December 31, 2003

Auld Lazy Syne

The boyfriend and I have absolutely nothing special planned for tonight, other than some homemade chicken burritos, a glass of champagne (a Christmas gift from a co-worker), and a perusal of what's on cable. I used to do New Year's Eve up huge; that was before I spent lots of money on Christmas gifts, entertainment, and travel. Now all it takes is a glance at my checkbook (as it lies in my purse still whimpering and battered from my shopping sprees), and suddenly staying in becomes much more attractive than spending any cash to go out.

Knowing me, I'll spend a lot of time online:

In Port Clinton, Ohio, they drop a 600-pound fiberglass fish at midnight. Webcam available for those of you who won't be there.

Fark reports: "Coward Congressman urges people to avoid Times Square. Mayor Bloomberg says grow a pair."

From the I-don't-know-how-easy-I-have-it department: Some Britons are staying in tonight too, thanks to jacked-up club prices. If I read this correctly, it's over 140 pounds, or around 280 dollars, to go out on New Year's Eve in England. Good grief. And here I am staying home because I don't feel like paying 10 dollars for parking or 35 for entry to a club.

CNN has a roundup of New Year's Eve on the Net.

James Lileks has a great discussion of the symbolism of New Year's Eve (i.e., there isn't any) and discusses his favorite New Year's Eve:

I will say this – probably said it last year, and the year before, too - he New Year’s Eve I’ll always remember is Dec. 31, 2001, when Times Square was packed with about 326 million people who screamed “yeah well Al Qaeda THIS, yo” and Rudy swore in Nurse Bloomberg before the cheering crowds. I watched that moment through the back door window – I’d gone outside for the first cigar of 02, and the neighbors were setting off fireworks. I felt better at that moment than I’d felt since September 10.

Update: Oh, my. If you're anywhere near Brasstown, NC, don't miss the Possum Drop. Yeah, it's a real possum they lower in a cage (these critters exist in huge whomping numbers in that state; I used to help my roommate rehabilitate orphan possoms who ended up at her shelter).

Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, at the exact same moment that hundreds of thousands of people holler in the New Year at Times Square in New York, and millions more tip back champagne flutes and watch it on television, a few hundred people will huddle together at a Citgo station in this little town in Appalachia, wearing hunting jackets and those hats with the dangly ear straps, cheering the descent of one confused marsupial.

Talk about parallel universes.

It all started 13 years ago, when someone said to Clay Logan, owner of Brasstown's only gas station and vendor of kitschy possum products, "If New York City can drop a ball, why can't we drop a possum?"

Logan agreed.

At midnight, as he lets a rope slip between his fingers, lowering a possum in a Plexiglas cage from the roof of his gas station, Logan will yell out, as he has every New Year's Eve since 1990, "5, 4, 3, 2, 1!"

And then, as the crowd starts going bananas, "The possum has landed!" The possum is alive, of course, and will be released at the end of the night unharmed, though a little shaken.

Oh, man. A "Miss Possum" contest, a "cross-dressing affair in which bearded truck drivers wear eye shadow and strut across stage with hands like oven mitts swinging at the sides of bursting lace dresses"? If I was anywhere near, I'd be there.

Posted by kswygert at 11:39 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The horrible side effects of testing

Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that occurs when test scores are used to assess the effectiveness of teachers (registration required):

Re: "Kids' scores may sway teacher ratings," last Thursday's news story.

A week ago I received my annual Christmas letter from Dr. Mike Moses expressing his "deepest gratitude" for my work. I was confused, however, since I felt Dallas Independent School District teachers had already received their true Christmas greeting on the front page that morning. That article outlined Dr. Moses' plans to make 25 percent of our evaluations contingent on students' standardized test scores. How sad.

While politicians, superintendents and so-called education reformers seem to think that incessant testing is the answer to all our public school woes, those who spend their time in the trenches teaching, caring for and loving children know deep within their hearts that testing creates nothing but bored, cynical, uninterested students with lots of data and numbers identifying what they haven't "learned" and "proving" that public school teachers are incompetent. Tying student test scores to teacher evaluations will mean that schools become nothing more than testing farms, where the entire day will be spent in test prep.

With all that teaching, loving, and caring apparently accounting for three-quarters of the evaluation, how could anything other than rock-bottom scores negatively affect a teacher? And since when did administering tests, which are nothing more than discrete items that measure bits of knowledge, become synonymous with not "loving" children? Since when did being in love with your students take precedence over educating them? Since when did tests become the sole cause of students being "bored, cynical, [and] uninterested"?

Funny, but my high school teachers - especially the AP ones - didn't see the SAT, the AP exams, and all the other tests as being in the way of their main goal, which was to create informed, educated, and useful citizens out of the lumps of clay they were given. My guess is that those teachers knew how we did on our exams, and held themselves at least partially responsible for our performance - as they should have. They also knew that if we were bored, cynical, or uninterested, it was partially our fault; we wouldn't have been able to get away with blaming tests for that.

Posted by kswygert at 11:04 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Muddying the language waters

State officials in Washington claim the federal rules for language assessment in schools make no sense:

It's a classic Catch-22, state education officials say: The federal government holds public schools accountable for improving, as a group, the academic performance of students who don't speak English well -- but once the students learn English, they leave that group, so their improvement doesn't count in the federal calculation.

Pete Bylsma, director of research and evaluation for the state education department, likens it to giving a hospital no credit for curing patients because when they recover their health and are discharged, they're replaced by new patients, and the place is constantly full of sick people.

"When we have to test students that can't read the test and can't write the answers, it's going to be real hard for them to pass the test," he said yesterday.

One proposal is for English-language learners to be exempt from NCLB bean-couting until they've been in school three years "or until they have learned English." I'm in favor of the change that includes a deadline; otherwise, we're back to a situation in which there's no real accountability for a student as long as English is their second language.

Posted by kswygert at 10:59 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The importance of teaching typing

For all my readers who do not mourn the passing of cursive or penmanship lessons in grade school - this article's for you:

Learning to type is more important than ever in today's computer-oriented society.

Children use e-mail, browse the Internet for classroom research and play computer games, which makes it vital to learn proper hand placement on the keyboard.

Yet despite the importance, not many elementary schools offer classes devoted to learning keyboarding skills. While Arizona's state standards cover what students are supposed to learn regarding keyboarding, the skill is not tested as part of any standardized test.

So it's often left to schools to decide how to teach typing. Some, such as Arrowhead Elementary School in northeast Phoenix, have keyboarding classes. Others expect classroom teachers to do the job.

Judy French, a computer specialist at Arrowhead Elementary in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, recommends that parents discourage children from using the "hunt and peck" method of typing for two reasons: They won't be able to type without looking at their hands, and their speed won't increase.

In the early grades, French said, proper finger placement is more important than speed. She doesn't time students for speed until the fifth and sixth grades.

North Carolina, on the other (typing) hand, does test computer skills, which includes "keyboarding."

Posted by kswygert at 10:51 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Two high scorers diss the exams

Now, here's a twist. Two students from Monroe, NJ, aced the PSAT - and then told a reporter that intelligence doesn't matter on these exams, only practice:

According to Yushen Qian and Robert Ngenzi, a student's intelligence should not be judged by how well they perform on a standardized test.

And the pair should know — Yushen, 16, and Robert, 15, who each said they spent a great deal of time preparing to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, were rewarded for their hard work when both received perfect scores on the math and verbal sections of the examination.

The duo said it's not difficult to score high on standardized tests like the PSAT with enough practice and preparation, but that doesn't mean a person has striking intelligence.

"Nothing beats effort and hard work. You can be the smartest person and not put in any effort and bomb it," Yushen said of taking a standardized test.

Yushen thus makes a logical fallacy that is often made by testing opponents, and that is:

If A is intelligent yet can flunk an aptitude test due to lack of practice (i.e., a complete unfamiliarity with the exam), then B can be unintelligent and make a high score solely due to practice.

The first part might not be true; the second part definitely isn't.

There's no reason to assume that a student who is smart, and accomplished, could bomb the SAT merely due to lack of practice. Few students would be completely unfamiliar with the format, and, barring emotional upsets, most students would be able to concentrate for the few hours of the test administration.

A smart student who doesn't get prepare might not get as high a score as they otherwise would have, but that's not the same thing as saying that a smart student will "bomb" the SAT if unprepared.

On the other hand, a student who genuinely does not understand the material will not score highly on the test, preparation or no. If practice were really all that mattered, then it would be a cinch to prepare 8-year-olds to pass the SAT. It doesn't work that way. There has yet to be widely-accepted research supporting the existence of "test prep" methods that substantially increase scores for everyone. The only groups that claim this research exists want hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars for it.

Practice will help a student do as well as they possibly can on exams like the PSAT and SAT, because practice will familiarize a student with the exam format and teach him to pace himself. Both Yushen and Robert are in advanced-placement classes and participate in an extra-curricular competitive math and science group. It's not surprising that they were able to make perfect scores with intensive practice. What IS surprising is that no one else seems to have pointed out to them that this was due mainly to their high intelligence (supported by factors other than the test), and that it's folly to claim that students of lower intelligence and education could have scored perfectly with as much practice.

Robert even claims that "The SAT only tests how well you can take a standardized test." Really? Then I assume that when he and Yushen took their very first PSAT, they both made rock-bottom scores of 20. No? You doubt that's so? Then what was that test measuring if they did better than a 20 before all that practice?

I'd be willing to bet anyone $100 that both Robert and Yushen scored above average before any practice whatsoever. (I find it very interesting that the reporter apparently didn't ask about their score gains, and neither kid mentioned them.) I'd also like to know why both of these smart guys seem so unwilling to admit that their intelligence may have played any part whatsoever in their test scores.

Posted by kswygert at 10:30 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

More fretting about the Head Start exams

You know, I don't mind articles being written about the new Head Start exams, and I don't mind these articles being critical (as long as they're even-handed).

But does every reporter have to begin their Head Start article with a tale of a four-year-old's test anxiety? The New York Times used this as a lead in October, and the Portland Tribune did the same thing in December (albeit in a toned-down fashion). Now we have the SacBee weighing in with this oh-so-neutral opening:

Edward, with eyelashes nearly as long as the brush he was using to stroke blue paint onto a white paper plate, is usually a happy boy -- if a bit sensitive. When he was taken aside in November for a one-on-one test with a teacher, the 4-year-old's smile turned upside down.

"The whole time he was crying," said Karin Ramirez, site director of the Watt and E Head Start center. In between sobs, he wailed that he wanted to go back to class despite Ramirez's bribe of a SpongeBob sticker.

Sigh. I suppose I'm an ogre, then, for wanting to support the government's desire for accountability in the Head Start program?

"Head Start needs to be accountable," said Sharon Neese, manager of SETA Head Start in Sacramento. "We receive a tremendous amount of money. But an unresearched, thrown-together test is not a way to find out if Head Start is working."

What's the evidence that the test was "thrown-together"? And how can the tests be researched when Head Start managers don't want the feds to collect any data with it? For the test to be researched, four-year-olds have to take it.

...Horn, a child psychologist, said President Bush is trying to "manage by results," meaning whenever possible it is imperative to "measure what our good intentions are producing." Horn said the purpose is to identify local programs where more teacher training is needed. Federal administrators suspect some local programs are doing great and some not so well.

Probably a wise suspicion. The test required 18 months for development (that's "thrown-together"?), and the concept of measuring Head Start kids did not start with the Bush administration - only the standardized assessment format(essential for comparing federally-funded programs) and the federal reporting requirements (ditto) were recently added.

The exam was field-tested, and a 15-20 minute battery of questions was devised for the first go-round this fall. The results will serve as a base line. At the end of the Head Start academic year in May or June, the test will be repeated.

Okay, so not even the claim that the exam has not been "researched" is valid. Sigh, again.

Head Start's goal is to help economically disadvantaged children begin kindergarten on a level playing field with their more well-to-do peers.

Local Head Start leaders say parents of low-income children generally don't have as large a vocabulary as middle-class parents. So it is unrealistic, they say, to expect Head Start children to match their middle-class counterparts.

But, if the goal of Head Start is to put these low-income kids on a level playing field, then isn't it reasonable to measure whether Head Start kids learn a lot of that vocabulary? I mean, if the rationale is that their parental influence prevents them from learning anything, then why fund a program that is going to be ineffective?

Horn dismisses the notion: "What is astounding to me is that some who claim to be advocates say this is too high a goal. The president says that is nonsense. He says 'No Child Left Behind' does not mean just no rich child left behind. That is what the president is talking about when he speaks of the 'soft bigotry of low expectations.' "

Horn said Head Start has always been about developing rich vocabularies, and that entails knowing words that are not part of a child's immediate environment. "Just because there are no swamps in Sacramento, should we hide it from them? Should we only teach them words in their own environment?

"No 4-year-old has ever seen a live dinosaur, yet my guess is that there a lot of children who know what a dinosaur is."

He also said that worries about stressing young children are baseless: "My experience is that most 4-and 5-year-olds love to show off what they know."

In the right environment, I think that's as likely as the behavior of the otherwise-happy kid who becomes hysterical when confronted with a test item. So why not give us examples of both types of children? Or should we do away with anything that ever makes a four-year-old cry? This would include vaccinations and refusals to buy giant Barbie playhouses, I think.

Posted by kswygert at 10:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Legendary talk show host likes No 2 Pencil

Fellow blogger, talk show host, and silver-tongued flattered Milt Rosenberg sent me a link to his blog with some nice compliments about mine. I'll be happy to add him to my blogroll - once he adds me to his, of course (heh.) I rarely listen to talk radio (I rarely listen to the radio at all), so I confess I was unfamiliar with Milt's show before now.

Discover Milt's File here.

Radio 720 WGN in Chicago, which hosts his show (do I have any Chicago readers out there?)

Radio 720's page about his show.

Here's his bio - he's a professor of Psychology at Chicago and got his Ph.D. from Michigan, which means he probably knows some of my former professors and advisors.

I particularly like the description of him as "lone, bespectacled and slightly superannuated professor."

Posted by kswygert at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 30, 2003

Conservative students - the new outcasts

Tim Bueler is a high school student who was brave enough or crazy enough (depending on your interpretation) to start a club for conservative Christian students at his northern California high school, Rancho Cotate. He also published an article in the club's newsletter calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration.

The results are about what you'd expect. I suppose we can forgive the students who are making Tim's life a living hell, because they know no better. But there's no excuse for teachers to be making hysterical statements about Nazis and "neoconservative wing-nuts" in response.

One of the science teachers, in particular, makes a damning admission in his zeal to condemn Tim's political beliefs:

Forty school staff members signed a letter to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat calling on the Conservative Club to back up its accusations that students are being indoctrinated.

"They've made all these sweeping statements about liberal teachers warping the curriculum, but as a science teacher, I'd like to see some evidence," said Mr. Alton, who co-authored the letter.

Mr. Alton said he was also disturbed by Tim's article on illegal immigration, which says, "Liberals welcome every Muhammad, Jamul and Jose who wishes to leave his Third World state and come to America."

"No one at the high school opposes the formation of the Conservative Club," Mr. Alton said. "What bothers me is the extreme views that border on racism or homophobia, the negative tone, and the hot line that calls teachers 'traitors.' "

So, Mr. Alton is a teacher who is completely unaware of the fundamental fact that our Bill of Rights protects unpopular speech, such as statements deemed "racist," "homophobic," or "negative" by listeners, and thus by default protects the right to hold those "extreme" views.

Thus, Mr. Alton's statement means that (a) Mr. Alton has never learned the Bill of Rights, (b) the Bill of Rights is not taught at Rancho Cotate, and/or (c) Mr. Alton has complete disdain for the Bill of Rights when the feelings of certain students are at stake. The feelings of white, conservative students are no matter, as these students are not allowed to express an unpopular opinion on criminal acts such as illegal immigration, lest they be labeled "racist" or "homophobic". Instant condemnation is the order of the day for any conservative student who steps out of line.

Yep, no ideological biases there.

I admire Tim's decision not to transfer, but I think the rest of his high school days will be hell. If he gets beaten up on campus, I'm sure the reaction of his oh-so-unbiased teachers will be, "What did you expect?"

Who's up for taking up a contribution to get this boy a blog, so that he can publish in the real world, where the Bill of Rights does apply? (As opposed to Rancho Cotate High?) He could write about all sorts of topics, ranging anywhere from illegal immigration to - gasp! - standardized testing. Who knows what he might say? Unlike his teachers, I'm not afraid to find out.

Posted by kswygert at 06:09 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

December 29, 2003

Attention Blue Light Shoppers - Spelling homework due on Aisle 5

Old Kmarts become new schools in Florida (not California - thanks, Mike!):

As architects finish prototype designs for all future school construction, the Lee County School District is experimenting with two vacant commercial structures that will be converted into school buildings.

The district has agreed to purchase empty Kmarts in San Carlos Park and Lehigh Acres for $6.1 million and $5.5 million, respectively. After site work, remodeling and furniture is added, the price tags are estimated at $16.5 million and $12.5 million. The final expense will be slightly less than traditional elementary schools, but the facilities could accommodate students by August 2005 because the building shell and roof are already in place.

District officials are not worried about public perception in converting empty commercial buildings, a practice adopted by many schools districts in Florida.

"Although they might not look alike on the curbside, the inside will be the same," Superintendent James Browder said. "A classroom is a classroom, no matter if we mold it into a large building."

Think of everything that's already in place - adequate parking, security systems, that great big ICEE machine and hot dog heater you see in every store...Why do any remodeling? Throw up some moveable dividing walls and the kids would be happy to attend the Kmart as is.

Posted by kswygert at 08:45 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Congratulations on that $1.7 mil loss

From the city that brought you the flunking valedictorian: New Orleans had up to 27 months to fill out the paperwork for up to $15 million in grants from the federal government. Apparently, some educational bigwigs there are patting themselves on the back for losing only $1.7 million of it:

It is a shame that this kind of disastrous mismanagement is recurrent in the Orleans Parish system, which is failing students at many schools every day. And with many poor families to serve, any loss of federal Title I money -- intended for the education of children from poor families -- is a serious matter.

The U.S. Education Department reclaimed the $1.7 million because the New Orleans system didn't make plans to spend the money by federal deadlines. The money, about half of it from the Title I program, represented unspent federal allocations and grants to the school district dating to 1997 and 1998.

Ellenese Brooks-Simms, president of the Orleans Parish School Board, lamented the loss but said it could have been much worse. The new superintendent, Tony Amato, learned that the district had about $15 million available in federal and state grants, with deadlines fast approaching for allocating the money. He and his staff rescued most of the grants.

That doesn't excuse the system for its failings. Districts have up to 27 months to do the paperwork for Title I money. And the money can be used for a wide variety of purposes in a school...

Decades of bad judgment and political mismanagement...have left the Orleans Parish system with a reputation that will not go away quickly.

Further, the system isn't showing some basic appreciation for accountability. The board opposed, unsuccessfully, passage of a vital constitutional amendment this year that authorizes state agencies to take over failed schools.

More here, and especially here in this October MSNBC article- $100 million missing over four years? Seems that $1.7 mil that went back to the feds was only the tip of the iceberg:

For years the Orleans Parish school district denied requests to renovate, despite annual budgets of more than half a billion dollars — including $37 million from federal taxes.

Now an audit of district finances shows there was plenty of money, but in the kind of scandal the city is famous for, it was misappropriated — possibly stolen in amounts shocking even here.

Former New York School Superintendent Tony Amato was brought in this year to clean up the mess. He estimates the amount fleeced in just four years at more than $100 million. “You’re talking about money that was literally just hemorrhaging out of our system,” Amato says. “And money that could have been used to repair this school, maintain this school. And there are 125 schools in this city just like this school.”

The amount of money that simply disappeared from this school district over the past few years is staggering. Officials are still trying to figure out where it all went, but much of that money will never be recovered or accounted for.

The FBI, whose past investigations have sent Louisiana politicians to jail, is now looking into alleged crimes within the school district — including kickback schemes and employees siphoning off millions.

But auditors also blame bureaucratic incompetence. It turns out the district was paying $5,000 yearly health insurance premiums for 2,000 people who don’t work there. And it continued paying more than a thousand employees for months or years after they left the district.

Should "bureaucratic incompetence" of this magnitude result in less jail time than deliberate embezzlement would? I don't think so. Go, FBI.

Posted by kswygert at 05:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The tale of Osama Fin Laden

Lara Hayhurst, a college student in New York, was appropriately outraged at the treatment she and her fish received from airport security over the holidays. She takes it out on the hapless screeners and cold-hearted supervisors in this delightful essay:

[After being stopped by screeners] I was led back to the US Airways ticket counter, stocking-footed and alone, where the agents reasserted that they did not see a problem for me to have a fish on board, properly packaged in plastic fish bag and secured with a rubber band as MJ was. But the TSA supervisor was called over, and he berated me profusely. He exclaimed that in no way, under no circumstances, was a small fish allowed to pass through security, regardless of what the ticket agents said.

Mr. Supervisor was causing a grand scene, marshaling the full authority of the TSA to refuse me. Now, I know my fish is a terrorist (Osama Fin Laden we used to call him back at school), but doesn't it strike you as funny that, with all the commotion my little security threat was causing, by now engaging the full attention of the TSA at LaGuardia, that someone who posed a real threat to passenger safety might be conveniently slipping by?

By this time, I was in tears. The supervisor furiously told me to dispose of the fish. Dispose of my fish?! What did he want me to do, throw him away?

Instead, she and her boyfriend became savvy fish-smugglers, complete with a distracting and effective emotional assualt on the airport employees:

We took a deep breath and proceeded [with the fish tucked into her backpack]. We loaded our things onto the belt before the X-ray machine and walked through. Once past the scanner, Trey and I grabbed our things and ran for the gates, eager to find the first bathroom to see if MJ was intact. On the way, we passed by the original security checkpoint we had tried to go through.

The agents were huddled together, and recognized us. "What did you do with the fish?" they asked, "What did you do with the fish!?"

Sensing a chance for comeuppance, Trey put on his "stone-cold-supportive-protector" face and said with great dramatics, "You know what ... we flushed him. We flushed him because you made us [pause for effect]. You killed my girlfriend's fish. No, you made her kill her fish ... Happy holidays."

I started sobbing again. Trey gave the TSA agents one last cold, steely gaze.

We turned and walked away. I smelled an Oscar.

The fish survived intact, but Lara's respect for the new airport security measures did not:

As I write this I sit with a cat in my lap and my fish, which I have aptly renamed X-ray, swimming contentedly in his glass-beaded bowl. And even though my actions may send Tom Ridge reeling and upset the karma of the Department of Homeland Security, I really don't care.

Honestly, they have bigger fish to fry.

Posted by kswygert at 11:51 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Revenge of the Valedictorian

Who Tends the Fires has commentary on the amazing story of Andrew Ironside, a geek who was elected valedictorian as a joke - and got the last laugh:

Mr. Ironside, who had his own page in the yearbook, had been elected valedictorian in a vote carefully orchestrated by his peers and designed to embarrass him.

But when graduation night arrived, he gave a speech that transformed a malicious high school joke into an ad libbed sequel to Revenge of the Nerds.

In his yearbook message, Mr. Ironside described the "shock waves of amazement" that spread throughout the school when he was elected by popular vote to speak at the school's Grade 12 commencement ceremony in October...

One of the rumours principal Tom Adams had heard was that the honour student had been elected valedictorian as a joke.

"It was a joke," confirmed teacher Heddy Wright, "nobody thought he would go through with it."

Wow, Ms. Wright, it's great to see you used your position of authority to stand by and watch your students make a unpopular kid valedictorian as a joke. Well, it doesn't matter if Ms. Wright ever got around to teaching her students lessons on compassion and understanding for others; Andrew got the last laugh:

"I'm pretty happy to say I've spent time with almost all of you," said the good-looking blond who introduced Mr. Ironside at the graduation ceremony. "Sadly to say, Andrew is not really included in this group of people. The truth is, I really barely know him."

The school valedictorian is entitled to select a student to introduce his valedictory address. Mr. Ironside's small group of friends, boys who preferred science to sports, politics to playoffs, were not willing to endure that level of public scrutiny. Left with few options, the teen who had spent most of his high school years sequestered in the library chose a popular, athletic classmate...

"He probably was the most unlikely person to be nominated, let alone actually win," the young man told the assembled crowd in a brief introduction one teacher described as "malicious."

"So why is he representing us? He was nominated by us, we campaigned for him, we persuaded people to vote for him."

After the laughter had died down, Mr. Ironside rose and took the podium on the makeshift stage in the school gymnasium...

"A lot of you were jerks," he informed the rows of 18-year-olds, dressed in oversized suits and undersized skirts.

"I wasn't thinking of a specific person, just people in general," he remembers of the following indictment he issued against a high school atmosphere of snobbery and exclusion.

"How people just rip on other people."

The intelligent and socially conscious teen knew his reputation and valedictory victory was a joke, but did not think his legacy had to be one.

"Valedictorians always go up there and talk about how we have all these great memories -- the best memories of our lives," he said from Brock University in St. Catharines, where he is now studying biochemistry. "I didn't want to talk like that. I wanted to maybe help the people who didn't have the greatest time in high school."

In his speech, Mr. Ironside said that at first he "thought it would be funny if someone like me was up here talking instead of an exceedingly popular person."

It was impossible for him to pretend high school had been an endless stream of fond memories, he said, and added that it was the cliques and attitudes of his classmates that ultimately defined their legacy.

He concluded his speech by telling his classmates he would "probably never see any of you again," and saw rows of steely-eyed parents behind his laughing classmates. "I knew some people wouldn't like it," he said. "I was kind of a nerd type. Nothing I could say would convince them I should be up there."

Bravo. If nothing else, that'll teach the jokesters that it's not very bright to put geeks on the spot, especially the spot directly in front of a microphone.

Who Tends the Fires was particularly scornful of the principal's naive response:

-----
Mr. Adams, who had been principal of the school since 1999, said Mr. Ironside's speech prompted much "reflection and soul searching" in the school and the community...

The principal does not believe the teen was the target of bullying or ridicule at the school, but admits his Grade 12 class, part of the province's double cohort, suffered a higher than normal level of teenage stress.

With only four years to gather the grades and resume fodder to get them into university, and with soaring admission standards creating cutthroat competition, the Grade 12s had bigger things on their mind than parties and prom dates.

At the commencement ceremony for OT's last OAC class, who graduated simultaneously with Mr. Ironside and his peers, Mr. Adams saw an obvious bond between teenagers.

"Andrew's class didn't seem to have that same character," he said. "There may have been more identifiable groups. Maybe that was a way of surviving."

-----

Mister Adams, you might want to adjust those rose-colored glasses of yours, they're cutting off the blood supply to your brain...

High School is hell, folks, especially for the nerds and geeks, of which I fell smack-dab into said category. We're not out to score the winning goal nor do we think sports are everything, we actually enjoy learning, and we normally learn at our own pace and on our own time. This usually makes us unpopular among the jocks-and-cheerleaders set, and can make us a thorn in the sides of the teachers as well. We're not only square pegs, we're square pegs from the Planet Freedlzorp compared to the usual group of misfits. Sometimes, during the tougher phases of High School, we wonder if we were even meant to exist on Earth; that maybe there was a routing glitch in the Ethereal System that dropped our souls in the wrong proverbial Inbox. Getting through a single day in school was sometimes a hellish battle for scraps of dignity, and there were more than a few times when I wondered if I'd ever survive the day with my spirit intact...

Obviously Andrew managed to do so. He's now a biochem major at college; may his braininess and studiousness be rewarded.

Posted by kswygert at 11:40 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

When toddlers fall, moms sue

From Fark.com to the Jewish World Review, there's been a wide round of appalled reaction to this money-hungry mom and her lawsuit against Stamford, CT, and their "unsafe" parks:

A 2-year-old model and actor who cut his head at a playground is seeking unspecified lost wages and other compensation from the city.

Konrad Mader of Greenwich was running toward a treehouse at a playground Nov. 4 when he crashed into a railing, according to a claim filed last week by his mother and reported Friday by The Advocate of Stamford. The blond toddler received several stitches.

Deena Mader, the boy's mother, did not specify how much she is seeking on behalf of her son. In a letter to officials, she demanded compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering and a "lost wage amount due to his inability to audition or take modeling or commercial jobs while his head heals."

Mader blamed the boy's injury on a green railing, which she said blends in with the landscaping. Mader said the railing should be painted a brighter color. "This accident was preventable had the railings and safety measures been correct at this park, " Mader wrote in her claim.

JWR columnist Mitch Albom wonders where childhood has gone:

What I am sure of is this: I feel older every year. I read a story like that...and what I mainly take away from it is not that parents will sue over anything these days, but that the 2-year-old has a career! A career that a playground could interrupt!

When you're 2, isn't the playground your career? I mean, really, how many baby food commercials are out there? How many roles call for a kid in a high chair? What can a kid say at 2 - besides "No!" and "Gimme!" and "I don't wanna!"

I do not remember being 2 years old. But I have been told, to much laughter over the years, that at that age, all I did was sit on the curb and watch the cars go by. I never spoke a word. My mother took me to the doctor to see if there was something wrong with me. (Of course, that's what mothers did back in those days. Today, she would sue the city for lack of stimulus.)

Anyhow, the doctor said don't worry, I would start talking eventually, which I did. My mother did not seek damages for my silence. She did not look at everyday life as depriving me of a paycheck. But back then, we had this strange concept. It was called "childhood." It was not to be raced through. It was not in the way of a career.

Fark, which is becoming the center of information for the entire planet, has a photo in the comments section of the not-bright-enough green railings. Apparently Stamford has neon-green shrubbery, along with toddler models and parents who sue the city after failing to keep an eye on their own child.

My favorite Fark comments on the topic?

I'm taking up a collection for a countersuit. If we can't get enough money for a lawyer, we'll just buy a helmet for her son. If we can't get enough money for a helmet, we'll just buy a sign for her that says, "Your son is a retard. We can see where he gets it."

-----

He had to get stitches from a plastic surgeon? C'mon, when I was stabbed(grazed actually) in the head, some guy at the ER did it then plastered half a pound of medical tape over it to keep it closed. Could've been a resident, could've been the janitor for all I know. So long as it stopped bleeding.

This mom sounds like the kind of parent who won't be happy until the word is covered in half inch foam with rounded corners(?). It's a playground, kids get hurt just walking around, and chicks dig scars. This kid'll be getting all the honeys at the sandbox. Twenty years from now this kid will grow up to get famous by offing himself over an Everquest Eight account or something.

As far as me getting stabbed in the head, my family reunions rock.

-----

You know, the more I think about this, the more I think this woman is right.

Clearly, this playground equipment wasn't safe. Else, how could the kid have been injured? Therefore, this woman - this MONSTER - should have her child taken from her by Child Protective Services.

SHE deliberately placed that child in jeopardy by letting him play on OBVIOUSLY DANGEROUS equipment. Such a person should never again be permitted to endanger a child.

Hee hee hee.

P.S. - Where are overprotective moms in parks when you need them? This British mum is appalled that her 11-year-old son spent six hours in jail after being arrested while trying to build a treehouse in a public park. Mum, where were you when the kid was out in the rain with two hacksaws and a claw hammer, helping another kid try to cut down a mature tree?

And don't give us that "it was half-dead, anyway," routine, Mumsie.

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

Educational testing: Where any profit is suspect

The recent upswing in need for standardized exams has been good for the educational testing business, no doubt. The Contra Costa Times believes this is proof that the companies are "cashing in." Why the negative terminology for describing a simple process of supply increasing to meet demand? Are test developers supposed to work for free?

Companies that sell to the schools -- from test publishers to tutoring services to teacher-training outfits -- say business is booming as troubled districts turn to them for help.

There's a burgeoning "sense of consumerism in public education" as parents learn about the law and begin demanding services, says Jeffrey Cohen, president of Sylvan Education Solutions, a unit of closely held Educate Inc. His company says it expects to tutor 20,000 youngsters in struggling schools this year, with No Child Left Behind requiring the schools to pick up the $40- to $80-an-hour tab.

I'd say that reflects much more of a "burgeoning awareness of shoddy teaching and low standards in public education" on the part of parents. Parents aren't trying to be conspicuous consumers here; they just want to be sure their kids recieve a proper education, something no longer guaranteed by the public K-12 system. Schools that have to pick up these tabs should wonder why they're paying teachers to do the job badly in the first place.

This article actually does a good job of outlining the amazing amount of resources now available for students, parents and teacher from testing companies. So why is this "cashing in"? Methinks the headline author at the CC Times is rankled by the mere idea that anyone is making a - gasp! - profit from supplying the demand for solid educational instruction.

Posted by kswygert at 10:04 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The hypotenuse brouhaha in Mississippi

Federal law requires that items on a mathematics test for accountability must contain items for the highest-level required math course in that state. Mississippi currently requires geometry for graduation, but the state exam only contains items up through Algebra I. So Mississippi might change the exam - or drop the geometry requirement:

In Mississippi, geometry is the highest-level math course required for graduation, but students are given standardized tests in Algebra I, which is a lower-level course than geometry.

The board is considering either dropping geometry as a graduation requirement, or changing its standardized test into a comprehensive math test that would include Algebra I and geometry.

If the geometry requirement is dropped, the number of required math courses would increase from three to four. Board members hope that would force most students to take geometry, anyway.

Board member Kenny Bush of Philadelphia said removing the geometry requirement, even if the new requirement forces most students to take it by default, would send a message that Mississippi is lowering math standards.

"If the public can perceive us as lowering standards, that's not good," he said. "I think we either need to require geometry or at least some other math higher than Algebra I."

Believe it or not, one Mississippi math teacher is quoted as saying the exam should not be changed because that would be inconvenient - for the teachers:

Wingfield High math coach Valerie Kursar said the state has invested a considerable amount of money in developing the Algebra I test and providing teachers extra strategies to teach...

"If they change (the test) to geometry, teachers are going to have to start all over again providing extra resources for the geometry test," she said.

Isn't that what teachers are getting paid to do? Teach the skills that the state deems necessary?

Posted by kswygert at 09:55 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

High schools in SC win SAT cash

One high school in Columbia, SC, is one of 12 in the state to win cash for substantially improving SAT scores:

A.C. Flora High School has an extra $10,000 thanks to the student body’s stellar performance on the SAT...

For the past four years, the S.C. school with the largest gain has received $50,000 while the remaining schools get $10,000 each. Funding is provided by the General Assembly.

A.C. Flora officials haven’t figure [sic] out just how they’ll spend the cash...

Several teachers point to Flora’s International Baccalaureate Program as one reason for the SAT increase. Select students take rigorous courses that require independent thinking and community service. The students also must pass a final exam that’s graded by judges around the world.

Graduates earn special diplomas that can be their tickets to some of the nation’s most renowned colleges. But the International Baccalaureate Program also helps students who don’t participate in the program.

“Many of our teachers have had that training (to teach the International Baccalaureate classes),” said Betsy Adams, media specialist at A.C. Flora. “And that benefits all the students they teach, whether they’re in the program or not.”

Another reason for the SAT gain: the statewide SAT competitions. The state Education Department sponsors an annual SAT competition among high schools. Teams of students compete for the highest score on a version of the SAT.

“It’s made the kids more conscious of the importance of the test,” said Adams, Flora’s SAT team coach. “The publicity has been quite helpful.”

Posted by kswygert at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Revisions to Louisiana special ed testing rules

New exam rules in New Orleans mean that special education students will face a tougher testing hurdle:

Looking toward adulthood, 15-year-old Rebecca Hulse holds to a simple aspiration: to one day sell hot dogs at the Superdome.

The bright-eyed eighth-grader from Metairie, mentally disabled since her birth, is resigned to a life within limits. She speaks clearly and answers questions deliberately, but such basics as counting change or writing full sentences remain outside her grasp.

Yet between now and March, Hulse's teachers at V.C. Haynes Middle School are charged with preparing her for the high-stakes LEAP test.

She and as many as 5,000 other special-education students in the state are expected to lose their eligibility this year for easier exams tailored to their disabilities.

Those easier exams may have originally set the bar too low, and resulted in misclassification of students. But testing opponents say the new tests are "cruel" for children who will never have a chance at passing them:

Severely disabled students remain eligible for an alternate test. Those with disabilities categorized as mild or mild/moderate will be assessed in the spring with regular education students on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the LEAP, or Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, test.

Although Hulse can write only a few select phrases, in March she will be expected to compose short essays. Her math skills, limited to addition with single-digit numbers, will be challenged with algebra.

"It's only going to totally frustrate her and ruin the progress we've been making with her," said Ann Hulse, a 29-year special-education teacher who adopted Rebecca three years ago when the girl was a student in her class at Ella Dolhonde Elementary School. "She's now at a kindergarten or first-grade level . . . In her lifetime she will never be on an eighth-grade level. Never."

Perhaps this just reveals my ignorance of the special education classifications, but why is an eighth-grader who is performing at the kindergarten level labeled as having a mild or mild-to-moderate disability? My God, how poorly does a child have to perform to get the label of severe disability? This seems wrong to me. The only way children who are this incapable of learning get diagnosed with mild to moderate disabilities is if kids who are two, or three, or four grades behind are diagnosed as having mild to no disability.

Has the school system pendulum swung from being too quick to label underperformers as disabled to being too willing to accept those performing two grade levels behind as "normal"?

That much said, the prior exams were geared towards the grade level at which the students were performing, which sounds right to me. It's odd that as the federal government is relaxing special education testing rules, Louisiana is tightening them.

State officials claim many school districts gave the easier tests too freely, to students who should have taken the regular tests. That effectively padded school performance scores and, Beridon said, shortchanged students who could accomplish more in life if challenged.

By mixing the disabled students' test results with those of regular education students, thereby including them in the performance scores, the state hopes to prod educators who might otherwise shunt their disabled students to the side.

Although overall student dropout rates have fallen in recent years, the percentage of Louisiana students who fail to earn a diploma is among the worst in the nation. Beridon said that low ranking will linger as long as thousands of special-education students are pre-emptively diverted from the diploma track.

That rank is 43rd out of 50, according to this table. My home state of South Carolina actually has the worst graduation rate - only 48% of ninth-graders graduate within four years.

Posted by kswygert at 09:47 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The value of cursive

The National Cursive Handwriting Contest, active for 75 years, was recently canceled in part because of the "garbage" that some teachers considered worthy of entry. Computers are being held to blame in part for the decline of teaching, and learning, this skill:

Some, including Trafford, say reliance on computers has hurt handwriting in general.

The National Cursive Handwriting Contest was canceled in part because of the declining quality of entries.

"We were absolutely appalled at what teachers around the country felt was good handwriting," Trafford said. "We got some stuff in here that could only be described as garbage."

Cursive used to be a big deal for elementary school students.

Round Top Elementary principal Jeaneen Tucker remembers as a child spending 30 minutes or more a day getting the formation of her letters just right. The practice paid off: She still has the handwriting award she won in elementary school.

"I don't know that we give handwriting awards anymore," she said...

Pontiac Elementary principal Beth Elliott thinks the emphasis on reading has also had an effect, since most books are in manuscript. The educator said she thinks it's good that the focus on cursive has lightened, and believes it's now taught in a more balanced way.

"There was an era when we spent so much time on penmanship rather than on academics," she said.

But some say there will always be some value in learning the old-fashioned art of cursive.

Rosewood Elementary principal Ted Wachter said: "How else can you write a nice letter to a dear friend?"

I used to write dozens of letters to dear friends every week. That gave me the chance to show off my spiffy handwriting and calligraphic skills. I don't think it's entirely coincidental that my handwriting has worsened as my typing skills have improved. Pity.

(For a previous discussion of this topic, click here.)

Posted by kswygert at 09:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

East St. Louis cheating probe widens

Oh, my. A second East St. Louis school is under investigation for fishy behavior, and it appears a few folks have been busily obtaining test materials in an unauthorized fashion:

Dick Barrett, the inspector general for District 189's state financial oversight panel, is probing purchase orders linked to Terrence Curry, the former principal of Younge Middle School.

In September 2002, the school district placed an order for an answer key and test question books to the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills from Riverside Publishing of Itasca, Ill., according to documents obtained by the Belleville News-Democrat.

The purchasing order was placed under Curry's name. But the person who actually ordered the materials was Vivian Cockrell, who at the time was Younge's assistant principal.

Cockrell ordered the materials as part of the middle school's Student Improvement Program, which was aimed at boosting student test scores.

Curry's and Cockrells' involvement in the ordering of the tests and answer keys, however, raised an automatic red flag because they are not authorized to order such materials.

Only Janice Jennings, head of District 189's testing and research department, is allowed to do so. Restricting access to testing materials is done so, in part, to limit the possibility of cheating.

Curry is the second District 189 employee who has come under scrutiny for allegedly ordering testing materials without authorization.

Three weeks ago Barrett began probing evidence that links the chairman of the English Department at East Side High School to unauthorized purchases of hundreds of blank answer sheets to the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills.

Peggy LeCompte, or someone using her name, twice in 2002 ordered hundreds of copies of the Iowa Tests -- at a cost of $1,611.

LeCompte also is president of the East St. Louis teachers union.

Previous reports on this scandal here, here, and here.

Posted by kswygert at 09:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

So, who else is sick of eggnog?

Man, I didn't think my sweet tooth could ever be deactivitated, but this holiday has just been insane, sugar-wise. I received gifts of M&M's (big containers), homemade fudge, two large boxes of mixed chocolates, a larger box of truffles, a box of praline sweets, homemade chocolate bark, a large tin of homemade cookies, a humongous bag of peanut brittle, gingerbread cake with frosting....even for me, that's too much sugar. I've been turning down cookies and dessert lately, so apparently my desire for sweetness does have an "Off" switch. Too bad it takes at least 12,000 calories' worth to activate it.

Anyway, I had a very lovely, if gluttonous, holiday, and I hope you enjoyed yours as well.

Posted by kswygert at 09:21 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 25, 2003

And a Merry Christmas to you, too

This morning, after I ran over to my friend's house to feed her three dogs and five cats, I woke up my boyfriend so that we could open our gifts. And then I poured a nice large shot of liqueur into my coffee. Boyfriend wondered aloud why I was hitting the booze so early; I reminded him that it was necessary because I was getting ready to open gifts from my family.

Now, before I go any further, let me state unequivocally that (a) I love my family dearly, and (b) I do appreciate their generosity and thoughtfulness. It's just that certain generous and thoughtful members of my family have an unerring instinct for buying me wholly inappropriate gifts.

Well, it's not an instinct, actually; it's a deliberate mindset, which is as wrongheaded as it is well-intentioned. Some of my family members just hope against hope that someday I will come to my senses and be a "normal" woman; meaning, a fully domesticated, demure, Christian wife. Thus, I received this morning:

(a) a crock-pot and a cookbook for it, despite the fact that I rarely cook and there's only two of us;
(b) a cake tester, from someone who knows that I've never baked a cake in my life;
(c) a religious Christmas tree ornament, from someone who knows that I don't consider myself Christian and I never put up a Christmas tree;
(d) Christmas china, from someone who knows that I don't own a china cabinet and don't even use my wedding china half the time, much less special china with Christmas trees all over it...

....and so forth. It's not like I won't ever use the Crockpot, but I find myself giggling over these gifts (and the more liqueur I put in my coffee, the more I giggle). These aren't gifts from strangers; they're from people who have known me all my life, and despite the fact that I've shown little sign of domesticity or Christianity in my 35 years, they're still trying to sneak it in there. Thank goodness they don't know how different my lifestyle really is from theirs.

The boyfriend and I have been having the best giggle over this gift. I got a version in light purple, and let me just say that it is the least erotic item of women's clothing that I've ever seen. Given that boyfriend and I are still in the honeymoon stage, I won't wear it much around him, not least because he has been mercilessly calling it a "onesie" all morning.

Granted, it's not supposed to be lingerie (every year, I ask for Victoria's Secret gift certificates, hoping they'll get the hint), but in some ways it doesn't even do what it's supposed to do. It's supposed to keep you warm by being "a blanket you wear", and it's heavy enough that you wouldn't wear anything under it. But the only zipper is at the top, which begs the question, "How do you go to the bathroom in this thing?"

The answer is, "You don't." At least, not without zipping it down and pulling it almost completely off, and given that the bathroom is one of the colder rooms in my house, an article of clothing that I have to almost entirely remove before I can take a whiz is not one I'm going to be wearing often.

But right now, the cat is snuggled up in my "onesie," the boyfriend is happily mulling over his new Final Fantasy game manual, and the liqueur is kicking in. I hope you're all having as happy and relaxed a day as I am.

(And if you're bored of opening presents and want a lot of stuff to read, the Christmas Carnival of the Vanities is up. Go and enjoy.)

Posted by kswygert at 12:13 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

December 23, 2003

Thanks again

Thanks to all of you who have sent messages of condolence for my dear departed python. If you tried to leave comments and could not, my apologies; that's because I've been futzing with the comment functionality in an attempt to foil the spammers. So far, nothing's working, so I'll be trying to install the MT patch over the holidays.

Thanks to the Devoted Readers, too, who are sending along suggested stories for me to blog. I'll try to get them up this week, but bloggage will be sporadic as I do last-minute shopping, wrapping, and eggnog-imbibing.

Posted by kswygert at 09:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 22, 2003

Merry Christmas News

Between my poor departed python and the general holiday hangover/sinus infection that I always seem to have this time of year, I needed some cheering up. Luckily, recent news and blog postings provide it:

Soldier returns home from Iraq, tells local reporter that he can't wait to have a Genny Cream Ale. The High Falls Brewing Company promptly pulls up to his house with a truck full; one Cream Ale for every day the soldier served in Iraq.

A VP of a foodbank in Virginia sent a letter to a meat packing company, asking if they could donate any meat to help needy families celebrate Christmas. Smithfield Packing Co responded with an 18-wheeler full of 10,000 pounds of free meat.

James Lileks is back! He reports on his toddler's Christmas recital:

Her preschool celebrates Christmas with untrammeled gusto, I’m happy to say. You got your manger, your big multi-pointy star, your kings on camels, your myrhh. The three- and four-year olds had an afternoon service last week, and it pegged the Cute-O-Meter – they filed into the great vaulted sanctuary singing “Jesus Loves Me” in that classic toneless toddler caterwaul that nevertheless finds a melody somewhere, and holds it aloft like the body of some strange & lovely creature that washed up on the village’s shore.

They sang five songs, including Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Same repertoire I sang when I was in the Elim Lutheran Cherub Choir back in Fargo in the early 60s...We had a choir director intent on unlearning our juvenile inflections. It drove him nuts when we hissed that wish: We WISSSSH you a Merachrismus we WISSSSH you a Merachrismus we WISSSSH you a Merachrismus anda HABBYNUYEER. Now I teach Gnat to lean on the Wish. Put your elbow into it, kid.

A 20-year-old National Guardsman, unmarried and with no kids, gave up his chance to come home for Christmas so that a fellow guardsman could see his family:

When the Cape May Court House-based 253rd Transportation Company held a drawing to determine who would get leave, Specialist Jonathan Hinker -- the married father of a 7-year-old son -- drew too high a number to qualify. However, the 34-year-old Lower Township man's disappointment soon turned to joy when Specialist James Presnall volunteered to stay in Iraq.

"(Presnall) felt it was more important (that) Jon was able to come home for his family. He gave up his opportunity to come home," Hinker's wife, Buffi, told The Press of Atlantic City.

Presnall, a 20-year-old Galloway Township native who is not married, had planned to spend his leave with his parents, Howard and Toni Presnall. While disappointed about not seeing their son, they were overjoyed to learn of their son's selfless act.

A chance to help Iraqi youth; donate money to buy musical instruments through Spirit of America:

U.S. Army Civil Affairs Captain Justin Thomas emailed Spirit of America requesting musical instruments for the people of Khormal, Iraq who had suffered years of repression under radical Islamists.

Justin wrote, "I believe that one necessity is musical instruments. I know this sounds trivial, but the towns around Halabja and Khormal are known throughout Kurdistan for their cultural history, to include musicianship and traditional Kurdish music. However, when Ansar al Islam and other Islamist organizations took power, they forbad any type of music playing or listening, to include Kurdish folk music. Music was outlawed until the people were liberated at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. There are children who are only now hearing their traditional music, and adults who very much want to celebrate their traditions."

Posted by kswygert at 11:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 20, 2003

Not a Merry Hissmas after all

Remember a few posts back when I poked fun at a post on Joanne Jacob's site? The one where a reader of hers mentioned a ridiculous suggestion by her child's teacher to sing "Merry Hissmas" instead of "Merry Christmas"?

And I said, "As for me, my pet snakes and I will have a very Merry Hissmas this year, thank you very much."

I spoke too soon. I just got back from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School emergency room, where I've been all afternoon. My python, Dancer, who seemed fine a week ago, actually had an internal infection. Once it surfaced, it was too late for me to save him without radical surgery that would have seriously affected his quality of life. So he had to be euthanized. The UPenn people were very good, and very comforting, and I thank them for that.

I'm just very, very sad. His health was never perfect, and I figure the fact that he was originally bought (not by me) through a pet store was related to that. It's very difficult to tell when reptiles are sick, and pet stores are notorious for selling sick animals without giving much information as to the normal care and feeding of them. Case in point: One week ago, my python looked fine and was eating normally. Perhaps a breeder or a vet would have noticed signs of disease, but had he been in a pet store someone very well could have bought him, only to have him on the verge of death a week later.

One of my favorite experts on reptiles, Melissa Kaplan, has a page about why pet stores should not sell reptiles. I particularly like her list of changes that pet stores could make in order to make the trade of reptiles more humane. Snakes are not objects, and they're not pets for amateurs. They require a great deal of preventative medicine, but when they are not well taken care of early in life, it may be impossible for them to live long, healthy lives.

As for me, I'm going to make a donation to a local reptile rescue group in Dancer's name. It's the least I can do.

dancer1.jpg

Requiescat in pace, little Python regius.

Posted by kswygert at 05:53 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 19, 2003

The various opinions on testing

Reporter Teresa Hoffman of the Ralston Recorder (NE) notes what readers of this blog have known all along - "Opinions vary on tests".

Some parents just want more of the testing info:

Kriss Kriglstein, a parent of a Blumfield sixth-grader, said she doesn't mind her son taking standardized tests, but said she would like to see more information on those tests given to parents and teachers.

"I don't think we get enough information," she said. "We just get a score and I don't think that helps us as parents."

Though she sees a need for the tests, Kriglstein said she thinks it's more important to look at the results of an individual child or even a classroom.

Some parents feel testing is too expensive and not well-explained to the consumers:

Janis Dwyer, who has a daughter in seventh grade at Ralston Middle School, said she has many concerns about standardized testing.

Among her objections are the focus it takes off of individual students, the cost and the lack of understanding of the scoring system by the public...

Dwyer also doesn't like the cost associated with testing and the fact that districts don't receive help from the state and federal governments even though they are requiring the testing to be done.

"The testing process is an expensive use of time taken from true teaching and learning opportunities in the classroom," she said...

Finally, Dwyer said, there's not enough understanding of the scoring process of standardized tests.

"Percentiles are not the same as percentage grade," she said. "A 50th percentile is average and the average of all numbers should be in the 50th percentile range to find a bell curve, which is the goal of standardized testing."

Unfortunately for Ms. Dwyer, who is a former teacher herself, she illustrates her point well by giving confusing and at least partially inaccurate definitions here.

The 50th percentile is not the average or mean score; it's the median, the point at which 50% of test takers score above and 50% below. The reason it's important to make that distinction is shown in the following example.

We give a test that has a score range of 1 to 100 to two groups of 11 examinees each.

* Group A contains scores of 30, 40, 50, 60, 60, 60, 70, 70, 70, 80, and 90.
* Group B contains scores of 60, 60, 60, 60, 60, 60, 90, 95, 95, 100, and 100.

The median, or 50%, of each group is the same - 60. But the mean for Group A is 61.81, while the mean for Group B is 76.36. What's more, the kid who's at the 50th percentile in Group A is indeed near the middle of his class, while a kid who scores at the 50th percentile in Group B, which is bimodal, is a member of that part of the class which is just not "getting it."

I assume that Ms. Dwyer meant to say that, if the distribution of examinees is a bell-curve, the 50th percentile will be (as it is in Group A), close to the average. However, if a test is criterion-referenced, there's no reason to assume that a particular cohort of students will make up a bell-shaped curve, or anything close to it. There's no reason why, on a criterion-referenced test, to assume ahead of time that a class would look more like Group A than Group B.

Thus, for any parent interested in interpreting test scores, it's helpful to look at the 25th and 75th percentile scores as well as the median and average. For example, in Group A above, the 25th percentile is 50, while the 75th percentile is 70. This means that half the class scores between those two scores. But in Group B, the 25th and 75th percentiles are 60 and 95, respectively.

Thus, a parent whose kid got a score of 60 would know, if his kid were in Group A, that his kid was indeed scoring near the middle of the curve. But if his kid were in Group A, that would mean his kid was one of the bottom performers in the class, even though a score of 60 is at the 50th percentile in both groups.

I think this next statement by Ms. Dwyer is also confusing:

She said because a list of scores showing that many students do perform in the higher percentile ranges is never reported, it leads those outside education to believe that all children are doing poorly.

Um, there have to be students performing in the higher percentiles, so it's hard for me to understand how the scores in the higher percentiles could not be reported. And whether or not all children are doing poorly has nothing to do with ranking them using percentiles. If in fact every student is doing poorly, a kid with a score of 60 out of 100 could be at the 95th percentile. If it's a bell-shaped curve, that kid is likely to be near the 50th percentile. Every test taker will get assigned a percentile rank, but that only measures how they've done in relation to one another, not in relation to the material on the test.

It's hard to see what she means here, unless she is using "percentiles" incorrectly again and is claiming that scores in the upper categories of scores are not reported. But again, it's hard to believe that that is true, or if true, how it would affect public perception. If the newspaper reports only that 70% of students scored Below Basic on a test, so what? No amount of reporting that 30% scored higher than that will dispel the notion that most of the kids are doing poorly.

But, enough of the statistics lecture. The article winds up by noting that others see testing as a necessary evil, and the most they'll say is that they're not against it:

Merry Naviaux, the academic resources teacher for the Ralston School District and president of the Ralston Education Association, said she sees standardized tests as a necessary tool.

"We need to have some kind of testing," she said. "I'm not against it. I think it is really important because it gives you baseline information that is critical to making decisions."

If opinions on testing really vary a lot, and I think they do, couldn't the reporter have found one teacher or parent to make an unequivocally positive comment on testing?

Posted by kswygert at 04:30 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Junior FCATs soon to come?

In Palm Beach County, FL, first- and second-graders might be gearing up to take junior versions of the FCAT:

School district officials are reviewing whether to require first- and second-graders to take a standardized exam that measures some of the same reading and math skills as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

There's a lot at stake when students take the FCAT, starting in the third grade. If they fail the reading portion, they can be held back. Their test scores also help determine a school's grade and whether teachers get bonuses.

Proponents see early testing as a way to prepare students for the FCAT before the major consequences kick in. But the idea concerns some educators and parents, who say students in the youngest grades shouldn't be subjected to the pressure of standardized testing.

I see both sides of the story here. Certainly, it's not a good sign if there's really no pressure on teachers to teach reading skills, nor accountability for those skills, until they're going to be tested in the third grade. On the other hand, for a long time the conventional wisdom in psychometrics is that anyone younger than 9 or so shouldn't be tested with conventional standardized tests.

I also don't know of a great deal of validity or reliability research on children that young, although standardized tests like the Stanford Achievement Test do exist for first- and second-graders. From what I can tell from their website, the content is appropriate for kids that age, and there apparently are no strict time limits.

The district already requires a test called Reading Running Records for first- and second-graders. In this test, a student reads a book aloud to a teacher and then summarizes it. The grading is generally seen as subjective and doesn't prepare a student for the FCAT, district officials said.

Broward County has been giving the Stanford Achievement Test to first- and second-graders for years, said Anne Dilgen, Broward's director of student assessment. She said the district has found it a useful tool to predict how well students will do on the FCAT. But it's not an overly stressful test, she said. Students don't have to fill out bubbles, and they don't have strict time limits.

The usual stress-related incidents are what cause some to oppose the testing idea:

Ann Faraone, principal of Calusa Elementary in Boca Raton, used to be an elementary school principal in New York, where testing was given to first- and second-graders. She would rather not see that done here.

"I have to say it was very, very stressful for the kids," she said.

She said she has seen students who were so nervous about standardized tests that they got sick.

Yes, but some kids get nervous about recess, or math, or school in general, and the teachers try to help them through it. I don't want to sound uncaring, but the tests given to the first- and second-graders would not be as difficult or high-stress as the test for older kids, so I don't support the assumption that because a few kids get stressed, the tests shouldn't be used for any of them.

What's more, introducing them to testing as early as possible, and in as easy a way as possible, might help them later on.

Posted by kswygert at 04:16 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 18, 2003

PETA: Worse than I ever imagined

Remember the PETA flyer I mentioned earlier this week? The one that PETA believes is suitable to distribute to children attending ballet performances? John of Right Wing News has a copy of it up on his site.

Oh. My. God. If I needed any more evidence that PETA has gone completely around the bend, here it is.

I agree entirely with two of the commenters on John's site:

PETA is about hate and twisting minds and pretending to care about something that they don't actually care about. PETA is about throwing paint on someone's hard earned $8000 fur coat and pretending that's all good. PETA is all about trying to take meat out of my diet, without which I would probably become as anemic and stupid as you seem to be.

------

Why do PETA wackos target small children and old ladies wearing fur? Because it's infinitely safer than hassling bikers wearing leather.

Posted by kswygert at 01:29 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

"These kids are my heroes"

Debbie Schultz, a Spanish teacher at Heritage High School (GA), was attacked in her classroom this week by her estranged husband. The reason she lived to tell this tale is because her students rescued her:

Debbie Shultz's class had just finished a Spanish II final exam Wednesday morning when the door to their trailer burst open with a bang. Shultz's estranged husband stood wild-eyed in the doorway, teeth gritted, pausing almost for dramatic effect, she recalled. Then he rushed toward her, she said, raising a large knife toward her chest.

That's when Shultz's students, 16- and 17-year-old kids, went to her rescue. Several of the youngsters tackled the man, pinning him to the floor and wresting the knife from his hand.

"Those kids are my heroes. I believe God used them to save my life," Shultz, 46, said Wednesday evening, recuperating at home with stitches in her hand and leg where her assailant slashed her with the knife.

"I'm sorry that they were called upon to do such a huge job so early in their lives, but without them I wouldn't be alive."

Only four years ago, one student shot six others at this school, finally surrendering to an assistant principal. Ms. Shultz was one the teachers who put herself in danger by warning other students of what was happening. Now her students have returned the favor:

Heritage High Principal Greg Fowler praised the students who went to Debbie Shultz's aid. "They love Ms. Shultz," Fowler said. "When a teacher has a relationship with the students, this is the payoff."

Nimesh Patel, 17, was taking a nap after finishing his final when he heard screaming and the scampering of fleeing students. He saw his teacher trying to fend off her assailant.

"I froze there for a second. Me and a couple of other guys grabbed him and threw him to the ground and basically sat on him until the cops came," he said.

Several other students helped Patel subdue the attacker. They included Austin Hutchinson, 16; John Bailey, 16; Andy Anderson, 17; Matt Battaglia, 17; and Scott Wigington, 17.

Ms. Shultz also made sure her students were okay, even as she was rushed off to recieve medical attention:

After the assailant was taken into custody, the students were provided counseling and allowed to go home if they wanted. Patel remained in school to take his chemistry and history finals.

Shultz hugged her sobbing students as she was taken away, letting them know she was OK.

She said she plans to return to her classroom today -- after she goes by the courthouse to sign final papers for her divorce.

"I'm definitely going to school tomorrow, to thank my kids for being heroes, to let them know I'm OK and that bad things happen to good people."

And to let them know that ordinary "good people" can be heroes if they choose.

Posted by kswygert at 01:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Radical change needed for a wretched public school system

Washington, DC school officials are reacting to a recent report by the Council of the Great City Schools showing that the current teaching program in place in the district is "incoherent and has no accountability":

The report was complied by a group of urban school reform experts assembled by the nonprofit, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools. It concludes that no other urban school system in the country is getting improvement in reading and math instruction using D.C.'s system of letting schools choose their own programs.

Standardized test scores released on Wednesday show the city's student performance is at or near the bottom of every measurable category except one - white fourth-graders. The report recommends systemwide programs for math and reading rather than allowing schools to select their own.

Acting Superintendent Elfreda Massie tells The Washington post she'll act on the recommendations.

Emphasis mine. Whatever they're doing now in DC schools, it isn't working. Changes need to be made; not hiring any more administrators like this one would be a good start:

The newly hired head of D.C.'s public high schools has resigned after school officials learned new details about his background. Acting Superintendent Elfreda Massie tells The Washington Post that she hired Howard Coleman without knowing that he had been fired as superintendent of a district in North Carolina.

School officials there found that that Coleman had mismanaged the school budget; improperly charged the school system. The items included personal cell phone calls, meals and in-room movies at hotels and a payment for his rock band.

Coleman was one of Massie's first significant hires after she assumed the superintendent's job a month ago. Massie blamed a flawed hiring process, and says she will fix it.

And making sure the the schools in DC can actually keep track of student performance won't hurt, either:

Sixteen D.C. high schools are being cited for faulty record-keeping. A random check of student files found that many are in disarray - and that some students received higher or lower grades than teachers originally recorded.

According to The Washington Post, the report says some grades may have been tampered, but that records are too poorly organized to tell. The study also found that some records contain conflicting information about how many credits students earned toward graduation.

The review was requested by former Superintendent Paul Vance following complaints from Wilson Senior High teachers who said grades for some students were boosted last year without their knowledge.

School officials say steps are being taken to improve record-keeping and that parents shouldn't be worried.

If my kid was in the DC school system, I'd be very worried.

Posted by kswygert at 11:19 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

More on the benefits of homeschooling

Big article on homeschooling in The Hook; great title, too.

Home for the Holidays, and Every Other Day Too...

...the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 1.7 percent of all students are now home-schooled. That means growing numbers of parents including atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims-- as well as the Christians who have long held the home-schooling spotlight-- are choosing this route...

"The number one reason people home-school is to give their children a good solid foundation," says local parent Kevin Cox, who adds, "I'm not Christian."

Cox and his wife, Sarah Pool, believe they had no choice but to home-school. A lab technician in UVA's biochemistry department, Cox blames a combination of bad teachers and his own uninvolved parents for limiting his opportunities. He didn't want this his kids to suffer the same fate.

"I went in to the blue collar working world because that was the direction I was pushed," says Cox. "I just barely made it out of high school, and I'm not a stupid person. I know plenty of people who are very intelligent who can barely read."

That's why he and Pool got nervous when their oldest child was in first grade in public school. Despite glowing report cards, she could not read. Cox, an intense man with definite notions about education, was fearful that his eldest child was heading "towards mediocrity." Unable to afford private tuition, the couple decided to instruct their daughter at home.

Emphasis mine. Other parents pay little mind to the insistence of those who say kids schooled at home just don't get enough "diversity":

Some critics of the home education movement worry about the social implications of keeping kids home. In a USA Today op-ed piece entitled, "Home Is No Place for School," educator Dennis L. Evans asks, "Can there be anything more important to each child and thus to our democratic society than to develop virtues and values such as respect for others, the ability to communicate and collaborate, and an openness to diversity and new ideas?"

Caryn Hamilton believes some schools could stand a little diversity training of their own. That's why she and her husband, Lance, an attorney at the Judge Advocate General school, had always planned to teach at home. They wanted to protect their children from the culturally and racially biased education they experienced as black students...

Countering the argument about home-schoolers being isolated is the Albemarle County Homeschoolers Network. Formed just last summer, the group already claims a membership of over 60. In fact, so linked are these home-schooling families that news of this article triggered a flurry of emails among its members.

One great piece of trivia - Jostens, the well-known class ring manufacturer, now has a line for homeschooled kids. When the school nostalgia corporations get involved, you know it's a trend that's here to stay.

I designed my own, assuming I was a homeschooler graduating in 2004. Take a look. Click on the binoculars in the order form to see the options I chose. Pretty nifty, eh?

(Ah, the link doesn't work now. You can click here, though, to build your own. Mine was cool; a music symbol on one side and the American flag on the other.)

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

Dreaming of a Winter Bungleland

I just can't improve on Joanne Jacob's comment on this tale of PC-ridiculosity sent by a reader: "Stupidity, apparently, knows no limits."

-------------------
A Fox reader named Michelle in a small town in Texas sent me this amazing e-mail:

My kindergarten daughter was informed that in the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," her class was to sing: "We Wish You a Merry Hissmas." This prompted her young mind to ask me what holiday Hissmas was, among other questions.

The mother told her daughter to tell the teacher that the family celebrates Christmas, not Hissmass. The teacher told the girl she could sing "Christmas," but to sing quietly...

Well, my family and I would like to wish you and yours a very Merry Hissmas and a Happy New Ear!!
-------------------

Don't miss all the commenters on Joanne's post. As for me, my pet snakes and I will have a very Merry Hissmas this year, thank you very much.

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

December 17, 2003

ETS errs in reporting NJ scores

Scores for New Jersey's third- and fourth-graders on the state's standardized exams were due in September, but are now expected in January. The company producing the tests, ETS, apologizes for the delay:

Princeton-based Educational Testing Service, best known for the SATs and other national exams, was initially due to file the results and scoring analysis with the state in September. However, computer problems and other issues have delayed the work, and the data is now expected to be turned in by next month.

"We apologize for these delays and we are working nonstop with districts and schools to correct data to ensure that educators have reports that accurately reflect their student populations," ETS President and CEO Kurt Landgraf said Tuesday. "We're taking steps to avoid such occurrences next year, but there is no excuse for this current situation."

State Education Commissioner William Librera said he was "confident" that ETS would remedy the problems.

The company, which is working under a four-year, $35 million contract to develop and score the tests, was criticized earlier this year after some districts received a rough run of students and their scores.

Several errors were found in demographic and other student background data, and some schools said that caused them to receive warnings that they were not meeting federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Ooops. The New Jersey Star-Ledger has more:

State officials and executives of the Educational Testing Service yesterday acknowledged a rash of errors and time delays involved with the NJ ASK exams, leaving districts without results for students beginning to prepare for the next tests.

In one case, officials said the loss of dozens of test booklets led to the state's mislabeling of two elementary schools as "underperforming."

The sum of the problems yesterday brought an extraordinary public apology from ETS President Kurt Landgraf, as the Lawrence- based firm began returning the last of the scores. The tests in reading and math were given to 210,000 third- and fourth-graders last May.

Part of the issue was the time crunch:

The state was under time pressures to get the tests up and running by spring and chose Princeton-based ETS over several other nationally recognized firms, even at a far higher cost.

The administration and scoring of the tests were without incident, officials said, but the problems began as ETS returned scores for the fourth-grade test this fall and discovered errant codes for schools or students in nearly 150 districts.

Posted by kswygert at 04:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Teenage girls: The real threat to public education

Look, let's stop the lie that "zero tolerance" rules are meant to combat on-campus use of such damaging drugs as heroin and meth, okay? Let's all just be honest about the fact that what school administrators really want to accomplish with these rules is to punish all those pesky teenage girls and their stashes of legal, OTC pain medication.

No? You say that wasn't the intent? Then why do I keep reading stories like this?

Taking ibuprofen for cramps landed a Clay-Chalkville High sophomore with a suspension and a month's mandatory attendance at alternative school.

Ysatis Jones, 15, took a Motrin pill on Dec. 3 after requesting to be excused for the restroom. She said she was too embarrassed to ask her male drivers' education teacher if she could visit the main office to take medicine for menstrual pain.

A teacher saw her swallow the pill at a water fountain and reported her.

The Jefferson County school board prohibits students from possessing any prescription or over-the-counter medication without signed administrative permission. The student code of conduct classifies violations as a major drug offense.

You got that? Major drug offense. Ysatis is no different from the stoners who get high before school. The fact that she happens to be breaking no laws and had a legitimate need for legal medication is of no concern to the Jefferson County school board. They can make no distinction between Ysatis and the illegal drug users; they admit as much:

"The big concern we have is that it may be fine for one student to take over-the-counter medication, but what if he or she gives it to another student and they have an allergic reaction," [Clay-Chalkville Principal Randle] Cassady asked. "That is where the liability comes in with us."

Nez Calhoun, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County school system, said she understands the mother's concern...

"It is harsh. I will admit that," Calhoun said. "If we don't have consequences for aberrations of the rule, then we never will get a handle on drugs in the school."

So it's not enough to punish kids for using illegal drugs; the school must also make sure that students are punished for legal drugs, because, in some alternate universe, the punishment is supposed to fit not only the crime but also aberrations of the crime. Also in this alternate universe, punishing the kids who use OTC medication somehow stops the flow of illegal drugs onto campus.

My question is, if the punishment for using Motrin and using meth are the same, why expect a student to choose Motrin? Heck, if I knew back in high school that I'd get the same punishment for choosing Midol, muscle relaxants, or heroin for my severe cramps, I'd've been seriously tempted to go with whatever was most available and most effective at the time.

Ysatis's mom is refusing to send her child to the alternate school, and I don't blame her:

At the alternative school, her child would be physically searched each morning and placed with children who committed offenses such as battery, arson and possessing illegal drugs. Jones wants her daughter to avoid such an environment and maintain a positive attitude about school.

So, continuing on in this alternate universe, the way to deal with kids who use legal drugs in a responsible way is to treat them like inmates and isolate them in classrooms with students who are known to batter one another and abuse illegal drugs. Riiiiight.

The furor over the recent Advil expulsion might prompt that Louisiana school board to re-think its drug policy; perhaps the parents of Ysatis's classmates will understand that, unless they speak up, their child is next.

Posted by kswygert at 04:28 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Using the Children

The hot new approach to tackling controversial issues: Don't target the adults who can actually do something about those issues. Target their kids instead.

Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe used this tack when he visited a New Hampshire high school, ostensibly to give a lecture on "democracy and the political process". Instead, he launched into a bizarre anti-Bush diatribe, all for the benefit of listeners not yet old enough to vote:

During the presentation, McAuliffe told students that due to Bush’s mismanagement of the country, 70 percent of college graduates will not be able to find a job upon graduation. He also told students that if the war in Iraq continues as it has, there could be a reinstatement of the draft.

As Instapundit put it so well: "Talk to some kids who mostly can't vote. Generate bad press for the Democrats nationwide among those who can. Brilliant. "

(And don't miss Darren Kaplan's fisking of Terry's comments.)

PETA plans to follow the same path with their new anti-fur campaign. Nope, they're not targeting women who wear fur; they're going after the children who have accompanied a fur-coat wearing Mommy to performances of The Nutcracker across the US:

Animal rights advocates will single out small children at performances of "The Nutcracker'' in the next few weeks by handing out fliers saying "Your Mommy Kills Animals'' to youngsters whose mothers are wearing fur.

"Children can't look up to a mom in a battered-raccoon hat or a crushed coyote collar,'' said Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "Maybe when they're confronted by their own children's hurt looks, fur-wearers' cold hearts will melt.''

Frankly, Ingrid, I'd teach my kids not to look up to a woman who says:

"Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS, we'd be against it."

or

"There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They're all mammals."

or

"Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughter houses."

At least their mothers have hearts to melt, Ingrid; I'm not so sure about you. Anyone who can compare chickens to Jews, rats to boys, and wish AIDS on those who are (literally) dying for a cure is missing at least her heart, and quite possibly her brain.

The fliers include a color drawing of a woman plunging a large bloody knife into the belly of a terrified rabbit. The fliers urge kids to "ask your mommy how many dead animals she killed to make her fur clothes.

"And the sooner she stops wearing fur, the sooner the animals will be safe. Until then, keep your doggie or kitty friends away from mommy - she's an animal killer.''

Brookline child psychologist Dr. Carolyn Newberger called the tactics "terribly dangerous to children.'' "

It's using children in the worst possible way,'' she said. "If (the activists) want to legitimately work to protect animals from destruction for fashion, they have every right to. But to do so by targeting children and making them feel their mothers are murderers is absolutely unconscionable.''

Posted by kswygert at 02:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Hectic Holidays

Bloggage will be sporadic from now through the holidays. I don't plan to take a hiatus and I'm not going anywhere, but (a) I'll still be working, so life will be busy at points, and (b) I just stocked up on mead, eggnog, brandy, and chocolate liqueur, so life will be blurry at points. :)

Also, the comment functionality may come and go. My little tricks haven't stopped the spammers so I may need to make bigger changes, and until I do so I might turn the comment functionality off. But email will always remain available, and I love getting email from my Devoted Readers.

Posted by kswygert at 07:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 16, 2003

New bloggers

Hey, I discovered two more bloggers (one of whom is already linking to me; quite flattering, that.)

The first is Winston's Diary; I excerpted his comments about ESL college students in my post on English as the official language, below.

The second is Conservative English Major, who is exactly who he claims to be. I was amused by this post (his archives are snafued):

So, here are a few lines from one of my favorite poems:

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The Blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

This is from Yeats' "The Second Coming." Early drafts of the poem show he was referring to wars such as World War I, the Anglo-Irish War and the Bolshevik revolution. The lines are a pretty good description of a world that has war unleashed upon it, right?

Nope. This is a rape? Why? Because my professor says so. In fact, the one thing I have learned this semester is that everything is about sex. Eating is sexual because food penetrates your body. A nose is sexual because it extends from the body. All of my professors are literally obsessed with finding sex in everything - and especially rape.

Hey, I'll be the first to admit Shakespeare is full of bawdy jokes, and Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" is obviously about a rape, but please.

Let us not forget Dave Barry's immortal lines about professors with this strange obsession (from Dave Barry's Bad Habits):

"I had one [psychology] professor who claimed everything we dreamed about - tractors, Arizona, baseball, frogs - actually represented a sexual organ. He was very insistent about this. Nobody wanted to sit near him."

Conservative English Major - try not to sit too close to these professors, okay?

Posted by kswygert at 09:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Shannon Williams, teacher and hooker no more

Some of my Devoted Readers with the more twisted senses of humor might remember problematic teacher Shannon Williams, whose little "misunderstanding" with the Oakland, CA police this summer resulted in a charge of soliciting. She has now plea-bargained and pleaded no contest to a charge of disturbing the peace.

This update on her story is not to be missed, for two reasons. First, because Ms. Williams admits to deliberately choosing to become a prostitute, thus removing any evidence that she was framed by police (at least one commenter from my previous post on this story insisted that Ms. Williams was but an innocent social activist). Second, because of what the head of the Berkeley PTA had to say about Ms. William's future career in teaching:

Former Berkeley schoolteacher and prostitute Shannon Williams, who said she should not be banned from her daytime profession because of her evening occupation, pleaded no contest Thursday to disturbing the peace and was put on probation. A prostitution charge against her was dropped as part of a plea agreement. Her lawyer said Williams should legally be able to return to teaching because disturbing the peace is not a crime of "moral turpitude."

No matter, I suppose, that the crime she was originally arrested for could be seen as immoral.

Williams' prostitution arrest in August as a $250-an-hour hooker gained national talk-show attention, especially after she argued that teachers' personal lives should not affect their employment.

Why, of course not. And students personal lives shouldn't affect their education, either, except for those pesky students who carry Advil in their purses, or who have hunting knives in their car, or who don't want to submit to mandatory random drug testing.

Williams, 37, said Thursday that her eight-year prostitution career began when she enrolled at San Francisco State to obtain a teacher's certificate. After a chance conversation with two prostitutes in a bar, "I realized that doing this I could work one or two nights a week and really focus on my studies," she said.

My, Ms. Williams reveals herself to be quite the genius with this statement. After speaking with two criminals in a bar who sell their bodies for sex, she realizes that doing the same will allow her to "really focus" on educating America's youth.

Williams described herself as a small business owner who lives in Berkeley, where she tends fruit trees in the back yard. Until her "sting" arrest, she turned tricks in a rented condo with older men who, she says, enjoyed her empathy and conversation. She earned enough money to buy a vacation home near Yosemite.

Vacation home? I thought she was doing this all For The Children - you know, to be able to "really focus" on her studies? You mean she was really just doing it all for financial gain? Who would have guessed?

The publicity surrounding her arrest prevents her from returning to prostitution, she said. She's not teaching, either. Months before her arrest, she had decided to take a year off from school work. But she would eventually like to return to teaching.

"I don't agree with that. Absolutely not," said Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition in Anaheim. "The last thing in the world schoolchildren need is to have a prostitute as a role model."

"It is inappropriate to work with children by day and to sell sexual relationships by night."

But the head of the California PTA for Alameda County, which includes Berkeley, wasn't so sure. "As long as she's not bringing it into the classroom, maybe it's not a problem," said Carol-Ann Kock-Weser, who emphasized that her opinion did not represent PTA policy.

Emphasis mine. I have a feeling Ms. Kock-Weser won't be representing the PTA at all much longer, not after suggesting to a reporter that maybe it's okay for a teacher to be a prostitute at night. Does Ms. Kock-Weser really believe the only issue here is whether or not Ms. Williams brings her tricks to class? Whether she services men on school grounds? Whether she dresses in lingerie for her "independent study" classes?

As for Ms. Williams, now that both of her career paths have been derailed, whatever will she do?

She is unsure what she will do now that she's out of prostitution. "I liked my clients; I liked the work I did keeping them healthy and happy. I feel bad about having that taken away," she said.

Yeah, I guess when there are laws against your profession, your job security is sometimes shaky, isn't it? Am I supposed to feel sorry for her? I don't, but I'll be happy to offer her a suggestion for future employment. Why not call Ms. Kock-Weser and see if she'll let you tutor her children?

Posted by kswygert at 04:09 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Making English our official language

Should English be the official language of the United States? Mauro Mujica of US English Inc. argues; you decide:

Many nations showed [in a recent poll] almost unanimous agreement on the importance of learning English. Examples include Vietnam, 98 percent; Indonesia, 96 percent; Germany and South Africa, 95 percent; India, 93 percent; China and the Philippines, 92 percent; Honduras, Japan, Nigeria, and Uganda, 91 percent; and France, Mexico, and Ukraine, 90 percent.

To an immigrant like myself (from Chile), these results come as no surprise. Parents around the world know that English is the global language and that their children need to learn it to succeed...Given the globalization of English, one might be tempted to ask why the United States would need to declare English its official language. Why codify something that is happening naturally and without government involvement?

The answer is that English in schools, workplaces, and government offices is "on the retreat" in the US:

Historically, the need to speak and understand English has served as an important incentive for immigrants to learn the language and assimilate into the mainstream of American society. For the last 30 years, this idea has been turned on its head. Expecting immigrants to learn English has been called "racist." Marta Jimenez, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, speaks of "the historical use of English in the United States as a tool of oppression."...

Citing census statistics gives an idea of how far English is slipping in America, but it does not show how this is played out in everyday life. Consider the following examples...

In May, about 20 percent of the students at Miami Senior High School, where 88 percent of the students speak English as a second language, failed the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) exam, which is required for graduation. The poor results prompted protests and demands for the test to be given in Spanish as well as English. Over 200 students and teachers gathered outside the school waving signs and chanting "No FCAT." A state senator from Miami introduced a bill that would allow the FCAT to be given in Spanish.

Over and above the issue of whether the ability to read English is considered essential in NLCB (and I believe it is), translating exams is no simple task. Anyone who suggests this as a "solution" to help more non-English-speaking students get high school diplomas has no idea of the cost in time and money that's involved, not to mention the fairness and validity issues. Given that Florida is already so strapped for cash that they need to re-use test items, what makes these activists think the cash and know-how are available to develop a Spanish FCAT that is parallel to the English version?

What's more, if that floodgate is opened, what's to stop other activists from demanding Chinese FCATs? Serbo-Croatian FCATs? What use will the FCAT be at that point? What makes these activists think that colleges will be willing to accept students who have not demonstrated mastery of English?

Update: Winston's Diary has a related tale about real students floundering in college thanks to the "post-colonialists" who abhor the "linguistic imperialism" involved in requiring US college students to be proficient in English:

I have had, quite literally, students who could not understand me when I asked them to join a group to work on study questions regarding an essay the class had read...Whatever their major is, they cannot be understanding the content of the class, if it is being delivered in English. How much are they really learning?

...Why is [the language barrier] allowed to persist?

I place the blame on two factors.

The first is the greed of the American university system. This student and others like him are paying a premium price to attend public universities in the United States. They are provided with ESL classes that are, frankly, a joke...

But from the other side of the political fence (sort of) there are those who make the acquisition of the English language a political issue...when too big a deal is made out of the under-performance of ESL students in English classes, the post-colonialists pop out of the woodwork and start lamenting the terrible conditions in these students' home countries that have forced them to come to the U.S. to seek a "quality" education and that we should not practice linguistic imperialism in forcing these students to learn the English language and possibly lose their culture in so doing. We must respect the "linguistic choices" of these students, and read the papers they submit to us for their ideas alone, regardless of whether those ideas are truly being communicated.

But, regardless of which side you decide to listen to, you wind up with students with whom you cannot communicate. Isn't this robbing them of at least part of the quality education they came here for in the first place?

Posted by kswygert at 11:04 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Closing the gap in Utah

A plea for financial help for the failing youth in Utah:

A new report by the Utah Coalition for the Advancement of Minorities in Higher Education shows low-income students of all races have only an 11.5 percent chance of going to college. Minorities make up the vast majority of this group, according to the coalition. By contrast, students characterized as white and non-Hispanic make up fully 94.2 percent of graduates from Utah public colleges and universities.

But the disparity begins long before students reach an age when they begin to consider college. Last year less than 60 percent of elementary-school American Indian and Latino students in Utah passed year-end standardized tests in language arts, compared to 85 percent of white students. About a third of black students failed to pass. The gaps were similar in math test results.

Gov. Olene Walker has included $30 million in additional funds for kindergarten through third grade in her 2005 education budget recommendation to the Legislature. Her modest but worthy goal is that all children know how to read by the time they finish third grade...

Walker's proposal is at least a start, one that would directly address the challenges facing many minority children...If Utah is to solve its education crisis, it must spend the dollars necessary to ensure that the youngest students of all races receive the attention necessary to develop the reading and math skills necessary to advance up the education ladder.

Posted by kswygert at 10:29 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The perfect stocking stuffer

Got a little egghead in your house? A student who's proud of those 99th-percentile scores on his or her standardized tests? Do we have a Christmas gift suggestion for you!

Can't find anything but a Fisher-Price microscope for your straight-A student's insect slides? Was the Rubik's Cube finished within two minutes of the time your child unwrapped it last year? Think ahead this year. There is a better gift out there for the sharp child on your Christmas list: summer camp! The brochure for The Summer Institute For the Gifted (SIG), an educational summer camp designed specifically to keep your gifted child stimulated, challenged, occupied, and most importantly, having fun, is available right now. It is the perfect stocking stuffer and will have your gifted child counting down the days until summer.

SIG's residential program is tailored for students currently in grades four through 11 who want to experience learning and living on a college campus for three weeks during the summer. Students choose from more than 80 academic, cultural and recreational courses and activities on six college campuses: Amherst College, Bryn Mawr College, Caldwell University, Oberlin College, UCLA and Vassar College. The cost for the program is $3,350.

SIG also offers a day program at Moorestown Friends School, Tower Hill, Purchase College and Fairfield University. These three-week, non-residential programs are designed for students in grades one through six and combine a structured academic schedule with daily recreational activities. The cost for the program is $1,550.

Academically talented students who have scored in the 95th percentile or above in at least one of the major content areas or ability sections of a nationally normed standardized test administered by their schools, or students who have been identified as gifted and/or who have participated successfully in a local or school gifted program will be admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis. A letter of recommendation from a teacher or school administrator is also acceptable.

Posted by kswygert at 10:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The usefulness of laptops in education

Giving laptop computers to students is all the rage. Minneapolis gave laptops to nearly 1000 high school students to use for all four years of high school. Maine gave its seventh- and eighth-graders laptops last year, thanks to a $37.2 million initiative. Similar programs are in place in California and Virginia. But has the increased technology had a positive effect on learning?

...as Stillwater [in Minnesota] prepares to pass out the Macintosh iBooks next fall, some are criticizing administrators for investing in something that hasn't been shown to improve test scores...

Maine started giving laptops to its seventh- and eighth-graders last school year...The state has about 34,000 students and 3,000 teachers at its 241 junior highs.

The schools are happy with the program so far, said Tony Sprague, program coordinator for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. He reports an increase in student engagement, determined by higher attendance rates and fewer disciplinary problems.

Maine teachers report improved writing skills, partly because students are more willing to labor over drafts using a computer keyboard than with old-fashioned pen and paper, Sprague said...

In an earlier effort, Minneapolis gave computers to 980 members of the class of 2002 at Washburn and North high schools. The students had the laptops from ninth grade until they graduated as part of a legislative study to see if the machines would help boost graduation rates.

They did, said Coleen Kosloski, the district's media and technology services director...

But the Minneapolis students using laptops did not record higher test scores than those of their peers in the district.

Ninety-two percent of continuously enrolled students with laptops passed the Minnesota Basic Standards reading test in October 2001. By comparison, 91 percent of similarly enrolled students in other schools passed the test. The passing rate for the math section was 85 percent for the laptop-toting students, and 87 percent for students at other schools. Students passed the writing test at the rate of 90 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

I'm not sure if changes in test scores should be the be-all, end-all decision here. For starters, the passing rates here were relatively high to begin with; they can only improve so much. I believe surfing the Internet can help foster reserach skills and improve communications abilities. It certainly can't hurt their future job prospects for kids to be more involved with computers. And the kids seem enthusiastic about the prospect.

Of course, the kids just can't be handed the computers and be told, "Go to it." A full-time tech support staff is required:

The Minneapolis schools found they needed a full-time staff person to coordinate the program, along with extra technical support. FertileBeltrami has a full-time technician who is essential, Halvorson said. Community support also is crucial. And teachers need training so they know how to integrate the computers into their curriculum.

"We made sure the teachers got their computers — and got the training — well before the students received their machines," Sprague said of Maine. "You can't simply hand off the laptops and say, 'See you in four years and tell us how it went.' "

Halvorson said schools must also have a long-term plan for financing the programs. Fertile-Beltrami sets aside $25,000 for hardware and $15,000 for software each year to keep its inventory as updated as possible...

Integrating Technology with Learning: Teaching Kids to Deal with Tech Support Over the Phone As Soon As Possible. A very useful skill in life.

Posted by kswygert at 10:23 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bad blood in Illinois

School consolidation plans in Illinois are stirring up "bad blood" and bringing back "old grudges". Who knew educational planning could be so interesting?

Some say history repeats itself. The people of Livingston know that all too well. The 825 residents of this town in the northeast corner of Madison County have fought with each other over the future of its school district for more than a decade -- initially in the early 1990s and again this year.

Both instances resulted in bad blood and the rekindling of old grudges.

Illinois has almost 900 school districts, and while some say they like the small, more personal schools because they provide residents with more control, others say larger schools offer more educational opportunities.

That’s where the embers of consolidation originate. But Livingston also has a severe financial problem....In December 2002, the Illinois State Board of Education mandated that a Financial Oversight Panel assume control of the reeling district’s finances. That panel decided earlier this year that Livingston’s school district doesn’t have enough money to operate past this school year...

Once the School Board made it known that it was formally pushing for dissolution of the district, the big question in Livingston revolved around geography: Will the students attend school in Staunton or Highland?

Apparently, this is a BIG deal to Illinois parents. The Madison County Regional Board of School Trustees was supposed to decide which school the students would now attend. But parents teamed up and successfully petitioned the board; the matter will now be voted upon by the general public. And there's debate about a state-funded report showing that Highland was the best school district; the competing school, Staunton, claims the report is full of errors.

This is the first of a three-part series. Sounds like a major battle to me, but I want to hear more about the old grudges.

Posted by kswygert at 10:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Virginia educators weigh in on the SOLs

In general, teachers and school administrators in Virginia believe the Standards of Learning assessment have helped them to identify where students need extra help. There are some concerns, though:

The biggest negative cited by teachers was the opportunities for student enrichment. Nearly half of those surveyed, 48 percent, said the SOLs weaken their abilities to provide enrichment for students who have clearly demonstrated that they are performing above the minimum benchmarks. Several teachers added that they felt the SOLs stifle their creativity.

The state superintendent made an interesting reply to these concerns:

Jo Lynne DeMary, the state superintendent of public instruction, said the report confirmed much of what she has heard in her travels to schools across Virginia. She said she would like to investigate further what the teachers mean.

"Is it the content that is restraining you? Is it your lack of confidence to teach the material?" she said. "Through our professional development, I think we can look at more creative strategies for teaching the content embedded in the SOLs."

Interesting to see Ms. DeMary isn't buying the line that standardized tests are, by definition, the enemies of creative teaching. Wonder how VA's teachers will respond to that "lack of confidence" line?

I find this part particularly gratifying:

Furthermore, principals in schools with the most challenging demographics - that is, with the highest concentrations of poverty, underqualified teachers and adults who are not college-educated - indicate that they have received the most benefits from the SOLs.

One principal, for instance, told JLARC staff that the SOLs have given a structure to education that has "made schools determine what is important and what is fluff."

Of course, those who oppose the SOLs insist that "increased structure" is synonymous with "teaching to the test" and "no more fun in the classroom."

And hey! Here's my buddy, Professor Cizek, with his viewpoint:

Gregory J. Cizek, a professor of educational measurement and evaluation at the University of North Carolina, agrees to a point [that the tests are useful for diagnostic purposes]. He said that an individual student's weaknesses in given subjects, such as math or English, can be determined by the SOLs. But a student cannot be judged as weak or strong in a given area, such as fractions, by a few questions.

"If what they are doing is using the results to tailor their instruction in classes at the building and grade levels, that's really good," Cizek said. "If they are looking for good diagnostic information on an individual student in a specific area, these tests are not designed to do it."

Posted by kswygert at 10:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Who says one person can't make a difference?

Can the decision to label a school as "failing" hinge on the performance of one student? Apparently, yes:

One student who left Eastern Elementary School last school year during the Maryland School Assessments indirectly has helped overturn a state decision that has held the Hagerstown school to a threatening standard this year.

The Maryland State Department of Education told Washington County Public Schools officials in November that the 560-student school will not have to provide costly tutoring services for its students this year...

Eastern was told in September, after the release of last spring's standardized test scores, that it was placed in its second year of "improvement" this year, meaning its scores did not meet state proficiency standards for three consecutive years, Palkovitz-Brown said...

After some investigation on the part of the school system's pupil personnel office, school officials discovered that the area in which Eastern failed most on the spring 2003 exam - special education - was accounting for a homeless student who left the school in the midst of the examination period. This caused his scores, marked as failures due to his absence, to be factored into a group that otherwise would have reached the state standard of proficiency, said Carol Corwell-Martin, the school system's school improvement coordinator and Title I school support specialist...

So far, the student hasn't been located - he allegedly moved to New York, but officials there have no record of him. His reading score had been low enough to pull down the special education scores just low enough to trigger further intervention on the part of the state. Now that his test scores have been shown to be the issue - and he doesn't even attend the school any more - the school has won it's appeal to be released from the special education tutoring requirement.

Posted by kswygert at 09:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

2003 Weblog Award winners!

The 2003 Weblog Awards winners have been announced! Considering that Edublogger Supreme Joanne Jacobs snagged the bronze, it's not surprising that Number 2 Pencil came in further down the list (#11, to be exact). But hey, I'm tickled pink just to be on there, and thanks to all of you who voted for me.

Posted by kswygert at 09:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 12, 2003

Getting at the heart of math education

A $1.7 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is funding a four-year study to follow the math learning habits and aptitudes of 300 kindergarteners through third-grade:

When teacher Jennifer Poppiti puts out the popcorn - cheddar, butter and caramel - her kindergartners dive in to taste the flavors and choose their favorites. Beyond the tasting test, though, the popcorn is central to a sophisticated math lesson given kindergartners in the Christina School District - this one on graphing.

The kids count how many among them prefer which flavor and graph the results on paper, transforming an immediate, sensory experience into an exercise in visualization and numerical comparisons.

"Kindergarten is a wonderful age. They're like little sponges. They soak everything up," said Poppiti, who teaches mornings at Brader Elementary in Glasgow and afternoons at Wilson Elementary in Pike Creek.

Ah, that's what you want to hear from someone who teaches kids this age. A recognition that their little heads are starving for knowledge and a desire to fill 'em as full as possible.

Poppiti is one of several teachers in Christina working with two University of Delaware researchers on a four-year math study involving 300 kindergartners in the school district. The researchers, professors of education Nancy Jordan and David Kaplan, will follow the youngsters' math learning through third grade, when all public school students take their first standardized math and reading tests under the Delaware Student Testing Program.

Jordan and Kaplan hope their research eventually leads to better diagnosis of math learning disabilities and better instructional techniques for overcoming them. The first step to that end, however, is a clearer understanding about how young brains grasp math concepts, why some fail to develop math skills and at what point instructional intervention would be most effective.

"We know a lot about how children learn to read but we don't know a lot about how they learn math," Jordan said.

Awesome. Just awesome to see math acquisition getting the respect it deserves, not to mention a great plan for math eduation beginning in kindergarten.

Jordan said other studies indicate that roughly 10 percent of the school population has math learning disabilities. But one of the reasons math learning has been understudied compared with reading, she explained, is that math thinking is such a complex brain process.

"It involves so many different cognitive abilities," she said.

That makes it difficult to trace and isolate math learning disabilities in the brain, to pinpoint exactly which thinking process is the weak or disabled one. The study begins with kindergartners because its aim is to come up with a picture of which children are at risk for math learning disabilities...

Increasing emphasis on math learning in the early school years is not a passing educational fad, Kaplan and Jordan said. State and federal academic testing laws, along with a competitive, high-tech job market, make it imperative students acquire math skills, they said...

Math in kindergarten, though it's presented to the children as play with such props as popcorn, plastic animals, clocks and maps, is just as important as reading, she said.

Exactly.

Posted by kswygert at 11:35 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Parents sue to abolish literacy testing

And speaking of the new wave of litigious parents, a group in Canada are threatening to sue unless the 10th-grade literacy exam, required for graduation, is dropped:

A group of parents is threatening to sue the Ontario government if it doesn't abolish the mandatory Grade 10 literacy test that must be passed to graduate from high school. David Baker, the lawyer representing the students and parents, claims the standardized literacy tests were designed to fail 20 per cent of students because they don't take into account the needs of those with disabilities or those in the applied rather than academic education stream...

The parents are demanding that passing the test no longer be required to graduate from high school.

Education Minister Gerard Kennedy said he'll look at the test for fairness and balance, although it has been screened for bias.

"We are concerned of the impact of the test on kids," he said. "We've been looking at this for a while."

There's nothing wrong with looking at impact, which is different from bias. A test that is perfectly fair and bias-free can still have differential impact on different groups. If Group A is of high literacy ability and Group B is of low literacy ability, then a fair test of literacy skills will pass more of Group A than Group B, and negatively impact Group B more than Group A. The issue of fairness becomes relevant only if the test measures something other than literacy and still fails more members of Group B than Group A.

One can argue that a valid test of literacy will indeed fail more special education students if they are likely to be less literate. So the problem is not the exam; the problem is that the special education students are either mainstreamed into regular classes or are currently receiving diplomas that are the same as the regular students, despite the fact that their abilities are so much lower. Is this fair to either group of students?

Baker said about 27,000 Ontario students won't graduate this year because they haven't passed the test, which was implemented in 2001.

That year, of the 129,000 students who took the test, 75 per cent passed, said an Education Ministry spokesperson. Of those who failed and took the test the next year, 48 per cent passed, meaning that about 88 per cent of the 129,000 students eventually passed.

Does this mean that 12% of all Ontario high school students are in special ed? That's a pretty big number. Removing the test would allow those in the 12% who are not in special education classes to recieve diplomas despite demonstrating a relatively low level of literacy.

Anna Germain said her 17-year-old son Matt, who has Down syndrome, deserves to graduate from his Toronto high school.

Does he really deserve to receive the exact same diploma if he hasn't mastered high-school level material? I can understand a mother's desire for her son to be rewarded for the work he has done. I just don't understand what these parents think a diploma will mean if a student doesn't have to master high-school level skills in order to recieve it.

Posted by kswygert at 11:30 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

One Illinois high school makes a "radical" change

I'm not sure what to make of this article. I mean, kudos to Lincoln-Way High School District 210 for responding to the test scores in such a constructive way, but are we to assume that the students in the district weren't doing any high-school level reading before?

All students, beginning with next fall's freshman class, will have to pass a reading course to graduate from Lincoln-Way High School District 210, officials announced Thursday. The new graduation requirement should improve student test scores and their college performance, as well as help them understand texts beyond what's taught in typical English classes.

The change was prompted by three years of stagnant scores on state reading assessments and a survey that showed 76 percent of the district's college-bound sophomores want extra help in reading comprehension.

"We are not doing this strictly to raise test scores," Supt. Lawrence Wyllie said. "We are doing this because it is good for our kids. The end result will be better test scores."

As I said, kudos, but does this mean a student in one of the district's high schools could have graduated previously without passing scores in any English lit or Language Arts classes? Or was there no reading in those classes?

Administrators said 373 of the 1,291 Lincoln-Way juniors who took the Prairie State Achievement Exam in the spring did not meet state standards in reading. Almost one-third of those who failed are in college preparatory classes.

That's one of the scariest things I've read in a while. How can a student enrolled in college-prep courses not pass a high-school level state reading test? Here are the goals that drive the PSAE test development. The reading questions apparently come from the ACT assessment for 11th-graders, but the state sets the passing standard. Here's an example of a reading passage and several related items.

The reading initiative consists of three levels. Students who may not be collegebound will enroll in a reading course that emphasizes high school literacy skills such as understanding a text. Honors students will have a reading component in their history or western civilization courses.

Most students, an estimated 1,450 headed to college, will have a class that takes an "intensive" and "intentional" approach to reading, English teacher Tim Reilly said. Students will learn to infer meaning from a text, identify author intent and understand figurative language — skills typically taught at the junior or honors levels.

Oh, I get it. They'll be teaching the material to freshmen instead of waiting two more years.

The seminar texts will reflect the types of nonfiction writing that appear in the applied reading portions of standardized tests, said Marvin Orr, director of instruction and data analysis. Students often are asked to interpret letters, memos or technical passages far different from the novels or other literature in writing-heavy English courses.

"Are we teaching to the test? You bet. But we are teaching life skills that lead to better scores," Reilly said.

Good answer. And while the description above clarifies things a bit, it's hard to understand why, if these students were previously being taught to interpret novels, it was difficult for them to interpret memos on a test. One would think that if interpretation of real literature was possible, then interpretation of simpler material would be easier. Perhaps not.

Posted by kswygert at 10:58 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

And now, a Public Service Announcement

Ways to give this holiday season:

Chief Wiggles is still gathering toys for Iraqi children. Go to Operation Give to send your own gift, donate money, or buy from one of OG's sponsors. Click here to read more about his mission; you can also view an MSNBC interview with the Chief, who is a Utah National Guard member currently serving in Iraq, from the OG main website. FedEx is offering free shipping for the toys as well.

GearThatGives.com - an entire shopping mall for gifts that benefit, among other causes, the Animal Rescue Site (click here to click through with a free donation) and the Breast Cancer store.

Got no money or time, but got some extra frequent flyer miles? Donate 'em to a serviceman or servicewoman so they can fly home for Christmas. Read more about it in USA Today. Our military members serving overseas can get a free trip back to Baltimore, Dallas or Atlanta, but then have to pay their own way back to their own city within the country. Your extra frequent flyer miles can help.

Novica.com is where I bought most of my Christmas gifts this year. The gifts are handmade in countries around the world, and the marketplace is sponsored in part by National Geographic. I can personally vouch for the beauty of the products and the charming personal notes from the artists that come enclosed with each piece. You can also bid on Novica's stuff via eBay.

And don't forget, voting for the 2003 Weblog awards ends this Sunday. Use the button on the right-hand menu to leave a vote for me as your favorite female blogger!

Posted by kswygert at 10:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Better writing through crime solving

Indianapolis second-graders are patiently writing various crime-solving scenarios in an effort to discover who kidnapped their gingerbread men:

Second grade teacher Katie Lewandowski made the missing men. "I came in in the morning and was getting ready to unlock my door and saw they were gone. Hanging on my mailbox was a ransom note."

The note read, "If you call the cops we will eat them."

Following the note was a picture of the two holding a newspaper, another with one's mouth taped...

It has got Lewandowski's young class doing something children don't often do patiently, writing.

"I think Santa stole the gingerbread men."

"Or the baker made them come alive and they ran out to find a girlfriend, just kidding."

Joining the suspects Grinch and Santa are Frosty and Rudolph.

"He's one clever reindeer and he can just fly away."

The article's conclusion gives away the benevolent intent of the "crime":

Our source, who knows the kidnapper, expects the mystery will be solved late next week.

Posted by kswygert at 10:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 11, 2003

The "national" speaker gets in over his head

Oh geez, our old favorite anti-testing crackpot Alfie Kohn is in the news again because of a speech he gave at Roger Williams University. Let's adjust our tinfoil hats and tune in to his frequency:

Alfie Kohn is swimming against the tide, and he would like to encourage others to take the plunge. The national speaker and author, who has twice spoken on the Oprah Winfrey show, has taken a strong stand against mandated standardized testing...

OOoohh, Oprah. I'd say that credential automatically gives his argument more merit than the conflicting arguments of, say, teachers on the front lines in schools, or parents who want public schools to improve, or test developers who work hard to create valid assessments, wouldn't you? I mean, here I am with this Ph.D. and this blog, and I've never been on Oprah.

He maintains that children learn at different rates, and to mandate a certain level of performance with students at certain ages sounds good in theory, but actually puts more stress on teachers and students and results in less, rather than more, actual learning.

As opposed to the pre-accountability system of letting children "learn at their own pace," which has resulted in plummeting SAT scores and increasing numbers of remedial classes in college.

The event was part of the newly launched Institute for Teaching and Learning at RWU, a joint initiative between the university's school of education and Bristol Warren Regional Schools. Mr. Kohn's audience included more than a dozen teachers and administrators from the district. While many of these agreed, at least in part, with his statements, there was a reluctance to go on record due to the political nature of the event.

Wow, more than a dozen? Like say, thirteen or so? And even those who showed up wanted to remain anonymous? Doesn't say much for Mr. Kohn's ability to sway a crowd, does it?

To illustrate his point, Mr. Kohn named a study in which two groups of educators were asked to teach fourth grade students. One set of teachers was told it would be held accountable for raising standards in the classroom. The other set was instructed only to facilitate students' understanding. The first group did far worse. He asked the educators to brainstorm why this might be so, and the answers varied from pressure on the teachers to a larger focus on teaching than learning.

And which study was this? Did the reporter bother to find out? Did Mr. Kohn bother to name it? Who organized this study? Where was it published? And was the one group of teachers who were instructed to "facilitate understanding" given training in doing so, and the other group given no instruction as to better help children learn the basic skills? And even if this was a valid study, does it prove that holding teachers accountable for performance is mutually exclusive from training teachers to help children understand concepts?

No, it does not. If valid, the study says what anyone with common sense knows, which is that you can't implement testing and accountability without also implementing changes in the educational process. Mr. Kohn's view of testing as incompatible with eduation unfortunately colors his entire line of reasoning.

(P.S. - I can't resist adding here that two of my readers wondered how, in this study, the difference in performance was measured between students of teachers told to "facilitate understanding" and students of teachers told they would be held accountable. Was that difference measured by - gasp! - a standardized test? It most likely was. Good catch, guys.)

Mr. Kohn said it's just not possible for a yearly test, which, of necessity, measures facts rather than more general learning, to give an accurate measure of the quality of the teaching. Because the standardized tests are designed so that the majority of students will not excel, "hard" is equated with "good," he said.

No offense to my more sensitive readers, but this is so much horse puckey. There's no evidence whatsoever that standardized tests are designed so that the majority of the students will not do well, so naturally Mr. Kohn provides no data to back up his claim. The fact that many students do not do well on these tests are a harsh indication that, in many schools, "general learning" is valued over facts, although without facts, what are those who are learning in general supposed to be learning?

So questions are often asked that would more likely be learned outside the classroom, on educational vacations or thoughtful conversations around the dinner table. This result is schools with a larger minority population and those with lower incomes routinely score lower on the tests.

If anyone knows what these two sentences mean, or why they're supposed to logically relate to one another, email me and clue me in. I'm mystified.

"If you tell me how many kids in your school are on free and reduced lunch and answer a couple of other questions about socio-economic status, I will predict with chilling accuracy what your school's test results will be," he said.

Any accuracy in that prediction exists because students who are poor often live in underfunded districts with failing schools that are infested with the worst kinds of teachers and administrators - those who believe minority children should not be challenged because they cannot achieve, those who believe that it's okay for eighth-graders to not understand basic grammar, those who believe that basic math skills are unnecessary as long as calculators exist. The only "chilling" part here is that too many people have for too long accepted this scenario as normal. The stark standardized test results no longer allow them to do so.

If educators and parents do not protest, the situation will worsen rather than improve, Mr. Kohn said. In the short term, he suggests prepping for the test as creatively as possible, then getting back to the real teaching. And in the long term, there should be an all-out fight for change, i.e., sending letters to the editor of newspapers, speaking to the school board and contacting state and U.S. legislators.

Change for what? If teachers prep for tests creatively and then teach in a way that allows their young charges to do well on these tests of basic skills, what's the problem?

Unless I'm going blind, there's absolutely no substance here that shows testing is incompatible with good teaching. Kohn is all hat and no cattle. Why the man keeps garnering news coverage, I'll never know.

Posted by kswygert at 05:13 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Confusing color-blindness with racism

Texas A&M will no longer use race when determining an applicant's eligibility for admission. This color-blind policy has, of course, resulted in lawsuits by those claiming that A&M is determined to become an "all-white institution":

On December 3, Texas A&M University President Robert Gates, who headed the CIA during the first Bush administration, announced that the University will consider in its admissions decisions whether an applicant has overcome socioeconomic disadvantage and other obstacles, but will not take into account an applicant's race.

In response, U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) and State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) have threatened to file a lawsuit and request a federal civil rights investigation of Texas A&M. After a group of left-wing minority state legislators met with Gates on December 8 to implore him to reverse his decision, he nevertheless stood firm against using race. The legislators subsequently bashed Gates at a news conference in which they accused him of attempting to create an "all-white university"...

This is in direct contradiction to Gate's plan, but these representatives don't seem interested in the facts:

Gates' plan steps up recruiting efforts in predominantly minority areas, works to persuade admitted minority students to actually enroll, and provides $5,000-a-year scholarships to all first-generation college students whose families earn $40,000 a year or less. Additionally, several essay questions encourage applicants to discuss significant obstacles they have overcome, which could include poverty and racism.

As long as preferences for disadvantaged students of all colors are modest, they are defensible based on merit. An applicant from an impoverished background who attended a low-performing inner city high school and whose parents did not go to college, but nevertheless approach A&M's average standardized test score, may have enough untapped potential to justify his admission and handle the coursework.

Since blacks and Hispanics are unfortunately more likely than whites to be disadvantaged, they will surely benefit disproportionately from the new admissions policy....

Note the requirement of the essay question and the SAT score. What this plan means is that underqualified students will no longer be accepted based on race, and qualified applicants will be less likely to be overlooked because of familial poverty. It's appalling that elected representatives would threaten to sue over this; it's extra-appalling that these efforts to ensure that qualified kids of all races and backgrounds are admitted are somehow synonymous with creating an "all-white" environment.

Are the congresswoman and senator assuming that there will be no qualified minority applicants, and are they really saying that all the current minority enrollees at Texas A&M were admitted solely due to race? That's a racist belief if I ever heard one.

Update John of Discriminations points out with exquisite tact that he covered this story last week. And in greater detail. Don't miss Claire's comment on the "religion" of A&M.

Posted by kswygert at 12:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The headaches of testing English in Illinois

At Huff Elementary School in Elgin, Illinois, 54 percent of the students are first-year learners in English. Yet the Measure of Annual Growth in English (IMAGE) exam is required for all students, and the scores for all students factor into the state's academic watch list.

Is this fair? I'm not sure. Title III of the NCLB separates children just learning English from those who can be expected to be performing at grade level in English, but it requires schools to assess both types of kids, and to set standards of performance for both sets of kids. The IMAGE exam measures progress in English, so why give it to kids who are learning English for the first time? It seems odd that Illinois would have this sort of requirement for kids.

On the other hand, the problem here could be that Illinois has a very low standard on the IMAGE for kids who have completed only one year of English training, and this elementary school just isn't meeting that because they have so many of those kids, or so many of those kids are otherwise learning-challenged. From the article, it's hard to tell exactly what the issue is.

Posted by kswygert at 11:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bad news in Georgia means worse news in Tennessee

In 2004, Tennessee will begin a lottery to raise money for college scholarships. The Nashville City Paper has a very interesting article on what Tennessee should learn from Georgia's experience with "lottery scholarships" such as HOPE, which require nothing more than a certain GPA to qualify for free money:

A quick look at what is happening in Georgia should raise alarm bells. The HOPE Scholarship program subsidizes college educations for about 100,000 students yearly. Last year, more than half of the graduates from Georgia high schools qualified for the scholarships by meeting the required B average grade requirement. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently detailed grade inflation in Georgia, as more students are being given the grades necessary to get the scholarships whether they earn those grades or not...

Not surprisingly, it has become easier to graduate from high school in Georgia with a B average — although standardized test scores do not show a similar increase in academic skills.

Unfortunately, despite the good grades being dispensed from Georgia high schools and the large number of Georgia students who thereby qualify for HOPE scholarship dollars, Georgia students are clearly unprepared for college work. Last year, 58 percent of the students attending Georgia colleges on the HOPE scholarship dropped out or flunked out before completing 30 hours. The majority cannot make it past the freshman year of college.

Keep in mind that tuition — in Tennessee and Georgia — funds less than half the cost of a public college education. The other half is picked up by the taxpayers of that state. Georgia is finding it increasingly difficult to fund the expenses of students attending college who do not belong there in the first place.

Tennessee has instituted an even lower academic standard than Georgia when it comes to qualifying for lottery scholarships. Tennessee will require LESS than a B average, or students can qualify with a below-average ACT score. The students who will have their college studies funded by the Tennessee lottery will be even less prepared academically than Georgia students have been. As a result, more than 60 percent of Tennessee lottery scholarship recipients will likely fail to complete their first year of college.

The article calls for a higher average and an above-average standardized test score; if implemented, Tennessee will hear the same sorts of cries about how "racist" it is for a state to require evidence that students can perform college-level work before passing out money for college.

This article also calls for giving out fewer scholarships that are bigger and go to the most-qualified candidates. That way, these student are not only more likely to complete college, but if they don't, the taxpayers aren't stuck with part of the bill.

What happens when the size of the scholarships get big, but the requirements for them are not toughened? Why, you have the current situation in Georgia, where those qualified for the scholarship increase by the thousands every year, and the state has to ask for a 14% jump in the funding for the program. A committee that studied the HOPE scholarship program did recommend tying the scholarship to SAT/ACT scores as well, but also recommended cutting the cost of books and college fees as a way to save money for the program.

It doesn't make sense to me to try to send a lot of kids, some of whom are underqualified, to college in a half-assed way. It's better to pay for everything for only the smartest kids who have the best chance of making it through, so that the obstacles of low SES can be overcome. A scholarship program in which 58 percent of recipients fail to complete 30 hours of college credit is not working. Hopefully Tennessee will learn from Georgia's mistakes.

Posted by kswygert at 11:10 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

More on the NCLB changes

New Jersey's NJ.com website has more on the recent modifications to the NCLB regulations and special education students:

Under a new provision of the law, school districts will have greater flexibility in meeting the requirements for students with disabilities, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced Tuesday...

No Child Left Behind mandates testing and proficiency for all students, including special education and limited-English proficiency students, with consequences for schools whose subgroups fail to achieve adequate yearly progress. As the first round of test results came out over the past few months, many educators complained their schools had failed to make adequate yearly progress based solely on the performance of their special education students.

Under the new provisions, states, districts and schools can count the "proficient," or highest, scores of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take assessments based on alternative assessment standards...

Nationally, about 9 percent of the total student population is served in special education, of which about 9 percent have the most significant cognitive disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Education...

Under the new regulations, the number of students taking alternative assessments may not exceed 1 percent of all students in a school district in the grade tested. Districts can apply for an exemption from the 1-percent limit, if they can demonstrate they have a significant portion of students with cognitive disabilities.

Let's hope this removes the problematic issue of schools getting bad grades based solely on the performance of their most developmentally-delayed students.

Posted by kswygert at 11:01 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 10, 2003

The spammers have discovered me

*Sigh*

The newest vile invention to come crawling out of the hell that is a spammer's mind is the spamming of comments on blogs. I've tried to be diligent in deleting them, but just tonight I got at least 10 more on older postings.

There's MT code available to stop these asshats, and I'll try to get it installed and working as soon as possible. If you have experience with this, let me know.

Update: Thanks for all the helpful advice, y'all. For now, I have temporarily disabled the ability to leave URLs in the comments (you can't leave your URL before the comment, and HTML is no longer enabled within comments). This may not stop the spammers, but it means that any who get through before I implement more thorough changes will not achieve their goal of artificially increasing the number of sites that link to them. The assratchets actually targeted old, archived comments of mine, obviously in the hopes that I would not notice.

Spammers are lower than dirt, if you ask me.

Update: YES!

Posted by kswygert at 07:40 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The importance of civics

A judge plants the flag in schools in favor of civics education:

It's a mistake to think that children will automatically grow to value voting or the way the U.S. government works, a Florida Supreme Court justice said Monday.

"We're talking about preserving and maintaining the constitutional democracy we all enjoy," Justice R. Fred Lewis told about 50 teachers and student teachers at Alachua Elementary School. "If we lose one generation, we have to start all over."

The justice visited the school to speak to students about the American judicial system and encourage the teachers and budding teachers - University of Florida interns - at Alachua Elementary that civics education is vital...

Lewis, 55, said educating children about civics does not mean "simple flag-waving." Children should learn about different types of societies besides the U.S. government, he said. "Education is not indoctrination," he said. "All forms of government are going to have warts...

It's sad that the judge feels the need to insert that sentence about "indoctrination," as though it is impossible to educate today's students about government in an open and challenging fashion. Even sadder is survey results that indicate that some schools have found it impossible:

A national survey issued by the Representative Democracy in America Project in September found that 15-to-26-year-olds "had limited appreciation for American democracy."

In the survey, only farming ranked worse than the prospect of being a lawmaker, member of Congress or president. In another example, 80 percent of those 15 to 26 knew the winner of the last "American Idol" competition but fewer than half knew the political party of their state's governor.

Of course, the emphasis on testing non-social-studies skills is listed in the article as a reason for the lack of civics education, but it's hard for me to believe that NCLB is solely responsible for students not knowing whether a Democrat or a Republican runs their state.

I like Lewis's "get-em-while-they're-young" approach:

Elementary school is not too early to start civics education, Lewis said. Even younger children understand ideals such as fairness, dignity and equality, he said.

Posted by kswygert at 04:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Changing the rules for special education students

Those of us who predicted that the NCLB Act regulations affecting special education students would be the first to change were correct - but some South Carolina educators say the changes aren't enough:

A change announced Tuesday in the federal No Child Left Behind education accountability law recognizes that severely disabled children cannot meet the same academic standards as their nondisabled peers. But local educators complain the U.S. Education Department did not go far enough in revising the law's unrealistic requirements...

The rule change announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige affects students with the most "significant cognitive disabilities" who don't take the same standardized test as others their age. It allows up to 1 percent of a district's total number of students to test off grade level and still count toward meeting academic progress goals.

That means, for example, that a severely disabled eighth-grader whose mind functions like a third-grader, and therefore learns third-grade standards at school, can take the third-grade Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test, and the score will still count...

The new rule is designed to give districts greater flexibility in meeting progress goals for disabled students.

South Carolina has about 110,200 special education students, more than 16 percent of the total student population. Disabilities range from speech impairments to autism.

Kathleen Magliacane, Berkeley County's director of special education programs, said she hopes the state pushes for a 2 percent to 3 percent limit.

Interestingly, at least one state official is willing to be quoted as saying that some kids in SC's special education programs don't need to be there:

But state education officials fear some students in special education programs don't need to be there. Before No Child Left Behind, schools did not need to count the scores of disabled children at all. In an effort to increase test scores, officials may have mislabeled some children.

"We do have concerns about over-identification," said Susan DuRant, the state Education Department's director of exceptional children. "We don't want to use the fact that we have high numbers of special education students as an excuse for changing the rules."

Posted by kswygert at 04:43 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Ann Arbor's celebration of "diversity"

Federal judges in Michigan have ruled that the Ann Arbor School District in Michigan violated a student's free speech rights after school officials informed a student that she could not - get this - publicly criticize the Diversity Week program at her school. In Ann Arbor, actual diversity of opinion is apparently not allowed:

At the 2,700-student Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, students held a Diversity Week in March 2002 that included discussions on race, religion and sexual orientation.

One panel organized by the Gay/Straight Alliance included six religious leaders and was titled "Religion and Homosexuality." The panel was arranged with the belief the leaders supported the view that religion and homosexuality aren't inconsistent -- and that all were "welcoming and affirming" of gay rights.

Betsy Hansen, a member of Pioneers for Christ, asked that an alternative viewpoint be added to the panel: that in her view, the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. The district refused.

Of course they did. You don't think the school was actually interested in presenting diverse opinions, do you? Of course not.

A faculty adviser, Sunnie Korzdorfer, sent organizers an e-mail saying the school might face legal action if they kept another viewpoint off the panel. "They have a legal right to say that homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle. That is the bottom line," she wrote. "I am treading on shallow ground here, as I do not want to get sued."

Hansen was then offered a chance to make a two-minute speech at an assembly. School officials read a draft of the speech and said she couldn't read a section that criticized Diversity Week.

"I completely and whole-heartedly support racial diversity, but I can't accept religious and sexual ideas or actions that are wrong," she wrote, in the section that was deleted by school officials.

Hansen and her mother filed suit against the district in July 2002. Rosen said the district's decision to "censor" Hansen's speech was discrimination and violated her First Amendment and 14th Amendment equal protection rights.

Ann Arbor Public Schools "discriminated against Betsy Hansen on the basis of both message and religion, denying her the right to deliver her own message while at the same time affording the (Gay/Straight Alliance) the right to deliver its own religious message," Rosen ruled.

But one teacher at the school, Parker Pennington, told the student newspaper that "allowing adults hostile to homosexuality on that panel would be like inviting white supremacists on a race panel."

At a time when schools complain that NCLB regulations force them to cancel all non-academic lessons, it's nice to see that Ann Arbor has an entire week to devote to "diversity." And why did the school call it a "Diversity" panel when they so obviously were not interested in diversity of opinion? If they're going to spend time and money on discussions that demand one viewpoint on homosexuality, at least be honest and declare it a "pro-homosexuality" panel.

And, Ms. Pennington, a truly diverse panel on race would include racists. A panel on which anti-racist folks civilly debated supremacists of any race would be far more educational than a bogus "diverse" panel, because the students would be able to learn exactly what arguments some people put forward for racism, and students would learn how to counter those arguments.

They would also learn that it is not illegal for people to declare beliefs that others might find offensive, such as a religious opposition to homosexuality. Students used to learn from their teachers that the Bill of Rights protects even "undiverse" speech. Now it takes a federal judge to get that point across.

Because of Hansen's suit, the district canceled Diversity Week this year.

I think that's the best decision. If Ann Arbor really wants its students to experience diversity, there's a wealth of good literature out there that will expose them to a wide range of human experience and beliefs. So how about a "Literature Week" instead?

Posted by kswygert at 04:18 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Another day, another testing protest

Parents of kids at a Montessori magnet school are threatening to boycott the FCAT:

Parental dissatisfaction with the FCAT and the state's school grading formula isn't new. Critics have said that the test unfairly penalizes minority students, who are more likely to be retained or prevented from graduating because they haven't met minimum testing standards.

I suppose these critics have never considered the argument that certain schools are doing the penalizing, by failing to educate these minority youth, either through low standards or poor teaching skills.

Others complain that school is more boring when instructors must ''teach to the test.'' And they say that the state's A-to-F letter grades unfairly penalize low-income schools.

The test gets blamed when teachers are boring in class? That's a new one on me.

But, officials say, no one in Florida has ever organized a sit-out.

If fewer than 95 percent of Virginia Shuman Young students take the test, the school would not be eligible for an A grade from the state. That means 20 to 25 students could sabotage the Fort Lauderdale magnet school, which has earned an ''A'' for the past four years and has a strong chance of succeeding again.

If the school already has shown it could earn a solid "A", and holding kids out could cause the grade to drop, why on earth do these parents want to boycott?

Said parent Michelle Buckman, who is considering keeping her two sons home during testing: ``It would be a great way to get attention. There is just a general concern that we're going in the wrong direction with curriculum. We believe the testing is encroaching on our Montessori curriculum.''

Virginia Shuman Young is the county's only Montessori magnet elementary school. Parents say the FCAT should be de-emphasized there because it's taking up too much time and harming the school's ''hands-on'' education philosophy.

The Montessori theory is that students learn best through asking questions and exploring rather than listening and accepting right and wrong answers.

Can't they "get attention" in a way that won't cause the school to lose money? And while I know little about the Montessori style of education, I have never quite understood the argument that the educational concepts of (1) children learning through asking questions and (2) children learning by listening are somehow mutually exclusive, or the argument that asking questions/doing is ALWAYS better than listening. The FCAT tests very basic skills, but at least on the multiple-choice items, it doesn't matter how a child arrives at the right answer, be it Montessori-magnet or public-school style.

The school's already doing well, so why sabotage it with a vendetta against the FCAT?

Posted by kswygert at 04:10 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 09, 2003

Bad behavior in Washington State

Thanks to Sharkblog for his roundup of (among other things) educational crimes and misdemeanors in his home state.

First, a child who's obviously read Sleeping Beauty - or the story of Velma Barfield - one too many times:

A sixth-grader was expelled from school yesterday after she allegedly gave a cookie tainted with dog repellent to her teacher.

The pupil, from Elizabeth Blackwell Elementary School in Sammamish, sprayed the store-bought cookie with dog repellent at home before school, and then replaced it in the box before giving it to the teacher yesterday afternoon, said Peter Daniels, spokesman for the Lake Washington School District.

The girl was immediately expelled, though she can appeal the expulsion if she chooses, Daniels said.

Other students nibbled on the cookies as well, though no one has been harmed by the poison. Was this malicious, or perhaps just a scientific project gone wrong?

Next, we have a very young "sex offender":

An 8-year-old boy accused of fondling four female classmates will be the youngest participant in Wayne County's sex offender rehabilitation program, prosecutors said...The boy will receive individual counseling because the group sessions for teenagers are not age-appropriate, prosecutors said. The judge also sentenced him to two years probation.

Authorities said the boy fondled a 7-year-old girl and touched three other 7-year-old girls inappropriately outside their clothing while the children watched "Mary Poppins" at a Mount Clemens school in May.

These charges include one felony, by the way. How does an 8-year-old legitimately plead "No contest" to a felony assualt charge? And is there age-appropriate counseling for sex offenders so young that it's hard to believe they know what sex is?

This guy, on the other hand, doesn't have age as an excuse. What was he thinking, begging for a chance to take a subordinate to Hawaii with him? And would the educators' unions have demanded trips to Hawaii for all assistant principals, not just the ones unlucky enough to be stalked by their bosses?

Finally, these school counselors poo-poo the notion that they did anything wrong by changing hundreds of grades for seniors who were close to the 2.0 average required for graduation:

Three Franklin High School counselors disciplined for how they changed student grades maintained yesterday that they did nothing wrong and criticized the way Seattle Public Schools administrators handled their cases.

"I felt like I was working my tail off to make the system work equitably for kids," former Franklin head counselor Jolyon Raymond said at the office of the Seattle Education Association, the labor union that represents teachers and counselors...

Raymond and fellow counselors Acie DuBose and Kory Kumasaka, who also return to Franklin today, were placed on paid leave Sept. 18, the day Superintendent Raj Manhas announced an investigation into the apparently improper alteration of hundreds of student grades in the 2002-03 school year. The changes seemed to benefit primarily seniors with grade-point averages close to the 2.0 threshold for a diploma, administrators said.

Yup, I'd say that's making the system "work" for kids. Thanks to the Shark for collecting this pile of Washington follies.

Posted by kswygert at 03:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The new "K-16" education movement

The Seattle Times reports on the increasing disconnect between high-school and college expectations. Even the good students find themselves over their heads in college work:

Leah Belisle just assumed she was prepared. She had, after all, graduated second in her class. She took the most difficult classes at Meridian High School, a rural school near Bellingham, from which few of her peers went on to four-year colleges...

But in her first semester at the University of Washington, Belisle was stunned. The pace, the intensity, the fact she was expected to read 200 pages of a psychology textbook in one week — all of it felt overwhelming.

"I worked hard in high school, but they could have worked me harder," said Belisle, now a sophomore. "Not only was I adjusting to new people, a new place to live and a new city, but I was adjusting to a new way of learning."

From the U.S. Department of Education to the company that designs the Advanced Placement (AP) program, experts have described a growing problem: High-school and college expectations rarely connect. Most high-school graduates are not prepared to enter college, studies show. And when they do enroll, many are not prepared to succeed.

The article then lists the "Top 10" myths about preparing for college, three of which are directly related to the quality of college-prep education in the K-12 system:

Meeting high-school-graduation requirements will prepare me for college. Adequate preparation for college usually requires a more demanding curriculum than is reflected in minimum high-school-graduation requirements, sometimes even if that curriculum is termed "college prep."

It's better to take easier classes in high school and get better grades. One of the best predictors of college success is taking rigorous high-school classes. Getting good grades in lower-level classes will not prepare students for college-level work.

My senior year in high school doesn't matter. The classes students take in their senior year will often determine the classes they are able to take in college and how well-prepared they are for those classes.

One estimate is that a quarter of all freshmen at four-year colleges don't return for their second year. Why aren't these students well-prepared upon finishing high school? One reason is the change in attitude towards higher ed. College has become a given, not a privilege or rare occurence, for many students, for many reasons. But high schools are still geared towards teaching the majority of their students non-college-prep skills, as though it were still the day of factory workers, when a living wage could be made with a high school diploma.

One example: Washington's students are required to take only two maths in high school, yet the public higher education system in that state requires three maths for admission.

The necessary "basic skills" change when 75% of graduates intend to head to college:

The best college preparation is a curriculum that increases in rigor and sophistication as students advance, according to the Standards for Success Project, an initiative of the Association of American Universities. Before graduation, students should know how to think analytically, solve problems, form opinions and conduct research.

The new movement is the "K-16 movement,", which is intended to help all students prepare for college. Many low-income high school students are unlikely to take more courses than required by their high schools, yet their ability to climb out of the pit of poverty may depend on the quality of their college educations.

The quality of the K-12 education affects students across the board:

The biggest predictor of whether a student will go to college, and succeed there, is the "quality and intensity" of the school's curriculum, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Students from low-income families who took a more rigorous curriculum nearly doubled their chances of completing college, according to a 1999 study.

What obstacles does the K-16 movement face? Low expectations, of course.

Society has not yet agreed to raise its expectations for all students.

A national survey in 2000 showed that although 71 percent of students planned to attend a four-year college, only 52 percent of parents thought their children would make it. And high-school teachers expected only one-third of their students to go to four-year colleges.

Not every student is "college material," the argument goes, and forcing all students to take a rigorous curriculum will only set up some for failure and humiliation.

That was the argument last year in Bellevue, when Riley introduced a proposal to require all students to take a college-level course in each of the four "core" disciplines before graduation. More than 300 people packed a forum on the topic, saying the district was moving too far, too fast...

But it is the district's responsibility to prepare every student for college, Riley said. They might not make finish college. They might not choose to go. But at least, he said, we will have them ready.

Posted by kswygert at 12:13 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Demotions in St. Louis

The "hammer" has fallen on administrators in the middle of St. Louis's test cheating scandal:

The superintendent of East St. Louis schools must answer tough questions about his district's test scores. Dr. Nate Anderson is meeting with the state superintendent of schools Monday night, to explain why dozens of special education students at several schools didn't take state achievement tests.

Six school employees were demoted Friday over the testing controversy after an emergency meeting of the East St. Louis School Board ended Friday night with word of punishments for a test score scandal.

Among the issues of concern, the breaking of standardized testing rules regarding special education students. The testing mixup involves just over 50 special needs children attending one middle school and three elementary schools who were not given standardized tests as by law.

Those demoted were the principals of the schools in which testing "mixups" were identified, and two administrators of special needs programs.

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

The effect of "civil wars" in the classroom

The enormous cost to society when litigation runs rampant:

Playgrounds all over the country have been stripped of monkey bars, jungle gyms, high slides and swings, seesaws and other old-fashioned equipment once popularized by President John F. Kennedy’s physical-fitness campaign. The reason: thousands of lawsuits by people who hurt themselves at playgrounds. But some experts say that new, supposedly safer equipment is actually more dangerous because risk-loving kids will test themselves by, for instance, climbing across the top of a swing set. Other kids sit at home and get fat—and their parents sue McDonald’s.

Americans will sue each other at the slightest provocation. These are the sorts of stories that fill schoolteachers and doctors and Little League coaches with dread that the slightest mistake...will drag them into litigation hell, months or years of mounting legal fees and acrimony and uncertainty, with the remote but scary risk of losing everything....

...Americans don’t just sue big corporations or bad people. They sue doctors over misfortunes that no doctor could prevent. They sue their school officials for disciplining their children for cheating...Many of these cases do not belong in court. But clients and lawyers sue anyway, because they hope they will get lucky and win a jackpot...

Journalists Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas see a direct link between the craze for meaningless lawsuits and the decline of disclipline, order, and educational efforts in the public school system:

"Legal fear” is just as intense in the educational system. Many Americans sense that schools have become chaotic and undisciplined over time and the quality of teachers has declined. Many teachers say that the joy has gone out of their jobs.

What’s not generally known is the role of courts and Congress in creating these problems by depriving teachers and principals of the freedom to use their own common sense and best judgment. Thanks to judicial rulings and laws over the past four decades, parents can sue if their kids are suspended for even a single day—for any reason—without adequate “due process.” Well-intentioned federal disability laws have made it so difficult to suspend any emotionally disturbed student for more than 10 days—even if he is chronically violent and disruptive—that many schools don’t even try.

In Wisconsin, a chronic troublemaker was finally expelled from high school for his role in a $40,000 vandalism spree. The student’s mother hired a psychologist who diagnosed the boy with attention-deficit disorder and depressive moods. The courts ordered the school to let him return and graduate—follow the contorted logic here—because the school had failed to prove that these previously unknown disabilities had played no part in the vandalism.

School boards now fear that parents will sue for anything...Even if a school wins in court, these cases cast a pall...Unruly students sense the teachers’ fear and their own empowerment. “A kid will be acting out in class, and you touch his shoulder, and he’ll immediately come back with ‘Don’t touch me or I’ll sue'...

What the kid really means is, "Don't touch me or my parents will sue," because as others have noticed, parents are now less likely to admit to student misbehavior and will oppose even minor disciplines. This blend of parental incompentence and greed, educator anxiety, and student unruliness has created quite a noxious mess in the public K-12 system.

Posted by kswygert at 11:13 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

One PA district turns it around

Frazier School District in Pennsylvania has gone from being one the state's worst school districts to one of its best - in only 11 years. How did this happen? Technology, integrated classwork, and test prep tutoring:

...although Fayette County remains the poorest in the state and among the nation's poorest and that Fayette has the greatest proportion of the state's rural children living in poverty, Frazier has emerged as an educational leader.

Thirty percent of the students live at or below the poverty level, although few of their parents are on welfare. Smeigh said that many Frazier parents work two minimum-wage jobs to survive.

...in 1992, district students scored near the bottom on standardized tests and combined SAT scores of 800 were the lowest in the state. No advanced placement courses were available and Frazier was placed on the state's "watch list" of districts in dire financial straits.

In 2002, the combined SAT scores averaged 992, higher than state averages. Eight advanced placement courses are available, and the district has received awards for making significant academic progress on standardized test scores.

In 1992, [the district] undertook a massive reorganization, a change [Superintendent Frederick Smeigh] calls "evolutionary, not revolutionary. We raised expectations among teachers and parents, creating an environment in which every child can learn and will want to learn."...

The district bases its curriculum on the state standards...In addition to aligning the curriculum with standards, Frazier has integrated technology in all aspects of education, including remedial learning, and strives to emphasize meaningful instruction, "to teach the way children learn."...

[Middle school principal Barbara] Mehalov summarized the district's efforts to help secondary students, which include summer math and reading tutorials, after-school tutoring in those subjects, and SAT preparation.

Middle-school students must take a computer class each year. Middle-school science is an integrated hands-on program. She emphasized the importance of class size. "Ninety-two percent of our classes have 26 students or less."

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

Putting the testing squeeze on vouchers

Florida legislators are debating whether to test students who attend schools through voucher programs:

How well are students who get publicly financed school vouchers doing? For four years, the answer has been: It's none of the public's business.

[Florida] does not require testing of students who receive vouchers from the McKay program for disabled children and the corporate tax credit program for poorer children. And even when such students' private schools do require tests, the scores remain with the parents and the schools.

Children taking Opportunity Scholarships to escape repeatedly failing schools are required to take the FCAT and their scores are made available to the state Department of Education, but officials there have decided not to study them in aggregate to see how voucher-taking schools are doing -- in contrast to the analysis and grading done of all public schools.

This could start to change, however, as early as next week, when the Senate Education Committee is scheduled to take its first look at a voucher "reform" bill that will likely include a testing provision.

However, the article predicts that, instead of the FCAT, voucher-taking schools may use a different, national standardized test. The hope is that an "independent" party will report the results, which will not be disaggregated by school. This defeats the purpose of seeing whether individual voucher-accepting schools are doing well, unlike Florida's public schools, which are compared to one another every year.

Why the double standard? Become some voucher supporters dislike testing, and some argue that the only "accountability" that is required is assessment of parental satisfaction. But isn't part of being a satisfied parent knowing that your kid is doing well in school? And isn't testing part of that?

Posted by kswygert at 10:46 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 08, 2003

Rugrats does testing

Devoted Reader Captain Yips sends along this amusing review of the episode of Rugrats: All Grown Up that aired last night:

You might get a laugh out of the strange episode on the "Rugrats:All Grown Up" episode we saw last night [title = "Thief Encounters"]. One of the rugrats - Chuckie, I think, now a fifth grader - becomes so tense about taking a 5th-grade achievement test that he starts sleepwalking and "stealing" stuff his neighbors have left on their lawns. When the class finishes the test, the teacher says pityingly, "counsellors are waiting outside." The cops who caught Chuckie let him go out of sympathetic memory of their tests years ago.

Awww. Testing as a means of bonding between a young boy and a police authority figure. What could be cuter?

And by the way, I believe this misadventure is the only hard evidence to corroborate Time's theory that testing pressures cause antisocial behavior in younger children. We can call it, "The Chuckie Factor."

Posted by kswygert at 11:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The era of testing-induced violence?

Devoted Reader Chris notes that Time has uncovered an alarming trend; an upward swing in violence and aggression in kindergarteners:

The alarming trend has been confirmed by Partnership for Children, a local child-advocacy group that has just completed a survey of child-care centers, elementary schools and pediatricians throughout Tarrant County, which includes Forth Worth and suburban Arlington. The final report is due out in January, but a preliminary version obtained by Time shows that 93% of the 39 schools that responded to the survey said kindergartners today have "more emotional and behavioral problems" than were seen five years ago. More than half the day-care centers said "incidents of rage and anger" had increased over the past three years. "We're talking about children - a 3-year-old in one instance - who will take a fork and stab another child in the forehead. We're talking about a wide range of explosive behaviors, and it's a growing problem," says John Ross, who oversaw the survey.

Oh my gosh. What's to blame? Television? Video games? Eminem? Bad parental examples? Lax disciplinary rules in school?

Would you believe, testing?

...those who see a problem believe they are witnessing the result of a number of social trends that have come together in a most unfortunate way. Many cite economic stress, which has parents working longer hours than ever before, kids spending more time in day care and everyone coming home too exhausted to engage in the kind of relationships that build social skills...

In addition, many educators worry about rising academic pressure in kindergarten and first grade in anticipation of the yearly tests demanded by the No Child Left Behind Act. In Texas, which has led the nation in embracing such tests, most kindergartens now go the full day, yet some have eliminated recess or limited it to 15 minutes a day.

I think kids should get play time, too, but I think it's just plain silly that Time suggests - without any corroborating data - that NCLB-influenced changes may be related to, or the cause of, this disturbing trend. And I think it's sad that testing gets mentioned before this fact:

The stunning finding is that 43% of the kids age 2 and younger watched TV on a typical day and that 26% had a TV in their room. The median amount of time spent watching: two hours a day.

And notice that the programs that are trying to cope with this problem are not in any way related to academic pressures, or test preparation:

On the front lines in Philadelphia and Fort Worth, schools are trying to teach kids what they have failed to learn at home. Philadelphia has extensive anti-bullying and character-education programs. It has Saturday counseling for troublemakers and truants, and requires parents to attend. This year it has extended the program to kids in kindergarten through fourth grade. For now, the Fort Worth district is working mainly with individual students and their parents. But sadly, it, along with districts throughout Texas, is also training more and more teachers how to physically restrain a furious, flailing 5-year-old.

To suggest that academic pressure is the cause of school violence is ridiculous. Philly and Fort Worth have the right approach, because violent behavior will have to be dealt with before academic achievements can be improved.

Posted by kswygert at 05:41 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Feelings, nothing more than feelings...

A great Tech Central Station article by James Harrigan on how "feeling" has now replaced "thinking," often with ridiculous results:

At some point in the late 20th century the English language underwent a silent revision. The verb "to think" was replaced by "to feel," and as a result feelings have overtaken thoughts in American public discourse.

By the time this silent revolution in language was complete, what has been termed the Oprah Winfreyization of America was a foregone conclusion. In the vernacular of present-day America, the phrase "I feel" dots the linguistic landscape, and when it is uttered the unspoken assumption is that all feelings are equally valid, no matter how unwarranted those feelings might be. This pernicious trend invariably finds its fullest expression in the context of race...

Take, for instance, America's on-again off-again hate affair with the word "niggardly." A word meaning "miserly" is by definition pejorative, but the actual meaning of the word scarcely matters when feelings are concerned. The real problem with the word niggardly is that it shares its first four letters with the granddaddy of all racial slurs. That the words derive from different roots and thus mean different things is quite irrelevant...

...a University of Wisconsin student called for the banning of the word on campus after a professor used it in a discussion of Chaucer. The fact that Chaucer himself had used a form of the word in Troylus and Cryseyde was apparently irrelevant. And then there was the case of Stephanie Bell, a fourth-grade teacher in Wilmington, North Carolina, who in 2002 had the nerve to use the offending term in a classroom discussion. A parent, Akwana Walker, claimed offense. Ms. Bell was ultimately forced to apologize to Walker, whose child was transferred to another (presumably less literate) class. Bell was also, according to her son, formally reprimanded for "lacking sensitivity to the school's diverse population of students and not being aware of cultural differences." In order to become properly sensitized, Bell was required to attend sensitivity training.

One wonders why the school board, principal, and offended parent were not compelled to take English lessons...

One is hard pressed to see how any of these are properly understood as racial issues, but the feelings of the offended are all that matters. And these feelings are valid, in beautiful circularity, simply because they are felt. In the end, common sense, civility, and language are held hostage when all feelings are equally valid, and we are all slaves to our unthinking, if sensitive, masters.

Posted by kswygert at 05:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Being good enough vs. "complacency"

From Louisiana, the frustration of good schools that are seemingly not "good enough":

Mimosa Park Elementary School in St. Charles Parish is, by most measures, a good place to go to school. In the heart of Louisiana's fourth wealthiest parish, the kindergarten-through-third-grade campus boasts high test scores and a sterling reputation among students' parents...

But as the state's school accountability system ratchets up pressure for continuous academic improvement, simply being good overall is no longer good enough. Beyond making failing schools work, new federal education guidelines require progress across the board, from the entire student body in an all-around terrible school to a pocket of struggling, impoverished students on a top-notch campus.

And therein the problem lies. Even small drops in overall performance will cause a school to face state intervention, and this is apparently what those who designed this program want to see:

"Complacency is the right word," said Leslie Jacobs, who has wielded substantial influence over the accountability program as a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

"The model's always been about growth and movement," she said. "The question I would ask is, in five years, why have they gone backward?"

In the past, minimal growth or a falling score was forgiven for high-ranked schools, but that changes next year. All but the top-tier schools in the state, and none in St. Charles meet that mark, will be subject to school-improvement labels...Scores are based on standardized test results, attendance and, for high schools, dropout rates.

Some argue that bringing up the scores of all students is impossible; a matter of reality, not complacency. Others say the goals for all subgroups must exist so that those kids are not overlooked:

Robin Jarvis, director of the Education Department's Division of School Standards and Accountability, said meeting the goal requires the schools to focus in on racial or economic groups that might otherwise be given up on.

Yet even Jacobs, one of the most hard-line of accountabilities supporters, acknowledges that there is a limit to how far it can go. The state's requirements for moving subgroups forward, she said, is backloaded so that much of the growth would not have to occur in the final years leading up to 2014...

"To sit back and say that every special ed child is going to be proficient by 2014 is ludicrous," she said.

It is. So what's the middle ground that motivates schools to educate these kids, but doesn't punish good schools for doing all that seems humanly possible?

Posted by kswygert at 05:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Lobbing snowballs instead of filling in bubbles

You know, sometimes the anti-testing reflex is so strong that people don't even catch themselves making a really silly comment. I mean, what was the editor of this ABC News Report thinking?

Many schoolchildren got an early start to their weekend: Dozens of schools closed early on Friday. Some high school students got a lucky break when several schools canceled Saturday's scheduled Scholastic Aptitude Tests.

Emphasis mine. As Best of the Web puts it:

Yeah, we suppose that's a "lucky break"--unless they want to go to college!

USA Today, on the other hand, recognized the SAT snow issue for the hassle that it is:

Foul weather canceled long-awaited college entrance exams on Saturday for thousands of high school students up and down the East Coast, forcing them to reschedule their Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) until either five days before Christmas or sometime in January.

The snow forced the closure of test centers from New Hampshire and Vermont to North Carolina and West Virginia, says The College Board, which oversees SATs...College Board officials estimated that more than 10,000 students would have to reschedule exams. The next regularly scheduled SAT date is Jan. 24, but most affected students will be allowed to take the test at a special session on Dec. 20. The students are automatically allowed to take the test on Jan. 24 if they wish.

Most students taking the test in December are high school seniors in the midst of applying to colleges. For many, the Dec. 6 test represented one of their last opportunities to record a good score on college applications.

Trust me, ABC, those snowbound kids don't consider themselves "lucky."

Posted by kswygert at 04:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Mixed results in Buffalo

The Buffalo (NY) school district plans to create a "network of district-sponsored charter schools." Five charter school are already in existence, but their effectiveness is being described by at least one reporter as "mixed":

A Buffalo News review of pupil performance at existing local charter schools shows dramatically mixed results and indicates that student test scores closely mirror demographic factors like poverty and race - just as they do at traditional public schools. That's also the pattern nationally.

"The best we can say about charter schools is that the jury's still out," said S. Paul Reville, a lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and executive director of the Center for Education Research and Policy...

Buffalo's limited experience with charter schools is marked by strikingly high student achievement at one charter school, above-average results at two others, but low test scores at two inner-city charter schools. The review, however, also shows significant improvement in standardized test scores - even in the schools that have low test results.

Some charter schools have a long row to hoe:

...the King Center Charter School and Stepping Stone Academy Charter School recorded scores far below the average of traditional city schools. Most troubling is their math scores, which were second- and third-worst among all public schools in Erie County. But there was significant improvement.

Those at Stepping Stone reaching English proficiency went from 17 percent to 29 percent within one year, and King Center Charter School's went from 11 percent to 22 percent. The improvement in math was even more dramatic...

The achievement gaps at some charter schools also reflect family background, especially poverty levels...

The enrollment at King Center and Stepping Stone is almost entirely African-American, and the schools draw largely from struggling inner-city neighborhoods. Many of those students previously attended low-performing city schools. While demographics are an explanation for low test scores at King Center and Stepping Stone, there are no excuses for poor performance, said Robert M. Bennett, chancellor of the state Board of Regents.

"I'm concerned," he said. "They have to improve, without question. The reality of the charter system is that we could remove the charter."

Buffalo's parents support the charter school decision:

Many parents and public officials applaud the Buffalo Board of Education's decision last week to establish a system of district-sponsored charter schools...

Lynn Bass is a school psychologist for the Buffalo schools, a member of the parent advisory council that the district formed, and has a son at Tapestry School and a daughter at City Honors School. She feels charter schools make education more personal and responsive.

"The bureaucracy in Buffalo is really, really dysfunctional," she said. "There is a need for reform and a need for us to embrace educational innovation."

Needless to say, the president of that "dyfunctional bureaucracy" sees things differently.

"We're basically saying, "We can't do the job, and we're going to let other people run our schools,' " [Anthony Palano, president of the union that represents Buffalo school principals] said. "What's going to be left in Buffalo are two groups: children of poverty and special-education students. We're going to be fighting for our lives - with inadequate resources - to help kids."

The comment about special education students is meaningful:

When students with moderate or severe disabilities express interest, charter school officials often tell their parents they don't have the staff or resources to serve their children properly...

Joseph A. Gardella Jr., co-chairman of Buffalo's Special Education Advisory Committee and the parent of a severely disabled daughter, feels it's "terrifically irresponsible" that charter schools don't serve all children...

Linda Rubenstein, Buffalo's assistant superintendent for special education, said it may be asking too much to expect small charter schools to provide a full range of special-education services.

The article ends on a fantastic exchange that demonstrates the "high emotions" surrounding the concept of charter schools:

Shortly after the Board of Education vote, Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore called the move "bizarre" and said the BTF will support School Board candidates opposed to the spread of charter schools.

"Phil Rumore should be run out of town on a rail car," [County Executive Joel] Giambra said the next day. "Phil is showing that he's tremendously irresponsible and is part of the problem."

Informed of Giambra's statement, Rumore responded, "I really have no comment, because I always consider the source, and this doesn't dignify a response."

Do people ever get run out of town on rail cars anymore? I mean, Amtrak doesn't service every city. I think they'd be more likely to be punted out via USAir or Hertz Rent-A-Car.

Posted by kswygert at 04:44 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Switching tests down in the land of Bougainvillea

And now, a NCLB-affected area that we don't hear too much from - Guam.

[Guam] Department of Education officials are considering a switch from the SAT-9 to the Stanford 10, the newest version of the test series. But principals are worried that differences in the new version would adversely affect students' performance if the switch is made too soon...

Mark Slitt, spokesman for Harcourt Assessment Inc., said many of the skills that are tested in SAT-9 are also tested in the Stanford 10. He said that while there are differences between the two tests, there also are advantages to the Stanford 10, and that the company tried to ensure the test met the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act...

Rose Rios, principal of Inarajan Elementary School, said parents and teachers are only just learning to use the SAT-9 to help identify their children's weaknesses. Rios is also concerned that the new test might affect the department's ability to monitor student improvement.

Machananao Elementary School acting Principal Vangie Iglesias said teachers and parents have become familiar with the test and have learned how to use the results of the test to help students.

"Changing that now may be detrimental, but, like I said, it depends on how different the new test is," Iglesias said.

Iglesias said she wants to look carefully at the differences between the two tests before any decision is made.

Nothing very controversial here; I just didn't want those of you who were hungering for information on educational policies in Guam to feel left out. But don't go look at the weather report; it's enough to make me want to stick my head in the oven.

Posted by kswygert at 04:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The horrors of a "racest" government

Aussie Blogger Tim Blair reports on a terrifying trend in Australian schools. Not only are members of the Australia Education Union urging young students to write letters to the Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone regarding the detention center inhabitants, but the letters seem to indicate that no one is in charge of these students' education:

LOOKING through the mail of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone makes me wonder what hatred some teachers preach in class.

The Australian Education Union this year campaigned against the Howard Government's wickedness, boasting of ``the critical role that public education plays in achieving a harmonious, tolerant and peaceful society''.
Harmonious? Tolerant?

Here's the harmony and tolerance that blooms when a teacher at a state school in Melbourne's inner-north gets a Year 4/5 class to ask Vanstone to free the children held in our detention centres.

``Dear Minister, . . . I think you are a racist pig,'' goes one typical letter, decorated with a picture of a pig's head, helpfully labelled ``you''.

``Dear Minister, . . . You completely and uterly (sic) suck,'' says another, signed by ``your Nemisis (sic)/arch enemy''.

``You should be fired and turned into a hobo . . . I hate you nin (sic) hundred zillion plus one.''

Another letter, also decorated with a pig's head, reads: ``Your (sic) being a racist pig just because their (sic) not Australian and don't speak english doesn't mean you can put them in prison.''

``You Imbasil,'' writes another child from the same class. ``You are so raset (sic).''

``I think you are being very racest (sic),'' agrees yet another.

``I will tell my parents not to vote for you (not that they ever did),'' warns a classmate.

``You are a racist!'' writes a student who signs off as ``arch enemy/nemesis/rival/hater''...

Of course, any sensible reader will immediately notice that the ``peace movement'' led by our teacher-preachers yet again seems scarily hate-filled. Ask the police where they feel in most danger -- at a ``peace'' protest or a building workers' rally.

You'll also notice, I'm sure, that the teacher of these 10 and 11-year-olds would have done better giving them extra lessons in spelling rather than politics. Why weren't the letters at least corrected and the children made to rewrite them before they were bundled up and sent to the Minister?

Typically sloppy, I'm afraid, leaving the students unable to spell the abuse they recite.

Bad enough they're teaching these young kids that Australia's Howard Government must be completely racist, but when do the teachers plan on getting around to conveying the idea that, if you're going to call someone nasty names, you might want to make sure to spell them correctly?

Posted by kswygert at 04:11 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Getting a leg up with Spanish skills at UC

The LA Times reports that fluent Spanish speakers once had a leg up in admissions at the Univeristy of California, because the SAT II Subject Tests were weighted twice as much as the SAT I in admissions, and Spanish was one of the permissible entrance exams. Thus, the ability to speak Spanish could help compensate a great deal for a poor performance on one of the other exams.

However, that advantange for native Spanish-speakers is getting ready to disappear:

In the UC eligibility formula — a weighted index combining test scores and grade-point averages — a high score on one of three subject tests, known as SAT IIs, can be a saving grace for an otherwise weak applicant...Designed for nonnative speakers, Spanish is among the offerings [for the SAT II]. , the tests are available to everyone but are typically easy points for students...[who have Spanish as a first language]. But the advantage to native Spanish speakers is about to be radically reduced.

The University of California requires 800-point SAT II tests in math, writing and a third subject of the student's choosing. As it stands, because UC doubles subject test scores, a perfect performance on the popular 800-point Spanish exam — a relatively common occurrence — counts the same as a flawless — and rare — 1,600 on the SAT I college entrance exam.

Changes approved by the UC regents this summer and set to take effect in 2006 give far less weight to SAT IIs. The changes are likely to have the greatest effect on applicants who score poorly on the SAT I, a broad test of verbal and math skills.

It's not surprising that the SAT reweighting will hurt some, especially those who depended on the SAT II Spanish subject exam for help. What is somewhat surprising is the decision to reweight. For starters, some or all of the SAT II exams may be, for some schools, a better predictor of first-year college grades than the SAT I.

On the other hand, ability to speak Spanish is not currently a required skill for college class performance in the US, and the SAT II Spanish Subject Test was, as I emphasized above, designed for non-native speakers, which suggests that it is ridiculously easy for native speakers. With the existing weighting, fluent Spanish is worth as much in admissions as evidence great English and mathematical skills, whereas it is highly unlikely that skill in Spanish is as good a predictor of college performance as English and math. If it's predictive at all, I'm sure it predicts different for native vs. non-native speakers.

This last assumption, if true, merits removing this particular exam as an option for native speakers. So why reweight all the exams? Well, before we can find that out, we have to wade through a series of dire statements about the negative impact of reweighting:

According to a Times analysis of UC data, Latinos who score 1,000 points or fewer on the SAT I will likely go from having about the same chance for admission as low-scoring whites and Asians to being at a disadvantage...

Any decline in the eligibility of Latino applicants would be a setback in the university's struggle to maintain a diverse student body...

Even now, Latinos are significantly underrepresented on UC campuses. They account for 42% of 18- and 19-year-olds statewide, but only about 16% of UC admissions last year...

Okay, but I assume the Board of Regents knew, or could guess, all of this. So why change the admissions system?

Blacks and Latinos, by and large, score well below Asian Americans and whites on SAT I and other standardized tests. The theories for why that occurs range from test bias to a range of socioeconomic, cultural and historic factors.

I'd insert here the comment that "Knowledgeable or sensible theories for why that occurs range across socioeconomic, cultural, and historic factors," but y'all knew I was going to say that anyway.

What is clear is that for the last three years, the Spanish test has allowed Latinos who score poorly on the SAT I but are fluent in Spanish to compete with low-scoring whites and Asians, while blacks are still left behind...

Ah, now we're getting somewhere. The current weighting helps only some minorities. The article points out that black applicants often have had the same socioeconomic hardships to overcome as the Latino students, yet only the Latino students receive the double-boost of the Spanish exam.

A range of SAT II language tests is offered, from Chinese to Hebrew. They tend to attract native speakers, who often push up the average scores well beyond those for such tests as science or history. But no test has the same effect as the Spanish exam, by far the most popular test chosen by Californians.

Among UC applicants last year who scored 1000 or less on the SAT I, Latinos averaged 629 out of 800 on their third SAT II, according to university data analyzed by the Times. Asians averaged 488, whites 461 and blacks 438.

And then those SAT II scores are doubled, so you have Latinos with a score of 1258 going into the admissions index, as opposed to 976, 922, and 876 for the other three groups, respectively. The result is that Latino students with low SAT I scores have been, since 2001, admitted at vastly different rates than other groups. For those scoring below 1000 on the SAT (which is, give or take, the average score across the nation), 65% of Latinos were admitted vs. 49% of blacks.

The article mentions research from the late 1990's suggesting that "subject tests in general are a better predictor of college performance than the SAT I." I assume the research mentioned is this paper, which I've seen before. While this paper does show that the SAT II is a better predictor than the SAT I for UC's students, it does not break down the SAT II by exam subject, and nowhere does it suggest that the SAT II score should be weighted twice what the SAT I is weighted.

The policy went into effect in 2001 before anyone realized the extent to which the SAT II Spanish Subject Exam would influence admissions decisions. And now with the new, improved, upcoming SAT I (which includes an essay), the SAT II test impact will diminish.

"If there is a person out there who scores poorly on every single test and extraordinarily well on one test … I'm not sure that is the best student for the university," Widaman said.

I'm sure there are plenty of folks who would disagree with Widaman, despite the fact that (a) he has a point, and (b) giving native Spanish-speakers an edge in admissions into an English-speaking university system doesn't seem fair at all:

At Locke High School, 62% of the students are Latino, nearly all the rest are black, and standardized test scores are among the worst in the state — except on the Spanish exam. Changing the eligibility formula could increase the difficulty of sending such students to UC campuses.

"Our kids are horrible test takers," said John Mandell, college counselor at Locke. But on these exams, "they do well." He encourages native Spanish speakers to seize the advantage by taking one of the two Spanish exams offered.

Why? Their ability to speak Spanish well may not indicate how capable they are of completing English course work. Why not focus the energy on figuring out why the students are "horrible test takers" and correct that? The fact that they all do well on the SAT II Spanish suggests that they are familiar with the multiple-choice format and are not cowed by the idea of taking standardized tests.

My hunch is that these students aren't learning English very effectively at Locke; thus, they do poorly on exams which requires them to translate everything into English before the items can be tackled. But in the long run, shouldn't making sure the students learn English be more important to Locke than getting their graduates into an environment for which they might be ill-prepared?

From his windowless office, Mandell ticked off recent SAT II Spanish scores among Locke students: three perfect 800s and several more scores above 700.

Whereas only one student broke the 1000 record on the SAT I. These test score discrepancies make it painfully clear that the Spanish these kids learn at home seem to be just about all they've learned during their high school career.

An analogy is provided in support of the double-weighting: "disallowing Spanish speakers from showing off prowess in their native tongue would be akin to barring the children of physicists from taking the physics test."

Not a good analogy. If the point is whether or not those children can tackle college-level physics classes, then admit the highest scorers, regardless of background. But the point of college admissions in the US is whether or not the admittees can handle college-level classes taught in English, so why should we assume that students are ready for UC merely because of the fact that they are fluent in Spanish?

I mean, let's not forget the predictive validity issue here; the anecdotes which suggest a couple of capable students needed a leg up are just that - anecdotes. I want to know how many of those admitted with below-1000 SAT I scores and sky-high SAT II Spanish scores are still in the UC system, and doing well - and not enrolled in remedial classwork.

Joanne Jacobs comments as well.

Posted by kswygert at 12:39 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Missing Maine high schoolers

On Friday afternoon, 10 students from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School left to go winter camping in Maine. Neither the students nor the two adults accompanying them have been heard from since:

Ten students from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School left Friday afternoon to go winter camping, with plans to hike along the Miles Notch Trail from west Bethel...The group was due back Sunday afternoon but didn't show up as scheduled. The students, who were accompanied by two adults, were last seen at about 10 a.m. Saturday...

The students were outfitted for winter camping with food and tents, but they did not bring snow shoes...Portions of western Maine were covered by more than 30 inches of snow during the weekend storm.

These aren't the only missing young'uns in Maine, either:

Meanwhile, in Township 6 North of Weld, two wardens were looking for three Unity College students who became stranded while winter camping on Tumbledown Mountain. The three had been on the western Maine mountain since Saturday...The men were well-equipped for overnight winter camping, with plenty of gear, food and a dome tent...

This last comment applies to both groups, I believe:

"Why they ever decided to do this when the storm's been on advisory for the last three or four days, I do not know," said warden Lt. Nathan Berry.

The Oxford Hill web page includes the school motto, "Dare to Accept the Challenge." I believe this is one challenge the student camping group should have declined. Let's hope they are found, and found soon.

Update: Devoted Reader Sue notes that all the students are safe and sound.

Posted by kswygert at 12:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 05, 2003

When I say Devoted Readers, I mean, Devoted Readers

Holy smokes.

I had some time free tonight to spend bopping around on the web. My boyfriend is downstairs in the basement glued to Final Fantasy XI; when he emerges, I expect he will look somewhat like Gollum due to lack of food and light. Anyway, I was on one of my favorite sites, Little Green Footballs, and I saw a second reminder from blogger Charles to vote for LGF in the "Best Overall Blog" in the 2003 Weblog Awards.

And then I see that there's a category for "Best Female-Authored Blog."

And I'm one of the nominees.

There's only 20 listed, and Number 2 Pencil is in there with 'em.

Yowza. Do I ever feel special tonight. Given the competition I'm up against, I don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but unlike all the Academy Award losers, I'm being sincere when I say that it's a true honor just to have been nominated. Many, many thanks to any of you who might have done so (or who feel like strolling over thataways now to vote for me).

If I do win, I promise not to give an embarrassing speech. I'll just thank all my Devoted Readers and get right down off the stage. These awards ceremonies drag on long enough as it is.


2003 Weblog Awards

Posted by kswygert at 11:10 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Where hickeys are assualts and pototoes come garnished with marijuana

As if the Advil tale wasn't bad enough, here are additional tales of woe that Best of the Web had for today's zero tolerance roundup:

A 13-year-old boy has been charged with assault for "giving [a] girl a hickey in a Richland Middle School hallway in September," the Associated Press reports from Fort Worth, Texas. But it looks as though he'll escape prosecution:
------------
The boy said Wednesday he planned to read the letter of apology that he has given to the girl in front of the class today. The boy said he has learned his lesson.

"Don't mess with anybody if they don't want you to mess with them, and don't touch anybody inappropriately," he said.
------------
Meanwhile in Georgia, three students at Conyers Middle School--two 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old--"have been accused of violating the state Controlled Substances Act after a plastic bag filled with parsley was found at the school," another AP dispatch reports. "We believe, because of the way the parsley was packaged, at least two of the students believed it was marijuana," Rockdale County Sheriffs Deputy Myra Pearrell tells the AP. The sheriffs department says this constitutes a violation of a law banning "possession of a counterfeit substance, a felony."

Oh. A felony, you say. So the drug in question doesn't have to be real; a counterfeit one is just as bad. But just how narrowly is "counterfeit" defined, anyway? I mean, parsley is green and plantlike, but that's where its resemblance to marijuana ends. Would plastic buds and twigs count? Is anything that students believe is a drug - or is packaged like a drug - out of bounds? If a student brings their little brother's play doctor kit to school, would the plastic pills and syringes get them expelled?

I guess those candy cigarettes we used to buy in middle school are completely out of the question. And the one silver lining here is that parsley ingestion or inhalation is unlikely to show up on random drug tests.

Posted by kswygert at 11:00 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

New tests for New York City

New "measuring sticks" for students in the Big Apple:

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said yesterday that his office was developing new ways to measure performance in the school system that would offer a far more sophisticated analysis than is currently gleaned from standardized test results.

Mr. Klein said the new accountability system would be aimed at judging every aspect of the school system, from the performance of teachers and students to that of administrators.

My guess is some teachers and administrators have nightmares about this very same circumstance...

On the instructional side, much of the chancellor's plans are focusing on a relatively new way of judging the performance of students and teachers, called value-added assessment...

Currently, students are largely judged based on annual reading and math tests, with results ranging from a low of Level 1 to a high of Level 4. Any score below Level 3 has failed to meet state standards. A school's performance is based on "annual yearly progress," according to the same test results.

The new approach also uses test scores as a benchmark, but it measures a student's progress over each academic year against the student's own progress in previous years...

The system can also be used to determine the effectiveness of teachers by showing whose students consistently achieve at a faster or slower pace, regardless of where each student starts out.

The teachers' union president claims that the concept has "real promise" but will fail because Klein didn't seek the advice of teachers earlier. Apparently, this concept is far too "difficult" and "complicated" to implement, despite the fact that it has already been implemented in a dozen states so far.

Mr. Klein said that the current system of accountability often failed to recognize excellent work by teachers in the toughest schools. "You could be working in the most challenging school doing incredible work," he said. But "you aren't getting the kind of recognition that your colleagues are."...

Mr. Klein said that another measure of accountability might be customer satisfaction with the schools based on surveys of parents. "It's not a single metric," he said. "It's a system of accountability for the mayor, for me, for everybody."

Read more about value-added assessment here and here.

Posted by kswygert at 03:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The next Verizon Wireless ad

This has nothing to do with testing, but I love this story so much, I had to post it:

In less time than it took a North Brunswick patrolman to write a ticket for an unregistered vehicle, the driver got his car registered online Thursday.

When officer Jason Zier pulled over a 1992 Mazda 626 on Thursday afternoon, the vehicle's registration had expired. By the time he'd finished writing up Sean Leach for the infraction, the car was legal again. That's because the 36-year-old Jersey City man had a cell phone, a friend with a computer who he could reach and the foresight to use the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission's online registration service.

Leach's ingenuity did not save him from getting a ticket, but it did keep him from having his car towed and getting socked with the towing bill.

After pulling Zier over, the officer mentioned that renewals could be done online. So Zier called a friend, gave him an access code and a credit card number, and had the friend renew the registration. Which took place immediately.

Hee hee hee. I hope Zier fights the ticket in court.

Posted by kswygert at 03:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Secrets and Lies in Illinois

The Illinois test cheating scandal takes a weird new turn:

Nate Anderson, the superintendent of District 189, refused to turn over a box full of blank standardized test answer sheets to the school district's inspector general Thursday.

Dick Barrett, who is also a private detective and former state police investigator, tracked down the mystery box of blank test answer sheets for the Iowa Test of Basic Skills to Anderson's office.

The box full of test answer sheets constitutes a mystery because, after nearly two weeks, no one is owning up to ordering it.

Janice Jennings, head of the district's testing program, is the only person authorized to order testing materials. Jennings, however, has denied ordering the answer sheets.

Anderson allowed Barrett to inspect the box Thursday afternoon. But the superintendent refused to allow Barrett to carry out the box, which contained 11 packets of blank Iowa Test answer sheets.

Fighting over blank answer sheets? Where the heck is this investigation going to end up? And by the way, they were looking for exams:

A box of standardized tests mysteriously shows up at East St. Louis Senior High School. The only person with the authority to order them denies doing so. Meanwhile, an Illinois State Board of Education probe into test cheating keeps expanding, and could cost as many as six District 189 school principals their jobs.

So why hasn't this mystery box of tests -- which could be evidence of even more test cheating -- found its way into the hands of state investigators? Richard Mark, the chairman of the state panel that controls District 189 spending, is still waiting for an answer, and he said he's unhappy with what he's heard so far.

Mark said he was "shocked" to learn the box of mystery tests still hadn't been turned over to the state school board, even though he asked Thomas Oates -- the liaison between the school district and the state school board -- to take care of the matter 10 days ago...

Suspicions have arisen that some senior District 189 administrators might have known of some school principals' efforts to exclude nearly 160 special education students from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in April.

Posted by kswygert at 03:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Student vote, professors profit

College students at William and Mary believe in merit pay for professors:

Students at the College of William and Mary passed a referendum Wednesday to increase their student activity fee by $5 - and to use the money to give three professors annual bonuses of $10,000.

"I hope it will tell Richmond that we're doing their job and send a message to professors that we care," said Student Assembly President Brian Cannon.

John Curtis, director of research at the American Association of University Professors, said he has never heard of anything similar at other colleges - although public institutions nationally are suffering financial problems similar to W&M's...

The referendum was sparked by a "casualty report," as Cannon called it, delivered at the board of visitors meeting in September. The report said 13 faculty members in the past year had left to accept more competitive offers elsewhere, compared to three or four in a more typical year...

William Blake and Cara Wells, both senior government majors who were campaigning for the referendum Wednesday in front of the University Center, say it will be worthwhile if it can save one or two beloved professors...

The referendum, dubbed "Save a Professor," passed by a vote of 1,316 in favor and 294 against - an approval rate of 82 percent with about 25 percent of the student body voting, Cannon noted.

Posted by kswygert at 03:29 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The mathematics of drug testing

Sadly enough, I think today's students have gotten to the point where this sort of invasion of privacy seems perfectly normal - even acceptable:

All 1,000 boys attending a Northwest Side Catholic high school will face mandatory drug screens next fall--a new requirement that lands them smack in the middle of a simmering national debate.

St. Patrick High School officials said Wednesday the school will be the first high school in the Chicago area to require drug testing of all students.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld drug testing in public schools, but only for athletes and others involved in extracurricular activities. Parochial schools are not bound by those rulings.

It gets worse. Parents have to shell out 60 bucks for the tests, which don't measure any level of that most prevalent and damaging drug - alcohol.

Reaction among students has been mixed. Senior Steven Rohlf said that while he had no problems with the program, many students were "very upset."

"The majority are against it," Rohlf said. "A lot of people have a privacy problem. I believe we benefit much more than it's bad."

I don't. I wrote about the dangers of random drug testing in one of my very first posts. I followed it up with a response to a National Review article on "pop" drug quizzes. I don't agree with drug testing unless there is some reason to believe that the person being tested is in fact under the influence. Random drug testing is bad; across-the-board drug testing is even worse.

Why? Because drug tests aren't perfect. No drug test is 100% accurate. And a test that boast "98% accuracy" does not mean that 98% of all those identified as drug users are, in fact users.

Let's use a a very simplified example that makes the following assumptions:

1. 5% of the students in the school above use cocaine.
2. The drug test being used is 98% accurate in detecting cocaine in users, and detecting lack of cocaine in nonusers.
3. 1000 boys are tested.

The 98% accuracy rate of the test means that, for each students, the test has a 98% chance of making the right judgement (positive/negative for cocaine). The 5% estimate tells us that we can expect 950 cocaine nonusers and 50 users out of the population of 1000 boys. The two judgement choices for non-users are false positive and true negative; for users it's false negative and true positive.

Non-users:
.98 (950) is the true negative rate, which is 931
.02 (950) is the false positive rate, or 19

Users
.98 (50) is the true positive rate, or 49
.02 (50) is the false negative rate, or 1

So what we see is that for a test with 98% accuracy, we only miss one of the drug users, but we falsely identify 2% of the non-users. Given that there are so many more nonusers than users in the population (and that's at the heart of this argument), this means that, out of the (19+49) or 68 total positive judgements, 19 of them are wrong. That's 28%, not 2%, of the total positive judgements being incorrect.

In fact, when a very large population is tested for the presence of a drug use that has an even lower occurrence than this, the false positives quickly grow to outnumber the true positives, so that most of the positive judgments you get out will be incorrect. That's the reason for not testing across the board, and that's the reason for never basing a decision on a single positive result.

A 99% accurate test is going to do better, but any drug test that is not 100% accurate and is trying to capture a tiny minority of the population is always going to generate a large number of false positives.

Not only is this sort of testing dangerous, it apparently doesn't even do what it is supposed to do, which is stop kids from using drugs:

Across the country, the usefulness of drug-testing programs is under debate. A study this year by University of Michigan researchers showed no significant difference in drug use between schools testing for drugs and those that don't.

St. Patrick is somewhat mitigating this disaster by (a) not taking disciplinary action after a single positive result, and (b) demanding a second positive result before suspension or expulsion. But that's $120 a parent has to shell out for the privilege of their kid getting kicked out of school.

This part caught my eye:

Hair sample tests, considered by experts to be more reliable than either blood or urine testing [but note that the accuracy rate is not reported], detect any drugs used within the last 90 days. Students testing positive will meet with parents and school officials but will not otherwise be disciplined.

"Then it's up to the parents to work something out with the kid," said Principal Joseph Schmidt.

If Principal Schmidt trusts parents to "work something out" on the basis of a mandatory drug test, why doesn't he trust parents to monitor their own kids for drug use in the first place? Is the assumption here that absolutely no parent of any of these boys pays attention to their kid's behaviors, habits, and attitudes?

A number of parents contacted by the Tribune enthusiastically endorsed the testing.

"As a parent, it's a great thing," said Rose Mayerbock, mother of a St. Patrick junior. "There are parents that don't necessarily realize that their child could be on something. For me, one of my biggest fears is if they are on drugs and alcohol. I am very lucky because I trust that my kids are not."

But this decision doesn't affect just those parents; it affects all parents. Rose apparently doesn't mind the school's assumption that all parents would miss any sign of a child's drug problems and are incapable of dealing with the situation. If I were a parent, I would mind.

The ACLU, unfortunately, is stymied:

"We're concerned any time groups of people are considered suspects based on their age and location," said Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But it's a private school. There's nothing we can do about it."

Posted by kswygert at 03:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Everyday Mathematics debate in New Jersey

A New Jersey Board of Education meeting gets noisy as teachers debate the math curriculum and standardized exams.

In general, Montclair students perform well in language arts, consistently exceeding the state average. But their performance in math and science is not as high.

Addressing this discrepancy, board member Jerold Freier asked the assembled educators, “Is the state [math] test fair?”

One Rand teacher replied, “The questions are fair, but the students don’t have enough time to complete the test. The way they’re tested goes against everything we’re teaching them in the classroom —double-checking their work, being careful, thinking things through.”

A valid point. Standardized tests are often speeded; math tests are often more so, because more steps are required to solve the problems. However, there's no reason that students can't be taught several ways to solve problems (including shortcuts), and certainly memorization of the basic math skills helps students avoid the need for "thinking through" the tasks that should be automatic.

The somewhat controversial Everyday Math program, now in its third year, was discussed at length.

Everyday Math is a national program first developed by the University of Chicago in 1983. The goal of the program is to help students acquire math skills and experientially develop an understanding of math concepts rather than by memorizing formulas. Teachers provide real-life situations for students to apply their mathematical knowledge, including games and manipulatives. Everyday Math relies extensively on teacher and parent participation.

Emphasis mine. There's no reason that students should avoid memorization like the plague when it comes to math. Having the more basic tasks be near-automatic helps immensely when it comes to the higher-order tasks - in fact, it may be required. Who can understand calculus, or even algebra, if they have to "think through" multiplication? And at a time when more and more schools claim that parental involvement is low enough to be problematic, why have a math program that relies even in part on parental participation?

Here's Professor David Klein's evalution of the use of Everyday Mathematics in California's schools (from the Mathematically Correct website):

My recommendation to the State Board of Education is that the K-6 Everyday Mathematics submission be rejected. My recommendation is based on the following:

1) Missing or drastically abridged presentations of the standard algorithms of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division at all grade levels.

2) Numerous statements in the curriculum contrary to the California Mathematics Standards. Promotion of calculator use contrary to the California Mathematics Standards...

4) The absence of textbooks or materials for students for independent study, in contradiction to a criterion of the California Education Code...

The Everyday Mathematics revised California Operations Handbook is a putative collection of what Everyday Math refers to as algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Some of these lessons are misplaced. For example, the first algorithm for fraction addition on page 23 includes an "algorithm" for adding fractions with a common denominator. The "algorithm" is to add the numerators. This is not really an algorithm. It is part of the definition of fraction addition...

Far more serious a shortcoming is that all of the algorithms of arithmetic are treated on an equal footing. The standard algorithm for multiplying two numbers has no more status or prominence than an Ancient Egyptian algorithm on page 54...

I'm assuming that this is the same program currently in use - and under debate in New Jersey's schools. Both David and Mike check in on this site from time to time - correct me if I'm wrong on this, will you?

Nishuane parent Margaret Whitsett said, “The parents have been the biggest problem. The first year, there were tons of complaints. Now people are coming around.”

Evelyn Spivey, acting principal at Rand, said, “We’ve found that parents have difficulty understanding the program.”

Yeah, that's the kind of school I'd want for my kid - one that believes parents are the "biggest problem" to implementing a program that makes no sense to them.

Board President Florence Demming, commenting that she had recently read an article about the program in an educational periodical, asked, “Do you find that parents can’t help the students? Is that why our students aren’t doing that well in math?”

Catherine Vitone, principal of Bradford, countered, “What are we going to do, teach to the test?”

Nice way to switch the focus of the criticism. Teaching to the test is perfectly acceptable if the test is an adequate measure of mathematial skills. Claiming that one is not teaching to the test is in no way a defense, nor does it indicate anything about a program's worth.

If the parents don't get it, what makes New Jersey believe the students will understand it?

Posted by kswygert at 02:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Finally, some cause for celebration

A description of Colorado schools that received an "excellent" rating:

Every year, the Colorado Department of Education releases school accountability reports, which rank schools based on students' overall academic performance. Included within the reports are Colorado Student Assessment Program test scores, attendance, discipline and salary information. This is the third year the report cards were released. The rankings are based on information collected in the 2002-03 school year...

Animas Valley Elementary rated high last year, but showed significant improvement in 2002-03, according to the state report cards. Students improved their performance on the state's standardized test, with third- through fifth-graders 91 percent proficient or advanced on the reading test, compared with 86 percent in 2001-02. And 79 percent of the same students scored proficient or advanced on writing, compared with 71 percent the previous year. Only fifth-graders were tested in math. The percentage of students who are proficient or advanced in math at the school dipped from 65 percent in 2001-02 to 64 percent in 2002-03.

Judy Wilkie, principal at Animas Valley, threw her teachers a surprise party to celebrate the school's achievement. "This reflects the hard work on the part of the students and the dedication and high expectations of the staff, parents and the community," Wilkie said.

Another 9-R school to show improvement was Park Elementary, which earned a high ranking. Despite a large number of English-language learners and students with low socio-economic backgrounds, the school was able to improve from its average ranking.

Posted by kswygert at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The dangers of Advil

Is Louisiana in some sort of competition for academic failures and lunatic policies? First there was the valedictorian who couldn't pass a standardized exam; now they're tossing kids out of school for a year for being in possession - of Advil:

A student expelled from Parkway High for a year for having Advil, an over-the-counter pain reliever, will not be allowed to return to the school. Kelly Herpin and daughter Amanda Stiles, a sophomore, appealed the one-year expulsion to a Bossier Parish School Board committee Thursday night, spending about 10 minutes with the board's administrative committee behind closed doors.

The committee and the full board voted unanimously to uphold an administrative decision that Stiles be expelled to the alternative school...

Superintendent Ken Kruithof said after the board meeting that the school system is following a state law that requires a one-year expulsion and being consistent in the system's "zero-tolerance" policy.

But another school official said earlier Thursday that having medication on campus doesn't automatically lead to a one-year expulsion. "After an investigation and a hearing then, if necessary, punishment is administered. It could be no punishment," said Betty McCauley, Bossier schools student services director.

Um, okay. So it's not only an idiotic zero tolerance policy, but it's not actually a zero tolerance policy at all, because Advil could get you expelled, but another medication might lead to no punishment. Have I got that straight?

Herpin considers Stiles an "average student" in both grades and behavior but said Stiles never got in serious enough trouble to warrant an expulsion. Kruithof said Stiles had other disciplinary incidents in the past but said he didn't know if they resulted in suspensions.

The search of Stiles' purse that turned up the medication came after a tip from a teacher about a student smoking at school. Herpin said her daughter was part of a group that was searched in response to the tip.

Were they just looking for something, anything, with which to punish Stiles after not finding cigarettes in her purse? Tobacco would have brought on a suspension, but Advil merits a yearlong expulsion.

You know, I need an Advil after reading stories like this. Good thing I'm not a student anymore.

Posted by kswygert at 02:42 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

NYU and human sexuality

Well, we can't claim that New York University isn't doing a good job of teaching its students human biology and sexuality. If it wasn't, how would this student have ever come up with this idea for her film class?

In October, a film student at New York University pitched an idea for her video-making class: a four-minute portrayal of the contrast between unbridled human lust and banal everyday behavior.

Her professor approved. The student, Paula Carmicino, found two actor friends willing to have sex on camera in front of the class. The other students expressed their support. But then the professor thought he should double-check with the administration, which immediately pulled the plug on the project.

What's more, university officials said they would issue a written policy requiring student films and videos to follow the ratings guidelines of the Motion Picture Association of America, with nothing racier than R-rated fare allowed, according to Ms. Carmicino and her professor, Carlos de Jesus. The association says R-rated films may include "nudity within sensual scenes."

The matter has raised a mini-tempest on campus...Ms. Carmicino and Professor de Jesus say the issue raises far-reaching questions of censorship and academic and artistic freedom. "This is where you unfold as a creative artist," Ms. Carmicino, 21, said. "You need people to bounce your ideas off of, or else you won't evolve as an artist." Ms. Carmicino is a junior in the film and television department at the university's Tisch School of the Arts.

I think Ms. Carmacino has confused having people "to bounce ideas off of" with having people bounce off each other. Let's she if she can, like any true artist, create an interesting film that doesn't include hard-core porn.

Posted by kswygert at 02:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 04, 2003

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

What a week.

In the last seven working days, I've worked almost 70 hours - very productive hours, luckily. Data have been collected. Subjects have been trained, monitored, and debriefed. Technology has been wrestled with. Office politics have been tangled with. Summaries, memos, research reports, and presentations have been written. Outrageous inter-office misunderstandings have taken place, with flurries of apologetic emails falling afterwards like the snow I'm hoping we get tonight.

I'm pooped. I haven't been home except to sleep. My cat has forgotten who I am. I think I might have blogged this week, but damned if I remember doing so.

Therefore, my butt is staying right here in this house tomorrow, whether it snows or not. The most challenging task I plan to do is decide where I want to put the Christmas/Yule decorations.

Oh, but I'll be blogging, too. I want to do it, and my Devoted Readers deserve it. You guys have been faithfully checking my site this week, hoping I would write something insightful or interesting (I bet I failed on both counts). I even got two trolls commenting on an old post. One lumped us all together as "you people" who don't have a sense of humor ("you people"? Parents? People interested in education? People who think for themselves? Wonder what he could mean?). The other unhappy poster suggested seriously (I think) that Marxism could fix our educational system.

Thanks, I needed a good laugh. See you all tomorrow.

eskimo_ice_skating_md_wht.gif

Posted by kswygert at 08:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 03, 2003

A college dedicated to teaching high-school-level skills

Devoted Reader Mark sends along this link to a Interested-Participant posting in which IP expresses amazement about the fact that, in Ohio, the function of a college, apparently, is to teach high-school level material:

The state agency that oversees higher education wants to phase out government funding for college remedial classes required for more than a third of freshmen, a plan that has officials at the University of Cincinnati and elsewhere worried about the consequences -- economic and academic -- of such a move.

The Ohio Board of Regents believes the subsidy for public colleges and universities should end by 2007 because new high school academic standards should produce college-ready graduates not needing as much remedial assistance...

Some UC officials, however, view that as an optimistic scenario that, if not achieved, could create a financial hardship for universities and potentially leave underprepared students floundering.

"Assisting underprepared students is a core function of higher education and is something we do at the University of Cincinnati. There is nothing to indicate that this is going to change anytime soon," said Anthony J. Perzigian, UC's senior vice president and provost for baccalaureate and graduate education. (Emphasis mine.)

Got that? The core function of higher education is to educate those who are not yet ready for higher education. Surely, this VP's defense of the alleged "core function" has nothing to do with the fact that remedial courses cost money yet don't provide credit towards a degree. Thus, students enrolled in remedial classes - or the taxpayers of Ohio - are paying tuition for courses that are unrelated to earning a diploma.

As IP puts it:

It is incomprehensible to this writer that a senior official with the University of Cincinnati states that teaching high school is a core function of the university. It also doesn't make any sense that the taxpayer should be responsible for a university to teach high school courses.

And we're not talking about small numbers of students enrolled in these remedial classes, either:

The 2002 Performance Report for Ohio's Colleges and Universities said 32 percent of new freshman take a remedial math and/or English course their first year on the main campus, and that the average for Ohio main campuses last year was 23 percent.

On UC's Clermont campus, about 47 percent of new freshmen take a remedial math and/or English course their first year, and about 54 percent of new freshmen take a remedial math and/or English course their first year at the Raymond Walters campus in Blue Ash.

The 2002 statewide average for branch campuses was 48 percent, UC officials said.

In other words, on average, nearly half of all UC admits have to take a remedial course before they can even get started on tackling college-level material. But instead of admitting that the Board of Regents might have a point in restructuring the system so that college hopefuls will be forced to learn the basics in high school, the UC VP is all about making sure that UC gets that tuition money from those valuable "underprepared" students"

"The announcement that they want to phase out funding by 2007 raises questions about who will be responsible for underprepared students, including many adults seeking to enter or re-enter higher education."

Perzigian said serving students who begin their college careers with deficiencies in math, science, reading and composition is integral to UC's mission.

Why? Why are they being admitted to college if they're not ready? The last I checked, a college degree was not a right. Why should taxpayers, who are apparently already supporting a failing K-12 system, be forced to support a college system that doesn't value college-level work?

The IP wonders if perhaps the current UC funding is being wasted on other, non-academic material:

On a positive note, unnamed officials have been heard to remark that incoming students are well versed in diversity, environmentalism, homosexuality and transgenderism, animal rights and radical vegetarianism, and the problems of the homeless. No remedial classes are necessary in these areas. Areas of deficient knowledge are exclusively reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Posted by kswygert at 09:01 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

A new plan for a failing school

Woodlawn High School (LA) has been labeled "failing," in part because of rock-bottom standardized test scores. The school developed tutoring programs for before and after school, and on weekends, but only 10% of those kids who needed it showed up. So Woodlawn's adding an extra period to the school day to try to make some difference on the kids while they're a "captive audience":

Woodlawn High School freshman Timothy Brown plans to study science a little more when the school adds an extra enrichment/tutorial period by the end of December.

Science is his least favorite subject and English his favorite. He'll get extra help in both, as well as math and social studies, as students prepare for state standardized testing in the spring. Woodlawn Principal Carter Bedford and his faculty carved time from the regular school day to create a seventh period...

Bedford plans to start the new schedule as soon as possible after board members approve it. He's already assigned teachers and created student rosters for them...

The comments by some teachers are astounding in their obviousness; no one's mincing words about the low level at which these kids are performing:

[Teachers] will provide more one-on-one attention during the extra period. [Teacher] Hall plans to focus on reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.

"Their comprehension skills are really low, and we need to work on vocabulary. If they understand the vocabulary words, then they can better understand what they're reading," [teacher] Hall said. "They also need to work on how to analyze the essay questions. They don't always understand what they're being asked to do. We have to break it down for them."

Yes, I'd say understanding of vocabulary is paramount. It gets worse when the discussion moves from the regular students to the special-needs kids:

Bedford estimated that 30 percent of his 800-plus students are "academically challenged" - so far behind their peers that some work at an elementary-school level. These include special education students and those still trying to pass the eighth-grade state test that determines whether they move to ninth grade.

Emphasis mine. Principal Bedford has his work cut out for him.

Posted by kswygert at 08:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Flurries expected in Connecticut

We might get our first winter storm up here in the Northeast this weekend. In Connecticut, they're expecting flurries of snow - and flurries of school-accountability data:

From report cards to warning lists, the state will release a flurry of data this month to parents and educators describing how Connecticut schools are measuring up against the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The Department of Education will flag both districts and high schools considered not to be making adequate yearly progress under the law. Parents in school districts receiving federal Title I funding, given to schools with poor students, also will be mailed school report cards...

The state got a taste of the law's reach this summer, when 149 - or one in five - elementary and middle schools in the state were stamped for not making adequate yearly progress. Thomas Murphy, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said officials expect the percentage of high schools identified to be higher.

I particularly like the one quote from a school superintendent, below:

For parents trying to wade their way through the volumes of numbers, regulations surrounding school choice and definitions of No Child Left Behind buzzwords like "adequate yearly progress," schools are trying to help pound out the specifics.

In Manchester, Superintendent Alan Beitman said the district held workshops with state officials to explain the law's ramifications to parents, educators and board members, and it is helping. But he still gets calls from parents who are confused, he said.

"Parents understand only what they see on a Web page, see in a newspaper, hear on television. I get maybe one request a month to transfer to another school system, or have their child tutored at home based on what they perceive to be the law," he said.

Emphasis mine. Hey, on some web pages, parents can get useful information, you know? It's great that the schools are holding workshops, but why not have better websites or even weblogs to help explain this overload of data to parents?

Posted by kswygert at 08:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The wonders of nicotine

Well, this is one of the more interesting scientific research results I've read lately: Nicotine patches can help improve focus and response times on standardized tests. Not that this will necessarily help any ambitious, Harvard-bound youngsters out there, though; the research has been done only on elderly folks who suffer from mild "age-associated memory impairment."

Previous research conducted by the Duke team and others has found evidence that nicotine might benefit people with a variety of disorders -- including schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer's disease. However, the latest study is the first to examine the drug's effects on people with age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), a common condition among older people characterized by so-called "senior moments."

In a small sample of seniors, the researchers found that four weeks of nicotine treatment halved decision times on a standardized test of memory and increased participants' ability to focus their attention – a skill critical for learning and memory. While receiving nicotine, seniors' assessments of their own memories also showed small but significant improvement.

"In folks with relatively minor changes in their memory and thinking, there was some improvement with nicotine skin patches in the areas of attention and their general perception of their own memory," said Duke geriatrician Heidi White, M.D. "We hope that will translate into treatments that allow people to actually function better in their daily lives."

Posted by kswygert at 08:28 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

Special students, failing schools

Self-described "Long-time reader, first time contributor" Rafel - make that Devoted Reader Rafel - sent along this CNN story about the impact of special education students on standardized test results. He's not impressed by the schools that claim that the special education testing requirement of NCLB drags them down and puts too much of a burden on teachers. Let's see what the article has to say:

Special education has been a battleground for years. Parents of special ed students fought long and hard for their children to be included in mainstream classrooms, and for the money to provide them with extra help. Now the new law, dubbed No Child Left Behind, has focused even more attention on special education, because of the consequences for entire schools.

The law mandates that schools bring all groups of students up to grade level on standardized reading and math tests, including special ed students and those who do not speak English. If even one of those groups fails to meet progress targets for two years in a row, an entire school can be listed as failing and face an escalating list of sanctions...

Stop and think. Why would such stringent testing requirements be put into practice in the first place (even though all evidence suggests that some of these requirements will soon be relaxed)? It's because schools have long been able to use "special education" as a dumping ground for kids who aren't really of low ability, but who don't respond well to boring or ineffective teachers. I think one can argue that the percentage of special education students in a school and the quality of instruction that those students receive is one measure of how good a school is. There's a reason it's not called the "No Child Except "Special" Ones Left Behind" Act.

However, the Education Department does not want to let all special education students and their teachers off the hook, said Ronald Tomalis, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education...

"There have been low expectations for some of these children all along," he said. "And that's not because of mental abilities, but because of poor instruction received in the early grades. We need to challenge schools that these children can achieve. Sure, they will need an intensive program, but they can be brought up to grade level."

For more seriously disabled children, he said, a proposed change to the law would let 1 percent of all children in a district skip the grade-level exams and instead take a test tailored to their abilities. If they scored well on that alternative, it could be counted in their school's favor.

One teacher describes her sixth- and seventh-grade class in the following way:

In Harper's classroom, she interrupts her math lessons constantly to ask her sixth- and seventh-graders not to kneel on the floor, to tell them that no, it is not time to go home yet, and to listen patiently to stories that do not involve math.

It can take about 15 minutes to wade through four or five math problems, because her 12- and-13-year-olds are struggling to master fractions, not the pre-algebra that occupies most seventh- and eighth-graders at the middle school.

Harper said she measures her students' progress not by their performance on standardized tests but by how they are doing on plans tailored to each youngster. For many of them, the realistic goal is not to work at grade level but to gain as much self-sufficiency as possible, she said.

No offense, but why are these kids in sixth and seventh grade in the first place? How did they get promoted to that point when they seem to be functioning as third-graders? It seems to me - and I'll admit that I don't know that much about the politics of special eduation - that at some point, everyone decided that special education kids should be "mainstreamed" into classes. Now the chickens have come home to roost, and it seems that special education teachers want to be able to say, "Oh, these kids deserve to be sixth-graders, but they can't be expected to do sixth-grade work." What's the definition of a sixth-grader, then?

I'm not saying I have a solution - I've never claimed to have one, in this area. But it's quite obvious that many folks in the current educational setting simply want the definition of what it means to function at a grade level to be stretched so far and wide that it's essentially meaningless. The current practice of standardized testing narrows the definition significantly, resulting in this battle that is most definitely just getting started.

Posted by kswygert at 09:33 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The love that dare not speak its name?

While I had a nice evening out (a business meal, but a nice restaurant nonetheless, and the mussels, sea scallops, and apple pie were mighty tasty), my Devoted Readers were bombarding my email inbox with this story. Devoted Readers Mike D and Reginleif get the credit for being the fastest with the news about the 2nd-grade student in Lafayette, LA, who was suspended for using the word "gay" in school.

No, not for using the term as an insult, or as a means to bully another student. Hapless little Marcus McLaurin was using the term correctly to describe his own family. Marcus has two moms, you see, and when another kid asked about his parents, Marcus simply replied that he had two moms because his mom was gay, and gay is when a girl likes another girl.

Too bad Marcus didn't realize the punishment that awaited him for telling the truth about his family in such an innocuous fashion:

A teacher who heard the remark scolded Marcus, telling him "gay" was a "bad word" and sending him to the principal's office. The following week, Marcus had to come to school early and repeatedly write: "I will never use the word 'gay' in school again."

A phone message left for Lafayette Parish schools superintendent James Easton was not immediately returned.

The ACLU is demanding the case be removed from Marcus' file and that the school apologize to the boy and his mother, Sharon Huff.

"I was concerned when the assistant principal called and told me my son had said a word so bad that he didn't want to repeat it over the phone," Huff said. "But that was nothing compared to the shock I felt when my little boy came home and told me that his teacher had told him his family is a dirty word."

What the heck was the school thinking? Marcus does have a lesbian mother. His mom clearly told him the simple version of their life, probably never imagining that Marcus's school would consider the word "gay" was in and of itself too bad to be repeated over the phone.

Is this homophobia on the school's part? If so, it's pretty extreme - I've never heard of too many homophobes who are this afraid of just the word. Or is the school administration like one of the library computer filters that makes sure a site with the word "breast" in the title never gets accessed, regardless of whether it's a porn site or a website with information about breast cancer treatment? Is the word "gay" just completely off-limits, just to make sure the school can punish any kid who uses it as an insult, too?

Preposterous.

Posted by kswygert at 09:16 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

More fretting about Head Start exams

The worries over the Head Start testing program just keep a-comin'. The previous high anxiety article related to this program featured a tyke named Nate; this time, our object of concern is Joe:

In a small room in east Portland, the world of standardized tests -- and of educational accountability -- has reached down and tapped Joe on the shoulder. He's 4 years old. And as he sits across the table from the woman with the pencil and the score sheet -- counting the blocks on a page, trying to name letters -- he unwittingly finds himself at the center of a national debate.

About accountability. And about measuring the learning of 4-year-olds.

Education leaders in the Bush administration believe that many Head Start programs -- part of the 38-year-old national program that tries to prepare preschool children from poor families for kindergarten -- don't do their jobs well enough. So, this fall, they are mandating standardized tests of the 450,000 4-year-olds in the nation's more than 2,500 Head Start programs...

So far, so good. A neutral enough introduction to the issue, which is indeed thorny. If Head Start is indeed meant to give kids a head start on academic issues, it's not unreasonable to develop some way to assess the quality of the academic instruction. Problem is, some Head Start supporters believe the tests are actually at odds with the heart of the program:

...many Head Start officials, including some at the three Head Start programs in Portland, say the tests are useless, at best, and could end up threatening the good work that Head Start programs do.

It's totally inappropriate to test 4-year-olds," said Susan Brady, executive director of the Mt. Hood Community College Head Start, where Joe attends classes. Four-year-olds don't reveal most of their knowledge or their learning abilities through such rigid formulaic tests, she said.

Samuel Meisels, a Chicago specialist in early childhood education, said the 20-minute standardized test -- formulated in a matter of months this year -- "is incredibly narrow ... a very, very limited sample of children's knowledge of vocabulary, letters and math."

I'm not surprised the test is narrow; is Meisel's suggesting that we make the test longer? I don't think so. I think the issue here is that the Head Start programs will be judged in part based on a narrow measurement of ability (that is questionable to begin with based on the ages of the test takers), and that's a valid concern.

However, if there's a different and better way to test these kids, I see no reason not to do so. I also was unaware that the Head Start programs would be judged entirely based on test results. In fact, I doubt that's the case. The test has been mandated to help improve Head Start program quality, not just to grade and punish different programs. One Head Start advocate is quoted as saying that this testing requirement (which parents can opt out of, by the way) is just a means to destroy the program altogether, which doesn't jibe with the following:

Federal Head Start officials say it's ridiculous to think that they want to end Head Start. "The idea that you would somehow dismantle, (or) signal that you want to dismantle the program, when you have proposed a $148 million increase in its budget seems contradictory," said Windy Hill, associate commissioner of the federal Head Start Bureau.

"In terms of this being some grand conspiracy ... there is not a conspiracy," Hill said. "There is a commitment to make sure that the $6.7 billion that the taxpayers provide" is being spent effectively.

Six point seven billion is a lot of money, and that money came from all of us who pay taxes. So who says we can't start finding some way to see if that money is being used to good purpose, instead of being mismanaged or thrown away outright? If these tests don't give us good data, let's try something else. But it's absurd to say that the desire to see if a system is functioning efficiently is the same as the desire to destroy that system.

Overall, though this article is much more balanced and neutral than the NYTimes article that I blogged a while back. Not a bad job.

Oh, and what about Joe?

Which brings things back to that small room, and Joe, and the woman with the pencil asking him questions. Joe (not his real name -- his parents asked that his name not be used) sits in a tiny chair across a small table from Head Start test proctor Tina Williams, his short legs swinging free, not quite reaching the floor. He's able to name many of the letters of the alphabet that Williams shows him. For another question, he counts 13 blocks on a page before his counting gets confused.

But then Williams asks him to point to a drawing of a nostril, and Joe hesitates, before pointing a tiny finger to the drawing of an ear on the same page. Williams makes a little mark on her score sheet. And Joe sighs...

....Joe's place at the center of the debate has ended -- at least until next spring. As he finishes the test, Williams tells him he did a great job and lets him choose an animal sticker as a reward. Joe ponders, chooses a small alligator sticker, smushes it proudly on his bright red T-shirt and happily walks out of the room.

Posted by kswygert at 04:16 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Releasing FCAT items to parents as "quality control"?

A St. Petersburg Times Editorial assumes that Florida's Governor Bush is "gloating" over the recent decision to keep test items out of the hands of parents:

An appeals court has now determined that Florida parents don't have a right to see where their students are going wrong on standardized tests, but Gov. Jeb Bush shouldn't be so eager to gloat. His win comes at the expense of students who are being held back without really knowing why.

Why assume Governor Bush is "gloating" about this? Withholding test items is nothing to gloat about; it's merely standard testing practices with companies and/or school districts that do not have the money to create new forms each year.

The governor portrayed his opposition to disclosing FCAT test materials as consistent with "the Department of Education's 20-year policy on test confidentiality," but that's a little disingenuous. Until four years ago, DOE never used a standardized test to grade and punish schools. Until last spring, it never used a state test of such complexity to decide whether high school seniors could graduate. Until this fall, it never used a state test to decide whether third-graders should be promoted or retained.

The switch to using a test for these methods does not necessarily compel the test developers to release test forms. High stakes do not require disclosure. Some companies do disclose test items, but only because they have the staffing and the funding to create new test forms each year that have been equated and checked for bias and validity issues. I've commented on the lack of understanding of the financial issues surrounding testing before.

And a test "of such complexity" for seniors? Please. Here are 10th-grade Reading sample items. The reading passages are appropriately difficult, but the questions are often very easy. For the first passage, simply knowing the meanings of the words "surly" and "maxim" gets a student two right answers out of eight multiple-choice items. The specifications for these passages indicate that "how-to" articles and advertisements are appropriate "forms of informational text" on the exam; this suggests that some reading passages might be very, very easy.

The technical report (p. 16) notes that the p-values for the 2000 Operational FCAT are distributed as might be expected for a test of basic skills. For example, on the 10th-grade reading test, there are a few hard items, but 75% of the items were answered correctly by at least 59% of the examinees.

And did I mention that Florida's students get six chances in high school to pass the 10th-grade FCAT?

The issue of using a test to promote third-graders is thornier. The little kids get fewer passes at the test, and one could legitimately argue that students that young are not disciplined enough to deal with a high-stakes standardized test, nor has anyone come up with a solution for what to do with the ones who flunk this test repeatedly.

Because Florida has so dramatically increased the stakes associated with one test, it owes students and teachers a better understanding of how they are performing. It also owes them better assurance that testing error didn't lead to grave consequences in their lives.

I agree. But this "better assurance" doesn't mean driving the costs of tests up astronomically by releasing items to parents. It means implementing quality control mechanisms to ensure that the test is error-free before it is administered, to ensure that the scoring and score reporting processes are bug-free, and to ensure that scores are being interpreted correctly (i.e., with a standard error of measurement band that reflects the reliability of the test).

Posted by kswygert at 02:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Exit Exam "plight" in Arizona

Now Arizona's youngsters will be facing the same "plight" as students in other states:

Thousands of Arizona high-schoolers risk not graduating in 2006, facing a plight similar to that of other students in states with high-stakes tests. Conservative state projections estimate that nearly five thousand Arizona seniors -- or about 10 percent -- will fail the AIMS test in 2006.

So that means that 10% of Arizona's students might not be smart/focused enough to earn a diploma. Call me a cynic, but that doesn't sound like an incredibly large number. The 2002 Census Report on Educational Attainment in the US gives the numbers as 84% of all citizens over age 25 having a high school diploma; the number rises to 88% when you count only those between the ages of 25 and 29. Arizona's graduation rate with the current estimate would be 90% of their senior class.

I know, I'm not counting dropouts here, and I'm sure there are those who believe that any student who makes it to senior year should receive a diploma. But certainly some kids make it that far without having advanced skills, and perhaps they really can't learn or demonstrate those skills in that last year. I'm not saying Arizona shouldn't be concerned about that 10%; the schools should find ways to help those students graduate if, in fact, they're not learning the material in the first place due to bad or inefficient teaching. But if they think the failure rate is too high, why assume it's the "plight" of the test?

"This is the political hot potato because nobody wants to be known as the person that costs kids their diplomas," said Keith Gayler of the Center for Education Policy, a nonprofit group that advocates for public education.

Actually, wouldn't that "person" always be either the teacher, or the student, regardless of whether exit exams are in place?

The Center for Education Policy reviewed all state exit exams and found Arizona's and New York's tests among the toughest, The Arizona Republic reported Sunday. "I heard it was hard," said Derrick Riggs, a Chandler High School sophomore. "It's also kind of scary because you have to pass the three parts to graduate. What if I keep failing one part and don't graduate?"

Why are these kids so scared? It's a test of high-school-level material, not boot camp. My guess is these kids are reading all the hysterical comments from teachers and testing opponents and they believe the state is out to deprive them all of their rightful diplomas. Don't kids have to take tests to pass classes in the first place?

And the statement that Arizona's exit exam might be one of the toughest exit exams around is like saying that Heidi Klum is one of the ugliest Victoria's Secret models. The Arizona exam could be the toughest exit exam and still be pretty easy.

Arizona launched AIMS in 2000, but has twice postponed the graduation requirement after debates about low scores and initial problems with content and scoring...Discontentment over poor performance is leading some states to consider alternative measures, such as waivers, exemptions and alternate test scores, so students can graduate.

I have a better idea - get rid of the tests. States that aren't going to stand behind the exams, and accept the fact that some students will flunk them, shouldn't use them. That way, there aren't all these "alternative measures" to keep track of, each of which comes with its own pitfall anyway. Want to use the SAT as an alternate measure? What about all those cries of bias on the SAT? You can be sure that some activist groups will say the SAT is just as problematic (except when, illogically, the SAT gets a pass so that other exams can be criticized).

Granted, removing the exit exam doesn't do anything to help solve the problem of high school graduates who cannot read, write, or do basic math, but at least the school administrators won't have the anxiety of dealing with (horrors!) a student who can't pass a basic skills exam.

"[Arizona students] have to pass a reasonable test to graduate," said Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction. "Doing a class project or something along those lines will not be allowed."

Well, that's reassuring. Makes you wonder who floated the class project idea in the first place.

Civil rights lawsuits have been filed in Massachusetts, Michigan and other states on behalf of poor, minority or special-needs students, whose failure rates on the tests can be two to three times higher than those of other students.

Let's hope those lawsuits are against the school for reasons of quality, rather than for the existence of the exams themselves. After all, it's not the exams that cheated those kids out of a decent education.

Parents also question why a student who did well on the SAT or ACT should be denied a diploma for not passing the state's standardized test. "As a parent, you can't help but worry when you hear of kids that do well on their SATs, but fail their exit exam," said John DeCamp, whose son attends Dobson High School in Mesa. "That's a red flag. Maybe the exit exams are too difficult.

Or maybe those anecdotes are only one or two exceptions in a sea of adherences to the rule. I'd like to see the correlation between the exit exam scores and SAT/ACT scores. Granted, the tests measure different things, so you wouldn't expect to see even a high correlation, necessarily. But you'd hope to not see a negative correlation, and if there are indeed high percentages of students who do well on college entrance exams but poorly on the exit exams, that would be cause for worry. The statements by these parents are not, in my mind, strong enough to be cause for worry.

In other words, let's examine the data before we decide whether this exam is really too hard, okay?

Posted by kswygert at 02:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2003

Order in the classroom

Bill O'Reilly's revved up about recent NAEP scores, and he thinks that poor education is related to poor discipline in classrooms:

The reason so many American students can't read very well is twofold: first, many parents do not encourage reading, and allow their kids unfettered access to TV, computers and crude music. And second, discipline in many public schools is woeful. Students simply are not held accountable for behavior and academic performance.

Consider the following as a microcosm of what's going on. In the small town of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., a 16-year-old high school junior named Alexander Smith stood up in the cafeteria of his public school and called the principal, Betty Kirby, a "skank" and a "tramp."

Smith was suspended for 10 days. Enter the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which sued on Smith's behalf. The ACLU said his speech was a "parody," and therefore protected. A federal judge agreed and struck down Michigan's verbal assault law. While the judge did rule that the school had a right to discipline Smith, it could not do so simply on his abusive statements alone.

This kind of nonsense is happening all over the USA. The ACLU, which I believe is the most dangerous organization in America, is on the prowl...

Think about it. How can teachers possibly keep order in large schools when students know there are few consequences to outrageous behavior? Anything said can be described as "satire" or a "parody." In Houston, a survey of public school teachers finds 70 percent of them have been the targets of profane language by students. That's an awful lot of parody.

Interestingly, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a story which reports the same lack of respect, and the resulting effect on educational quality:

Roxann Breidegam had been teaching at Cahokia High School for three days when a student in her class got angry at not being called upon. He stood up, looked Breidegam straight in the eyes, called her a derogatory name and demanded, "You going to answer my question?"...

Whether it's talking back to a teacher, failing to say please, chomping on chips during class or remaining seated for the national anthem - students today are ruder, sassier and harder to handle, teachers and school officials say.

The American public seems to agree. A study last year by Public Agenda found that 79 percent of Americans think that the lack of respect and courtesy should be regarded as a serious national problem. Six out of every 10 believe it is getting worse.

Some administrators are taking a proactive approach, by asking teachers to "give step-by-step lessons" in basic manners related to greetings, conversation, and apologies. Some teachers worry that these lessons are "condescending," as though kids who learn manners at home are going to take offense when those lessons are repeated in the classroom. If the above occurrences are anything to go by, the possibility of offending students with perfect manners is the last thing teachers should be worried about.

Other schools have responded more subtly by weaving character education into day-to-day lessons. Many schools feature posters with positive messages like "respect one another." In Edwardsville and other districts, some schools emphasize a particular quality every month, such as "kindness" or "responsibility," that are stressed in school assemblies.

Educators say those measures help, but it's still tough to make up for what used to be taught at home. According to many school administrators, the difference in students' classroom behavior can often be attributed to parents.

"The dramatic shift is parents' expectations for their kids," said Ed Harris, principal at Cahokia High. "It used to be that the parent and the school were in cahoots to make sure the student was doing the right thing. Now, the parent often sides with the kid.

"I've had parents fuss about a student having an hour-and-a-half detention," he said. "It's not popular for there to be real consequences anymore."

That's appalling. I feel sorry for any teacher who doesn't feel free to discipline or punish a kid who uses ugly language in class, especially language that is directed towards another human being. How can a teacher be expected to teach under those circumstances?

I remember in my high school, certain "tough" teachers were always assigned to certain classes and certain bus routes (yep, our teachers often drove the buses). It was assumed that certain kids would be harder to handle than others, but it was also assumed that someone should teach those kids how to behave, and if that meant the most imposing male teacher with the deepest voice and the strictest discipline got the worst kids every year, so be it. Classroom discipline and respect for the teacher were not optional.

Posted by kswygert at 02:52 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The ruckus over the n-word

Recently, a University of Virginia employee wanted to complain about the insensitivity of the name "Redskins" for the Washington pro football team. This employee thought this term was as degrading to Native Americans as a certain n-word is to African Americans. So this hapless, politically-correct employee used both terms in a statement while denouncing such language.

Such language is so taboo, however, that the employee is in trouble for using the n-word, even though the employee was only using it as yardstick indicating how bad such terms can be. In other words, this employee was using the word not as a racial slur, but as a way of indicating the worst possible racial slur. Nevertheless, this person's use of it has been deemed offensive (even though the reporting of it in the newspapers hasn't been).

David Bernstein believes this entire mess is no different from the "Jehovah" scence in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

OFFICIAL: You have been found guilty by the elders of the town of uttering the name of our Lord, and so, as a blasphemer,...
CROWD: Ooooh!
OFFICIAL: ...you are to be stoned to death.
CROWD: Ahh!
MATTHIAS: Look. I-- I'd had a lovely supper, and all I said to my wife was, 'That piece of halibut was good enough for Jehovah.'
CROWD: Oooooh!
OFFICIAL: Blasphemy! He's said it again!
CROWD: Yes! Yes, he did! He did!...
OFFICIAL: Did you hear him?!
CROWD: Yes! Yes, we did! We did!...
WOMAN #1: Really!

And the Instaman says:

MONTY PYTHON BECOMES REAL LIFE at the University of Virginia. You know, this kind of thing is doing an amazing amount of damage to the reputation of higher education out in the greater world, and most academics don't appreciate the extent of the harm.

I agree. The term is indeed offensive, but it can be use inoffensively in certain contexts, one of which is certainly "The n-word is a truly degrading word." Why do universities, of all places, want to demonstrate such a truly chilling suppression of speech, not to mention a total misunderstanding of context?

(In case you're wondering, my context is that I was reared by several Southern matriarchs whose tough disciplinary tactics prevent me from even thinking the n-word, much less typing it. Plus, I don't want anyone who would type that word into search engine finding this site.)

Posted by kswygert at 01:28 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The goods on Ohio's new high school exit exam

The Advocate of Central Ohio has the "New Test, New Worries" information on the new exit exam awaiting the class of 2007:

High school freshmen prepare. The Class of 2007 will be the first that must pass the high-stakes Ohio Graduation Test to graduate. Already, Ohio students must pass the ninth-grade proficiency test to earn a diploma.

So, Ohio currently only requires mastery of 9th-grade schools for receipt of a diploma that signifies mastery of 12th-grade work. I can see why they're implementing a new exam.

However, the OGT is no ordinary test. In addition to more than 30 multiple-choice questions on the reading and math tests, students will have to write answers as short as a few sentences or as long as a few paragraphs on up to seven questions. On the math test, not only do students need to calculate the right answer, they have to support their answer by showing their work or writing an explanation. On the reading test, the selections are long.

And....is there any reason Ohio should not expect its 12th-graders to be able to do this work? "More than 30 multiple-choice questions" is not a phrase that should strike fear into young hearts, and neither should "as long as a few paragraphs" or "have to support their answer by showing their work or writing an explanation."

Several administrators and teachers, including Newark Superintendent Keith Richards, have serious doubts about the test. Richards doesn't oppose standardized testing. However, the OGT should test to see that students meet the minimum academic standards, not the maximum, he said. It's a difficult test that some students know they won't be able to pass. Richards worries those teens will drop out of school.

Since when does a test such as the one described above meet the maximum standards for high school performance? If a student can't pass this exam, whose fault is that? Partially the school's, partially the student's. If the state has decided that students should know this material to be awarded a diploma, then they should put their money where their mouth is. The school should be prepared to teach this material to everyone, but ready to deal with the fact that some kids won't be smart/focused/interested enough to understand the material. And those kids shouldn't receive diplomas.

"It doesn't do anything for graduation rate," Richards said. "It doesn't do anything for society if we tell people they aren't capable."

Um, your job isn't to tell them they're capable. Your job is to make them capable, and you're supposed to let them know whether they are capable or not.

Why are schools tying themselves up in these knots? If a school believes its job is to tell every student that they're capable, regardless of reality, then that school shouldn't give an exit exam. But if a school is going to give an exam, it should not fret endlessly about the fact that at least one student won't pass it.

High schoolers will have five chances to pass the test, which includes sections on math, reading, social studies, science and writing, before they finish their senior year.

Five chances? See? It's not that hard a task.

And there are loopholes, yes indeedy. The article doesn't make it clear if the following requirements must ALL be met to recieve the diploma; I certainly hope that's the case:

Passed four of the five tests and have missed passing the fifth test by 10 points or less.

A 97 percent attendance rate for all four years of high school and have not been expelled at any point.

A grade point average of 2.5 out of 4.0 in the subject area missed.

Participated in any intervention programs offered by the school and have a 97 percent attendance rate at those programs.

Obtained letters of recommendation from each teacher in the subject area not passed.

Let's see, the GPA loophole will help ensure that grade inflation will be alive and well in Ohio. The attendance and expulsion loophole could be a bone of contention if attendance and/or expulsion rates differ by ethnicity. And the letter of recommendation loophole allows teachers who oppose the test to help those who flunk a part of it get that sheepskin.

Gee, are there any teachers like that?

Larry Friend, a science and math teacher at Eastland-Fairfield Career Center, took the OGT last week during a meeting of the Ohio Department of Education. Friend called the test "scary" and "discouraging."

"From just a math standpoint, I don't see (students) until they're juniors. They are woefully unprepared for math as juniors," said Friend, who teaches at a joint vocational school. Most of the math section are story problems instead of strictly math problems to solve, he said.

"In many cases, if their reading skills aren't good, they're toast," Friend said.

The reading load on math tests is a legitimate point. However, it's my impression that all the new, trendy, progressive maths are the ones that include the heavy reading load to begin with, in their efforts to avoid the "dull, rote" traditional mathematics education. And if his juniors are ill-prepared for math, again, whose fault is that? Has the school failed them? If so, that doesn't justify giving these kids diplomas. Why complain about the test?

The test does not discourage youth. Poor mathematics instruction does.

Some schools are already justifiably worried:

At the Licking County Joint Vocational School, about 50 percent of incoming juniors haven't passed the ninth-grade proficiency test, Superintendent Ron Cassidy said. However, about 97 percent of students go on to pass the test and graduate.

All educators are worried about the difficult OGT and its implications, he said.

"How can we have our students success with the Ohio Graduation Test?" Cassidy asked. "We want out students to leave here with a diploma."

What does that last question mean? "Our students success?" I assume he means "succeed." Regardless, Mr. Cassidy, if you want students to leave with a diploma, then teach them the material. Worrying about the test is not a useful way to utilize your energy.

Posted by kswygert at 12:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Comparing schools in Nebraska

Nebraska's state report card uses "Adequate Yearly Progress", or AYP, to judge how well schools are doing. However, only in Nebraska are schools allowed to create their own assessments for this type of monitoring; only the writing portion of the tests are the same across schools. Does this means it's impossible to actually compare Nebraskan schools to one another?

When Nebraska's State Report Card is released on Monday, most of the attention will likely focus on which schools made "adequate yearly progress" and which did not....Superintendent Steve Joel has been warning for weeks that the news for the Grand Island school district will not be all good when AYP results are released on Monday...

When it comes to measuring adequate yearly progress, the state of Nebraska is unique among the 50 states. The other 49 states use a common -- that is, the same -- test for all students being assessed in the various subject areas.

But in Nebraska, the writing assessment is the only one that is common to all students in the state. In Nebraska, each school district in the state is allowed to develop its own assessment of how well its students are performing in the different subject areas.

[Sssistant superintendent for curriculum Steve] Burkholder said some educators might argue that that means that it is impossible to compare Nebraska schools when it comes to assessment results.

However, he noted that most people will inevitably compare results...He also said that Nebraska Department of Education officials believe that the results between schools are at least roughly comparable because each school district is supposed to use the same set of criteria when developing their assessments.

If the purpose is to compare schools, though, why allow each school to develop its own assessment? Schools that have not developed assessments, in fact, use the ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills), and this may be part of why some are not yet making AYP; the ITBS may be more difficult than Nebraska's state standards require.

I also think it's naive to assume that anyone can create a good test as long as the standards are clearly defined. Having good standards is necessary but not sufficient to have a test which measure those (and only those) standards in a reliable and valid method.

Posted by kswygert at 12:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More cheating detected in Illinois

I've posted before about the evidence of standardized test cheating in Illinois. Now the cheating probe is widening to include other schools:

A state investigation into cheating on standardized tests at Younge Middle School is expanding to include other District 189 schools. The Illinois State Board of Education probe was triggered after it learned Younge's principal had excluded about 100 special education students from taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test -- a breach of federal law.

Although the state probe is not yet finished -- data from three schools have not yet been submitted -- board investigators have discovered that special education students at other District 189 schools also were kept from taking the ISAT, state Superintendent Robert Schiller said.

I've always thought that any aspect of NCLB that was going to raise the most outcry - and prompt the most reform in both NCLB and other laws - would be the special education issues. Some schools are complaining that including special education students is meaningless and gives the school a bad reputation; other schools apparently have decided to ignore the special education testing requirements.

Posted by kswygert at 12:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Back in the saddle

I'm back, full of turkey and stuffing and gravy and hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and I'm completely reinvigorated. I'm ready to work off some of this food. I'm ready to get cracking on the blog, my job, my Christmas shopping, my Christmas cards, house cleaning, you name it. God help anyone who gets in my way at Target this weekend.

I hope your holiday time was good for you and those you love, too.

Posted by kswygert at 12:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack
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