging...

...Real life is (unfortunately) getting in the way. I'll try to update N2P tomorrow, but otherwise it'll be quiet around here until next Tuesday.

Posted by kswygert at 03:06 PM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2003

Your child is a pain in the arse - Film at 11

A group of British teachers have come up with the solution to enforcing classroom disclipline - webcams! If you're like me, your first reaction to this is, "What the --?", followed by a brief moment of wondering how all those teachers in the 1940's and '50's managed kids without the benefits of the Internet. But let's see what the webcam proponents have to say:

Cameras linked to the internet should be installed in every classroom so parents can see whether their children are misbehaving in school. Teachers who unveiled the plan today said they believed it could be the key to improving discipline, and involving parents in their children's education.

But critics say images downloaded from the cameras could be accessed by paedophiles...

The "webcam" call came today at the annual conference of the Professional Association of Teachers in Harrogate from Essex teacher Simon Smith...Webcams have already been introduced in a small number of nurseries...

[Smith] said: "Bad behaviour in class is a big issue throughout the school system, but teachers have to handle it on their own. If pupils knew their parents could see how they were behaving then they would think twice about disrupting classes."

Indeed, pedophiles could get ahold of these images. Sure, passwords could protect the system, but no system is perfect, and who's going to install and monitor this system? How many professionals are they going to hire for security?

And - leaving aside the ghoulish image of having your kid's classroom behavior beamed across pedophelia sites - who on earth thinks this is viable idea? Do teachers really think that parents have the time to monitor their kid's behavior during the school day? Isn't that the teacher's job (despite Mr. Smith's complaint that teachers have to go it alone)? And doesn't this mean that each child's behavior is visible not only to their parents, but to everyone else's parents as well?

What is the parent supposed to do if they see something they don't like? Drop everything and rush down to the school? What if they see the teacher doing something objectionable, or another kid? Do teachers really want to open themselves up to the possibility of constant observation?

Mr. Smith has apparently convinced himself that the following scenarios are feasible:

(1) Parents will log on regularly, observe only their own child's behavior, and take appropriate action at home.
(2) Parents will not react to odd behavior by teachers or other kids, and will have no problem with their own kid's images being available to other parents.
(3) Kids who have severe disciplinary problems will calm down immediately if they believe their parents will be watching, even though the webcam idea makes it obvious that the teachers feel they can not, or should not, control kids without outside input.

Each of these scenarios seems ludicrous to me.

Webcams in nurseries is one thing - it's not surprising that parents who place their kids in day care want to have instant access, given the inability of infants to care for themselves, the horror stories you hear about unqualified daycare workers, and the general kitchy-kitchy-kooeyness that parents of such young kids have. It's easy to imagine them logging on constantly to check on, and admire, their tiny little Ians and Emmas.

However, by the time the kids are 5 and 6, the parents are probably comfortable with abdicating enough responsibility to allow the kids to go off to school, and the parents rightfully expect that, during the day, the school officials will handle disciplinary problems, notifying the parents only when necessary. This webcam idea puts the burden back on parents to be aware of what their kids are doing 'round the clock, and leaves the door open for schools to avoid the responsibility for imposing standards and discipline altogether.

Posted by kswygert at 04:52 PM | Comments (11)

Illiteracy in the digital age

Will Michigan's students be better equipped to perform in the digital age if the schools give them laptop computers? Brian Carpenter of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy doesn't think so - and he's happy to tell you why:

The Michigan Legislature’s plan to equip every public school sixth-grader with a laptop computer — at an initial cost of $39.3 million — is based on dubious premises about technology and education reform...it will be another expensive but spectacular failure to improve the public school system.

House Speaker Rick Johnson...and other legislators hope to engage kids in learning at an age when many are starting to disengage from traditional methods of instruction. Since kids use Xbox and Game Boy at home — the thinking goes — why not equip them with technology at school? Proponents point out that we are living in "the digital age"and that children will be better educated for the job market if we give them more access to technology at school...

The idea that equipping kids with laptops will somehow inspire them to become more engaged in school work has little basis in sound research. Michigan sixth-graders who can’t read at grade level (about two-thirds of them, based on various standardized test data) need instruction in reading, not in surfing the Internet or creating PowerPoint presentations.

Mr. Carpenter's answer to the problems is not digital flexibility, but school flexibility - more school choice that would hold schools accountable for education, rather than allowing them to fritter away money giving laptops to kids who can't read yet.

Do kids with web access and tutoring become better readers? One study suggests so - but that's a far cry from deciding that providing kids with taxpayer-funded laptops will magically solve all their reading problems.

Posted by kswygert at 04:14 PM | Comments (4)

Bashing the SAT - update

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has quite a different viewpoint about those infamous SAT analogy items than does the LA Times:

...the College Board's decision to drop the analogy section from the verbal portion of the test is to explicable as Adam Sandler is to tolerable.

Knowing the meanings of individual words is a useful skill, and so is being able to grapple with the relationships among different words. Because college professors routinely use analogies while teaching, and textbook authors use them in writing, it's certainly reasonable to include them in the SAT...

Of course, the loudest criticism of the analogy section came from people who don't like standardized testing at all. These opponents argue that the SAT is unfair to students from poor backgrounds and those whose first language isn't English.

Test makers should of course take pains to eliminate regional and cultural biases from the SAT and other standardized tests. But it's not at all clear that those differences won't show up in the new sections of the test -- or that it's the College Board's fault if they do...

With this last statement, the article sneaks up on the important acknowledgement that group score differences are not necessarily indicators of test bias, althought it would have been nicer if the writer had made that explicit. The LA Times writer, on the other hand, seemed pretty sure that it is the College Board's fault if there are group differences, as was evident by the writer's willingness to give plenty of ink to test critics who use the word "bias" loosely and incorrectly.

Posted by kswygert at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

An enriched summer?

The Chambersburg (PA) Area School District has a six-week "Summer Reading Academy" program planned for some of its youngsters who are moving from elementary school to middle school, or middle school to high school. Sounds commendable, but the article raised a few questions in my mind...

Going from elementary school to middle school is both an academic leap and a cultural rite of passage, one that about three dozen students in the Chambersburg Area School District are spending six weeks preparing for this summer.

Only about 36 students are participating? How were they chosen? Best performers? Worst performers? Lottery winners? The article mentions that some of the students have "special needs" but some just needed "extra help." I'd like a bit more information about how the school chose this group, because I think that information is necessary to judge if the program is effective or well-run.

Students circulate between groups at Chambersburg Area Middle School, working on transition skills, comprehension and writing and the reading academy, [program coordinator Anne] Corwell said. "We're giving them some tips on how to do well at their new school," Corwell said of the transition sessions. A big part of that, especially for those entering the middle school, is getting used to going from one class to another through the day, along with study skills and organizing assignments, she said.

Oh, so by transition skills they don't mean learning to use transitional phrases. They mean learning to get up from one class and go to another. A useful skill, that, but hardly one that should be taught in a "reading academy."

In the reading academy, Corwell said some students are "re-taught phonics strategies," getting down to the basics of what sounds vowels, consonants and combinations of letters produce.

Wait, I thought that the youngest kids in this academy are on the verge of being promoted into middle school. Why are they having to be taught "the basics" of the sounds produced by vowels and consonants? How did they ever get through elementary school? If they were taught phonically before, why do they need to be re-taught it? Shouldn't the school officials be asking themselves why there are 36 kids preparing to enter fifth/sixth grade who don't already know these basics?

"You've got to keep the rhythm to it. You have to get faster to pass it," said Kayla Rotz, 13, as she went through a computer exercise on word recognition. A short while later, having maintained the same rate on the test three times, the computer allowed Rotz to print out a certificate attesting she was ready to move on to the next level.

Was Kayla ever tested on her comprehension of what she was reading? Was she ever given a real book to work with? Recognizing words is one thing; being able to use them is another. And what level words are we talking about? Is the school using computer technology to teach 13-year-olds to read words like "cat" more quickly? If so, then I'm not really impressed. I think a kid who can pick up a book and understand it, digest it, at a moderate-to-slow rate of speed is better off than a kid who has instant recognition of a word but may not be able to define it or use it in a sentence.

I don't mean to be too hard on writer Don Aines; this is obviously a puff piece on an all-volunteer summer academy, and I agree that the volunteer teachers should be commended for offering their time and services. It's just that there are deeper questions that can be asked about a program about this, not least of which are (1) why the program is necessary, and (2) whether or not it's effective.

Contrast that article with this one, which describes a summer school program in Stamford, CT. In this case, we're told how kids were selected, how they'll be taught, and how the program will be assessed for its effectiveness:

Summer school, in its fourth and final week, is heavily focused on literacy. Many participants are chosen because of their performance on standardized tests...Mara Siladi, the Board of Education's director for intervention and community outreach programs, called the three-hour daily sessions a "short-term remediation" that many students need...

"The aim is to provide students not with four more weeks of what didn't work well during the school year, but to give them something different," [Board of Education member Martin Levine] said...

Many of last year's summer school students performed better on standardized tests, according to a Stamford Public Schools analysis. Kindergartners improved their skills on all sections of a language readiness test after summer instruction. Nearly 55 percent of first- and second-graders scored better on the Developmental Reading Assessment test, which measures the level at which a student can read with accuracy and comprehension.

Nearly 55 percent of students in grades 2 through 5 and more than half of sixth- and seventh-graders improved on the Reading Comprehensions Test.

With this information, parents are better able to assess whether the summer instruction works, and can tell what the instruction is being focused on. Even though the PA summer "academy" mentioned above seems to be more informal than the CT summer school, I still think that the questions of method and assessment are still relevant in both cases.

Posted by kswygert at 03:55 PM | Comments (1)

More edublogs for your enjoyment

I've updated my permalinks to include more edubloggers, including the Catholic School Blogger, Brian's Education Blog (from England), and the beautifully-named Our Horrible Children, which focuses on the idiocy of zero-tolerance policies.

This last blog is chock-full of inane decisions by school officials, including suspending a kid for having red eyes, kicking kids out for possessing prop weapons for class plays, and booting a kid out for three days over a "You Might Be a Redneck If..." t-shirt. Sheesh.

Both Brian and JP of Catholic School Blogger posted about famed teacher Jaime Escalante earlier this month. They're reacting to an earlier posting of Escalante's trials and successes, which were somewhat enhanced for dramatic effect in the movie Stand and Deliver. Rest assured, though, the article is sympathetic to Escalante's teaching efforts, and places the blame for the subsequent decline of the AP Calculus at Garfield High School on the administrators, not the teachers.

I bring this up because what I remember about this movie, not surprisingly, is how ETS was presented in such a bad light. If I remember correctly, the men who arrived to retest Escalante's students were literally "men in black" - ominous-looking creatures who were obviously being unfair. The movie tries to convince the audience that the only reason these kids were being retested is because ETS is an evil, racist entity that assumes Hispanic kids can't do calculus. As is almost always the case with Hollywood, what makes for good drama isn't always close to the truth.

ETS had valid reasons for retesting the kids, but unfortunately I can't reveal those reasons here. Ultimately, ETS was proved incorrect, which is what really matters for the story - but it's amusing to me to see such nefarious depictions of testing company representatives go unchallenged...

Posted by kswygert at 12:04 PM | Comments (4)

"Segregation today...segregation forever"

Two recent news stories have revealed some disturbingly racist and segregationist ideas floating around in public K-12 education.

First off, a rumor spread through Oberlin (OH) High School that a white teacher might be appointed to teach the African-American studies class. The reaction to this (apparently unfounded) rumor is the disturbing part:

Schools and community leaders in the Cleveland area are split over the issue of whether blacks should be the only ones to teach black history. In Cleveland, white and black teachers teach black history. A black teacher teaches black history at Shaker Heights High School, but a white teacher handles classes on oppression and human relations. Both classes deal extensively with race relations and slavery...

Phyllis Yarber Hogan, a member of the Oberlin Black Alliance for Progress, said a white teacher wouldn't be well-suited to teaching students about subjects like slavery.

''When you talk about slavery, students need to understand it is not our fault,'' she said. ''Our ancestors did nothing wrong to be enslaved. How do you work through that when the person teaching it is the same type of person who did the enslaving?''

Am I to understand that the assumption is that any white teacher would teach black kids that slavery was their fault? Any teacher, white or black, who wanted to present the full picture of slavery would have to teach about the black leaders who sold slaves to white traders, but this isn't the same thing as telling kids today that slavery was "their fault." How many of them really believe that, anyway?

It seems to me that this sort of opposition to white teachers is in fact an attempt to teach black children that they should continue to hold all white people responsible for slavery, and they should assume that all white people are the "type of person" capable of enslaving others. If this is the case, the class doesn't fall under "education," as far as I'm concerned.

(John Hawkins of RightWingNews has more, but his page is temporarily down.)

A new public high school in New York City goes one step further in assuming that kids should be surrounded only by their own "kind" - Harvey Milk High School is exclusively for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. The school recently spent $3 million dollars on renovations, which has some politicians steamed:

State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long blasted the school as "social engineering" that wastes tax dollars.

"Is there a different way to teach homosexuals? Is there gay math? This is wrong. This makes absolutely no sense," Long said. "There's no reason these children should be treated separately."

Long said there are city and state discrimination laws on the books and that authorities should enforce them to stop gay-bashing. "What next? Maybe we should have schools for chubby kids who get picked on. Maybe all kids who wear glasses should have special schools. It's ridiculous," he said.

What burns Long most is the $3 million spent on renovations. "Maybe this is one of the reasons the city has no money," he said.

Jay Nordlinger covers both of these stories for National Review. He points out the obvious racism in the Oberlin flap:

If you say a white teacher can't teach "black history," you must say that a black teacher can't teach "white history." (Why should we have "black history" and "white history" anyway? When it comes to the United States, black people are as much a part of the story as cherry trees, Westward expansion, D-Day, and everything else.) When you say that black children must have "black role models," because white ones won't do, you must say, at the same time, that white children can't look up to Jackie Robinson, Marian Anderson, etc.

His comments on the high school for gay kids is equally insightful:

As American life gets ever more Balkanized, I'm not sure this is a good idea. Two quick points: First, are teenagers so sure about this sexuality business?... And shouldn't the life of young people be as little sexualized as possible? Isn't there enough time — too much time — for that later?

Then there's the argument about feelings, social comfort: Gay kids — obviously gay kids — come in for a very rough time in school...But, as New York's Conservative party boss Mike Long pointed out, what about fat kids? What about clumsy kids? What about kids with acne? What about handicapped kids? Do we farm them all out, ghettoize them, to protect them from the bumps and bruises of community living?

Nick of Twilight of the Idols also comments (after doing some background research as well):

First off, are heterosexual students actually excluded? If so, then I'd love to see how they get public funding to run a public school. Replace the word "gay" with "black," or worse, "white," throughout the article, and you begin to grasp just how ridiculous this idea is...

On top of this, it seems to fly in the face of the pro-diversity propaganda that's so widespread these days. Homosexual students will miss out on learning to interact with straight students, the heterosexual students won't have the diversified benefit of homosexual viewpoints in class, and neither side will learn the benefits of tolerance, etc.

As Nick points out, this sort of segregation only encourages homophobia and homosexual stereotyping. Back in the 1950's, the cry was for integrated education, and an end to "separate but equal" schooling. Now we seem to be swinging back the other way - and it's the allegedly liberal types who are supporting the return to segregation. Black students taught black history only by black teachers, gay kids in a separate high school altogether - to put it bluntly, the Klan would be happy with these arrangements, and that makes me very uncomfortable with these ideas.

As Opinion Journal puts it, these ideas "should not be acceptable from anyone in America in the 21st century."

Posted by kswygert at 10:19 AM | Comments (5)

July 28, 2003

Bashing the SAT

You know, I'm still feeling under the weather, with low energy and even lower mood. But Devoted Reader Bas Braams knows what will get me up and shaking my fist at the world - SAT criticism that includes obsolete items. This LA Times article drags up, yet again, the infamous but long-gone "regatta" item as part of current criticism against the test:

...the National Center for Fair & Open Testing...contends that the SAT is biased against lower-income students and those for whom English is a second language. As evidence, center public education director Robert Schaeffer cited several analogy questions from over the years, including this one, since deleted:

RUNNER: MARATHON ::

A) envoy: embassy

B) martyr: massacre

C) oarsman: regatta

D) referee: tournament

E) horse: stable

The answer was C.

"That's incredibly culturally centered," Schaeffer said. "You don't see a regatta in center-city L.A., you don't see it in Appalachia, you don't see it in New Mexico."

I've emphasized the phrase "over the years" above, and for good reason. It's an attempt to drag up old news and disguise it as current criticism. This item hasn't been on the SAT for at least 13 years, perhaps longer. For at least that same amount of time, SAT items have undergone review for differential item functioning in order to root out these types of items - something the writer doesn't mention here.

According to Schaeffer's reasoning, because a few SAT items were once perhaps biased, we should assume that most of them still are. What 's more, no evidence is given here to show that at the time the item was written and used, it was in fact biased. If the word "regatta" was once on vocabulary lists, then it could have been unbiased, and there's no shame in the College Board deleting items once they're obsolete.

What Schaeffer is really saying is that now it isn't politically correct to insist that disadvantaged kids learn the word "regatta," and it's odd to see that taken seriously as test criticism.

Schaeffer also doesn't seem to understand the very basic purpose of the SAT, which is that it measures English comprehension. Therefore, kids who don't know English well should do worse on the SAT than kids who do know English. Yet, in his mind, this is "bias" against non-native English speakers, rather than evidence that the SAT is a valid measure of how well a kid knows English. Funny how test critics use the word "bias" so loosely, isn't it? ETS and the College Board should put the word "bias" in an analogy item so that the situation will come full circle.

Sadly, this article is somewhat commendable because writer Paul Pringle at least hints that the offending item is no longer in use. Some writers don't even go that far, as can be seen in this article; an unsuspecting reader might believe that this item was still in use.

(By the way, there is a regatta in New Mexico. Just so you know.)

I'm also not impressed by this tired argument:

...the SAT is often the target of complaints that material like the analogies can be professionally coached. Many say that gives an edge to students whose parents can afford tutors and prep courses.

"As soon as you start exposing some kids to the methods behind the questions, there start to be unfair advantages," said Larry Berger...He told of sleuthing for patterns to answers to boost his chances of guessing right on questions that flummoxed him.

The analogies, he said, are spiked with "distracters" — words designed to trip up students. An example: A question begins with the prompt "COVEN: WITCHES." The possible answers include "amulet: vampires," but the correct choice is "choir: singers." "The student is distracted by the superficial relationship between witches and vampires," Berger said.

What? You mean the SAT is a test for which one can actually prepare? Horrors! I eagerly await an alternative test from these critics - one on which preparation affords no advantage, so that a kid who practices under time limits and familiarizes himself with the tasks will do the same as a kid of similar aptitude who is completely unprepared for the occasion. After all, we wouldn't want to reward extra effort, would we?

Oh, and that "superficial distractor"? That's, um, the point. An amulet is not composed of vampires. The occult reference in this response makes it an attractive distractor, but a kid who understands the relationship won't pick the wrong option. I suppose Berger's ideal test item would be one in which all but the key response are clearly wrong. So - the test should not reward practice, and all correct responses should be very obvious. Have I got all this straight?

And isn't it interesting how, when private companies that are completely unrelated to the testing companies charge an arm and a leg for tutoring, it's the testing companies that suffer the criticism, as though they're the ones gouging customers? And this is despite the fact that the test prep companies have yet to present solid data attesting to the efficacy of their methods. Reporters almost never pick up on this misdirection of bile.

Amazingly, this article even treats us to the sight of Princeton Review assistant VP Jeff Rubenstein professing his "gall" at the sight of certain SAT analogy items - but the staff writer doesn't point out that Rubenstein isn't galled enough to refrain from helping run a company that charges students hundreds of dollars to learn how to answer these items.

If the items really galled him, don't you think he'd work for peanuts - even free?

(Joanne Jacobs also covered this article in a much more succinct fashion than I did. She always has better titles, too - "The regatta is over." Heh.)

Posted by kswygert at 06:00 PM | Comments (5)

Worried in Illinois

School officials in Illinois fear that funding won't be sufficient in 2004-2005 to comply with NCLB - so they're hoping for a break:

The Illinois State Board of Education released this week the scores from the standardized tests students took in the spring...The results showed that Illinois students failed in many of the testing areas. Almost 630 schools in the state’s 894 school districts failed to meet state testing standards...

Mike Gray, superintendent of the East Alton Elementary School District, said the implications could be "extremely detrimental" to many school districts. He said this is the result of the larger problem most administrators and teachers have with NCLB -- not every student is capable of meeting certain standards.

According to the bill, by the 2012-2013 school year, all students must meet or exceed state standards. Administrators have directed their ire at this portion of the bill, because they feel the expectations are unrealistic...

Challenges from lawmakers are starting to funnel down, as well. Even states are considering action against the bill...The National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country, announced earlier this month that it is preparing a lawsuit to challenge the under-funded mandates required by NCLB.

Are those expectations unrealistic? Yes, they are. However, one could argue that setting the expectations any lower leaves states and schools too much wiggle room to write off problematic kids and slow learners, and lower expectations wouldn't put as much pressure on schools to change curriculums and practices that aren't working. It's hard to tell how much of the current frustration is because the expectations are truly impossible - or because the ed-school ideologies aren't flexible enough to allow for more effective teaching. NCLB was indeed intended to force schools to change - and it's not surprising that many people are unhappy with this.

One thing's for sure - it will be interesting to see how these lawsuits play out.

Posted by kswygert at 04:03 PM | Comments (0)

The exit exam debate

Former teacher Shirley Hickman muses about the effectiveness of exit exams in the Porterville (CA) Recorder:

Do the tests really measure what they say they measure? For example, the STAR Cat 9 test, which was given to high school students, was supposed to measure if students have met the California Standards in language arts, science, social science and math.

Initially there was only a 40% match between the test and the standards. Recently the test has been revised to make a better alignment and now the match is between 60% and 70%...

I am not opposed to state or national tests. In fact, much of my tutoring business revolves around helping students attain high scores on college entrance tests like the SAT I and SAT II. The tests are also telling me if I'm preparing the students adequately, and students are motivated to learn more so they can improve their test scores.

When I was teaching English at Monache and my students complained about their assignments, I explained that the work they did was preparing them for the minimum competency reading and writing tests.

Students were more willing to work hard when they knew they had to pass those tests to graduate. The California High School Exit Exam may have the same effect on many students...The aim [of NCLB] is praise-worthy, but the target will only be hit if there is a quality testing program that accurately measures what students need to know.

In contrast to Ms. Hickman's optimistic statements, here's an article from one very pessimistic and dissatisfied Alaskan high school junior, Luisa Walmsley:

It bothers me that it is so easy to graduate from high school without knowing much at all. The scores necessary to pass a course can be obtained by sitting through the classes and doing a minimum amount of work. I see students doing this in many of my classes, and I have been guilty of it myself. It is easy to take advantage of the system...

The current grading system places the emphasis on passing instead of learning. It does not matter how much you know, as long as you make a certain grade. If learning is not mandatory in order to get through school, then it must not be very important after all. What's the point of doing the work? Who cares?...

The state of Alaska has sought to remedy this problem by instituting the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, which requires students to pass tests in reading, writing and mathematics in order to receive their high school diplomas...This exam doesn't even begin to improve the situation. We spend far too much time in school to limit our learning to basic skills. An exit exam does nothing to encourage more than just that. If we must have a test, it should be one that motivates students to seek more knowledge.

While Ms. Hickman seems to be dealing with students who rebel at learning just the basics, Ms. Walmsley thinks that the exams are too basic, and should be more difficult in order to be motivating. The exams weren't really designed to motivate students to learn more than the basic skills, though, so I can see why they'd be frustrating for students who want a challenge.

Posted by kswygert at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

Good schools, unhappy teachers

Palm Beach (FL) has some unhappy teachers right now. They're being denied a salary increase for superior teaching - because their schools as a whole didn't show sufficient increases on FCAT performance. Problem is, many of these schools already have "A" ratings, meaning that the teachers are being stymied by a ceiling effect that the state isn't taking into account:

Jerry O'Donnell, a science teacher at Eagles Landing Middle School west of Boca Raton, learned last week his A-rated school is not eligible for the teacher bonus because it did not make sufficient learning gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the standardized exams that determine a school's grade from the state..."How are we supposed to improve any more if we get A's every year?" O'Donnell said.

Teachers' union President Shelley Vana said the plan was bound to anger some teachers. Plans that pay teachers based on the quality of their skills have caused controversy across the country, she said. "There is no fair way to do merit pay," she said. "It's not the district's fault."...

"I was livid. I have never gotten any kind of bonus," said Karen Kaplan, a first-grade teacher at C-rated Orchard View Elementary School in Delray Beach who was a Palm Beach County Teacher of the Year finalist in 2001. She filed a portfolio but learned her school did not make sufficient gains for her to qualify. "This was supposed to be based on your individual performance and not your school's performance," Kaplan said. "It is very demoralizing."

I don't blame her for being angry. If the plan is supposed to reward individual teachers, then the school's performance shouldn't have been taken into account - especially if teachers at better schools are being penalized. I wouldn't agree with Ms. Vana in concluding that there is "no fair way" to assign merit pay, but this method certainly seems unfair.

Posted by kswygert at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

More Web means better test scores?

A Michigan study on home internet use by low-income families has concluded that Internet use doesn't negative effect the social skills of adults - but it might improve the test scores of their children:

HomeNetToo is a research project designed to study how low-income families use the Internet at home. In particular, the researchers are interested in what makes people use the Internet and what effects its use has on people.

"We found no evidence that using the Internet at home reduces social contacts or undermines communication with family or friends," said Linda A. Jackson, professor of psychology at MSU and a principal investigator on the recently completed three-year study...

The researchers were most excited by their findings related to children.

"HomeNetToo children who spent more time online using the Web performed better in school after one year than those who spent less time online," Jackson said. "It appears that the text-based nature of most Web pages is causing children to read more, resulting in improvements in grade point averages and performance on standardized tests of reading achievement."

There's more than a simple correlational effect going on here, because the participants, all of whom had little to no computer experience, were given home computers, Internet service, and technical support for 16 months, and it appears before-and-after measurements were taken. There's no control group, but this experimental design is sufficient for showing the effect of targeted intervention on these groups. I'm not at all surprised that the kids are reading more (although I'm sure the parents had to figure out how to control what the kids were reading pretty quickly...)

Posted by kswygert at 03:35 PM | Comments (0)

The revolutionary compassion of conservatives

This article in City Journal, on conservative compassion vs. liberal pity, has an excellent (and moving) description of the perils of viewing underpriviledged schoolchildren with pity and lowered expectations:

Today’s progressive-ed pedagogy, with its focus on pupils’ self-esteem, shrinks from giving students the constant challenge they need to move on to a new level of mastery and insight. The dumbing-down of the curriculum, the unwillingness to make kids learn a body of knowledge and develop basic skills through drill, the easy tests and lack of consequences for leaving homework undone—all conspire to keep kids’ horizons low, instead of expanding them. In inner-city public schools, especially, teachers tend to view their students with undiluted welfare-state pity, seeing them as unable to meet high, or even ordinary, standards. The result is the normalizing of social promotion and the multicultural assertion that the student’s own world is sufficient for him, that his education need not constantly challenge him with worldviews and ways of life higher and better than the limited world into which he was born—since how could he ever become the person fit to enter such a higher realm?

A teacher prompted by compassion rather than pity would say to a struggling kid: “You are not living up to your potential. You are frivolously wasting the gifts God gave you. You’ve got talent. Show it.”

Posted by kswygert at 03:26 PM | Comments (0)

Invasion of the Sinus Cloggers

Light bloggage today, folks. I'm a bit under the weather.

Posted by kswygert at 11:03 AM | Comments (4)

July 25, 2003

The Gadfly's book reviews

The Gadfly page at EdExcellence.net has two interesting book reviews up this week. Both are new books which together define the endpoints of the opposing sides of the testing war.

The first book is Richard Phelps' Kill the Messenger: The War on Standardized Testing, and it rightfully notes that most Americans support standardized testing, but the educational "elite" often do not. It also points out the strong educational propaganda movement that is meant to discredit tests; as I've pointed out before, journalists who fail to question claims that tests are unfair, or racially-biased, help push this propaganda.

I'm delighted to see that the book is finally out; Richard is an acquaintance of mine, and I actually spoke with him a year or two back about possibly being involved with the book. I chose not to participate, but I'd be lying if I said that our conversations didn't have some impact on my decision to start this blog. The book also quotes Dr. Gregory Cizek, who is also a friend of mine and a very knowledgeable, outspoken professor. Anyway, as I said, I'm glad to see the book's finally been published; can't wait to see what the other reviews are.

The second book, which, funnily enough, has a very similar cover to Phelp's book (oh, those bubble sheets), takes the opposite tack. The Unintended Consequences of High-Stakes Testing, by Gail Jones, Brett Jones, and Tracy Hargrove (all of whom are education professors, not psychometricians) focuses on the stress and anxiety caused by testing. The Gadfly takes the words right out of my mouth:

A perfect example of educationists' propaganda campaign against high-stakes testing mentioned above, this is a 180-page rant complete with students' drawings meant to illustrate their "stress and anxiety." If you accept the authors' underlying assumptions, which are unadulterated education progressivism/constructivism, then you, too, may share their conclusion that high-stakes testing has side effects that are bad for children and other living things...

Student drawings? Last I heard, students also like to draw insulting pictures of their teachers; does this mean teachers should be removed because they cause "stress"? Reviewer Chester Finn also notes that if "you want a single-volume recapitulation of all the arguments against high-stakes testing that you've ever encountered, this is the book for you." Sounds like it's definitely the book for me, so I'll have to get ahold of it and craft some counter-arguments. Then I could post them on this blog and invite the authors to respond. THAT could be fun.

Posted by kswygert at 10:02 AM | Comments (4)

Making the grade

The 2002 federal Adequate Yearly Progress school assessment figures were released yesterday, and the handwringing and worrywarting has begun. The Sacramento Bee notes, for example, that 70% of California's schools failed to meet the new standards, which are described below:

Under AYP, progress must be shown not only for each school but also in subgroups within a school. The subgroups include major ethnic groups, English learners, disabled students and poor children. If any subgroup comes up short, then the whole school fails.

AYP mandates that certain requirements are met each year:

* Each school and subgroup must perform to a proficiency level. In the first three years of AYP, 13.6 percent of elementary and middle school students must be proficient in English and 16 percent in math. For high school students, 11.2 percent must be proficient in English and 9.6 percent in math. Those percentages climb in future years.

* All schools and districts must have at least 95 percent of their students take state standards tests.

* Schools must also show improvement in their Academic Performance Index -- a number between 200 and 1,000 assigned to schools based on student performance on standardized tests.

* Finally, schools must show growth in high school graduation rates.

Sanctions for insufficient progress include allowing students to transfer to schools that meet the standards, requiring schools to provide tutoring, or even firing school staff.

Why is it difficult for schools to meet the standards above? Many, it seems, don't manage to test 95% of their kids, and that requirement that all subgroups show improvement is tricky, although the percentages stated above proficient performers is surprisingly low. Only 11.2% of high school students must be proficient in English? What schools are failing to teach 9 out of 10 teenagers to read?

On paper, Oakland's schools seem to be failing in that mission, but, although only 5% of Oakland's schools met the required progress standard, it appears that at least a few schools fell short because they didn't test 95% of their students in each subgroup. And one Fremont elementary school, widely considered to be one of the best, is indignant at being included in the "failing to make progress" category:

Mission Valley, for instance, scored a perfect 10 on the 2002 Academic Performance Index, but it is considered deficient in both math and English in the AYP ratings because 92.2 percent of white children took the test instead of the required 95 percent. That equals about five children.

Never mind that more than more than 75 percent of the kids who did take the test were rated proficient in both subjects, surpassing by far the requirement of 13.6 percent in English and 16 percent in math.

"The 95 percent participation rate is a difficult baseline for all districts to reach," said Jessica Zektser, testing director for the Fremont school district, who noted that every district in Alameda County was thwarted by that requirement.

Emphasis mine. If nothing else, perhaps these sorts of numbers can provide impetus for some sort of change to that section of the law. I understand why the 95% requirement is there - to keep schools from fudging the numbers by refusing to test low-performers - but if a school shows that 94%, or 93%, were tested, and that this group was very far above the national benchmark, an allowance should be made. It's silly for a school whose children perform well overall to get a low rating just because five Hispanic kids stayed home on the days the tests were given.

The full report, which will include 2003 results, will be released in August of this year.

Posted by kswygert at 09:41 AM | Comments (5)

July 24, 2003

Mooooove along, class

Well, this is certainly one way to gain international attention for your complaints about your kid's teacher.

Of course, if you pulled this stunt somewhere like New York City, then you'd really get some ink...

Posted by kswygert at 12:28 PM | Comments (2)

"All-out overhauls" in Utah

In the second Utah-related education story in as many days, the state is considering a proposal for raising the graduation standards, so that kids are actually forced to do better in classes, and not just perform well on standardized exams:

...instead of applying solely to high school students, the revised proposal holds middle school students to a C or better in their classes to earn course credit. Those who don't make the grade could still move on to high school but would be required to take certain classes to catch up.

In addition, the state board could require students to demonstrate certain skills -- such as technical writing or oral communication of ideas -- in order to graduate. Employers and colleges, then, would be assured that every graduate sufficiently proved his or her abilities in practice, not just on a test.

Although adding grades into this process is subjective, some supporters of the proposal believe this is a good thing, because grades may include "intangibles such as a student's work ethic, class behavior and effort. " Unfortunately, it could also include intangibles such as a teacher's unwillingness to assign a D or an F if they know that the student won't be able to move forward with those grade.

Other suggested changes:

* Sets non-negotiable minimum standards for students in kindergarten through 10th grade starting in fall 2004.

* Adds frequent "diagnostic" assessments in K-10 to alert teachers and parents to students' grasp of subject matter.

* Notes the state board will investigate establishing and enforcing exit competency guidelines that aren't necessarily connected to a single course. For example, a student could demonstrate competency in writing in classes such as history or science.

* Expands performance expectations to include seventh and eighth grade. Like high school students, seventh- and eighth-graders would be required to earn a C or better in each of 12 courses to advance to high school. Students who fail to do so would still move on to high school but would have to enroll in specific classes to catch up.

* No longer cites a six-period daily class schedule as the preferred schedule.

* No longer prescribes course requirements for the junior and senior years. Math, for example, would no longer be required senior year.

* Expands the breadth of electives high school students may take beyond 24 core and elective credits (or six courses a year over four years). One-third of additional classes must be in language arts, math, science, social studies, fine arts, applied technology, physical education, math or foreign language. This is meant to ensure a meaningful senior year by preventing students from filling their schedule with easy classes.

* Drops reference to tying school funding to student competency.

Interesting. How are the increase of the breadth of electives, and the deletion of the math requirement for seniors, supposed to prevent those kids from "filling their schedules with easy classes"? If math and phys ed are both considered acceptable electives, it's not hard to see which way some kids are going to go.

And how are schools going to be held accountable if state funding isn't tied to competency? Are there any provisions in the report for that?

Posted by kswygert at 11:04 AM | Comments (22)

Passing the TAKS

In Texax, 96% of the third-graders passed their TAKS reading tests and will thus be promoted to third-grade.

Of the 11,478 students total who failed the test despite three attempts, some still have the chance to be promoted. Their parents can request a hearing, and the student can move on to the fourth grade (with additional remedial instruction) only if the parent, the student's reading teacher and his or her principal all agree that the student should be promoted. The introduction of the parent into this process is interesting - is anyone else aware of a state where the parent's opinion counts for anything? At this point, some of the flunkers might instead be given exceptions and a spot in special education programs.

Note that the test is given in Spanish as well, which would suggest that those children are not yet reading at the third-grade level in English. Are these Spanish-test-takers the kids who know only Spanish but who are being mainstreamed into English-immersion courses, or is it acceptable to be reading in either language in order to be placed in the fourth grade?

Posted by kswygert at 10:55 AM | Comments (3)

July 23, 2003

Assessing the "rigidity" of the FCAT

There's a long, and interesting, article in today's NYT on the use of the FCAT for grade promotion in Florida. Blogger Nick has taken notice of the story as well, but his archives don't work, so you'll have to scroll down.

The story begins with the description of Derek, a "good student" who, like 23% of all young Floridians, failed the reading portion of the third-grade FCAT. Derek was determined to be promoted to fourth-grade, and so attended a four-week summer reading camp financed by the state. The camp doesn't sound like much fun, and it wasn't, and to get out of third grade, one had to score above the 51st percentile of the Stanford 9 exam. Only 15% of the camp-bound youngsters managed this, which suggests that the camp is extremely ineffective at teaching Florida's youngsters, or that their reading problems are more entrenched than anyone anticipated.

The end result is that the third-grade retention rate is going to be four or five times what it was a year ago. Derek is one of those who is going to be held back, because he scored at the 50th percentile - and here's where the controversy begins:

Derek missed by one question, scoring at the 50th percentile. His principal, Louise Brown, says he deserves to be promoted. "Derek's a late bloomer, just coming into his own — not everyone reads on the same time scale," Ms. Brown said. By scoring at the 50th percentile, Derek is reading better than half the nation's third graders. But according to the new state rules on retention, championed by Gov. Jeb Bush, the principal and the teacher have almost no say in promotion.

The standard error of measurement on the Stanford 9, developed by Harcourt Assessment, is 3.2 points, meaning Derek's score may reflect a reading ability above the 51st percentile...

As Nick points out, this also means that Derek could be reading below the 50th percentile. The reporter is correct to mention the SEM here, because that's a measure of variability for an individual student's scores, but we don't know how many percentile points 3.2 points translates to, and it seems a bit skeevy to base an argument on the SEM without pointing out that it cuts both ways.

Derek's principal's argument that "not everyone reads on the same time scale" is actually an argument against promotion, not for it. The point that supporters of the FCAT are trying to make is that fourth grade is not for everyone of the same age; it is for everyone who can read at the fourth-grade level. It's possible - perhaps likely - that Derek is not one of those kids. Thus, the fourth-grade might not be where he is supposed to be right now, because he's not on the same "time-scale" as everyone else.

For a reporter who's unafraid to mention the standard error of measurement, Michael Winerip seems awfully shy about pointing out the distribution of those who flunked more prominently than did Derek. Did most of Florida's flunkers hover around the 50%ile mark? Or was Derek chosen because he was the closest to the cutscore?

We do read that "hundreds" scored within the standard deviation for the passing score on the Stanford 9. The relationship between the standard deviation and the SEM for a test, in case you're wondering, is

s * (1-r)**1/2,

which is keyboard notation for the standard deviation times the square root of the sample size minus the reliability of the test.

Without the reliability of the test, we can't really tell what the standard deviation is, so we're still a little bit in the dark about how wide the band is. If the number is in the high hundreds, it's not surprising that 71 were close to the cutpoint, because we'd expect most kids to be massed up around the middle of the bell-shaped score distribution. If it's in the low hundreds, that might be a different story. Tens of thousands of Florida's third-graders had the chance to take the Stanford 9 for promotion; depending on the number and the distribution, for "hundreds" to be within one standard deviation is expected.

My guess is that the distribution of the FCAT flunkers on the Stanford 9 was exactly as expected - most everyone was in the middle to the lower end of the curve, which is more likely to be positively skewed than bell-shaped. But by choosing to tell the story of one kid who is close to the 85th percentile of the flunkers, and close to the grade promotion cutscore, the reporter invites readers to imagine that most of Florida's students fit this description.

In Florida's push to get every child reading by third grade, politicians have ignored the scientific studies on retention, which overwhelmingly conclude that students held back suffer academically, dropping out at a higher rate.

Why doesn't the reporter cite any studies here? I'm not trying to be mean; I'm just not aware of this "overwhelming" evidence. I mean, if kids who get held back tend to drop out at a higher rate, that isn't proof that holding kids back causes them to drop out later. Instead, it could simply mean that the same factors that keep kids from achieving early on - lack of intelligence or concentration; emotional disturbances; undiagnosed learning disorders - keep them from achieving later on.

Principal Brown, in fact, contradicts the reporter's statement with her own:

Ms. Brown is not against testing. Her school has an A rating from the state, based largely on strong test scores. But she says she does not believe that tests should replace human judgment and says that just a couple of her third graders should be retained.

"A child will not read any better whether he's sitting in a third-grade or fourth-grade classroom," Ms. Brown said.

If I'm reading this correctly, Ms. Brown is saying that promoting a kid to fourth-grade instead of retaining them won't help matters. Her statement is an argument against promoting poor readers, not for promoting them. It also seems to be a mighty pessimistic assessment of both third- and fourth-grade reading classrooms, doesn't it?

Those of you who read my comments section will notice that many of my readers have recently made logical statements about why third-graders should not be tested under stakes as high as this. I tend to agree with them. However, given that we currently have a culture (at least in Florida) in which third-graders are being held to these standards, it behooves us to examine the data accurately and see what it's telling us.

We can argue all day about whether to promote the kids who flunked, but I'd rather argue about why they flunked. What are the schools not doing that they should be doing? Are the test standards inconsistent with the classroom curriculum? Are kids of this age more likely to have incapacating test anxiety, or are they perhaps unable to grasp the implications of not trying their best? This article could have addressed these questions, but instead it gave us one sob story, one partial-sob story, incomplete data for our conclusions, uncited "overwhelming" research, contradictory statements, and complaints about summer schooling.

Most profoundly, I find it astonishing that the article, which is about the reading portion of the FCAT, highlights the fact that many more third-graders will be held back this year, but doesn't invite its readers to wonder what reading skills the test might be measuring that teachers didn't catch in the past.

Posted by kswygert at 03:36 PM | Comments (4)

My first blog-child

Devoted Reader Nick has started his own blog, entitled Twilight of the Idols. One of the topics he'll be convering is education, so I feel entitled to consider him a blogchild of mine, whether he wants to be or not. That way, when he catches articles like the NYT story on the FCAT mess before I catch them (see above), I get to horn in on his scoop as well. :)

So go on over and say howdy. And tell him to get off Blogspot as soon as possible, so he'll have archives that work.

Posted by kswygert at 02:49 PM | Comments (1)

The stress of high-stakes testing

One Delaware mother is very, very concerned about her daughter's poor performance on the high-stakes eighth-grade mathematics exam, and she blames the tests. Reporter Victor Greto produces a sympathetic portrait of those who oppose the state testing:

When 13-year-old Courtney Suchanec received an outstanding achievement certificate for her math work at Kirk Middle School in Newark at the end of this school year, she threw it at her mother. I don't deserve this, the eighth-grader told Gail Patton, her mother.

"I told her she did deserve the award," Patton said. After all, Courtney earned a cumulative 3.95 grade point average at the middle school, and got straight A's in eighth grade. Her daughter's frustration did not come from her yearlong academic performance at school, Patton said. "It was the test."

The test she referred to is one of the Delaware Student Testing Program's standardized third-, fifth- and eighth-grade tests, some of which carry consequences such as mandatory summer school or retention...Courtney received a "2" or "below standard" on the math test...which meant having to take the test again, as well as the possibility of summer school. "She also has to have tutoring," Patton said. "This is a girl who has had As in math all her life."

Okay, granted, the test might be the problem - or were the classes the problem? Was there a serious disconnect between the class content and the testing standards (which would indicate the need for revised exams, not lower stakes)? Was grade inflation perhaps to blame, for boosting Courtney's "self-esteem" a bit higher than the test indicates? If Courtney suffers from test anxiety, it's understandable that she's frustrated at the situation, but this one story doesn't give us that much evidence.

While I feel sorry for her, I'd really like to know how many other students are having this problem. One child is a moving anecdote; many children would indicate a serious case of grade inflation, curriculum-test standard misalignment, or both. It's not that I don't agree that too much testing is harmful, or that younger children may be less likely to be able to perform well in high-stakes settings. But one test-anxiety-ridden child does not an formidable case against testing make.

And neither do these arguments against testing that appear later in the article:

When [teacher] Finnan taught social studies a couple of years ago, she said, half her class of 22 scored two or more grades below the standards on the reading portion of the test. To compensate for that, "Science and social studies got shortened because we spent so much time on reading," she said.

The next year, all her students met the test's standards, "but I didn't feel like I had the time to enjoy the kids. I felt like I was always pushing, driving and coaxing."

Is there a way to teach every kid in the class to read without some driving and coaxing? Since when is education supposed to be effort-free? And how can social studies be meaningful if a kid can't read?

Delmar principal Mark Holodick said the tests are a work in progress, and said there is too much emphasis now being placed on individual students.

"I've never seen students or adults respond well to the threat of failure or being punished for not performing," he said.

That's funny. Most adults I know understand, and respond to, the idea that punishment for bad performance is inherent in every part of our lives, whether we live in the collegiate, graduate, and post-graduate universes. Perhaps if you're a school principal in Delaware, you face no punishment for slacking off, but the real world demands that you accept punishment if you don't perform well in your college classes, your job, or your marriage. If you don't believe this, your professor, your boss, or your spouse's divorce lawyer will be happy to explain it to you.

Again, this is not to say that third-graders should be forced to live with high-stakes testing - but it's just plain silly to oppose testing for third-graders by insisting that adults don't live with high-stakes testing, of a sort, every day.

Posted by kswygert at 10:41 AM | Comments (19)

New standards for the MSA

The Washington Post has the goods on the new standards set this week for the Maryland State Assessment, or MSA. Having sat in on standard-setting committee meetings myself, I know a bit about how time-consuming, and brain-draining, the process is...

The passing standards vary for each test and grade level. The math exams, for example, will be scored on a scale of 0 to 800, with 379 set as passing for a third-grader and 392 for a fifth-grader. Reading test scores now range from 100 to 700, but officials said they plan to recalibrate the numbers to match the math standards.

The impact of the scoring system likely will hit local school districts next month, when the state plans to release a detailed breakdown of test scores by county, school and individual student. Statewide results, officials said yesterday, show that although most students met the new targets, fewer than half of Maryland's eighth- and 10th-graders scored proficient in math.

Maryland apparently has a huge standard-setting group, which, interestingly, includes non-psychometricians with a vested interest in the process - that is, parents:

Although the law requires all subgroups to make progress each year, it is up to each state to determine what those yardsticks will be. That put the 300 Maryland parents, educators and testing experts who met last week to fine-tune the passing scores in a bind. Set the targets too low and risk being accused of watering down standards; set the bars too high and risk making it too difficult for many students to pass...

Eight committees last week examined how the state tests correlate to what students should know now and by 2014. Testing experts then reviewed the process, followed by another panel that checked for consistency among tests, scores and content. The final part was what Gary Heath, assistant state superintendent, called a "reality check": how students would be affected by the new scoring system.

All of those are necessary steps in standards setting. I wonder where the parents come in? Are they part of the "reality check"?

Posted by kswygert at 10:27 AM | Comments (1)

Revamping the curriculum

Those of you complaining that our test-driven culture is forcing schools to drop classes that don't teach the basics might find this article interesting. The article describes the process by which a particular school district in Utah is re-evaluating whether classes can remain in the curriculum.

The schools in Utah are under the gun to revamp their curricula and beef up graduation requirements, and the article makes it clear that the relationship the class content has to the test scores is important for judging the necessity of a course:

In an afternoon study session, the board agreed with a staff proposal to evaluate courses based on three criteria: whether the courses are necessary, whether they contribute to schools' annual growth in test scores and graduation rates, and whether they enhance students' post-high school options.

Now, I don't see these criteria as flawed, but some do. But those who claim that necessary courses are going to go under the knife should look further at the basis by which some of these courses were created in the first place:

Whenever a principal wants to add a new course, he or she fills out an application answering questions such as whether the proposed course is driven by the needs of students, whether research supports the need for the course, and whether it will improve the cultural, social and intellectual environment for all students. In all, there are eight questions in the application...

"Up to now, approval of a course has been pretty likely because all we ask for is for the principal to answer a few questions," Assistant Superintendent Linda Mariotti said. The process is inherently flawed because it is so subjective, she said. "There are no criteria for schools to determine, 'Do we really need this? What constitutes student need?' " she said...

Under the proposal she presented to the board Tuesday, principals and their schools' community councils would initiate the process for adding a new course by answering "yes" to three questions: whether research supports the need for the course, whether a qualified instructor is available to teach it and whether the course is fiscally feasible...Course proponents would also have to meet two of three additional criteria: whether the school needs another core academic class or a class that supports the core, such as "the function of literature;" whether the proposed course will help the school and students meet annual growth targets for standardized test scores and graduation rates; and whether the course will enhance students' post-high school options.

Wow, such onerous requirements these are. Don't initiate a course unless the money and teaching resources are availabe, and there's evidence to support the need for it. Oh, and is it going to help the kids by either allowing them to learn basic/core skills, or help them in the post-high-school world? If not, should taxpayers really be paying for it?

These criteria seem reasonable to me, yet I'm awaiting the inevitable backlash from those who think that kids have a right to take sports marketing (to use one example) in a public school.

Posted by kswygert at 10:20 AM | Comments (5)

Pushing for proficiency

This NEPA (NorthEastern Pennsylvania) News Team report on the use of NAEP scores in comparing urban schools (previously, the test has been used only for national and state comparisons) has the most optimistic headline I've seen in a while:

"New school scores set urban benchmark, show huge room for improvement"

Translation? The schools setting the benchmarks have a looooong way to go...

Six school districts volunteered to set an urban benchmark, allowing them to compare their fourth-graders and eighth-graders and to gauge whether school reforms work over time. The six are Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles and New York.

"We knew we were taking a risk in joining up for this test, knowing it was going to be another case of Atlanta students underperforming," said Sharron Hunt, chief accountability officer for Atlanta Public Schools. "That doesn't mean we have low expectations; I believe the students can and will achieve higher rates _ all of our students."...

...The six districts all have high percentages of black or Hispanic students, who typically score below whites on standardized tests...

The standard is not even excellence here, but "proficiency." Nationwide, only 30% of youngsters reach that mark; in urban areas, even fewer do. It seems the urban educators are pushing here for their charges to be compared not only to students nationwide, but also to students in similar cities. The educators sound pretty gung-ho about the whole thing:

In Los Angeles, roughly 40 percent of fourth-graders tested had limited English ability. That's a factor, not an excuse, said Roy Romer, superintendent of the city's school district. "The value to us is, over time, how do we change?" Romer said. "We're low, but we are coming up rapidly." He said elementary grade scores in the city have increased at twice the state average, as measured by California tests...

In Atlanta, Hunt said, the national scores will do more than serve as a starting point _ they will drive change. For example, the district may realize it must put more emphasis on a specific reading skill, or it could shift some lessons to an earlier grade, she said.

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

At least this way we can't hear them hollering...

These two fun-loving parent, arrested in Maryland for child abuse and reckless driving, are obviously lifetime enrollees in the, "Honey, let's allow the kids make the decisions" school of parenting (or non-parenting, as the case may be). The last sentence of the article strikes me as very funny, but I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the obligatory, "But I didn't mean to cause any harm" following the admission that, maybe, they did something really boneheaded.

Posted by kswygert at 09:37 AM | Comments (4)

July 22, 2003

Proofreading public art

Redheaded Rambler Sheila, whom I've linked to previously regarding Make Way For Ducklings, found a posting in her archive she thought I'd like. It's related to my posting about sanitizing test items, in a way, but it's much more amusing.

Posted by kswygert at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

The Last of the Valedictorians

The Kentucky Courier News reports on a new academic trend - schools are moving away from such traditional indictors of academic achievement as valedictorian status, and towards "finding another way to honor high-achieving seniors," as one teacher puts it. Gee, telling someone that they're #1 sounds like a whiz-bang way to honor them, doesn't it? So why on earth would schools want to change this system?

You can see it coming, can't you?

THE TREND away from naming a single valedictorian is taking place against a backdrop of litigation that illustrates just how intense the competition for the top spot in a school can sometimes become.

You get three guesses as to who's mentioned next, and the first two don't count.

In Moorestown, N.J., for example, Blair Hornstine, who took most of her classes at home because she suffers from an immune disorder, sued when school officials decided that home-schooling gave her an unfair advantage and that another student should share valedictorian honors with her.

Sadly, she's not the only example listed here...

Other recent cases have centered on students who sued to get a grade changed so they would be valedictorian, and on parents who tried to prevent the school system from changing the way seniors are honored to protect their child's position as potential valedictorian.

The schools dropping the valedictorian/salutatorian honorifics are allegedly trying to avoid the "cutthroat" competition among classmates. Funny, but given the complaints I hear from some teachers who would gladly cut their own throats if it would motivate their uncaring students, having students care a great deal about where they rank doesn't seem like the worst possible outcome. Blair seems like the perfect example of such competition taken to its logical extreme, of course, but frankly, she's news partly because few, if any, have been competitive enough to sue over the honors status, and perhaps few ever will.

Some school boards and parents want the valedictorian positions to stay, because of the motivation factor:

...Lee Cotner, a member of the New Albany-Floyd County school board, said, "I'm not in favor" of moving away from naming valedictorians. He added that he believes the tradition "fosters healthy academic competition, and to take that away I think is wrong."

You won't be surprised to hear that another board member disagrees with this, and bases his disagreement on the sacred philosophy of self-esteem:

Fourteen years ago, Don Sakel was principal of Floyd Central, the only other high school in the New Albany-Floyd County district, when it abandoned valedictorians in favor of a system designed to honor a larger group of students. That system is still in place — the school recognizes the top 2 percent as graduating with "distinction," the next 3 percent as "high honors" and the next 5 percent as "honors" graduates.

"We felt that the more students we could recognize, the more students would achieve," Sakel said. "It builds self-esteem."

Of course. Telling students where they rank isn't good enough, and letting students know who is #1 is, I suppose, a bit too much self-esteem for the top person. My high school had honors graduates as well, but I don't think the honor rankings were done for our self-esteem, or to make those of us who didn't make valedictorian feel better.

The blindness of these administrators to the reality of life, and teenagers, amazes me. Everyone who cares will know who the top person is, because the students are going to compare GPAs. Everyone also knows that being in the top spot is something to shoot for, and that being one among several in the top category is just a watered-down version of that. If the kids do start to care about graduating with "distinction," there will be just as much competition for that as for the valedictorian spot. And why do we need a process to increase the self-esteem of the kids at the top, when they should be getting a boost from making good grades in the first place?

Oh, and for those of you itching for yet more Blair coverage (you know who you are), I thought this article in the Daily Pennsylvanian was pretty good. I also just noticed in one of my earlier posts that one reader suggested this editorial, which singles out school superintendent Paul Kadri for his problematic handling of the whole valedictorian situation.

Posted by kswygert at 01:55 PM | Comments (12)

New tests on the way for CA

Students heading for the University of California schools will face a new battery of tests beginning in March of 2005:

UC regents on Thursday adopted new freshman admissions test requirements that are aligned to national changes on the SAT and ACT tests, which colleges and universities across the nation use in admissions decisions.

Previously, UC-bound students were required to take the ACT or the SAT I test, as well as three additional, subject-specific SAT II tests. But both the ACT and SAT boards are revising their tests nationwide...The new SAT includes an essay portion, and expands and changes the language arts and mathematics portions, while the new ACT includes revised math and language arts sections and an optional essay...

UC's new regulations will require all incoming freshmen in 2006 -- who will enter their sophomore year of high school this fall -- to take the new SAT or ACT, including the essay portion, as well as two subject-specific SAT tests. For the subject tests, students can choose tests in two of six subjects: history/social science, English, mathematics, lab science, a foreign language, or visual and performing arts.

Astonishingly, there isn't one negative quote in the article about how this revised testing, with the additional requirement of the subject tests, is going to discriminate against minorities, or women, or how the university is only going to admit "lower-order thinkers" using these exams, or any other obligatory anti-testing quotes. The writer must have been under a deadline.

Also, the focus on the essay question makes it difficult for the typical anti-testing crowd to complain, because those types of items are more objective. allow for more creative thinking, and usually allow women to perform better. However, I suppose the wrangling over the "discriminatory" standard of Standard Written English will soon begin. What's more, if the cutpoints are set high for the essay portion, schools that have been neglecting writing skills will really have put their students at a disadvantage. In that case, they'll be doing student a valuable favor by starting to "teach to the test," if it includes making sure they learn to write well.

Posted by kswygert at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

Teaching that it's okay to cheat

Did three Bristol (PA) elementary school teachers help their students just a bit too much on the PSSA (Pennsylvania's standardized test)? PA's Dept. of Education thinks so, and the teachers may be employed at a school that was facing sanctions if test scores did not improve:

Bristol Township School District officials are waiting to hear whether the state determines three Buchanan Elementary teachers cheated on Pennsylvania's standardized assessment test...The investigation was prompted by a discussion between Erin and Justin Darr and their now 9-year-old son, Brandon, who was in third grade on test day during the spring. "My son said that he had spelled 'wolves' incorrectly on his paper and he turned it in to his teacher and she corrected it," Erin Darr said yesterday...

Buchanan Elementary was one of nine Bristol Township schools warned that it could face sanctions if scores did not improve. Darr thinks this pressure played a part in what her children told her.

"This was just absolutely appalling that they would teach the children to cheat to get a better score to keep their hind ends out of trouble," Darr said. "They're telling the children it's OK to cheat so you stay out of trouble," he said.

Exactly.

Posted by kswygert at 11:44 AM | Comments (1)

Judging cities by literacy

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin has come up with a new way to compare US cities - literacy rates. Kay McSpadden reports in the Charlotte Observer on how Dr. Jack Miller compiled his statistics, and has a few observations about other factors related to literacy:

Dr. Jack Miller, chancellor and education professor, recently compiled the statistics from the 64 largest U.S. cities. He looked at the number of booksellers per capita, library support, newspaper circulation, the number of locally published periodicals, and the education level of the population to measure the overall literacy of the cities...

In all categories, the top 10 cities of various sizes were spread across the country, though more of the Sun Belt cities were represented in the bottom 10 cities, perhaps, the researchers speculate, because they have larger, poorer immigrant populations...

...the list raises interesting questions. If Charlotte's population is so well educated, why aren't we reading more? If we have such a large percentage of educated adults, why is it easier to find a bookstore in Atlanta than in Charlotte? Why do children in Miami have more library services than our kids do? Why aren't more people here reading the newspaper, and why haven't we been able to generate more local magazines? Some of those questions are best answered by the leaders who allocate funding for libraries or who encourage businesses such as booksellers and publishers...

Me, I wonder how Dr. Miller is accounting for the prevalence of the internet. I buy almost all my books off of Amazon (or my generous readers send them to me, thank you very much), I read almost all my news online (I get only the Sunday edition of the Inquirer), and I buy many fewer periodicals than I used to, almost none of them local. I suppose that, for now, a literate city is going to have more bookstores and more local periodicals than a non-literate city, but in the future, that may change, and it may not be possible to measure literacy by examining only non-web-related variables...

Posted by kswygert at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

"The class that got away"

Joanne Jacobs noticed a fine article in the Sacramento Bee about the postponed California exit exam. Columnist Daniel Weintraub correctly judges what the fuss about exit exams are all about - when bad teaching on part of a school leads to negative consequences for the students, it's hard for the school to defend its choices:

The alternatives [to postponing the exit exam] the board considered were worse than delay. One was to make the test easier. The other was to lower the passing score [These could be considered the same thing]. Instead, other than dropping one essay requirement to shorten from two days to one the time it takes to administer the language portion of the exam, the board stayed the course. This is good news.

But fans of reform should not rest easy. The test's opponents will see this decision not as a momentary pause but as a crack in the door. They will continue to push to weaken accountability because they do not believe in it....The high school exit exam has become their primary target because, of all the tests the state administers, this is the only one that truly counts...It means something, and that meaning makes it dangerous. When kids fail, people start asking questions. Did the child try hard enough? Did the parents push hard enough? Did the school provide the proper coursework and materials? Was the teaching sufficient?

All of those questions are uncomfortable for a segment of the education establishment that would rather fuzz things up, pat kids on the head for making a good try and send them on their way with no concrete sense of what they have taken with them after 13 years of seat time in the public schools...

Mr. Weintraub also correctly picks up on the recent eduational, political, and cultural philosophies which say that no child can ever fail. The exit exam, by definition, is going to identify those who fail, and unless it is dumbed down beyond recognition, some kids in even the best schools are going to fail. Unless we're willing to say to those kids, "We gave you the best opportunity, but for whatever reason, you didn't perform up to the standard" and refuse to issue a diploma, our support of accountability is empty talk.

Mr. Weintraub estimates that perhaps 80% of California's seniors would have eventually passed the exit exam. Are we truly comfortable with flunking the other 20%? And are we willing to defend the results even if the 20% group contains disproportionately large numbers of minority students? That's the first issue the anti-testing crowd will attack - indeed, it's often the crux of their claims that such tests aren't "fair" - and exit exam supporters should be ready for it.

Posted by kswygert at 11:32 AM | Comments (8)

July 21, 2003

The FCAT Money mess

Is the FCAT really just helping "rich" schools get richer? That's the premise of this Herald Tribune article, which cites a lot of critics of the Florida School Recognition Program.

This program is a reward program for schools that either rank an A on the state's school grading scheme or who improve by at least a full letter grade from one year to the next. The FCAT plays a big part in how schools are ranked, and that seems to be where most of the contention is coming from. The bogus claim that the FCAT doesn't measure any actual learning is repeated here, and one critic says the test might not be "fair," without defining what he means by that. Given that I've seen "fair" redefined so broadly that any score gaps among any groups are termed "unfair," I'm automatically skeptical of his remarks.

I can understand the frustration of schools that are teaching large numbers of impoverished kids. The federal money they receive is either insufficient, or mismanaged, or both.

On the other hand, giving schools money when they fail doesn't provide them with incentive to get better; instead, it provides a motive to continue to do just poorly enough to keep getting money. Who's going to push their school to improve if the money is going to go away when the kids start performing better?

This analogy, of course, is totally false:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at the urging of state Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, has threatened to organize a boycott of Florida's sugar, tourism and citrus industries if changes in the FCAT program aren't made.

Wilson said the recognition program, which has grown to $120 million a year, is a waste of money if wealthy schools benefit most.

"It should be the opposite," Wilson said. "It's like a doctor who goes into a community and gives chemotherapy to the people who don't have cancer."

So minority kids are like cancer patients? And the kids who are doing better aren't doing so because of their own efforts, or the efforts of their teachers, but because they're just lucky enough to be cancer-free? That seems to be the implication here. Also, there's the fact that chemotherapy is not enjoyable, and no one without cancer would be crazy enough to undergo it. Money, on the other hand, is quite enjoyable to everyone, and, unlike with chemotherapy, there's just as much justification for giving money out to those who earn it (through high scores) as to those who need it (because they don't have any and are doing poorly).

Reading through the comments of all the critics in this article, I notice that several show antipathy towards affluent kids and their schools (which are "supposed to be making A's" and thus, presumably, should enjoy no extra reward for it), and a total of none suggest an alternative method of motivating kids, rewarding those who acheive, and holding schools accountable - other than giving all that reward money to schools that don't have enough. Oh, sure, there's this sentence:

Some principals at poor schools would like to see measures put in place to increase their chances of getting good grades.

But that isn't explained more fully, and is followed up immediately with:

Others say any rewards system based on standardized tests or other academic measures will inherently favor rich schools.

Got that? NO rewards for schools doing well are acceptable. And how much favor are we talking about? The richest 50% of the schools are, by the Herald-Tribune's own analysis, getting only 67% of the reward money - that's a difference, but not by much, and it indicates that over 30% of the poorer 50% schools are performing at A level or improving.

The program is indeed helping some rich schools get richer - but it's helping some poor schools get richer as well. If the money is going to be used as a reward, sending it to schools that perform well is the only fair method.

Posted by kswygert at 04:59 PM | Comments (3)

Pop quiz, lizard-style

One of the nice things about being an amateur herpetologist is that people send me random quotes, photos, stories, etc. about the reptiles I love so much. One good friend sent along a couple of lizard photos from a trip she and a friend took to Topanga Canyon, CA. The photo is really cool, but she doesn't know what kind of lizard it is, and neither do I. If any of you Californian readers know what it is, drop me a line.

And now back to our regularly-scheduled programming...

Posted by kswygert at 04:01 PM | Comments (3)

Imagine no test scores, I wonder if you can...

Canadian anti-testing educrats are in the news again, claiming that it's a crying shame that educational reform is focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic, instead of the development of imagination:

"Imagination is not high on the list of priorities in education," said Elliot Eisner, professor of education and art at Stanford University in California. "Test scores, reading levels and math take centre-stage -- they measure outcomes and meet accountability requirements. Spending time on imagination is considered frivolous, unnecessary."

Perhaps, yes, if the child in question can't read, and the school thinks it should be spending taxpayer money on fostering the child's imagination, rather than their reading skills.

Cedric Cullingford, professor of education at the University of Huddersfield in northern England, said that politicians and those running schools repress children's imaginations with the emphasis on standardized testing.

"What we're doing to children is patently wrong," Cullingford said. "The idea is if it's not measurable, it doesn't exist, and that math, language and science are the crucial studies."

Help, help, they're being repressed! These comments from learned professors of education approach parody. They're whining about the fact that schools are focused on math, and language skills, and science. They believe that this focus represses children. How has it escaped their notice that (a) schools are for educating, and (b) children tend to show a remarkable ability for developing their own imaginations, but they don't tend to absorb reading skills or long division through osmosis?

What's more, any child who does have imagination is, at some point, going to want to express it in a more advanced way, and the basic skills are extremely important for this. What's the point of the school fostering imagination in a budding writer, if the school doesn't also teach the kid how to best express creative thoughts in writing? I wonder if the aforementioned Professor Eisner, who teaches both education and art, would agree that it's more important to foster artistic imagination in children than to teach them how to hold a paintbrush?

Posted by kswygert at 11:40 AM | Comments (12)

Lots of cash, but no results

Interesting editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the lack of educational improvement in Pennsylvania, despite the fact that the state spends $4 billion a year on education - more than almost any other state, in fact:

Pennsylvania ranks 19th in [NAEP] fourth-grade reading out of 44 states for which scores are available, close to the middle of the nation. The state's eighth-grade reading scores look about the same, ranking 20th out of 42 states, according to the assessment test...

At first glance, those test scores may not look too bad - not great, to be sure, but not alarming, either. They look a lot worse when you put them next to the state's gargantuan education budget. Adjusting for cost of living, Pennsylvania's per-pupil education spending ranks third in the nation. Pennsylvania schools are providing a mediocre performance on a top-ranked budget, even before Gov. Rendell's proposed spending increases.

Authors Greg Forster and Marcus Winters, both of the Manhattan Institute, think that accountability, not money, should be the issue driving reforms:

States with tough accountability systems did well on the national tests. Massachusetts led the nation in fourth-grade reading scores and was second in the nation in eighth-grade reading scores, and it achieved this excellence on an education budget that ranks 36th in the nation for per-pupil spending. Virginia ranked sixth in fourth-grade reading and seventh in eighth-grade reading despite a budget that ranks 25th in the nation.

Pennsylvania's state test, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, is not used to hold students or schools accountable. Just the opposite, in fact: If schools do badly enough on the test, they are rewarded with additional state funding - rewards that Rendell now proposes increasing. Providing that kind of perverse financial incentive for schools to fail is just the opposite of the approach that works elsewhere.

Posted by kswygert at 11:30 AM | Comments (1)

Good enough for Newark's schoolchildren

I wish this entry were a joke, but it isn't. This whole mess began back in December but I'm just now finding out about it.

At the same time that the anti-semitic and dreadfully untalented NJ poet laureate Amiri Baraka was under attack from lobbying forces for his hateful "poems", he was appointed to another poet laureate position. Who would take him, given the scandal over his nasty September 11th poem? Given that New Jersey was trying to find some way to get rid of him? Who?

The Newark Public School system, that's who:

Baraka is a longtime resident of Newark, and was named the poet laureate of Newark Public Schools yesterday even as he was under attack in the capital of Trenton.

This decision brings to mind a few questions, the first one being - Does the Newark School system really need to be wasting money on a poet laureate? And why is that position acceptable for an anti-Semite?

The school system in Newark was so bad in the 1990's that one report showed that the longer a child remained in the Newark system, the lower his or her chances of achievement. By 2001, little improvement was seen; the city of Newark sued the school system over $70 million worth of misappropriated funds. The state now oversees the school board.

One reporter thinks the problem is pure racism - on Baraka's part, and the Newark school system's part as well. One group battled the state to save Baraka's position as poet laureate; their enthusiasm is admirable, but it's obvious they don't understand what free speech really means, and they obviously refuse to recognize anti-Semitism and racial hatred when they see it.

Ultimately, the NJ General Assembly passed a measure at the beginning of July, 69-to-2, to get rid of the position of poet laureate altogether. Obviously, if the state has to abolish the position of poet laureate to get rid of Baraka, that's what they're willing to do. But who will protect the schoolchildren of Newark from his "poetry"?

Baraka's already taking advantage of his new position; in June he spoke before a Newark high school audience. He's threatening to sue the state, and repeats the erroneous claim that the General Assembly's action constitute violation of his First Amendment rights. Here's a tip, Baraka - you're free to say what you want in your "poems." But no one is forced to give you a platform for them, and if the government decides to let you go, and you have to find another means to be heard, that isn't censorship. As long as you can publish and distribute your poems through some means, without government interference, you aren't being censored.

Obviously, for Baraka as well as his supporters, speech is only "free" if it's free from all criticism and judgment. May Newark's kids be able to see through his self-serving attitude.

(via Little Green Footballs)

Posted by kswygert at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2003

Bringing teachers together, the old-fashioned way

Given the, um, spirited discussions I've seen this week in my comments sections, most of which were about teachers' unions, I just can't resist reprinting this Best of the Web posting in full:

In Vermont (Gore by 9.93%), it was a scene worthy of "Monty Python's the Meaning of Life": Wayne Nadeau, head of the social studies department at Lamoille Union High School in Hyde Park, "admitted that during the 2001-02 school year he had consensual sex with a female paraprofessional in his classroom," reports the Rutland Herald. As a result, his teaching license was suspended for 20 school days "and the suspension was reported to national authorities."

Now, the Herald reports, Nadeau has been elected to the executive board of the National Education Association. Suddenly the whole thing makes sense. He wanted to be part of a "teachers union" and was just confused about the meaning of the term.

Wayne Nadeau: Giving teachers a whole new way to pay their dues.

Heh.

Posted by kswygert at 04:12 PM | Comments (12)

Leave our prov-alone!

I love Philadelphia.

While the rest of the world natters on about such unimportant events as Tony Blair's speech before Congress, recent uprisings in Iran, the volatile situation in Iraq, and the controversy over whether Dubya lied about his Iraq-Niger intelligence information, the Philadelphia Daily News is focused on one thing:

Hoagiegate.

That's right. Philly residents are furious because outside food has been banned from the new Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles are due to start playing this fall. Eagles fanatics are used to stocking up at local delis and hoagie shops before the games, because if there's anything Philly folk take seriously, it's their food. And they want local food, and they don't want to pay too much for it, so the information that food will be available within the stadium, for a premium price from a Boston-based catering service, has been met with near-total derision and anger.

Team president Joe Banner, who raised the hackles of fans before when he tried to ban the use of credit cards for buying tickets, is now officially the most-hated man in Philadelphia. Over $200 million dollars of taxpayer money went into the new stadium, but it's privately managed - or mis-managed, as the case may be.

You can see why we're focused on this at the exclusion of everything else. Why, how are we supposed to rise back up in the rankings of America's Fattest Cities (we're only in fourth place now) if we can't sit and eat humongous, cheap, and very very tasty hoagies while hollering for our Birds? Devious Philadelphians are already plotting boycotts and revenge tactics. The local business owners, who scoff at Banner's claim that banning outside food won't harm their businesses, will be leading the charge against the ban. Furious letters are pouring in to the Daily News. A hoagie-shaped petition flyer is available, and the DN will send each and every one to the Eagles' Front office.

Save our Hoagies!

Did I mention I love Philadelphia?

Posted by kswygert at 12:47 PM | Comments (13)

From bad to worse

The NY Regents Exam officials just can't catch a break. Now the Physics exam is being challenged, though officials are defending the test as "flawless":

Leonard Morochnick was so upset after 43 percent of his physics students at the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies failed the Regents physics exam last month that he sat down at his computer and banged out a lengthy analysis of the test...he and scores of other physics teachers across the state have continued to critique the test and to denounce what they perceive as injustices to anyone who will listen.

The latter group has not seemed to include state officials in Albany, who defend the exam as technically flawless...

There are no official statistics, but some teachers who have assembled test results from schools across the state estimate that more than 40 percent of the 40,000 students who took the exam on June 17 failed it. Many who failed had received good scores on the College Board's SAT II physics test, educators said.

Why are there no official statistics? Is it that the Regents Exam normally distributes the pass/fail rate but hasn't done so yet? Or is that information normally withheld?

The upshot is that, even if the reaction to this is not "snowballing" like the reaction to the obviously-flawed Math exam, schools are deciding not to use the Physics exam, and the New York State Association of School Superintendents sent a letter out to college admissions officers in an effort to convince them to disregard the Physics exam results.

Oh, wait, here are some "official statistics," but only for the June 2002 test:

Criticism of the test began immediately after it was introduced in June 2002. Commissioner Mills announced on the basis of a preliminary review that 33 percent of students had failed it. Data collected in a complete survey, announced later, showed a 39 percent failure rate. That was more than double the 17 percent failure rate on the previous Regents physics test...

The fail rate more than doubled and the state didn't think anything was wrong? Are they mad? Or just in denial? According to one SUNY-Buffalo professor who studied a series of answer sheets, the passing standard was changed substantially from 2001 to 2002 - to pass the June 2001 exam, students had to get 50 percent of the items right, whereas on the June 2002 and subsequent exams, students had to get 68 percent of the items right.

When the definition of passing changes this substantially, I don't see how the testing process can be considered consistent from year to year. Is there some documentation as to why the standard was changed so dramatically, and is there any theoretical basis as to why it should have? Even if the state felt that a 17% pass rate was too low, it's ludicrous to raise the bar that high from one year to the next.

If an exam that is meant to be of equal difficulty from year to year turns out to be a little bit too easy, then the passing rate might fluctuate from year to year as well. But according to observers, the test contained more difficult items and required a larger number of items correct to pass. No wonder teachers report that physics class enrollments are down.

Posted by kswygert at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2003

So, "guilty" is a bad thing, right?

The logical consequence of bad schooling in California? Civil juries will now be instructed in "plain English" as opposed to legal "mumbo-jumbo":

Pleading guilty to confusing jurors for 70 years with complex legal mumbo jumbo, California approved simpler rules on Wednesday that promise to instruct civil juries in plain English. The Judicial Council of California adopted the new rules after a six-year effort to come up with straight-forward instructions that any jury of peers could comprehend.

From the 1930s until now, juries had to make sense of guidelines such as: "Failure of recollection is common. Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon."

Starting this autumn, that same information will read: "People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember."

The article claims that juries have been confused for 70 years over this, and while I'm sure the legalese was thick at times, I have a suspicion that this was changed now because they were getting jurors who couldn't read too well. The state spent six years on this, hopefully in an effort to come up with simple phrases that mean exactly the same as the more complex phrases, but I'm skeptical. Legal jargon is often the butt of jokes, but there's a reason that the text is often dense and extremely, almost ridiculously, precise.

The example given in the article doesn't even seem right to me. I mean, to say that something is "uncommon" doesn't feel like the same thing as saying that it happens "often". The original description makes it clear that to forget something is more common than remembering it, but incorrectly, and that's lost in the simpler version. But, for all I know, the original distinction was incorrect...

Posted by kswygert at 08:14 PM | Comments (18)

A request from a reader

One of my more devoted readers has asked me to put the word out for him. He's been asked to serve on a curriculum development committee. The trick is aligning the curriculum with state learning standards to figure out what to do, and he needs a starting point for developing it.

Does anyone know of any good websites that outline math and science curricula? I could probably find some with Google, but it would be nice to get recommendations from those who live or work in certain school districts and know of particularly good or thorough online curricula. Links for subjects other than math and science would be helpful as well.

If you have links, post 'em in the comments section for this post, so he can get them easily. Thanks!

Posted by kswygert at 07:55 PM | Comments (5)

New email!

Howdy, Yahoo's been acting up lately and I should take advantage of the disk space that I'm paying for, so send all your emails to the NEW address:

kimberly at kimberlyswygert dot com

Posted by kswygert at 07:47 PM | Comments (0)

New forms of child "neglect"

Retired schoolteacher Daniel Lipsman is in hot water with the authorities for neglecting his 15-year-old daughter, Angela. Apparently, he removed her from the public school system after she finished the eighth grade, and NY's child protective services are after him. This week, an Albany judge ruled that he should have either homeschooled Angela, or let her continue to attend high school classes.

So what's the little "truant" been up to all this time, while her dad "neglected" her? Attending college, that's what:

Angela, who skipped high school and went straight to college last year, has earned her associate's degree and is on her way to a bachelor's - but she can't have the sheepskins because she never got a high school diploma. Even worse, the gifted girl's proud dad is being investigated by child protective services for alleged educational neglect - for letting his daughter go to college...

The hard lesson came from an Albany judge who ruled against Angela's age-discrimination suit challenging the state Education Department's edict that kids have to stay in school until age 16 and can't get general equivalency diplomas until they turn 17.

Angela's father, retired teacher Daniel Lipsman, figures she'll have her bachelor's degree wrapped up by the time she turns 17 and will then get three diplomas at once - including the GED. "It's very demoralizing," said Lipsman, who vowed that he'll "go to prison before my daughter goes to a city high school."

You go, dad. Meanwhile, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is investigating whether Angela's college credits, which have been enough to earn her an associate's degree, are enough to grant her a high school diploma. Mr. Klein, unlike the rest of us, is obviously having a hard time figuring out the answer.

(Via Opinion Journal's Best of the Web)

Posted by kswygert at 04:25 PM | Comments (31)

Testing common sense

Suggested FCAT item:

Item: "Keeping a cobra as a pet is:"

A - "Dangerous to yourself"
B - "Dangerous to others"
C - "A really, really stupid idea"
D - "All of the above"

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is going to investigate, and if they don't explain to him just how dangerous it is to keep a "hot" snake as a pet, I'll fly down to Florida and do it myself.

I've bitched about the arrogance of such pet owners before, when some idiot got bitten on the lips trying to kiss a rattlesnake (the link to the original story is now dead). You can click on the "Want more?" link below to read my posting from Nov 20th, 2002, rescued now that Blogger's torched my old archives - don't worry, I have them all saved on my hard drive; I just haven't uploaded them onto this site yet.

As long as we're determined to test every child in the U.S., can we impart a bit of common-sense by making sure that they understand why the answer to the question, "It's okay to kiss your rattlesnake on the lips" is "False"?

What a moron. What a total idiot nutbag twit. As an amateur herpetologist, this guy sums up everything that drives me bananas about reptile ignorance. For starters, snakes are not ours to take from the wild, as this fellow did. There are hundreds of reputable breeders in the U.S. who sell only "captive-bred" animals - meaning, they started with wild stock way back when, but since then have selectively bred animals in captivity so as to satisfy the needs of pet owners without depleting the wild stock. There is absolutely NO reason to take a snake from the wild, and many reasons not to. Even if you're selfish enough not to care about the snake population in the wild, or about the stress on the snake of suddenly being taken from its natural environment and placed into an artificial one that may be sub-optimal, you should at least know that snakes can carry ticks, mites, and salmonella. Even a non-venomous snake can be detrimental to your health.

Taking snakes from the wild is dumb, but I'll give a free pass to every kid who ever brought home a harmless, pretty little garter snake. For a grown man to bring home a hot (i.e., venomous) snake from the wild is complete idiocy. I have zero respect for those who think it's "cool" to keep venomous snakes around. There are some serious collectors and breeders who are VERY careful with their snakes, but they are outnumbered by the bozos who consider a rattlesnake to be a status item.

Such people aren't a danger only to themselves. Southern Florida currently has a helicopter rescue team named Venom One that delivers a wide variety of anti-venom across Florida to victims of exotic poisonous snakes. Why was Venom One created? Because asshats with more money than sense thought it would be cool to import cobras and mambas and taipans to keep as pets. Snakes are escape artists, and exotic hot snakes that escape into Florida's swamps have plenty of heat, humidity, and warm-blooded critters to eat. And then they bite humans, and what do you know? Most U.S. hospitals don't keep antivenom on hand for snakes that aren't native to this country. Imagine that.

But this assratchet goes one step further. He doesn't wait for the wild hot snake he brought home to bite him - no, he has to prove to his friends that he can KISS IT. And the snakes kisses back.

If we teach kids nothing else in school, can we at least teach them that this is a really, really bad idea?

Posted by kswygert at 03:05 PM | Comments (10)

The Girl They Love To Hate

The Jewish World Review has a fairly sympathetic description of Blair Hornstine, and the public's reaction to her exploits:

Growing up, most of us knew a Blair Hornstine — a girl or boy who seemed to do everything right, who was always at the top of the class in high school. You know the type — that someone who combines straight A's with relentless do-gooding on the road to Harvard, Yale or some other school most of us didn't get into.

We're all supposed to admire people like that, but the truth is, the vast majority of us can't stand them...

Nobody seems sorry for Blair or for her father, the Honorable Louis Hornstine, the New Jersey superior court judge many blame for the whole mess. Blair deserves to live her life in peace. Whatever her faults or those of her family, she hasn't murdered anyone that I'm aware of, and has already been punished far more severely for her transgressions than some other type-A overachievers who've done far worse...

Blair and her father have come to represent some of the worst aspects of our society — the desire for empty honors and meaningless school grades, along with a willingness to hurt anyone who comes in the way of such goals.

Blair is undoubtedly a brilliant girl whose charitable work does not merit our contempt. Her plagiarism was a serious offense. But this is a youthful indiscretion that ought not to hang around her head for the rest of her life (as it probably will)...

There are those who doubt her "brilliance" and the sincerity of her charitable work. But author Jonathan Tobin is correct in surmising that students like Blair may be better pitied than envied, thanks to the pressure-cooker environment in which she was most likely reared.

Posted by kswygert at 11:52 AM | Comments (4)

Tests upon tests upon tests...

New York City's schoolchildren in grades 3 through 8 will now be taking six more standardized exams per year - but these won't be high-stakes exams. Instead, they'll be special diagnostic exams, prepared by the Princeton Review, to show how well students are meeting the educational goals before the high-stakes standardized tests are administered.

Now, I'm all for diagnostics, and given that the tests will be computerized (in schools that have the capability), the kids probably won't mind them so much, and results will be almost immediately available to teachers (if all goes well). But this is starting to feel like overkill.

The exams are no-stakes, which means that the results may not be that predictive of how students are going to do on the high-stakes exams. The exams might cause children to burn out before the important testing time comes along. And do teachers really need that extra diagnostic information - so much so that they're willing to give up that much more classroom time for additional testing? Will the test results be easy to incorporate into feedback for students? And what if a student's no-stakes test results don't gibe with the teacher's impression of that student's abilities? Does the teacher then focus on teaching the content, or the test-taking skills?

Update: Peter of Catholic School Blogger is concerned about this over-testing issue as well. He links to an article showing that only 5% of McAllen, TX's third-graders failed to pass the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) - but what happens to that 5%? They're probably going to be retained. Peter wonders:

What's going to happen next year to the students for whom retention doesn't work, and who don't pass the test a second time? Social promotion? If so, doesn't that defeat the idea behind the requirement? Are they going to be retained again, or moved to a different school?...

Sooner or later, schools are faced with a stark choice...admit that there are children in their care who cannot meet state-mandated requirements and therefore cannot pass, or throw their hands up and find some way to go back to business as usual...

Good question. Thanks to these high-stakes exams in the lower grades, social promotion is no longer an option, and I don't know if anyone knows what should be done with the kids who continue to fail at this young an age. The point of this early testing, of course, is to give extra help to those who need it, and the idea is that if a grade must be repeated, so be it. But are schools really willing to take this idea to its logical conclusion, and keep kids in third grade for more than two years?

Instead, will the failers be sent to special education classes? Will they be given special test-preparation courses? Will they be given disability diagnoses (which may or may not be accurate) that allow them to take the test with accommodations?

Or will they remain in third grade until they're old enough to legally drop out?

Posted by kswygert at 11:11 AM | Comments (4)

Fighting for the right to be unqualified

Joanne Jacobs blogs about the latest disastrous educational news - only 54% of teachers can be considered to be "highly qualified" in the middle-school or high-school subject matter that they teach, according to a recent Congressional report:

Federal law defines highly qualified teachers as those who hold a bachelor's degree from a four-year college, have state certification and demonstrate competence in the subject they teach...

Department officials used the federal definition as a guide in their report to assess teacher qualifications from the 1999-2000 school year. Only 54 percent of secondary teachers were highly qualified, the report said.

The "highly qualified" requirement law was created in 2002, and it gives schools until 2005 to fill every core-subject classroom with highly qualified teachers as they are defined here. The National Education Association, unsurprisingly, is planning to sue.

Education Secretary Rod Paige is confident that schools will meet the challenge. He's a bit vague as to the details, of course, but says "it will be done." Joanne Jacobs replies:

It will not be done. It can't be done. Not unless "highly qualified" is redefined as "having a pulse."

That's exactly what will happen. "Highly qualified" will be defined downwards, under pressure of time and the NEA. State certification and demonstration of competence will almost always be measured with some sort of standardized exam, and the union will probably sue on behalf of any litigants who fail the exam. Remove the testing requirement, and what's left is the bachelor's degree requirement. If the degree doesn't have to be in the subject area that will be eventually taught, that requirement is pretty much useless.

Posted by kswygert at 11:04 AM | Comments (18)

Do charter schools work?

A new study from the Manhattan Institute claims to show that charter school students have better test score performances than similar student groups from nearby public schools. Authors Jay P. Greene, Greg Forster, and Marcus Winters focused on measuring the "effect that all the untargeted charter schools...had on test scores when compared to the performance of their closest regular public schools":

These results showed a positive effect from charter schools and were statistically significant, but the size of the effect was modest. Untargeted charter schools made math test score improvements that were 0.08 standard deviations greater than those of neighboring public schools during a one year period. For a student starting at the 50th percentile, this would amount to a gain of 3 percentile points, to the 53rd percentile. Reading test score results showed 0.04 standard deviations greater improvement in untargeted charter schools than in their closest regular public schools over the course of a year, a benefit that would raise a 50th-percentile student 2 percentile points to the 52nd percentile.

Because these results are statistically significant, we can be very confident that the charter schools in our study did have a positive effect on test scores...

Bas Braams is contesting their conclusions on his new blog, Scientifically Correct. He claims that the authors confused overall school improvement with individual student improvement, and that this mistake invalidates their conclusions:

Now I remind the reader of the concept of value-added assessment... Value-added assessment employs, ideally, performance data on individual pupils over multiple years, and looks at improvements over time. It is a way to factor out the effects of different student backgrounds, because these are, one assumes, reflected in their initial test performance. If one doesn't have data on individual pupils then one can use data on grades within a school. In that case the incremental performance that one cares for is that between a certain grade in one year and the next higher grade the next year, on the assumption that this involves approximately the same student population.

Greene et al. could certainly have used such grade-to-grade value added assessment in their work. However, they did something different. They look at the overall performance of each school in one year and compare it to the overall school performance the next year...And so, the authors completely confuse a measure of the improvement of schools with a measure of the improvement of student performance. Charter schools could be performing wonderfully or they could be performing dismally relative to public schools in improving student performance, and it would not be seen on the whole school year to year test score improvements that are the basis of this report. It would be seen, of course, in traditional value-added assessment at the pupil or grade level.

In other words, Bas is claiming that the authors used the wrong indicator to measure actual student gains over time, and that student gains are the real measure here of how charter schools are doing. In the comments section on Bas's page, though, some disagreement has appeared over whether the authors of the report were using school-level test data, which wouldn't show the correct test scores gains, or grade-level test data, which might.

Commenter Richard Phelps notes that it's problematic from the start to assume that students at untargeted charter schools are, in fact, equivalent to their public school counterparts, since by definition, if they are enrolled in charter schools rather than the local public schools, there is some self-selection process in place. Parents who enroll their kids in charter schools may be more aware of, or more concerned about, their kids' educational progress, which might in and of itself foster educational gains.

As for me, well, my alarm bells went off at the phrase:

Because these results are statistically significant, we can be very confident that the charter schools in our study did have a positive effect on test scores.

Ahem. When two groups are observed to have significantly different means on the dependent variable of interest, we can be reasonably confident that the two groups are in fact different. We cannot be sure with any degree of confidence that membership in one group causes, or has an effect on, the dependent variable of interest. Had children been randomly assigned to charter schools or public schools, then we could talk about cause and effect. The "untargeted" definition that the authors follow does not produce random assignment.

Richard's point is particularly pertinent here, as the self-selection involved in charter school assignment means the experimental and control group may not have been equal to begin with, so we wouldn't expect mean scores to be equal when we measure them.

Posted by kswygert at 10:53 AM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2003

Sex mis-education

Blogger Susanna of Cut on the Bias came across an astounding scandal involving an eighth-grade sex party and school administrators whose invasive medical demands drew the attention of the New York Civil Liberties Union. As you'll see, even if the school administrators were well-intentioned, they went about it the wrong way:

School administrators in Washington Heights forced several eighth-graders to be tested for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases after they attended a "hooky party" last spring...The civil liberties union is representing two of approximately 11 girls who cut school on April 11 and attended a "hooky party" where there reportedly was sexual activity, [NYCLU executive director Donna] Lieberman said.

"The next school day when they went back to school they were summoned to the principal's office and effectively suspended," Lieberman said.

She said the girls were told they had to be tested for pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and could not return to school without a doctor's note that included the test results. One male student also attended the party, but he was not required to be tested for diseases...

It gets worse. When two students returned with doctor's notes indicating that the appropriate tests had been run, the school demanded additional notes indicating the test results, which can only mean they planned to take some action if the girls tested positive for pregnancy or an STD.

Susanna's outraged at the focus of the Newsday article, and thinks the school was probably trying to do the right thing:

That's right, folks, what's important about this situation is not that eighth graders are screwing around, but that their privacy is being compromised. There's not a comment even in passing from anyone in the article about how awful it is that the girls left school for a sex party, no one mentions the parents, no one talks about ways to educate the young people that sex at 13 is not the smartest thing you can do.

Now, I'm not saying that it's the school's business to send the girls off for those tests, especially since apparently they didn't make the same requirement of a boy from the same school at the same party. But it's a sad sad commentary on this society that the primary brouhaha is about a school indicating disapproval of underage sexual activity, albeit in an inappropriate way, rather than the girls behaving like little sluts (and the boys are no better, don't accuse me of sexism). What message is this sending? Not a good one. And where are the parents? Where's Child Services? I'm thinking some kids need to be taken away from their parents, or at least the parents should be fined for extremely poor parenting.

Schools are held responsible for teaching everything from reading to morals to anti-gun activism these days, but when they actually take a stand on something they're shot down by the ACLU. Lovely. Actually, I doubt the school was as concerned about morals as lawsuits, which makes the outcome of this story ironic, but still. They were trying, no matter the wrong intent.

In the olden days, wouldn't the school just have called the kids' parents? Did they think this was a better alternative? Or was the school so disheartened by past parental encounters over similar situation that they figured they had to step in and play nanny themselves?

Posted by kswygert at 06:59 PM | Comments (8)

So you want to be an item writer

Are you out of work? Perhaps the standardized testing industry is for you. No shortage of jobs here, and one employment area that has exploded is in item writing. Educational qualifications vary, you can do it part-time, and the work is well-paid and (I think) very interesting. As the NYT notes today, though, it's not as easy a task as it looks:

Writing standardized tests is like edging through a minefield of psychometric pitfalls and politically correct second-guessers, and it takes meticulous care to make sure that questions do not confuse students or bring misleading scores. These are cautionary lessons as the test publishing industry gears up to produce new exams on an industrial scale, the result of a federal law that requires the greatest expansion of standardized testing in American history...

That should mean a lot of work for those who specialize in writing test questions, often called "items"...

The word "items" seems so intuitive to me that I'm surprised the NYT puts in in quotes. Or does it only seem obvious to me because I've been studying educational testing for 11 years? Perhaps I've forgotten how odd the word sounds to others...

...no amount of wizardry can create a good test out of poorly written items, just as no chef can create a tasty meal from rotten food. And quality has emerged as a problem as the country's testing appetite has grown ravenous.

In May, the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy, a group affiliated with Boston College, issued a report documenting 50 high-profile testing mistakes that had occurred in 20 states from 1999 through 2002.

My comments on the report can be found here. I thought the situation was a bit exaggerated, but I agree in general that good items are now more necessary than ever, and some of the mistakes listed in the report could, I'm sure, be traced to poor item specifications or poor item bank assembly.

One hurdle is the bias and sensitivity review, in which representatives of various groups — women, blacks, Muslims, people with disabilities, others — critique the questions.

...author Diane Ravitch described how reviewers at Riverside Publishing deleted from a national assessment test a question that mentioned Mount Rushmore because they considered the monument upsetting to Indians, and rejected an essay on peanuts because some students might be allergic to them. Dr. Ravitch said the bias reviewers exercise a "regime of censorship."

But others defend the system. [Item writer] Ms. Oberley said the reviewers did point out legitimate problems. An example, she said, was a question she wrote to measure kindergarten students' comprehension of the word "driveway." It included sketches of a driveway leading to a suburban garage, of cars on an urban boulevard, and of others on a freeway.

"We have many gravel roads and few paved highways," an American Indian reviewer wrote. "Our children may think these are all driveways."

Ah, the issue of sanitizing test items. I'm not at all surprised that the NYT found someone willing to defend it, although the example given is pretty tame, and falls more into the category of legitimate cultural bias, rather than the victimology or historical revisionism issues that Ms. Ravitch condemns. Making allowances for Native American kids who might not be used to seeing paved roads is different from validating any dislike those same kids have for Mount Rushmore by removing a test item about it.

Posted by kswygert at 05:37 PM | Comments (5)

Summer school blues

Over 6000 youngsters in Delaware are attending summer school due to their poor state standardized test scores, but the system isn't working for the relatively large percentage of them who are special education students. According to this article in the News Journal, special ed students are being placed in summer school classes that are far too difficult for them:

Of the 6,452 public school children required under Delaware law to attend summer school this year because they did poorly on state achievement tests, 37 percent are special education students. And unlike the regular school year, when they comprise only 11 percent of enrollment statewide, many of the special education students are in large summer classes without special education teachers and struggling with test material several grade levels higher than the level at which they learn...

State and federal testing laws subject special education youngsters to undue stress, repeated failure, and, in Delaware, summer school classes that don't meet their needs, said parents, teachers and other educators.

Summer school students are re-tested during the semester, and the the special education students, in particular, don't like the tests. One student even drew a picture of himself "his throat slit and blood pouring out" during the exam. Other kids just give up or start to cry.

The problem seems to be that even when kids fail exams that aren't high-stakes, such as the seventh-grade one, they're required to sit in summer classes to get extra help. But the summer classes aren't necessarily tailored to the ones who in seventh-grade special education classes, and so the work, far from being helpful, is too demanding and stressful. Not only do the kids think this unfair, the parents believe it violates their children's individual education plans, or IEPs, that guarantee appropriate instruction.

This article is noteworthy because it doesn't just blame the tests. It also notes that parents of special education students, and other special ed advocates, have been a powerful political force in getting special ed students mainstreamed into regular classrooms, but with special curriculums. The goal of this was to protect the civil rights of such children and to keep them from being left behind in separate educational ghettos. The NCLB Act was also intended to keep special ed kids in the mainstream by insisting that schools use the same exams to test all but the most severely learning-disabled kids.

The inevitable result? Children mainstreamed into seventh-grade classrooms who are given fourth-grade work all year - then sent to summer school classes to work on seventh-grade material because they can't pass seventh-grade exams.

Posted by kswygert at 05:23 PM | Comments (5)

July 15, 2003

They'd rather cheat than switch

In light of recent events, with reporters pondering whether Blair Hornstine's plagiarism was known and tolerated (or even encouraged) by her demanding parents, this conservative lecturer's theory is quite amusing. Copying a president's speech and calling it your own is one thing, but I bet if Blair had been caught with a pack of Marlboros, she would have really been in trouble.

Posted by kswygert at 04:57 PM | Comments (10)

Blair & Jasmine

Blair Hornstine is, of course, national news, but those of you outside the mid-Atlantic region might not have heard of Jasmine Karo. She's an 18-year-old New Jersey resident who made headlines last month when she stabbed her abusive father to death inside their Camden County home. Her home life had been so hellish, and her attempts at dealing with that life so awe-inspiring, that she's been treated gently, both by the media and the state, ever since the killing.

Her bail was paid by a NJ Assemblyman's office. A grand jury failed to indict her for the the killing, which is widely considered to have been in self-defense. Support from other abuse survivors has poured in, and an anonymous donor is going to pay for her college education. Her first public interview since the grand jury meeting, which summarizes much of the case, was featured yesterday in the Philly Inquirer.

So what does Jasmine have to do with Blair? Well, local reporters feel there's some yin/yang symbolism in their dissimilar yet simultaneous stories (including the fact that Jasmine felt compelled to skip her graduation ceremony too), and this Philadelphia Inquirer article by Monica Yant Kinney is actually the second article I've seen that compares and contrasts the Girl Who Had Everything with the Girl Who Had Nothing:

The gods must want Blair Hornstine and Jasmine Karo to meet. How else to explain why the teenage twosome keeps landing on the front page and TV at the same time?

In May, Gloucester City residents welcomed Jasmine home from jail with hugs and hot meals...At the same time, almost 20 miles away in Moorestown, someone egged Blair's house...Talk about crime and punishment. A month later, both young women wound up skipping their graduations.

Jasmine...worked her way through high school, supporting her unemployed, alcoholic parents. That she even made it to graduation, given the abuse and neglect she endured, showed plucky perseverance.

For Blair, graduation symbolized the end of a valiant, if misguided, fight to be the one and only Queen of the Quakers at Moorestown High...

The article then notes that both women have recently returned to the spotlight, and that the fathers in both cases have had a profound impact on the young women and on the public's perception of them. While Jasmine continues to defend her dysfunctional family, including the father she stabbed, Blair's been mum on the topic of her dad, who the article describes as a "scholastic Svengali," and perhaps the one truly to blame for Blair being tossed out of Harvard.

Final graf:

This fall, Jasmine Karo will begin studies at Camden County College.

Who knows? Given the way things are going, Blair Hornstine might wind up sitting next to her.

Posted by kswygert at 01:05 PM | Comments (2)

Lowering the bar?

Arizona is lowering the passing scores on their state-level standardized tests, and apparently they're not the only ones:

Arizona isn't alone in lowering passing scores on standardized tests and setting up dual rating systems to help schools meet tough new student achievement goals. Many other states have chosen to drop the academic bar to give schools time, and room, for improvement over the next decade...

This year, Arizona will lower its proficiency rate for the math portion of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, the big state test. The modified test will reflect what state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne calls a "more reasonable" expectation of what Arizona students can do.

This year, students must answer 20 out of 36 reading questions correctly and 21 math questions out of 40 correctly. By 2005, those numbers will jump to 24 in reading and 27 in math.

The article reports similar standard-setting fluctuations in Texas and Colorado.

Given my limited experience with standards setting, I can't say that I know the perfect way to do it, but I know enough to have a great deal of sympathy for the state organizations that are attempting to do it. Sometimes standards are set too high and must be lowered, but I think that doing so creates credibility problems. What if the standard is too low (and how low is too low)? And how can test takers assess the standard without information about the difficulty of the test, and assurance that the test difficulty will remain constant across the years (re: the recent Regents Exam fiasco)?

Lowering standards means more students will pass, but it doesn't mean more will pass that should have passed, and it doesn't mean that education is being improved by allowing to students to be promoted to a higher grade. Once a standard is lowered, the school is then under the gun to show that educational instruction has improved enough for the bar to be subsequently raised. Any school that doesn't demonstrate this is going to have a hell of a time raising their standards again.

The federal standard is for every child to be proficient in reading by 2014. Will we meet that standard? No, because I don't think every child is capable of learning to read proficiently - but I also don't think this goal is too high a goal to set. The purpose of the goal, or standard, in this case is to spur each school and each student to perform to at the top of their capabilities, which is something that perhaps a lower standard wouldn't elicit.

Posted by kswygert at 10:52 AM | Comments (5)

Nevada's tales of woe

Sometimes it seems like every other education-related posting I make is about California or Florida. Today, for a change, we have an impassioned article about the "horror stories" of Nevada's public education system:

1) Nevada eighth-grade students scored last in the nation on standardized reading tests; fourth graders scored third from the bottom...Terry Hickman, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said the scores reflect a lack of resources and commitment by the state to fund education...

2) Roughly one of six Nevada high school seniors couldn't pass the math proficiency exam required before students can receive diplomas...

3) Nevada ranked 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending in K-12 schools in the 2000-2001 school year, a calculation that conveniently does not include expenditures on construction and other capital projects. The state's ranking in per-pupil spending has dropped, from 38th in 1998-1999 to 40th nationally in 1999-2000.

The editorial is essentially a justification for why an expected large tax increase is necessary, and a warning that Nevada's taxpayers will be expecting accountability. The writer's goal is admirable, but it most be noted that throwing money at educational problems doesn't necessarily make them go away. Washington DC, for example, has the second-highest per-pupil expenditure in the US and yet the DC system is not known for its excellence. According to this NAEP graph, DC has the second-lowest percent in the nation of 8th-grade students reading at the Proficient or Advanced level, and over half of DC's 8th-graders read at the Below Basic level - the second-worst in the country if we count in American Samoa.

Also, to give some perspective, while roughly 13% of Nevada's seniors don't pass the exit exam math section, almost 40% of California's seniors have failed on the same task. However, when the 2000 math NAEP results for 4th-graders and 8th-graders are examined, Nevada's youngsters are indeed ranked below Californians (although the numbers are pretty close).

Posted by kswygert at 10:36 AM | Comments (10)

July 14, 2003

California seniors are off the hook

From the July 8th Mercury News (OK, so I'm a little behind here) - Exit Exam Likely to Be Postponed For Two Years:

California's high school seniors have been told since they were in eighth grade that they would be the first class to have to pass an exit exam to get a diploma. Now, the State Board of Education appears poised to deliver a revised message: You're off the hook.

The board is expected to vote Wednesday to delay enforcing the high school exit exam requirement for at least two years. It is a move welcomed by some educators who want more time to get students ready to tackle the test but is seen by others as a setback in the state's aggressive push to establish stricter academic standards.

On July 9th, the board did indeed vote - unanimously - to delay the exit exam for two years. Seems they haven't quite figured out how to best tackle the high failure rate which indicates that California's high schools aren't doing as good a job as they should:

Under legislation passed in 1999, the Class of 2004 -- which had 428,117 students enrolled statewide as of October -- was supposed to be the first that would have to pass the exam to graduate. Students can take the test up to eight times during their high school years.

But as of January, only 62 percent of students in the Class of 2004 had passed the math section of the exam, which covers algebra as well as some statistics, geometry and probability. Eighty-one percent had passed the English language arts section

That's just a little over half of the students passing the math section, on an exam that allows eight tries. And the board thinks this situation will be rectified within two years? I'm beginning to think that the board might have wanted more information about how their students are doing when they instituted this exam, but they didn't want, or expect, this stunning truth about the students' poor performance.

The letters to the editor have begun arriving at the Merc (see here as well) - and some are from students opposed to the delay:

California is one of the lowest ranking states in terms of education -- and now the state has given students a break and will let us take it easy. The state should pressure students to work hard to pass the test.

California is already one of the weakest states in the nation in terms of education. With the likely postponement of the high school exit exam (Page 1A, July 8), this view will be reinforced. There is no reason to delay this graduation requirement. I am a student at Andrew Hill High School and a member of the Class of 2004. When I took the exit exam, I found it to be simple. Its level of difficulty pales in comparison to the SAT, or even to the standardized tests proctored by the state each year.

Would I be rude to suggest that perhaps the students who are in favor of dropping the exam, which measures skills at the 10th-grade level, are perhaps not literate enough to write letters to the Merc supporting the board's decision? Yes, that would be rude. Forget I said anything.

Another reader, in fact, suggests dumbing the test down even more, although she defines it as "aligning the test" with the real world:

As long as the state Board of Education is postponing the high school exit exam, it should rewrite it to test only skills needed for survival in the real world, and eliminate the college-prep questions...

The current exam asks students to read a passage and analyze what the writer was feeling when he wrote it. The board should rewrite the exam with real-world problems such as these:

Given the prices, which is cheaper -- one 28-ounce bottle of ketchup or two 14-ounce bottles? Given a bus map and schedule, when and where should you wait for the bus? Given the descriptions of three different car loans, which offers the better deal? Given a blank job application form, fill it out.

Educrats already scream that our tests only measure basic skills, and fail to measure the much-touted "higher-order thinking" and such intangibles as creativity and intuition. Can you imagine the outcry if the board operationalized an exit exam that as much as admitted that California's students are incapable of understanding literature, art, science, and higher maths, and can only be trained to get through life's daily errands? If "teaching to the test" is such a concern when the test measures basic educational skills, I shudder to think of the backlash that would occur if the test measured only basic life coping skills.

The Merc had this to say about the board's decision:

...It's a wise move for the state board of education, as it's expected to do today, to delay imposing that graduation requirement for two years.

First, not all schools offered the appropriate classes and subjects because state content standards weren't in place early enough. Second, the state was likely facing a costly lawsuit had it forced unprepared students to pass the test.

So the state shouldn't do anything that might generate a lawsuit, even if the lawsuit is filed for the wrong reasons? And is two years really enough time to put the content standards in place? The legislation dictating that the Class of '04 should pass the exit exam was passed in 1999. If five years hasn't been enough to get everyone ready, will another two really make a difference? And does the board have any suggestions as to how the schools should fix things in two years that they couldn't fix in twice that amount of time?

Surely the board is aware that they will be sued, regardless, by the parents of some students who feel they deserve to pass, but don't. Given that some students will always fail, unless the test is dumbed down beyond all recognition, fear of lawsuits shouldn't be a legitimate reason for postponement. If anything, I feel that the the board's unwillingness to defend the test for use this year will make the test more susceptible to lawsuits in the future, not less.

As one superintendent aptly puts it:

"This is a giant PR mess," said Bill Kugler, deputy superintendent in the East Side Union High School District in San Jose. "We have been telling kids since they entered high school: 'You are the ones and you need to be ready.' Now we have to say, 'You don't have to do that.' It's a credibility problem."

Indeed.


Posted by kswygert at 11:46 AM | Comments (18)

Summer Reading List

Thomas Sowell's Summer Reading List is up, so now I've got a few more books to add to my Amazon Wish List. Thanks to the anonymous admirer who recently sent E.D. Hirsch's The Schools We Need my way. It's on the "To-Read" shelf in my office, along with one of Sowell's choices, Mona Charen's Useful Idiots (also sent by a generous reader of this blog).

Also, Bas Braam's has a new site worth checking out - Scientifically Correct. He's been very productive while I've been out of town, blogging away on the NAEP Writing results and the Regents Exam fiasco. Bookmark this site and check it along with Mathematically Correct and Education News's Daily News site to get your regular dose of education-related news and commentary.

Posted by kswygert at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

Caring for kittens

Joanne Jacobs recently discovered a nifty post by Canadian blogger Colby Cosh, who in turn has discovered a recent survey of Ontario's teachers. The teachers favor, by a 2-to-1 margin, teacher evaluations instead of standardized tests. First note the smug description of the findings by the president of the CTF:

"Only 28 per cent of respondents support standardized tests," said Doug Willard, President of the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF)..."This speaks to the public's growing uneasiness and concern around standardized testing...

"Standardized tests can't measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable attributes.

"However, what they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and functions -- the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning," explained Willard. "These high stakes tests serve to sort and rank students rather than support student learning."

As Colby so rightly notes:

Let the record show it: the national labour apparatus of Canada's schoolteachers regards skills like reasoning, mathematics, reading, and history as "the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning." You must have suspected this already if you've tried to have correct change made in a shop lately. Actually, I think it's rather courageous of Doug Willard to admit that standardized testing absolutely can measure student mastery of basic skills. That is, after all, just what those tests are meant to establish. Would you criticize a tailor because his measurement of your inseam failed to capture your ability to shoot free throws?

Good point. All you testing critics out there who claim that standardized tests don't actually measure anything - Doug Willard begs to differ. Of course, he has zero respect for what the tests do measure, but it's amusing to see testing critics switch between the contradictory viewpoints of "the tests don't measure anything" to "well, the tests do measure these skills, but we don't care about these skills" whenever the mood strikes them. This waffling is similar that that seen in the FCAT boycotters in Florida, who one minute claim the SAT is racially biased, and the next minute suggest the SAT as a valid alternative test to the "racially-biased" FCAT.

Joanne's comment on this survey:

It's true, as the teachers' union leader says, that tests don't measure creativity, initiative, love of kittens, etc. But schools have a responsibility to teach reading and math, and neither the responsibility nor the competence to teach creativity, initiative, love of kittens, etc.

Much as it pains me to say so, Joanne is wrong (there's a first time for everything). If one visits the Canadian Teacher's Federation website, one discovers the following beliefs prominently displayed:

We, Teachers of Canada, Believe:
* in a system of education rooted in the principles of equity, universality and accountability...
* that the goals society sets for students and schools must be challenging but attainable, and that progress towards these goals must be measured thoroughly and fairly.
* that the school curriculum must be designed to prepare students to become caring and responsible members of society.

Note that this list, though it does include accountability, does not state that the Canadian teachers believe that children should be educated to be well-informed about literature, or history, or science. Nowhere in this list are any beliefs related to the importance of literacy or numeracy. Nay, students should instead be "caring and responsible," and I do believe that love of kittens falls under "caring" in this respect. What's more, the Canadian teachers are all about goals and accountability; they just don't happen to mention what they should be held accountable for.

Shame on us psychometricians, with our insistence on measuring those "least interesting and least significant aspects of learning" such as math and reading, when the CTF has so explicitly stated that love of kittens is what children should learn. Why, if we'd have just listened, we'd have understood that what they want are tests designed to measure "good will" and "ethical reflection," though, if the kids haven't learned to read, designing a test with items that are comprehensible to them will be a trick.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go design a subjective, performance-based, oral exam on the proper method of petting a kitten so as to induce purring behavior. The CTF is waiting.

kitty_love_md_wht.gif

And yes, I am felinocentric. Want to make something of it?

Update: The posting above was modified on 7/22/03 to take into account some valid criticisms that were made in the comments section.


Posted by kswygert at 10:25 AM | Comments (11)

The Decline and Fall of Philadelphia Public Education

FrontPage Magazine recently received a devastating letter from a former Philadelphia public school teacher, in response to FP's blog entry entitled, "The left's war on black children." The letter-writer describes the decline from integrated classes and Victor Hugo to a system where "there wasn't a shred of knowledge, decency or honesty left in anyone's heart, soul or brain" in painful detail:

As you well know, 1968 was the cut-off point, like B.C. and A.D. (Before Counter-Culture and After Devastation). You went to bed one night with one set of values in place and you woke up in a strange new world. It was exactly like "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers"....

By 1972 the school was entirely Black and firmly entrenched in an irreversible policy of passing the greatest number even if they had no skills. This was presumably some sort of reparation for the past cruelties to Blacks and some sort of redemption for racist America who was waging a racist war in Viet-Nam....

Teachers went crazy trying to find things for them to do that would hold their interest. It was all in vain. The behavior in the classroom was out of control, the same way terrorism is out of control today. They knew ONLY TOO WELL what they could get away with...

Many left the system - there was a mass exodus out of teaching back in the seventies. The newcomers were often poorly educated, or naive "missionaries" or - people with a political agenda. Sometimes a voice would be raised but the iron curtain of political correctness stifled all attempts to establish honest discourse among "professionals". It was no longer a profession but a type of dull ritual devoid of meaning.


Posted by kswygert at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2003

Better late than never

By the way, if you're a new visitor to Number 2 Pencil - welcome, and thanks for visiting. It seems that as soon as I went away last week, my hit counter went haywire. If Bravenet is to be believed, my daily hits last week were, on average, quadruple the normal number of hits I recieve. Of course, I wasn't checking my hit counter last week, and Bravenet doesn't allow me to see now where those hits were coming from then. This exact same thing happened last year, when I was featured on the FoxNews website as the "Blog of the Week" the very same week that I was at yet another foreign resort with limited internet access, and thus was late in answering many of the supportive emails that I received. My timing is impeccably bad, it seems.

I think, though, that a lot of these recent visitors might have found me through the Dissident Frogman, who's off on vacation himself. Before he left, he designed a new banner that cycles through various kudos he's received on other sites, and he saw fit to highlight a description of him that I posted on the previous incarnation of this blog:

I'm going to pack my bags and settle a few things here and there before I leave.

There are several quotes from my esteemed blogging colleagues in the ticker on top of the dissident frogman's home page.

I don't know why, but one of them that I've always considered as well thought suddenly comes back to my mind:

« Equal parts profane satire and blunt seriousness, this renegade Frenchman (...)
Kimberly Swygert, Number 2 Pencil. »

Pertinent depiction isn't it?
Half profane satire, half blunt seriousness.

Maybe it's time to drop one of them.

Or maybe both.

Bye now.

Wow. I'm tremendously flattered that the Frogman, whom I greatly admire, noticed that I linked to him at some point in the past, and that he chose my description as one that is pertinent at this time (and perhaps has provoked some sort of reassessment of himself). I don't think he needs to change one whit, of course, and I'm just as impressed with the photos that he's taken so far during his trip to London as I always am with his political commentary and his social conscience. He's one of the most phenomenal bloggers around, from both intellectual and artistic viewpoints, and if you haven't viewed the clip he designed about the WMD controversy in Iraq, you should do so. His twin slogans of "Time to Take Sides" and "Art vs. Europression" describe his determination and his creativity perfectly.

Posted by kswygert at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2003

Bon Giorno

I've made it home in one piece, relatively speaking. My glasses have fallen apart, and my self-esteem has been irreparably damaged from sitting on the beach surrounded by masses of tan, skinny, cellulite-free Italian women wearing, as bikinis, less cotton than is found in the top of an aspirin bottle, but otherwise, I'm okay.

This weekend will be spent on housecleaning (thanks to my boyfriend, it's currently merely "guy-clean", if you know what I mean), working on this blog, and unpacking (but first - Looney Tunes on Cartoon Network!) Thanks to you all for your good wishes on my talk (which went well) and your kind words.

I've got to go purchase the hardware that will allow me to download all my pics onto the computer, but once I finally have them on, you'll be the first to see them.

Posted by kswygert at 08:46 AM | Comments (6)

Slamming the gates on Blair

Holy cow. I hadn't even rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and gotten over my jet lag before you all began emailing me with the news. Miss Blair Hornstine's Harvard acceptance has been rescinded. Yowza.

The reason is, allegedly, her plagiarism. In addition to the fact that she admitted to plagiarizing parts of her published newspaper articles, her previous academic work is now being examined for any uncited borrowing as well, according to Moorestown school board president Cyndy Wulfsberg. Her tutors are going to be interviewed as well, I see, and that could certainly turn up some interesting information.

Wow. So, not only does Harvard's decision go against my prediction, and the best hunches of people much more informed about the situation than myself, that Blair would suffer no redress due to her sticky-fingered writing, but her father is supposed to be starting an adjunct teaching position at Harvard this fall as well, according to journalist Jonathan Last. And now Blair can't attend?

If I were her, I'd be very worried about that investigation by the Moorestown school board. As I've pointed out before, plagiarism is specifically banned by Moorestown, so what will happen if the school board comes to the conclusion that Blair's schoolwork was not her own? Does this negate the ruling that she deserved to be sole valedictorian? Can high school diplomas be recalled? (PhD's certainly can be, and have been in the past, on these very same charges.) At the very least, this will probably result in her grades being retroactively adjusted, which will result in a lowered GPA and an invalidated claim to being #1 in the class. What's more, if Moorestown's findings cast a shadow on her high school academic career, won't that make it difficult for her to find any college to accept her, much less an Ivy League one?

A Hornstine without an Ivy League education? Whatever will she do?

Thanks to Randee, Adam, Nick, and Matt for the tips.

Update: I was thinking more about this whole Blair situation today, and I'm starting to feel sorry for her. (I've been watching chick flick sob stories on the Lifetime Channel all day while recuperating from jet lag, so I'm feeling sorry for the entire female population right now.)

I mean, one of the possible explanations for this mess is that Blair is not really smart enough for the Ivy Leagues (and that's no real insult; I'm not, either), but her family has convinced her that anything less than valedictorian and Harvard isn't good enough. I mean, why do kids plagiarize? Either they aren't smart enough to do the work, or they're lazy, or they want to break the rules and get away with it. Blair doesn't sound like a risk-taker or rule-breaker, and I don't think she's lazy. I think she may be smart, but I think she may have been even more desperate to live up to her family's high standards (Joanne Jacobs goes so far as to say that it seems Blair might be "taking the fall" for her demanding family).

Here's an ugly thought. If we accept that Blair is truly disabled, then what if, thanks to her disability, she just isn't capable of completing demanding schoolwork in the time available? (Again, I don't mean this as an insult.) One can imagine her parents encouraging her to accomplish a great deal, despite her disability - but I wonder if that turned into a refusal to lower their standards in a way that defies the reality of the situation. I mean, if I had a kid with an immune disorder, I'd encourage her to do her best, but I wouldn't expect her to get into Harvard, not if she couldn't get through her day at a public high school without having to come home to rest and be tutored. I'd be more worried about her health than her achievements.

Blair's brother is in law school at Harvard, and her dad's now on the faculty (assuming he keeps the adjunct position). I just have this feeling that Blair is going to feel like a failure if she ends up at another college, and if so, then that's a shame. In fact, it's starting to seem like it would make a good Lifetime movie...

Update #2: Reader S noted in my comments that MSNBC says Blair is already taking college classes somewhere. That's interesting. In what sort of college could she be enrolled on such short notice? I mean, I'm assuming that as of a week or two ago, she thought she'd be attending Harvard this fall.

Let's see, is she now attending a community college? Is she at a school that wait-listed her and is now willing to accept her, sticky-fingered writings and all? Or was she (or her family) so driven that her plan all along was to take college-level classes in the summer before she was to officially begin college?

Posted by kswygert at 08:37 AM | Comments (28)

July 10, 2003

Butterflies, butterflies...

...in my tummy. Only 2 hours before I present. Eek! I think I'm ready but I'm always worried about what questions the audience might ask, and I came in on this project at the data analysis end. There may be questions that I can't answer (because I don't know) and questions I can't answer (because it's classified information) and of course, my boss is already headed back to the US, so he'll be no help at all.

Of course, even if the talk is a disaster, I can tell him it went well, and no one will be the wiser....

Wish me luck!

Posted by kswygert at 03:35 AM | Comments (6)

July 09, 2003

Posts from A (more relaxed) Broad

OK, so I'm a little calmer today. My boss said the trick is to lower my expectations, and since I always stress before presentations, I am trying to be more relaxed about things (those of you who sent emails opening with, "Hey, Princess, how's it going?" made your point). So I'm still sweaty and somewhat sleepy, but I'm enjoying the scenery more (and the food very much so), and I've accepted that I will be presenting in wrinkly clothes, just like everyone else.

As my boyfriend said when he read my last posting, "Good thing you're in Italy, where you can find some fine cheese to go with that WHINE." Heh.

Posted by kswygert at 05:09 AM | Comments (3)

July 07, 2003

Posts from A Broad

Well, I'm here in this glorious, expensive, isolated resort, and I can tell you this much - for business travel, this sucks. It would be nice for vacation, but I've done a lot of business traveling, and this is just not up to par. I hate to sound jaded, but business travelers have specific needs, and I'm at a loss as to why the conference organizers decided to have the conference here as opposed a real city (i.e., Rome).

We are so isolated. There is no copy center, and one tiny computer center. There is no ATM machine, and the resort does not take credit cards or traveler's checks. In my room, I don't have any of the following: a clock, a radio, an ironing board/iron, any form of temperature control, a "Do Not Disturb" sign, a latch for the door, or a phone capable of taking messages. All of those things, plus a staff that responds quickly to requests for help or special needs, are what business travelers require, and none of that is present here. The staff often refuse to answer the phones (which disconnect after 45 seconds of unanswered rings), room service is rarely available, and the switchboard shuts down at night so that room to room communication is impossible.

Almost none of the staff speak English - and I'm not being a snob here, it's just that this is an English-speaking conference in which the only language all of us are guaranteed to know is English. There is no reading material, be it book, magazine, or newspaper, available in English here.

All of this is, I suppose, can be chalked up as the bitching and crabbing of a American used to being spoiled by business hotels (not that I usually stay in anything grander than a Sheraton). What troubles me more is that perhaps the staff do not know that many of us female business travelers are traveling alone, and we don't like it when they let themselves into our rooms without knocking, and refuse to leave when we ask them to (because we are, for example, not dressed, or sleeping). As I said, my door has no latch, so I cannot keep people out when I am sleeping, and every nap I have taken so far has been interrupted. One person from Reception even let themselves into my room in the middle of the night to return my passport, and I didn't realize they were there until they were standing right beside my bed. So the crime rate is lower here, fine. It still creeps me out.

Okay, so you got to listen to me whine today (you should have heard me Saturday night, when I realized my luggage had been left in Rome, and I had to sleep in the same skanky clothes that I'd been wearing for 36 hours at that point). This is a shared computer so I don't have time to post more of my oh-so-cheery comments. Let's just say I will not be unhappy to have to return to the decidedly-unMediterrean Philadelphia and my little rowhome.

Posted by kswygert at 05:25 AM | Comments (11)

July 03, 2003

By the way...

In case I didn't make it clear earlier - I'm going to miss you guys something awful. Not that, you know, this blog has become an important part of my identity, and my social life, or anything (she says, while shyly twisting her hair and looking at the floor). It's just that, well, I am REALLY going to miss all of you. You don't know how happy it makes me to post something that I figure no one else will care about, and then I come back and there are two comments, or three, and a couple of emails, and then someone buys me a book off my Wish List.

And you're so CUTE when you disagree with one another in my comment sections. :)

Really, you guys are great (and I'm not just saying that because I'm unwinding with a massive Jack-&-Coke following a very hectic day). Don't go anywhere, okay? I'll be back by the 14th, at the latest.

Posted by kswygert at 09:00 PM | Comments (2)

Hee hee hee....

naturalselection2003261340703.gif

Thanks to Captain Yips for the cartoon.

Posted by kswygert at 08:47 PM | Comments (13)

Vacation, all I ever wanted...

Vacation, have to get away...

Unfortunately, a vacation is not exactly what I'm getting. I'll be away (and offline) from July 4th - 11th on a business trip. The meeting is for the annual gathering of Psychometric Society, and if you guessed that means a bunch of bearded, eccentric voodoo scientists who sit around cracking bad puns and statistics jokes while drinking too much, you're wrong - most of us are clean-shaven.

I'll be giving a presentation, which I've been stressing about for weeks, but I think I've gotten it cut down to the length it needs to be (20 minutes). I did a practice presentation here last week that was well-received, but we'll see what my colleagues outside of work think about it. There will also be plenty of mind-twisting talks to attend, on topics that can be just as dry and formula-choked as you'd imagine them to be.

On the other hand, the conference is in Italy. Sardinia, to be specific. The luxurious Le Meridien Chia Laguna resort and private beach, to be perfectly specific. Mid-90's during the day, low 70's at night, lots of sun, little precipitation, and this sort of scenery.

A mixed blessing, of sorts. I'm packing the power suit and the PowerPoint slides, but also the bathing suit (not a thong as shown on the Sardinia site, no way!) and the tropical print clothing (and the new Harry Potter book, for the ride over). I'm sure there will be a business center around somewhere, but I can't guarantee I'll get online for any length of time between now and July 12th. I do hope to be able to at least check my email once a day.

And when I return - photos! Funny stories about drunken psychometricians! And frantic efforts, on my part, to catch up after the longest hiatus this blog has ever known...

sun_playing_with_beach_ball_md_wht.gif

Posted by kswygert at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

The Hogwarts Correspondence School

Blogger Steph of OneSixteenth has invented a Hogwarts Summer Correspondence School for her kids this summer:

We're going to do a trial run of the Hogwarts Summer Correspondence course. Just four weeks, I'm thinking, and if it goes well we'll do more next summer. I'm setting up lessons in Herbology, Care of Magical Creatures, Potions and a special class in Basic Charms and Spells for Muggle Witches. I was going to do Astronomy, but then I looked at the night sky near our house. There's so much light pollution that the lessons would have to consist of "Go outside, and peer at the sky until you can find a star, any star ..."

I will post the lessons when I'm finished with them. This will be fun :) I just have to decide on which "Magical Creature" we're going to do. If we buy Griffin a snake, then we'll make snakes our lesson.

Oooh, snakes. Rock on, Steph. What a great idea.

(Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for the link).

Posted by kswygert at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

George Orwell and standardized testing

Education Week writer Jane Ehrenfield uses George Orwell's essay "Such, Such Were the Joys..." as a springboard for bemoaning the preponderance of standardized tests in schools today:

[From Orwell's essay] "This business of making a gifted boy's career depend on a competitive examination, taken when he is only 12 or 13, is an evil thing at best. ... At Crossgates the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else."

[Ms. Ehrenfield's response] Reading this earlier this spring, my mind immediately jumped to all of the upper-elementary-school teachers I knew who were struggling then, as they do every spring, to get their students ready for their states' standardized exams...The information on the test—in language arts, for example, main idea, context clues, subjects and predicates, rhyme scheme—is important to know, but it certainly does not cover the range of skills and knowledge that good teachers want their students to learn and modern pedagogy advises them to teach.

Ms. Ehrenfield goes on to praise teachers who do not "teach to the test", which is fine, but I find her complaint about the narrowing of the curriculums somewhat naive:

There are other parallels to be drawn between the test-driven curriculum to which Orwell was subjected and the test-driven curriculum to which students in struggling schools are subjected now. Since students are usually only held accountable for passing the language arts and math sections of the test, science and social studies have been severely neglected by the schools and by the curriculum departments of urban districts. It's not that teachers such as Mr. Holden don't want to teach these subjects, it's just that in a short day, with the fate of the school and the students resting on a single test, these subjects often lose out to time spent on language arts and math.

Sad, but true - and not by coincidence. The logic behind this is that, while most would agree that a broad curriculum which includes science and social studies is best, if kids can't read at all, then those additional classes won't do them much good. The purpose of the NCLB act was not really to force schools to narrow the curriculum, but to force them to teach children to read before doing anything else. Unfortunately, many schools don't manage to do even that, and so any additional classes in science might well be wasted.

In an ideal world, schools would use reading programs that were effective and would get most kids on track by first or second grade. Unfortunately, our world is not ideal, and, for a whole host of reasons, schools continue to use programs that don't work (such as whole language programs that don't include any phonics-based instruction). One article from 1996 claims that 30% - almost one-third - of high-school graduates can't read their diplomas. According to a survey from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, illiteracy in the US remains a big problem:

Forty percent of adults have trouble reading and writing even simple things. For example, they cannot fill out job applications, read traffic signs, read prescriptions on medicine bottles, understand bus schedules or read a story to a child. Forty million adults are functionally illiterate in the US. Functional illiteracy is the inability to read above the third grade level...

Forty percent of U.S. children have some difficulty reading – more than a third of all fourth graders read below grade level. About a third of American children enter kindergarten unable to recognize letters of the alphabet...

NSCS thinks the problem is "poor role models" at home, which means that schools must now work that much harder than before to counteract an illiterate home environment. For some schools, the old model of a well-rounded education might not be the most appropriate, because these kids need damage control first and foremost.


Posted by kswygert at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)

The sad saga of underqualified students

FrontPageMagazine has an article today about the relationship between graduation rates and racial preferences in the college admissions process. Most specifically, the groups which have the lowest median SAT scores and high school GPA's are the least likely to graduate from college, which should surprise no one:

In the University of Washington’s (UW) 1995 freshman class, the raw admission rate for blacks was 96.6 percent, as compared to 78.5 percent for Asians and 74.4 percent for whites. These figures were in the precisely inverse order of the students’ actual academic qualifications. For instance, black freshmen had scored 80 points lower than whites on the verbal SAT exam, and 140 points lower on the math SAT...

We mustn’t forget that these figures are not mere abstractions, but translate into large numbers of actual human beings who are denied admission to the school of their choice solely because of their skin color. Things don’t often get much uglier than that...As has been demonstrated time and again, students who are admitted to a given school under lowered academic standards can be expected to struggle mightily to keep up with their peers who met the school’s normal admissions requirements. In general, there is a strong negative correlation between preference in the admissions process and graduation rates. At UW, the percentage of 1995 freshman who eventually graduated within six years was 70 percent for whites, 65 percent for Asians, and a mere 29 percent for blacks.

The story was similar at Washington State University that same year, where blacks were also admitted with academic qualifications far below those of their white and Asian peers. Black admittees scored about 70 points lower than whites on the verbal SAT, and 110 points lower on the math SAT. Predictably, the eventual graduation rates of those students were 44 percent for blacks and 61 percent for whites.

And so on. Explain to me again how it helps minority students to be admitted to colleges for which they are not ready? Instead of going to a community college first (which is what most everyone in my family did), they're being admitted to a college for which they are most likely underqualified, so that the college can pat itself on the back for its "diversity."

As long as the graduation ceremonies remain this much less diverse than the incoming freshman classes, I'd argue that AA does more harm than good.

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

OOPS

Hi, I just realized that I made a terrible blunder. For the past couple of weeks, my email address was incorrectly listed on the right-hand side of this page. Most of you had my correct email address already in your address books, but some of you newer readers have (apparently) been getting furious emails from the person at number2pencil-at-yahoo-dot-com.

I'm number2pencilblog-at-yahoo-dot-com. The problem has been fixed on this page, and I've sent an apologetic email to the person at the other N2P email address. Sorry for misleading you, and if you got a nasty response from someone you thought was me in the past month or so, please email me again!

Thank you, Nick, for bringing this to my attention.

Posted by kswygert at 07:42 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2003

McCloskey's ducklings

The Wall Street Journal has a charming and insightful obituary of children's book writer/illustrator Robert McCloskey, who died Monday at age 88. I didn't recognize his name, but recognized immediately the title of one of his best-known books, Make Way For Ducklings.

Writer Amy Finnery praises the late McCloskey, who was honored in his lifetime with multiple honoral degrees for his contributions to literature, for avoiding the preachy, the sappy, the depressing, and the sociological in his approach to children's writing:

In the pages of these classic works, in the expressive, monochrome drawings, there is no Big Sociological Message, forced sunniness or sentimentality, but rather the gentle but sharply observed depiction of children's--or ducklings'--dilemmas, regional landscapes and midcentury American cities.

The ducks in "Make Way for Ducklings" must find a place to live, nothing more and nothing less. That place will be in Boston, where a stout policeman named Michael (what else but an Irishman?) will help the nesting family navigate traffic. The Charles River, Beacon Hill and Louisburg Square set the scene.

The ducks' behavior is endowed with transcendent nuance, delightful to human children who recognize their own mothers in Mrs. Mallard. The mother duck puts her bill in the air and "walks along with an extra swing in her waddle" when a passerby admires her offspring. McCloskey wrote that Mrs. Mallard tells Mr. Mallard: " 'don't you worry, I know all about bringing up children.' And she did."

I remember this book, although I don't think I ever owned it. When I look at children's books today, so many of them seem haphazardly-drawn, or overly-ideological, or just plain bad. Reading the reviews on the Amazon website makes me want to buy a copy of Make Way for Ducklings and read it all over again.

I love the description here of McCloskey's preparation for creating his memorable mallards:

So that he could draw the ducks exactly, he bought four squawking mallards and took them home to his apartment. "The ducks had plenty to say - especially in the early morning. I spent the next weeks on my hands and knees, armed with a box of Kleenex and a sketchbook, following the ducks around the studio and observing them in the bathtub." Make Way For Ducklings was awarded the Caldecott Medal, given annually for the most distinguished American picture book for children, and has sold more than 2 million copies in hardcover and paperback.

And next time I go to Boston, I will be sure to go see the bronze statues of Ms. Mallard and her brood of ducklings. A similar (perhaps identical) set march in Novodevichy Park, Moscow; Former First Lady Barbara Bush gave them to Raisa Gorbachev as a gift to celebrate the signing of the START treaty.

The simple vision of one man from Hamilton, Ohio, immortalized forever in a park in Moscow as a sign of international goodwill between two world superpowers. Imagine that.

Another touching little tribute can be found here, by Redheaded Rambler Sheila.

Posted by kswygert at 04:48 PM | Comments (8)

Dr. Bonnell's saga

Erin O'Connor's blog, Critical Mass has regular updates on the case of Macomb Community College professor John Bonnell. Haven't heard of him, you say? That's because the case of his most recent suspension isn't gathering much press, despite the obscene nature of the charges.

It seems Dr. Bonnell likes salty, earthy language, which is not surprising in a man who's been teaching James Joyce for 30 years. In fact, Erin is quite sure that it's Dr. Bonnell's stellar teaching of James Joyce, and not the language, that's the reason behind the suspension. As Erin puts it, "Students do not have the right not to be offended, and a bad word or dirty anecdote does not harassment make," yet some students are complaining of being "verbally raped" and "degraded" in the classroom. Other students have come forth to defend Dr. Bonnell's language by saying that it was always germane to the topic of the class, and that he was an excellent professor. All of Erin's posts on the topic are fascinating (and lengthy), so go read 'em.

The whole mess reminds me of one of my most brilliant professors in college, who was also a certifiable lunatic. I won't name names here, but "Dr. J." taught the intro Calculus class for science and math majors, which often had 400 students enrolled at one time. At least, 400 were enrolled at the beginning of the semester, because the course was meant to weed out those who weren't built for a science degree, and boy, did Dr. J. ever weed.

He was nuts. He was a Vietnam vet, with a long grey ponytail and a disdainful yet schizophrenic expression, who owned only two shirts (a black turtleneck and a khaki shirt with epaulets) and one pair of jeans. He demanded absolute silence in the auditorium in which he taught - understandable, given the size of the class, but the man must have had sonar capabilities and nerves of steel, because he could hear one single solitary boy whispering to another in the back of the huge room, and he never hesitated to toss them out of class for it. His cursing was imaginative and perfectly timed, and he put down many a student who deserved it. There were 400 of us to one of him, and we were completely outnumbered.

He had a chair at the front of the auditorium and would often sit in it and pontificate on topics completely unrelated to calculus. No one dared interrupt him, or even move, because even when in a good mood, he'd single you out for embarrassment. One day he decided to quote lines of his favorite poetry and took turns pointing at various hapless students, stupid enough to be sitting near the front, and scream, "Who wrote that?!" No one ever knew - we were science majors, for God's sake - and that would lead him off into a rant about our general uselessness as human beings and the declining state of the educational system. His comments on the American military machine were brutal; his conspiracy theories, exquisite.

But MAN, could that guy teach calculus. Once we were all in a state of utter silence and complete rigidity, literally perched on the edge of our seats and ready to flee in case he was packing heat that day, he would step to the overhead projector and work his magic, and the formulas would flow directly from his pen into our left brains. All of his military experience came in handy here, because so much of learning calculus is understanding how the formulas describe real-world calculations of force, trajectories, rates of change, and the like. All of our examples revolved around cannons, tanks, and shotgun shells.

As far as I know, his job was never in danger. Perhaps science majors are weirder than other students, or made of sterner stuff (or just more likely to bear the crosses they're given). Perhaps his wildly positive evaluations, out of the 150 or so who made it to the end of the class, made up for it. Most likely, the college knew they'd never find anyone else good enough - and crazy enough - to walk into the lion's den of 400 young adults to teach "The Big Math" every year.

Posted by kswygert at 03:31 PM | Comments (23)

The wrong way to "target" low-performing students

An elementary principal in Opa-Locka, FL, is under investigation for her crusade against "problem" students. The Miami Herald displays a copy of a memo that Parkview principal Susan Renick wrote to homeroom teachers in which she asks for a list of students who are "frequently tardy, absent, late being picked up from school, behavior problems, inattentive, who do not complete class and home learning assignments," ostensibly for the purpose of getting these students "outta" "here" so that FCAT scores for the school will go back up.

Sounds rotten, to be sure, but at first the particulars of this situation confused me. Ms. Renick wanted only the names of problem students who were outside the Parkview attendance area. Why should she care? Only 3% of Parkview's students are out-of-area, using waivers to attend the school.

Or was she trying to identify students who were out-of-area but attending Parkview illegally? The article points out that Parkview's overall school grade has risen steadily over the past three years, and Ms. Renick obviously wants to continue that process. Is it that Ms. Renick thought that the desirability of the school might have produced an influx of new out-of-area students (whose parents lied about their address), and the principal wants to boot out any of those who are duds?

This part of the article confirms my assumption:

Parkview received a C grade from the state this year, a B last year and three D's before that. But parents most likely would have been aware of the B grade when enrolling students for the 2002-03 term...

The district's records of out-of-area students are considered unreliable, because parents sometimes lie about their address so they can send their children to higher-performing schools. Principals are primarily responsible for policing their borders.

Parkview would have been susceptible to that trend last year: Of the 14 public elementary schools in the area, only Parkview, Myrtle Grove and Skyway elementaries earned at least a B grade in 2002.

So Parkview has worked hard with its students to raise the overall school rating - but Ms. Renick wants to cook the books. She's going after an easy target - students who are enrolled illegally - but she's only interested in getting rid of those who make the school look bad. It's an astoundingly unfair plan, and I'm amazed that she'd try it (and in so ham-handed a fashion, at that).

Posted by kswygert at 12:35 PM | Comments (9)

Sanitizing test items

In my earlier entry on the disastrous June 2003 NY Regents exam, I mentioned that the exam had previously come under fire, after it was discovered that the text used in certain reading passages had been sanitized in ways that made the text more politically correct and/or less challenging. What's more, this was done often without the knowledge or permission of the passage's author. Diane Ravitch discusses this at length in her accomplished new book, The Language Police, and Reader Laura had this comment:

I don't think enough fuss has been made about the sanitizing aspect. If a kid is actually so well-read as to be familiar with the unaltered text, the sanitized text could throw her off. Not to mention how cottonpickin' stupid it is. If dumbed-down texts of standard works are all we can expect the rank and file of high schoolers to deal with, why bother to educate past eighth grade.

You know, when the scandal surrounding the text changes on the Regents exam first hit, I was crazy enough to try to defend sanitized essays, because I knew from a test developer's point of view just how lawsuit-happy test takers and their parents could be. I have seen, with my own eyes, the reams of unsubstantiated complaints about test content from examinees trying to get items discarded.

For example, I actually did research to defend the test (at my old job) against a test-taker who was repeating the old canard about the origin of the phrase, "rule of thumb." No, the phrase doesn't come from an old English common law rule about the width of a branch a husband could use to beat his wife; it's been around for centuries as an idiom meaning, "rough or approximate measure." I had to go look this up, because it had been used in one of our test items, and the test taker was threatening to sue us for sexism and harassment and emotional distress and probably everything else her lawyer thought she could get away with.

Despite cases like that, I was, at the time, sympathetic to the test developers, and still sympathetic to test takers as well. Here's what I said back then:

Now, I'm a free-speech advocate, but I'm not siding with Nando on this topic. The main error the test developers have made here is that they didn't inform the authors of the chosen passages that changes might be made, and I find it surprising that these authors didn't sign a contract agreeing to the use of their works in the original or in an altered form. The New York State alumni assistant commissioner cited in both articles emphasizes that "the 'fair use' provision of copyright law allowed the excising of passages for testing purposes."

Regardless, the test developers are right to remove as much potentially controversial material from the reading passages as possible. Yes, it can alter the meaning of the text; yes, it can make the reading experience less enjoyable. That's preferable to the alternative, which is putting kids in a high-stress situation and testing them on material that may be distracting or emotionally disturbing enough to interfere with their performance. This is not the same situation as teaching emotionally intense material in class (where I feel that altering or ignoring certain texts would indeed be censorship). Controversial reading material should be taught slowly and carefully in a classroom, so I don't see the benefit of presenting it suddenly and out of context in a high-stakes testing environment. A few indignant authors are nothing compared to the potential lawsuits from test takers.

Following this post, however, I discovered that NOBODY - no reader, no pundit, no fellow blogger - agreed with me on this one. So I pondered the topic a bit (aided by commenters like Laura), and while I still sympathize with the test developers, the fact is that the willing bowdlerization of test content only contributes to the litigious attitude of some test takers. In fact, the sanitizing process can be interpreted in such a way that it seems the test developers don't respect the test takers and don't expect them to be able to control themselves for a few minutes if they happen to read a test item they don't like.

It's true that some test takers don't have that control. I'm no longer convinced, however, that this is a good reason to continue to sanitize test items. And, as Reader Bill B. points out:

My concern is that making the test texts PC would inevitably lead to altering the texts used in class also. Lest you think this is a new trend I saw altered texts used in my children's high school as far back as 15 years ago...so the danger is clearly there.

A very good point. Which comes first, the sanitized test or the sanitized textbook?


Posted by kswygert at 09:04 AM | Comments (15)

A force which united people (in misery)

Early riser Tim Blair (well, he lives in Australia, which means he automatically rises hours before me) pokes fun at a group of lefties who are upset about the negative portrayal of commumism on an Italian graduation exam:

The evils of communism appear front and center in one of the themes that hundreds of thousands of Italian high school seniors could choose to write about in graduation exams given this month. That topic invited students to ponder "terror and the political repression in the totalitarian systems" of the 20th century and gives brief descriptions of fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and communism in the former Soviet Union and other countries.

Communism is blamed for the executions of about 100 million people, five times greater than the killings attributed in the exam to Nazism.

Yep, well, so far it's all...historically accurate, but politically incorrect. So, some teachers and left-wingers are upset, of course. One fellow taught his students that the "goal of communism was to unite" people, which isn't a problem unless he left out the inconvenient facts about the reality, which was that Stalin and Mao murdered tens of millions of their own citizens in the attempt to establish this "uniting" force.

Students avoided the question, it turns out, because they feared the biases of the item grader. If they'd had teachers who taught them that communism wasn't really all that bad, I don't blame them for shying away from a essay prompt that (correctly) identified both communism and fascism as totalitarian systems in the 20th century.

Posted by kswygert at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2003

Regents Math flap continues!

The New York Assistant Education Commissioner, Roseanne DeFabio, has stepped down, amid a tornado of negative testing publicity surrounding the Math portion of the NY Regents Exam. She's actually taking an "early retirement," but there doesn't seem to be any controversy as to the precipitating factor:

Assistant Education Commissioner Roseanne DeFabio, 59, opted to take early retirement...Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said Tuesday. Dunn said state Education Commissioner Richard Mills [who recently voided the June 2003 Math portion of the Regents exam] wanted the Office of Assessment, which develops the standardized tests, to directly report to Deputy Education Commissioner James Kadamus instead of DeFabio, but she refused to accept reassignment. Her resignation took effect immediately...

The shuffling was made so that the Office of Assessment "receives the resources and attention to ensure that the assessment system remains the cornerstone of the Regents' strategy...[in other words, so that blunders this big don't happen again...]

During DeFabio's tenure, the Education Department came under fire several times over allegations of faulty Regents tests, including the sanitizing of literary passages on the English Regents test last June...Last week, Mills gave schools the option of tossing out scores from the Math A Regents exam that is normally a prerequisite for high school graduation, admitting that the test was flawed...

To the dismay of students and parents, the Education Department refused to change the scoring of its June 2002 physics Regents test despite lower passing grades and complaints from some teachers that the new format of the test was too hard. The department did schedule a makeup test that gave students another chance...

I'm betting this will not be the only shakeup within the Education Department.

Posted by kswygert at 06:09 PM | Comments (2)

More mad craziness

The work craziness continues, but I'll be online later today updating the blog. Sorry for the inconvenience. In fact, if there really are any of you out there who consider this blog to be a daily "fix" and are peeved that I haven't been posting much, I can't thank you enough for the compliment.

However, you're getting ready to suffer quite a bit more deprivation soon. The reason I'm so busy is that I'm getting ready for a trip to Italy.

More later...

Posted by kswygert at 01:17 PM | Comments (2)

California dreamin' (of more money)

California is near "financial disaster," according to the WaPo. Needless to say, community and state colleges are going to be hard hit. The brave optimists who usually turn up in such dour articles are absent here:

Any day now, community colleges here may begin telling faculty members that they cannot be paid and students that summer classes are canceled. Nursing homes are losing so much state aid that many soon may have to shut down or limit their services, a prospect that has elderly residents confused and frightened. As many as 30,000 government workers who had been expecting pay raises in the fall are instead receiving formal notices warning that they could lose their jobs by then, because the state is broke...

The nation's most populous state, home to one of the world's largest economies, has been staring in disbelief at the same dire predicament for months: a $38 billion deficit, the largest shortfall in its history and an extreme example of the budget woes afflicting many states...

State lawmakers have until midnight to reach a compromise with Gov. Gray Davis (D) on a budget that would wipe out the enormous deficit, but the odds of that happening appear slim...

California's not the only state in trouble:

...lawmakers in New Jersey and California remained sharply divided late yesterday over how to close record budget deficits with only hours left until a midnight deadline for enacting budgets for the next fiscal year.

Negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in New Jersey were said to be progressing at midnight, but if no agreement was reached by this morning, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey (D) was poised to order a shutdown of state government.

"Shutdown" in this case would mean that those working for the public safety, such as state police and prison employee, would have to remain on the job, but with no assurance that they would be paid.


Posted by kswygert at 06:39 AM | Comments (0)

Melbourne is mentioned in the Bible, right?

A new email is circulating the web, from a "librarian with question." A very, very stupid question - so stupid that this might be a hoax (if so, it's a very good one).

If it's valid - sheesh.

Subject: librarian with question
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 12:11:08 -0400

Dear ____

I am a librarian trying to answer a reference question from a student. I found on the Web reference to a book you have written on the history of Australian philosophy and thought perhaps you could assist me. Could you provide a name(s) of any ancient Australian philosophers or educators pre-200 B.C.? The student is looking for information on ancient philosophers or educators that impacted modern education.

With a name, perhaps I can find more information in other sources.

Thank you very much for your help.

Emphasis mine (and Tim's). I understand why both the student and the librarian are searching for these mysterious ancient educators who've impacted modern education - modern education sure hasn't "impacted" either one of them.

Here's a tip for that librarian (who I hope is not ever left in charge of any actual books) - avoid those pre-1788 tomes of Australian philosophy. They're likely to be a bit inaccurate.

Posted by kswygert at 06:30 AM | Comments (0)
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