May 28, 2004

If an English student plagiarizes a paper and no one realizes it, does it still make a sound?

We all knew this was coming...

A student who admits down-loading material from the internet for his degree plans to sue his university for negligence. Michael Gunn claims his university should have warned him his actions were against the regulations.

The Times Higher Education Supplement reports that he was told on the eve of his final exams that he would get no marks for his course work. The University of Kent at Canterbury says students are warned about plagiarism.

Michael Gunn, a 21-year-old English student, told the Times Higher: "I hold my hands up. I did plagiarise. I never dreamt it was a problem.

"I can see there is evidence I have gone against the rules, but they have taken all my money for three years and pulled me up the day before I finished.

"If they had pulled me up with my first essay at the beginning and warned me of the problems and consequences, it would be fair enough.

"But all my essays were handed back with good marks and no one spotted it."

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this fiasco, because three idiotic concepts are at work here. First is the issue of Gunn not realizing plagiarism was "a problem;" that statement alone should qualify him as too dense for a university degree. Second is the charge made by Gunn that it somehow shouldn't count against him that the university didn't figure out what he was doing right off the bat. Universities are becoming ever-more vigilant against internet plagiarism, but just because the university just now figured out what Gunn was doing doesn't mean his earlier bogus work gets to be "grandfathered" in somehow.

Gunn's departmental handbook states that plagiarism is unacceptable. It doesn't matter whether he realized that or how and when the university caught it. He should still be, as he is, out on his ear.

The third batty idea here is that Gunn thinks he'll be able to find a solicitor to take his case. At least, I hope that's a batty, as opposed to doable, plan.

Best comments on the case:
My favorite story about this. A guy in my high school english class was writing about Ray Bradbury. Well, he used the cliff notes extensively and, of course, didn't credit a damned thing. Well. It never dawned on him that our teacher was so excited about his choice of people to write about because she was an authority on Ray Bradbury. As a matter of fact, in college, she wrote the cliff notes about his stories. Needless to say, that dumbass failed.
WTF? I've just graduated from a British university and on the top of EVERY assignment I was given was a little note saying "Plagiarism is a serious offence, show your sources in the footnotes". This guy is either a liar or incredibly stupid. I'm betting on the latter.
I'm a friend with a professor, so I hear a lot of war stories. On the front page of every syllabus are the rules on academic honesty. Last semester was truly an eye-opening event. He actually reads and checks every paper and presentation. If you plagiarize, the work gets an 'F', and the student has to submit a new paper on academic dishonesty (and receive no credit for it). If the student refuses the paper, the student gets an 'F' for the course. I could not believe how many students copied other people's work, cut whole pages from the internet without citation and claimed it was their own, and then would actually complain to the teacher that what *he* was doing would hurt their GPA and that was unfair. One woman even gave the response, I would do ANYTHING to get an A in this course.

He commented, Well, have you thought of doing the work?

Posted by kswygert at 02:53 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Lies, Damn Lies, and the NYT

OOooo, the blogosphere is having a field day over a recent NYT article that depicts blogs as seldom-read, masturbatory diatribes written by pathetic, addicted people who live in bathrobes all day.

What's most amusing to me is that the NYT article itself demonstrates why it has a lot to fear from blogs, and why people are more and more often turning to blogs for hard news:

The number of bloggers has grown quickly, thanks to sites like, which makes it easy to set up a blog. Technorati, a blog-tracking service, has counted some 2.5 million blogs.

Of course, most of those millions are abandoned or, at best, maintained infrequently. For many bloggers, the novelty soon wears off and their persistence fades.

Sometimes, too, the realization that no one is reading sets in. A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few. By Jupiter Research's estimate, only 4 percent of online users read blogs

Indeed, if a blog is likened to a conversation between a writer and readers, bloggers like Mr. Wiggins are having conversations largely with themselves..

Oh, really? Given that the NYT provided no context for the "4%" figure, I'd say they aren't having much of a conversation with their readers, who are apparently supposed to think, "Hmph, four percent. That's a tiny number" and move on. But Bill Quick did the research and crunched the numbers to uncover the real picture:

Here's a few more numbers the fishwrapped fumblers at the Old Gray Hag can contemplate:

World Internet Usage Statistics and Population Stats - Top 10

Total number of internet users: 785,710,022. Four percent of that number: 31,428,400.

Total number of NYT readers: Hard to estimate. Print circulation varies from about 1.16 million daily to 1.8 million on Sunday, website page count 1-2 million per day, total readership somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-5 million.

Blogs as a whole are more widely read than the New York Times by a factor of seven plus.

Those who live by the statistics, die by the statistics. The NYT might have hoped that bloggers would feel embarassed by this negative article; instead, it's more grist for the why-blogs-are-better-than-newspaper mill. As A Small Victory put it:

I do have a question for the people over at the paper of record: If blogs are so damn boring and unimportant, why do you keep printing stories about them?

Me, I'm just eagerly anticipating the day when the NYT publishes an article (probably by Michael Winerip) in which the idea that people might actually get information about testing and education reform from blogs is met with derision and disbelief.

Posted by kswygert at 12:31 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 27, 2004

Well, I guess you could argue her burning hair was disrupting the class...

Can we get a little zero tolerance here, please?

A 13-year-old Denver girl said she was threatened with a knife at her middle school and her hair was set on fire, yet she was the one who was told to stay home for the remainder of the school year while her alleged attacker wasn't suspended or even investigated.

Courtney Glowczewski has a small right arm and leg because of cerebral palsy, a disability that her teachers say has not kept her from working hard in school and being a good student...But her physical appearance has made her a target of taunting and of physical attack, which she said has never been addressed by the administration at Martin Luther King Middle School. Last week, she said the bullying got worse when she said she was threatened and assaulted by a seventh grade boy.

"He pulled out a knife, a silver knife, a pocket knife, and then he said 'What!?' So I was scared and didn't know what to do," said Glowczewski.

As she walked to her seat she smelled smoke and one of her classmates was patting her hard on the back.

"I looked and there was a black spot on the back of my shirt. And then I saw some black hair falling from my hair," said Glowczewski. Her hair was on fire and the other student said that she was trying to help put it out.

Her mother, Sherrie, was called to school when her daughter reported the incident to the assistant principal. Sherrie Glowczewski was outraged when she was told by the administration at Martin Luther King that her daughter didn't need to come back and not to worry about the tests...

7NEWS discovered that while Glowczewski was sent home, her alleged attacker is still in school, even though administrators confirmed he had a knife.

The interim principal is "admitting mistakes." Imagine my surprise.

I'm sensing a pattern here. Have a weapon anywhere on your body, in your locker, or in your car, and you're out of school for good. But actually use the weapon, and the school will just freak out and send the victim home (the better to distance themselves from lawsuits). My, what a great message this sends to miscreants and concerned parents everywhere.

I can already predict the advice half of my readers will give to Ms. Glowczewski: "Homeschool!" And they'd be right.

(Thanks to Devoted Reader and mathematical genius Mike McKeown for the link.)

Update: More than one blogger was outraged by this story; Jim Peacock did something about it.

I sent an email to Mark Stevens, Director of Public Information for Denver Public Schools, and received a response yesterday. Reviewing the post and comments at WizBang shows that it is a form response. Still, it is more than I expected and it appears that the school is now working in good faith to correct the situation.

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

Teenage filmmaker gets serious

From an article about teenage filmmakers comes this teaser:

Film is a powerful art form, as long as it isn’t too serious. “They aren’t received as well by the audiences as the comedies,” said Amy DeWeese, a Eureka High School senior and president of the school’s media club. The club is coordinating the fourth annual North Coast Student Film Festival Friday, from 7-9 p.m., in the Eureka High auditorium, 1915 J St. The event is open to the public, all ages. The cost is $3.

Mark Myslin made a documentary last year, but he felt it was too serious for the festival, he said.

His film was about the California Standardized Testing And Reporting test. He interviewed administrators, teachers and students. The gist was that governmental intentions for the test and what has actually happened in the schools are often different. He said the content was worthy, because, after all, he and his fellow high-schoolers take those tests.

But, the audience didn’t get out of it what he had hoped.

Eh? What does that mean? I want more information. Certainly Myslin might have had a point. Did the audience not care? Not get it? Or were they just bored to tears by the mere idea of a documentary about standardized testing?

I, on the other hand, want to see his documentary.

Posted by kswygert at 04:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

When happy meals aren't so happy

Restaraunts are changing their children's meals to reflect a growing concern about childhood obesity:

The traditional kids' menu at casual restaurants - replete for years with burgers, french fries and fried chicken strips - is expanding to include steamed broccoli, black beans and rice, and grilled chicken.

The trend is a clear response to the growing concern about childhood obesity. An estimated 20% to 30% of kids are either overweight or at risk of becoming so.

A few of the biggest casual dining chains already are dishing out the healthier foods. Others plan to roll them out by summer.

However, I'm betting an attitude adjustment will be the biggest change needed to combat obesity amongst young people, as evidenced by the wailing and gnashing of teeth at a Boston high school that has gone crunchy:

When high school student Shirley Gomez heard the news yesterday, she froze, widening her eyes and gaping in disbelief.

If the Boston School Committee adopts the new nutrition policy proposed yesterday, Gomez' midmorning chocolate-chip cookies could be replaced by granola bars. Her gummy bears dumped for raisins. And her syrupy-sweet red fruit juice axed for vitamin-fortified soy milk.

''No way. They can't do that," said Gomez, as she and her friends made their way to the Burger King next door to Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester. ''If I wanted that kind of food, I could take it from my refrigerator at home. Why do I need to buy it at school?"

How many things are wrong with Gomez's statement? Let's see. First is the assumption that students have some sort of right to sugary treats on school grounds. Next is the fact that she's complaining about this when there's a BK Lounge next door. Finally, the same argument "I could take this from my refrigerator at home" can be used to justify providing healthy snacks as a rescue tactic for kids whose parents' shopping habits are unhealthy.

The approximately 130 vending machines in Boston public schools are stocked with a variety of high-fat fare: potato chips, brownies, cupcakes, and ice cream. Beverages include high-sugar sport drinks, iced tea, and juice.

If a new policy is approved, all those items will be banned in September.

Super-sized snacks and sweets will be replaced by items low in calories, sugar, and fat. Beverages will include water with no additives, low fat or skim milk, and vegetable and fruit drinks with a minimum of 50 percent juice...

So far, some of the system's top consumers have not quite embraced the idea.

''I guess I won't be eating lunch, then," said freshman Tanisha Gray, who usually plunks about $1.50 in change for Doritos and fruit juice during lunch. ''You'd get more money from the vending machines with real snacks."

Sherrel Stokes, 15, and Akeem Brown, 14, said they worry what the move could do for their image. ''Nobody eats bananas or apples for lunch -- nobody," said Stokes, folding her hands across her chest.

''Who's going to walk around school eating an apple?" scoffed Brown.

Guess what, Brown? You are, now, unless you buy your own junk food in the grocery store. You say your parents won't buy it for you? Why, then, is the school obligated to provide it? As for that "image" issue, well, I'd suggest finding a way to be cool that doesn't involve eating tons of overpriced and fattening food during the school day. Any kid who derives their popularity and self-image from Doritos has got a bigger problem than obesity facing them later on.

Posted by kswygert at 04:34 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

News from the frontlines of "Poverty Rock"

This sounds like it would be a delicious and satisfying read for any overworked teacher:

One parent accused Joby McGowan of causing a tumor in her second-grader's brain by using a timer in class. Another told the newly arrived West Mercer (Island) Elementary school teacher that, at 6 feet 6 inches, he was "too tall" to teach little kids.

More ordinary e-mailed outrage rained, too, on the lofty head of the transplanted Iowan during his first year among the motivated moms and dads of "Poverty Rock." That's the nickname for "this sceptered isle, this other Eden" east of Seattle, supposedly long on folding green and high on aspirations for its heirs.

"Mr. McGowan" was unpatriotic because he forgot to say the Pledge of Allegiance the first week of school. He scheduled snacks too early or too late. He gave too little homework or the wrong kind. And, in the gold standard of all complaints by edu-consumers, he failed to challenge their children.

These are the sorts of parent snipes most teachers swap only in the sanctity of the faculty lounge. But McGowan put his in a book, "Teaching on Poverty Rock," his slim, sarcastic and self-critical saga of a first year in the district published in March by America House's PublishAmerica arm. This month the book surfaced on for $14.95 a pop.

"Hilarious!" one reader wrote in an online review. "One of the best real-life teacher tales ... of the hell survived from a handful of unrealistic parents."

"Often bitter and humorless," another disagreed, accusing the "rural Iowan" of being unprepared to handle an "affluent, highly educated and demanding population of parents" in a spot that may well boast more CEOs per capita than any community in the country.

Still, after a couple of articles by the Mercer Island Reporter's Mary L. McGrady, supportive parents were alerted that McGowan's job may well be in jeopardy, and many of them turned up at the school wearing black in protest of his ouster.

This after Mercer Island School Superintendent Cyndy Simms went to McGowan's classroom earlier this month to hand-deliver him a "letter of non-renewal."

But all's well that ends well; McGowan has been non-non-renewed and is now teaching second grade. Hopefully, he won't find himself in the position of having to take out a restraining order against a parent this year, like he did last year. If that happens, I hope we all hear about that, too.

Posted by kswygert at 11:47 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Failing to measure if students are failing math

Joanne Jacobs comments on the California algebra flap that I've been following, and also notes that:

By the way, it's impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of 19 math curricula funded by the National Science Foundation, says a report by the National Academies' Mathematical Sciences Education Board. Evaluations of the math programs "fall short of the scientific standards necessary to gauge overall effectiveness." So, NSF is funding math "reforms" without demanding valid studies of what works. By the time useful research is done, a lot of students will be finding algebra unpassable.

But in California, that doesn't matter just yet.

More on the purpose of the NA's MSEB review can be found here, and here's the free "prepublication"with the details. In essence, they've studied the studies of K-12 math programs, and quite a few were discarded due to insufficient rigor. Only about 20% of the total studies reported met their "minimum criteria for consideration of effectiveness," which led them to conclude that, well, nothing could really be concluded, not with any reasonable level of certainty. The problem seems to be that those who aim to research math programs don't seem to understand research all that well.

I found this one example of such particularly galling:

In its review, the committee became concerned about the lack of independence of some of the evaluators conducting the studies; in too many cases, individuals who developed a particular curriculum were also members of the evaluation team thus raising questions about the credibility of the evaluation results...

Emphasis mine. This report concludes with a great set of guidelines for those wishing to assess math programs, but I wonder how many educators will follow them?

Posted by kswygert at 10:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 26, 2004

Pipe down, Grandma

At my nephew's high school graduation a couple of years ago, the speaker politely asked everyone to hold their applause, as much as possible, until the end, so every kid could hear their name read. Instead, there was so much ruckus that the person reading the names had to stop the ceremony a couple of times. Some people in the stands had huge noisemakers and horns and all this really obnoxious stuff, and their behavior pretty much just got tolerated, even as others in the audience got really annoyed.

I'm thinking, though, that there's got to be a happy medium between that and this:

Imagine cops throwing you out of your own child's graduation just for expressing your joy.

It happened Monday night to several families at a local ceremony, and it was all caught on tape.

KCTV5's Liana Joyce reported live on "KCTV5 News at 6 p.m." that there was a dress code and a behavior code that was strictly followed at the Grandview High School graduation.

One family who got kicked out for cheering their son's accomplishments said it was being taken too far.

It all began when 18-year-old Brandon Sample's family clapped and whistled as the Grandview grad walked across the stage. It may have seemed harmless, but it was enough to get them tossed out of the ceremony...

That was when the officer approached, asking the teen's mother, father, aunts, and even his 86-year-old grandmother to leave.

Well, it made for a memorable graduation night, anyway.

Update: This, on the other hand, deserves a bit of applause. But wouldn't it have been better if all the graduates could have done it in sync?

Posted by kswygert at 09:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Much ado in Maryland

Maryland is nearing the finishing line in setting a high school exit exam requirement in stone, and the local teachers' union has tossed its hat into the ring in opposition:

The Maryland Teachers' Union is joining other education groups in a last-ditch effort to oppose the state's plan to make passing standardized tests a requirement for graduation.

The union president said there's much more to learning that can't be assessed by a single test, 11 News reported.

Oh, yes, so much more. Because, as we all know, exit exams tend to assess nuclear physics and organic chemistry, rather than (usually 10th-grade-level) basic reading and math skills.

Looking further, though, I'm wondering why they're bothering with this last-ditch effort. The Maryland BOE voted last year to implement the exit exams:

Maryland's Board of Education has approved a plan to require students to pass the state's High School Assessments in order to receive a diploma. The requirement begins with the class of 2009, making Maryland the 19th state to adopt an exit exam...

The new plan calls for high school students to pass tests in algebra, English, government and biology to receive a full diploma. State School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick has proposed providing alternative diplomas to students who pass less than four of the exams or who have disabilities. Some board members said they have concerns about such a tiered system, however; a revised version of the plan will come before them in May.

Some board members who voted in favor of the graduation exam said they were doing so reluctantly. "We've never generated the reality of what will happen when we do this," said JoAnn Bell, the board's vice president. "We are going to lose kids."

Work with me here, Ms. Bell. You're going to "lose" kids who spend four years in high school without mastering basic skills in algebra, English, government and biology. These are kids currently in seventh grade, so it's not like they're not forewarned. All the school can do is teach the classes well, and give the tests. Some kid will fail them. This doesn't mean the tests will have blocked them; it will mean they never learned the material, and thus won't have some necessary skills for success later on.

The Washington Post has more on the "last-ditch" efforts:

Critics worry that schools might place too much importance on the tests and that students who think they cannot pass them might drop out. For the past two years, high school students have been required to take the Maryland High School Assessments, but results have had no effect on their graduation status.

Do these same critics also constantly fret that the existence of grades for high school classes are too "important" and might make kids drop out? We're talking about the same thing here. High school students already have to write papers and cram for tests. Sure, there's grade inflation to prop up the lazy, but to hear these critics complain, an exit exam is the only high-stakes academic situation students will encounter in their four year.

Preliminary results of a study on exit exams in six states, to be released next month, show that "there's nothing in those tests that it would be unreasonable for a high school graduate to know," said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a nonprofit group that helps states improve and coordinate testing efforts. Cohen outlined Achieve's study findings at yesterday's Maryland school board meeting.

Under the state's plan, students can fail one or more tests as long as they earn a passing score when the results are added together. They can take the tests several times.

The maximum score on each exam is 800, and students must receive a combined score of 1613 on all four to get a diploma. However, there is a catch: Students will not receive a diploma if they score lower than a minimum target -- yet to be set by the board -- on any of the tests.

So, they can retake many times. They can pass separate exams on separate takes. And they have to score, on average, a little over 400, or 50%, on each exam. To the union member who said, "there's much more to learning that can't be assessed by a single test" - you're right. With standards this low, this test might not be assessing much of anything.

And yet, the hysteria continues:

Elliott Wolf, a Montgomery Blair High School senior, told board members yesterday that the exams could have a devastating effect at his school, where about 10 percent of the students last year spoke limited English. None of them passed the English portion of the 2003 state assessments, according to state records. "These tests are . . . badly implemented, and the students are suffering as a result," he said.

Hm. So we have to take the word of a high school senior that the tests are badly implemented. Why? Because they're given in English? It's not surprising that limited-English proficiency students had trouble with them; it's absurd to say that English tests are "badly implemented" for people who don't know English.

It'll be up to the state, or individual districts, to decide how to deal with recent immigrants who haven't had time to learn English. But everyone who is currently in Maryland's seventh-grade classes has been warned - learn English within the next five years. I don't think that's a "devastating" requirement.

Posted by kswygert at 03:06 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 25, 2004

Hysteria rampant at the NYT

The New York Times overstates the problem: "Confusion Is Rampant With Change in the SAT's":

A revised College Board exam, incorporating a writing test and more advanced math, will not make its debut until next spring, but confusion about how to deal with the changes is already rampant. Worry is especially intense among this year's 10th graders, the first class that will confront the new test.

Most colleges seem to be leaning toward allowing that transition group, the graduating class of 2006, to submit scores either from the old SAT or the new SAT, and, if an applicant submits both, to consider the highest one. That flexibility creates a unique problem. Should students prepare to take the old SAT next winter, midway through junior year, or should they concentrate on the new format and wait until the spring, or even the fall of senior year?

It's not rocket science, people. Students should first decide where they want to go, then follow that university's guidelines. The test is also a one-day affair - couldn't students take both, just to be sure? Yes, it would be a pain, but it's easy to find out if a school takes the highest of two SAT scores or the average. Schools may also be downweighting the new SAT regardless, until they have some idea of its predictive validity for their populations. If a student does his or her research, they won't be in the dark about what their school of choice requires.

There's no more confusion "rampant" here than there is when any system changes over.

Posted by kswygert at 10:43 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

From a privilege to a requirement

High schools in central Texas are requiring students to apply to college in order to receive their diplomas - whether the student plans to attend college or not:

The San Marcos High approach reflects a particularly aggressive attitude in central Texas toward pushing more students into higher education and is part of a national effort to encourage more college participation. Educators in central Texas are not only requiring students to apply to college but also opening up facilities shared by two-year and four-year schools. That way, when students such as Tenorio finish community college, they find a path to a bachelor's degree...

The Austin Area Research Organization produced a study last year that local educators have been using to win political support for their plans. Officials in the Texas capital -- one of the nation's hubs for high-tech companies -- boast about their well-educated workers, 65 percent of whom have taken some college courses, compared with 51 percent statewide.

But the research study said a heavy influx of low-income Hispanic families with few members going to college would cut that figure to 55 percent by 2040...

So a group of educators, including Texas State President Denise M. Trauth and Austin Community College's interim president, Stephen B. Kinslow, began to look for solutions...Sylvester Perez, superintendent of the San Marcos school district, said that when program officials suggested requiring all of his seniors to apply to a college, "we thought it was great. It would be helping the kids through the process."

One principal, whose school is 63% Hispanic, says the program, which involves a lot of outside help from community colleges, is succeeding. One student says it's great that schools are leading them to water and helping them learn to swim, rather than just leaving them to their own devices. Students whose parents ultimately refuse the free financial aid seminars and campus tours are ultimately exempted from the requirement.

Posted by kswygert at 10:37 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Something's not adding up in Utah

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Utah's sophomore's are struggling with the math component of the exit exam:

Two out of five Utah sophomores will have to retake and pass at least one section of the state's three-pronged high school exit exam to collect their basic diploma two years from now. In almost all of Utah's 40 school districts, students struggled most with the math test, according to statewide results released Monday...

The class of 2006 is the first required to pass all three sections of the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test (UBSCT) to earn a basic diploma. The Legislature mandated the exam in 1999. Three out of five sophomores passed all three sections, while 16 percent passed two sections, 9 percent one section, and 14 percent failed all three sections.

All the failing students have four more opportunities to pass. The results for all 40 districts can be found online. Summer classes and special remediation are in the works. And officials are saying that students just aren't motivated enough:

"There were still some students who looked at the UBSCT testing as something that probably was not going to count, so when they see they're going to be taking it again, hopefully they'll see it's a little more serious," said Garett Muse, principal of Cottonwood High School...

"Anecdotally, what we hear from other states is that there's lots of senior-year repentance, but that's so scary, to wait until your senior year to get serious about the test," said Louise Moulding, the state Office of Education's director of evaluation and assessment.

Posted by kswygert at 10:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Standardized tests for parents?

Hey, homeschooling parents, what do you think of this idea?

The end product of this year's [Virginia] General Assembly session is making its way across the desk of Gov. Mark Warner. One bit of legislation that should never have made it through the House of Representatives, much less to the governor's office, has gotten the deep-six via the governor's veto.

House Bill 675, jointly patroned by local legislators Ben Cline and Steve Landes along with eight other Republican delegates, one Democratic senator and three Republican senators, would have abolished the requirement that parents who home-school their children possess at least a bachelor's degree...Warner, in his veto, noted correctly that while public school teachers are being expected to adhere to increasingly strict requirements, especially those imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act, loosening requirements for home-schooled children made no sense, and, in fact, were a retreat.

The governor is right. Home education should be based on standards, too, otherwise the drive to require them in public school is nothing but a sham and a means of dismantling free public education in America...

In his veto, Gov. Warner noted he had submitted a proposed amendment to the bill stating that he would be willing to entertain the notion of home-school teachers without college degrees if they had achieved a composite score on the PRAXIS I or SAT I exams not less than the ones required for beginning teachers licensed by the Board of Education. Warner also said that if a parent had achieved a score above the 50th percentile in English and mathematics on a national standardized norm-referenced test approved by the Department of Education, that would be considered suitable.

Posted by kswygert at 10:24 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 24, 2004

A real tale of testing woes

This puts our high-stakes tests - and occasional testing errors - in perspective:

An Indian teenager killed herself after receiving a mobile phone text message saying she had failed her school leaving exams, although she had actually passed, a report said today. The 17-year-old girl hanged herself yesterday morning after getting the SMS giving her the wrong information, the Hindustan Times reported...

Results of the school-leaving exams of over 250,000 students began being announced yesterday, with cellphone companies for a small fee offering to provide results via SMS to those students giving their roll numbers.

It was uncertain whether the company was at fault for sending the incorrect message or whether the girl had made a mistake in typing down her roll number, the report said.

Pressure from parents and peers on students to score high marks in the exams is immense and each year dozens across the country kill themselves when they find they have failed.

The Board of Education has finally set up an ecounseling hotline. Overdue, I'd say.

Posted by kswygert at 09:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Zombie Butts from Uranus!

Hey, whatever gets 'em reading:

Glenn Murray blushes a hearty shade of red when a cashier at a Chicago deli recognizes him: "Heyyyyyy!" the young man shouts gleefully -- and loudly. "You're the fart-man!"

Murray, an educator-turned-children's author from Canada, is still getting used to the ruckus over two books he co-wrote. They feature "Walter the Farting Dog," a flatulent pooch whose little problem saves the day time and time again.

The content may seem quirky and even off-color to some. But these days, potty humor is big in the world of popular children's literature -- from the "Captain Underpants" series to such best-selling titles as "Zombie Butts from Uranus!"...

"You gotta give kids something they want to read," says Murray, who firmly believes that his smelly but well-meaning protagonist has become an ambassador for literacy...

It would seem that kids agree, since the genre's books regularly appear on children's best-seller lists...Librarians call such stories "book hooks," says Barbara Genco, immediate past president of Association of Library Services to Children.

Scholastic also publishes "Zombie Butts from Uranus!" by Andy Griffiths. It's the sequel to "The Day My Butt Went Psycho," a story about a 12-year-old named Zack whose back side is prone to detaching itself, running away and causing trouble.

Now, who can't identify with that?

(Thanks to Reginleif for the link.)

Posted by kswygert at 06:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Redefining "gifted"

The controversies involved in using an IQ test to select kids for gifted and talented programs:

Amir Diego Howard is one of the brightest third-graders at Sierra Vista, an elementary school surrounded by some of Reno’s poorest neighborhoods...Amir easily passed the first two requirements for entry — his teacher’s assessment and scoring in the 96th percentile of a national criteria reference test.

Yet he failed to score at the 133 IQ level on the Kaufman-Brief Intelligence Test — the third and final step in gaining admission. So Amir was barred admission...

Many minority students share Amir’s plight. Testing for G-T placement discriminates against English language learners plus children from bilingual homes or poor households, school officials from poorer schools said.

But if being able to read English at that level is necessary to succeed in the program, why is it discrimination?

“We could waive a test score or lower a test score for these students,” [Jo Garret, Washoe’s G-T curriculum coordinator] said. “The problem I see with this is that if you place an ESL student in a program that is highly English-language based, without any modifications, they will be frustrated and drop out of the program.”

She said the district needs modified testing and to change the program for such students to make it educationally appropriate.

Many states are modifying their G-T entrance requirements to be "non-language" oriented:

The district plans to draw more disadvantaged students into its improved middle school program that debuts next fall by allowing alternative ways of admission.

If a student does not meet the IQ test or CRT requirements, they can get into the middle school G-T program by scoring well on a standardized test of creativity or by showing documentation that they are highly proficient in science, math, geography, art, music or drama. Most middle schools will offer at least two new G-T classes under the new program.

“We are trying to be more inclusive and open it more to the kids who will benefit,” Garrett said. “In this way, we hope to pick up kids from a more diverse background that we have not served in the past”...

Other U.S. districts have gone to non-language tests for the gifted, including those that measure intelligence by determining patterns or comparing geometric shapes. These alternative tests are succeeding in diversifying the G-T population in the Anchorage School District in Alaska, its director said...

Anchorage also lowered its scores for admission on CRT tests from the 96th national percentile to the 90th. Students can also gain admittance to G-T learning by showing special talent or skill with a portfolio.

“We lowered the criteria for the Title I students to qualify,” Vanderploeg said. “We started in October and we have increased the number of minorities students in the program by 15 percent.”

Diversity is at the heart of the matter. And administrators are not ashamed to say that they are lowering standards just to get a more "diverse" G-T crowd in. But no one in the article answers the question - is it beneficial to admit more students with a "non-language" test if language skills are necessary to benefit from the G-T programs? Is this really a method of identifying students who will do well, given the chance, or is it a way for administrators to feel better about not having such a "white" group of gifted students?

The bottom line is, the students admitted under the new standards should be able to do the work and benefit from it. If that turns out to be the case, great. But if that doesn't happen, I hope states that modified their standards will admit it.

Posted by kswygert at 01:34 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Left behind but moving forward

A look at the effects of Florida's new retention policy:

At the close of this first year of mandatory retention, opinions are decidedly mixed. “Where you get the true perspective on anything is to look at the broader pictures, to look at the numbers,” said Larry Tihen, curriculum director for the Lee County School District. “Children have vastly improved after retention.”

Of the 601 third-graders retained, 406 passed FCAT reading the second time around. Of those who failed again, 114 had disabilities or didn’t speak English as a first language. Just 81 “regular education” students failed the test twice.

Tihen said the policy might save students from a lifetime of failure.

“Their self-esteem and their confidence and how they present themselves at school has vastly improved,” Tihen said. “One of the real values of this beyond children just learning to read is having children who feel better about themselves and more successful.”

If anything, more elementary school parents will be getting letters and phone calls from teachers suggesting they hold their children back. Tihen said the district wants to start retaining children at the kindergarten, first- and second-grade levels in the hopes that catching them earlier will yield even more success.

“If we can identify those children early, then on the average they make one to three times the gains than do students if we wait until third grade,” Tihen said.

Parents said they’d been shocked last year at the news their children were being held back. But a year later, their views varied widely based on their child’s experience.

“I think it was great,” said Patricia Kolecki, who has a child at Tropic Isles Elementary School in North Fort Myers.

Her son had about 15 children in his class with a teacher, Heather Evans; a reading specialist, Dacia Webb; and volunteer mentors Evans recruited from her church.

Evans and Webb figured out why Kolecki’s son was having so much trouble reading: He concentrated so hard on the unknown words that he couldn’t absorb the story’s plot, Kolecki said. The teachers taught him how to skip over words and learn them later.

Kolecki urged parents facing retention to get involved.

“I think the child is only to get as much out of it as the parent puts in,” she said. “The teachers can’t do it all. They can’t.”

Not all parents had so positive a view of retention, of course. But it's refreshing to see both pro- and anti- positions in one article.

Posted by kswygert at 01:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Princeton Pinchers

Those Princetonians and their sticky fingers:

Authorities say Princeton University students are increasingly being caught shoplifting from the school store, with 10 Ivy League students arrested since March. Twelve students have been arrested since the installation of new security cameras in the Princeton University Store several months ago, according to a published report.

Not surprising that more have been caught now that new methods exist to catch them. The hand-wringing over why such students would steal has officially begun:

Students have been charged with misdemeanors for stealing items such as razor blades, clothing, sushi and cosmetics from the shop, which is partly a bookstore and a 24-hour convenience store. It is independent of the university...

[Municipal Prosecutor Marc] Citron said the arrests have made him add to his explanations of why people shoplift. He said he used to have two reasons: people stealing to buy drugs and people with psychological problems.

"And No. 3 is the Princeton University student and I am not quite sure what category they fall into," he said. "What troubles me is that some of the students feel that they are so privileged, that they have the privilege (to steal)."

That's certainly one explanation. Perhaps, though, college tuitions have risen so high that even kids who can afford to attend Princeton find themselves short of pocket change?

And will the anti-testing crowd, who insist that high stakes "make" people cheat, come to the defense of the Princeton Pinchers, by insisting that the high cost of cosmetics "makes" these students steal? I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by kswygert at 01:20 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Bring the dance revolution to PE class

A free market sensation that might actually be good for you:

Forget the image of paunchy video gamers holed up in a dark room, surrounded by sticky Twinkie wrappers and empty soda cans. Dance Dance Revolution players burn extra pounds along with their quarters. Weight loss is an unexpected benefit of a game designed for dance music...

The premise of DDR is simple: Players stand on a 3-foot square platform with an arrow on each side of the square_ pointing up, down, left and right. The player faces a video screen that has arrows scrolling upward to the beat of a song chosen by the player. As an arrow reaches the top of the screen, the player steps on the corresponding arrow on the platform.

Sound easy? Throw in combinations of multiple arrows and speed up the pace, and the game is as challenging and vigorous as a high impact aerobics class...

One pediatrician is so convinced of the health benefits that he's planning a six-month study of DDR and weight loss among 12- to 14-year-olds, in an effort to give the game credibility among physicians.

If the study is positive, will we see DDR in high school gyms? It sure as heck beats dodgeball and pullups.

Posted by kswygert at 01:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Agonizing in Ohio

The Akron (OH) Beacon Journal is a bastion of obviousness, I tell you. Check out the headline on this article:

New state tests could keep more from diplomas: Newspaper report says difficult questions designed to ensure that more high school students will fail

Wow. Who at the BJ thought this needed to be spelled out for readers? For those readers who have repeatedly flunked such an exam, I suppose.

Beginning next spring, sophomores must pass the new Ohio Graduation Test in five subjects if they're to graduate on time in 2007. The new test requires achievement at two grade levels above current graduation exams, which means thousands could fail, the newspaper said.

Three-quarters of sophomores flunked a sample version last year, and nearly one-third failed this spring after the department shortened the test and lowered the recommended score for passing.

So this new, "tougher" exit exam has already been shortened and the standards have been lowered, and two-thirds of 10th-graders can pass it. Isn't it supposed to be a test for 12th-graders? What's the uproar about, then?

Scoring mistakes will become more common as states rush to meet deadlines, said W. James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA who ran his own testing company. "But scoring mistakes can be corrected,'' he said. "What worries me more is the harm that will be done to children because of lousy tests.''

As compared to the harm done by lousy teaching?

And testing companies are trying to program computers to score essay questions to save money. A Dayton Daily News reporter composed a deliberately nonsensical essay that one company's program awarded a perfect score and declared "effective writing.''

Finally, a valid point. Automated essay scoring programs that would catch something like this do exist, but I'm sure there are programs that don't catch this method of "gaming" the system. But a good reporter would ask why essay questions are being introduced onto these types of standardized exams, when such questions are so expensive and difficult to score.

It's because of the anti-testing types who insist that multiple-choice items are not "authentic" enough and don't measure "real" learning. Somehow, test developers who respond to those charges end up getting blamed for iffy essay scoring procedures as well. Gee, it's almost like there's no test that would please some of these people. You think?

George Madaus, a senior fellow with the National Board on Educational Testing and Public Policy at Boston College, said more attention should be paid to whether achievement tests accurately predict academic success.

When a student fails, it should raise alarms, Madaus said. Instead, "It's just dismissed by saying, 'Oh well, the student can take it again four or five times.''' Popham said he's more concerned that tests that are supposed to measure what a student learned are instead designed so some fail.

"That is wrongheaded and makes no educational sense,'' he said.

This must be a misquote. Madaus is right when he says failures should raise alarms. But surely he doesn't believe that no one should fail these types of tests. Perhaps he means such tests should not be norm-referenced with a standard set to guarantee failers, which would be correct. But the reporter should explain that.

The state adjusts the difficulty of questions so that most students get average scores and a small number get the very highest and very lowest. The idea was to identify struggling students and get them extra help.

Depending on where and how the standard is set, though, this doesn't mean a certain percentage of students are guaranteed to fail each time. It just means most of the questions are of average difficulty; thus, students who perform below average are more likely to fail. There's no way to avoid this other than to (a) put only easy items on the test, which doesn't help identify those who have trouble, or (b) keep the difficulty as is, but set the standard so low that no one fails.

Look, when a state implements an exit exam, some students are going to flunk it, because some students are either unmotivated, unintelligent, or underachievers. States should pay attention to how many flunk and why they do so. But all this hand-wringing because Ohio has created a test in which students who perform below average may flunk is ridiculous. The majority of the 10th-graders passed the exam. Why should we worry about the 12th-graders who don't?

Some students who excel in the classroom don't do well on achievement tests. At Dayton's Meadowdale High School, 18-year-old senior Tynisha Edmondson makes A's in science classes but for four years has failed to pass the science proficiency exam -- despite coming achingly close. In a retest in March, she scored 198, two points shy of passing. If she failed the test she took this month, she can't graduate and might not be able to attend Wright State University in the fall.

"I'm scared,'' Edmondson said.

The article ends with this heart-wrenching anecdote. Tynisha has taken science classes for four years, but the article doesn't mention which types of classes they are. Were they the right classes to be prepared for the science exam? Here's the new guide to the graduation exam - skip to page 11 for the Science stuff. The sample item given is rather inventive. It's certainly not pure recall; it requires students to actually think about the task and synthesize known information.

The items may very well be challenging, and rather than tugging at our heartstrings with anecdotes about poor test-takers, the reporter should be asking why someone who's made straight A's in four years of science is struggling with this material.

Thanks to Daryl for the link.

Posted by kswygert at 12:44 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 21, 2004

More blunders for NYC

After all the ruckus over the original NYC third-grade reading exams, you'd have expected quality control on the makeup exam to be especially tight.


For the second time in as many months, city educators botched the standardized reading exam; this time distributing a test where the questions failed to match the answer key.

The blunder comes on the heels of last week’s discovery that thousands of students in grades three, five, six and seven unknowingly studied for the original English Language Arts exam utilizing last year’s exam. Department of Education officials said a 20-question passage from the 2003 test was repeated this year, providing certain students with an unfair advantage.

Those students, including about 85 third graders from PS 174 in Rego Park, were told they had to either retake the test or accept a grade scored without the 20 questions—an option approximately 650 students accepted.

A total of 2,400 students took the makeup exam last Wednesday, including 1,300 third graders, whose promotions rest upon a passing grade. However, moments into the exam, instructors noticed that questions did not correspond with the answer booklets...

Despite the confusion, administrators continued with the test, instructing students to circle the answers directly on the test officials said they do not expect to invalidate the scores.

Harcourt Assessment, which isn't having the best year, quality-wise, is taking responsibility for the errors. The critics are now screaming for the test results to be invalidated and for students to be assessed only on classroom performance. I don't blame the critics for being upset, but classroom grades aren't exactly standardized and unbiased (nor can they be assumed to be error-free), and grades aren't a useful measure for putting every NYC third-grader on the same reading continuum.

I'm just really, really happy that I don't work for either Harcourt or the NY DOE right now.

Posted by kswygert at 01:57 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A biased article about "biased" items

This Times-Record (AR) article is about cultural biases on tests, but no evidence is provided to support the charges:

In remarks in Van Buren last week, President Bush said he is committed to narrowing an “achievement gap” demonstrated in standardized test scores among the nation’s students. To some extent, the gap is the legacy of decades of segregation, some area educators said...

Jim Hattabaugh, Mansfield superintendent, said his experience as a guidance counselor and administrator has shown him that most standardized tests have cultural and racial biases. Minorities tend to perform worse than whites on the test because the tests are authored by whites, he said.

And does he have proof of that? Does he know for a fact that each and every single item writer is white? Does he have any knowledge about the extensive item bias review that all standardized test items undergo? Is he aware that item writers, test developers, and psychometricians come in all sizes, shapes, sexes, and ethnicities? Does he have any evidence whatsoever to prove the causal relationship between the skin color of the item writer and performance of examinees of different colors on the exam?

I doubt it. He's saying this because he knows the reporter will not challenge him to provide proof.

“If you look at how an inner-city student is raised and what they’re exposed to, you ask those questions on a test and they don’t have a clue,” he said.

And why is the only legitimate explanation for that cultural bias? Couldn't it also be because those inner-city schools are not teaching children to read, they're failing to introducing them to concepts outside their narrow environment, they're not expanding their vocabularies, and they're teaching these kids that you have to "be white" to do well on tests?

“There could be some possibility of a cultural bias,” said Lavaca Superintendent Harvie Nichols. “I know, for example, when I look at textbooks, it’s difficult to understand, even with a college degree, what the textbook wants that child to do.”

What the heck does this mean? It could be that it's a bad textbook. It could be that Nichols college degree wasn't too useful. But why should we assume this anecdote proves that textbooks are culturally biased? Textbooks undergo even more review for bias than do test items. If Nichols can't make heads or tails of the textbook, then he should order new ones, instead of insisting that cultural bias must be to blame.

This is an example of shoddy reporting. The claims of cultural bias against tests in general - including the outrageous and inaccurate charge that only white people write test items - go unchallenged by the reporter, as does the unspoken assumption that inner-city students should never be expected to understand material that is not specific to their very narrow sphere of experience.

Posted by kswygert at 01:47 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Brown vs. Board of Education round-up, Part 2

Abigail Thernstrom says the Brown decision isn't a bust:

When we misleadingly label schools in California with few whites "segregated," the implication is that learning is likely to be compromised. Of course it's desirable - where demographically possible - for children to grow up in a multiracial, multiethnic setting. But surely we don't want to suggest that the racial mix in a school inevitably determines the quality of the children's education - that children in schools without "enough" whites are doomed to academic failure. The doomsayers today who moan about Brown's failure would have people believe that the problem with urban schools is that they aren't white enough - that whites are needed if children are to learn...

But demography is not academic destiny, and the emphasis on "segregation" is a distraction from the real issue: quality education for all public school children. Too many black and Latino children are not acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to do well in life.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige says educational equality continues to elude us:

I recognize that I was one of the lucky ones in that pre-Brown era. Both of my parents were educators. I worry that many of today's youths don't see education as the path to a better future. As several African-American scholars have noted, many of today's black youths see education as a "white thing."

That notion is painfully evident: Today, only one in six African-Americans can read proficiently upon leaving high school. The achievement gap in reading between blacks and whites is staggering. Nationally, at the fourth-grade level, the gap is 28 percentage points. Other indicators show similar trends: Black students in the K-12 system have almost triple the rate of disciplinary problems (measured by suspensions) as their white peers. Blacks earn college degrees at half the rate of whites.

What a travesty...

Some still believe we can fix our public education system by spending more money. But we already spend more per pupil on K-12 education than any other country except Switzerland. The issue is how the money is being invested. Historically, accountability in our education system has been absent...

With NCLB, the achievement gap is closing. A recent study by the Council of Great City Schools found that the achievement gaps in both reading and math in urban schools between African-Americans and whites, and Hispanics and whites, are narrowing. Now, every state has an accountability plan, parents are newly empowered, and every student will be taught by a highly qualified teacher.

Some have resisted this law. But Brown also met resistance. To those of us who grew up during those times, the chorus sounds familiar. Racial equality cannot exist as long as there is an educational achievement gap. We must make our schools equitable in order to make our society and culture equitable. Brown's legacy should be equality of opportunity. We must achieve this goal for the sake of all our children.

Joanne Jacobs points to Ann Applebaum's WaPo article which suggests that today's schoolchildren are unlikely to understand the importance of the Brown decision, thanks to sanitized textbooks:

...when I learned that my son's school intended to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that Supreme Court decision this spring, I felt somehow less inspired. The problem was not the principle, but the context: The child in question, who is admittedly very young, has yet to be introduced to the concepts of "Constitution" and "Supreme Court." Maybe they'll get to that eventually, but he hasn't learned much about such matters as the "American Revolution" and "George Washington" either, not to mention "slavery," except what he picked up on the family trip to Mount Vernon...

...Nowadays, history is too often drained of any meaning, left- or right-wing, whatsoever. Partly this is because history, unlike math or science, doesn't lend itself easily to standardized tests....

But testing alone isn't the problem. Recently a group called the American Textbook Council reviewed the standard world history textbooks used between sixth and 12th grades in schools across the country. They found a huge variety of staggering flaws, from phony attempts at relevance, such as comparisons of Odysseus to Indiana Jones, to bad writing and design...

But the worst offense is a tone of cheerful, sanitized neutrality so overwhelming that it actually renders the prose ahistorical. Thus in a section on "Life Behind the Iron Curtain," middle-schoolers are taught both that "Communist governments in Eastern Europe granted their people few freedoms," and that "in some ways, Communist governments did take care of their citizens... a unit on the Industrial Revolution, students are asked how they would react if forced to become child laborers -- "Would you join a union, go to school, or run away?" -- as if there actually were unions, universal education and places for children to run to in early-19th century Britain. Thus in a chapter on Africa, the word "tribe" is carefully avoided...

The issue, then, is not merely the absence of the dead white men: The issue is the absence of both dead white men and slavery, the absence of both the Constitution and the violence that was used to preserve it. To put it differently, the issue is the low expectations we now have of our children, whom we too often judge incapable of hearing the truth.

Posted by kswygert at 01:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oh your cheatin' (Californian) heart

It's Friday - here's your morning coffee, your weekend weather report, and your boilerplate, predictable, nauseating "high-stakes tests make people cheat!" article:

One cheater whispered answers in students' ears as they took the exam. Another photocopied test booklets so students would know vocabulary words in advance. Another erased score sheets marked with the wrong answers and substituted correct ones. None of these violations involving California's standardized tests were committed by devious students: These sneaky offenders were teachers.

Since a statewide testing program began five years ago, more than 200 California teachers have been investigated for allegedly helping students on state exams, and at least 75 of those cases have been proven...

Some educators say teacher cheating comes as no surprise, given increased anxiety surrounding state tests and the federal use of them under the No Child Left Behind law.

Too bad they aren't willing to say the obvious, which is that teachers who respond to increased pressure to educate their students by cheating do not deserve the label of "educator."

"Some people feel that they need to boost test scores by hook or by crook," said Larry Ward of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a watchdog group that has criticized many standardized tests. "The more pressure, the more some people take the unethical option."

Isn't Ward saying here that teachers cannot be trusted to respond to increased standards by behaving ethically? How is that a criticism of the tests?

And as for that "pressure makes people cheat" response, would it stand up in court? Could you argue that the "high pressure" on you to get taxes in by April 15th each year excuses your cheating on them? Didn't think so.

Statewide, most testing "irregularities" are detected by a computer analysis flagging classes with unusually high numbers of erased answers. Investigations can also start with tips from parents, students or staff.

Funny, but there are some people out there who don't use higher stakes as an excuse to condone cheating. Why should we feel sorry for the teachers who do?

California Teachers Assn. President Barbara Kerr said that the union didn't excuse cheating but that she felt bad for teachers who broke rules under what she described as "horrendous" pressure.

Isn't feeling bad for these teachers one step down the slippery slope of excusing their behavior? And is the CTA doing anything to improve the situation, by, say, making sure that teachers who are hired have the moral compass and backbone to stand up to this kind of pressure?

In 2001, the state flagged test results for five Bakersfield classrooms with a lot of erasures. District officials concluded that three teachers had coached students to change answers.

Marvin Jones, director of research and evaluation for the district, said the teachers' explanations [of cheating behavior] included not understanding the rules, "everybody does it" and "I was trying to help the students do what I knew the students can do."

In other words, these are seriously clueless teachers who are falling for fallacies that we expect teenagers to disregard.

The teachers were not fired — partly because "we have unions to deal with," he said. "I hear a lot of people say that the pressure to get high test scores is so high that it drives people to use desperate measures."

So much for the unions "not condoning cheating." And how come no one ever considers the "desperate" measure of modifying the teaching technique so that material is conveyed more effectively? These tests teachers are cheating on do not measure rocket science. Why are they "desperately" trying everything except figuring out a way to convey basic skills?

Update: The Smallest Minority has some choice words for the cheatin' teachers.

Posted by kswygert at 01:26 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

Fighting the Regents

Devoted Reader Mary C. discovered a Newsday article on the NY Regents Exams which gives testing opponents a soapbox on which to preach about the "bias" inherent in the tests :

Parents and teachers fighting the growing use of standardized tests presented boxes of petitions Tuesday to end what they called a tool of segregation.

The group _ which presented 50,000 petitions to key legislators _ said high school Regents exams foster a segregation that was supposed to have been ended 50 years ago under the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Extensive reliance on high stakes Regents exams has turned public schools into test-driven institutions that emphasize the most menial skills," said Jane Hirschmann of Time Out From Testing. "This narrow focus perpetuates the educational gap that Brown (v. Board of Education) was designed to fix ... High-stakes testing is a way we keep 'separate and unequal."'

The group said minority students _ who attend mostly underfunded schools _ often fare poorer on the standardized exams than their white counterparts because the tests are biased and graded on a curve that could fail them or prompt them to drop out.

Now, stop and think here. The group is admitting that minority students are more likely to go to underfunded (read: "poor" schools). By this reckoning, we'd expect an accurate, unbiased test to show group mean differences, and the students who go to poor schools would have the lower scores. That's exactly what's happening, and the activists are angry about it. And they hope that the readers won't realize that removing the tests will do absolutely nothing to equalize the quality of the education for these minority students.

Tests are measurements, and nothing more. If group A is undereducated and group B is solidly educated, a good test will reflect that. But if the test goes away, the differences do not.

The claims of grading on the curve and of bias are unsupported and outrageous. For starters, the activists want readers to believe that "grading on the curve" means that the the cutpoints are moved each year to ensure a certain number of flunkers (read: minorities). But the cutpoints are set based on content standards. There's no reason every kid in New York couldn't score above a 65 on five Regents exams to pass. The score conversion table from raw score to scaled score will fluctuate from year to year, but that's not the same thing as grading on a curve; all tests which are equated from year to year use this method.

Now, someone will always be at the bottom percentiles of the Regents score scale, but everyone could still pass. The reporter should have caught this obvious error.

As for bias, group mean differences are neither necessary nor sufficient indicators of bias; bias can exist when group mean differences do not. It is not racist to say that, for some reason, minority students in NYC are less likely to have the skills necessary to pass the Regents. Perhaps they were not taught them; perhaps they were not concerned about being tested on them.

It is racist to rush to assume that the Regents tests are biased and that students are, based solely on skin color, unable to handle multiple-choice items that assess basic skills. And it is neither progressive nor compassionate to insist that these tests are not valid for students of certain races or income levels.

Luckily, state education officials understand that:

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills, however, said the testing proved there was an academic performance gap between racial and ethnic groups that needs to be addressed. The public release of the school-by-school test results forced change, and the result is that minority performance now is rising, dramatically in some areas such as in elementary school, he said...

Board of Regents Chancellor Robert Bennett said there's no interest among Regents in scaling back the tests. "We have a fundamental belief that the public needs to know how their children are doing," Bennett said.

And the public now does know. Unfortunately for the public, some of them have become convinced that it's better not to know, or that all the methods we have of knowing must be wrong because they aren't getting the answers they want.

Posted by kswygert at 11:08 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Summer reading list

Bloggage will be sporadic (perhaps one post per day) for the next two and a half weeks, and then will cease altogether for the week of June 5 - 12, when I will be at Myrtle Beach on vacation. I've been working out a great deal and plan to spend a lot of time kicking sand into the faces of 98-pound weaklings. I'll try to be nice enough in doing so, but if they call me "fatty," all bets are off.

I just ordered my beach-week reading list from Amazon:

The Myth of Repressed Memory : False Memories and Allegations of Sexual
by Elizabeth Loftus

School Accountability (Hoover Institution Press Publication, 512.) by Williamson M. Evers

Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese by Michael J. Nelson

Everything You Need to Know About the Goth Scene (The Need to Know

In Search of Dracula : The History of Dracula and Vampires by Radu Florescu

Renaissance woman, that I am. Don't stop sending emails with links, by the way; I'll still have time for reader mail. But work and foster responsibilities mean I'll be spending far less time on the web than before.

Posted by kswygert at 10:39 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

Let me guess, this wasn't AP Chemistry

This student made it as far as high school chemistry, but I wouldn't say he's very "educated" - or bright, for that matter:

A student who drank a chemical from his high school lab on a dare was recovering in a hospital, but not before a scare. The student drank the unidentified chemical on a two-dollar bet at the school, said Nancy Smith, a UMC supervisor.

"We need to find out what it was from the toxicologist," Assistant Principal Ray Lascano said. "All of those materials belonged to one of the chemistry labs."

The student was found last Wednesday in a school hallway, bleeding from the nose and mouth.

The unidentified student, a junior at Odessa High School, was upgraded Monday from critical to satisfactory condition at University Medical Center in Lubbock...

Lascano said Ector County Independent School District officials were still investigating.

If the parent complains that the school didn't put a disclaimer on every chemical in the lab (e.g., "DON'T DRINK THIS"), I hope the school sends 'em a bill for the cost of replacing the chemical.

Posted by kswygert at 11:55 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Two schools, same funding, different issues

The Philadelphia Inquirer discovers two schools that are a scant distance apart by separated by a wide gulf of demographics and test scores (but not, it should be noted, by a funding gap):

Bridesburg in the Northeast and Tanner Duckrey in North Philly are schools on the move. But one school is charging ahead; the other is learning how to walk.

It's been 50 years since Brown v. the Board of Education ripped apart the concept of "separate but equal." Look at Bridesburg and Duckrey, though, and you see stark differences that remain in some public schools to this day.

• Bridesburg is nearly all white; Duckrey is all black.

• Bridesburg's state reading and math scores are soaring; Duckrey's are near the bottom.

• Bridesburg's funding is about $1.57 million; Duckrey's is better, about $1.75 million.

As budget comparisons between Duckrey and Bridesburg show, inequities between schools are often more complex than what dollars can measure.

Hampering the progress of inner-city schools like Duckrey are problems that were not on the map 50 years ago. In Duckrey's case, that includes a crackhouse 2 ½ blocks from the schoolyard and disintegrating families, leading to a yearly student transfer rate approaching 50 percent...

Disintegrating families don't tend to include parents who are involved in their childrens' educations. Grace Garnett, president of Duckrey's Home and School Association, has, despite her best efforts, managed to get only 10 parents interested in her organization. Duckrey firmly believes that closing the parent-interest gap is one of the keys to improving education.

Bridesburg, like Duckrey, doesn't have an art teacher or a librarian - but they do have high expectations:

The school works, Boehringer said, because he and his teachers put in the hours and set high expectations for all of their students.

"We consider ourselves a team, that's key."

Bridesburg parents and teachers agreed. "This school is a family," said Ann Evans, who has a son and daughter enrolled. "These teachers really care about their students...There's been times when Mr. Boehringer has been here until 7, 8 o'clock at night. He's like a father to every single one of these kids."

Said third-year teacher Dara Savage: "I would send my child here in a heartbeat. Excellent staff, every one, from the principal to the aides to the entire staff.

"The school has a tone that we can achieve anything, and it trickles down to our students. They know that there is no limit to the level of success that they can achieve."

Although both schools recieve approximately the same amount of funding per year, Duckrey says it needs more - to counteract the lack of educational stimulation in the home, as well as the other issues that Duckrey's student body is struggling with.

Posted by kswygert at 10:21 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 17, 2004

Survey Time!

A survey of the blogosphere and those who inhabit it. It'll take less than five minutes of your time. Enter "Number 2 Pencil" or "" in box 22 so they'll know I sent ya.

(Note: It seems to be having trouble loading now, but it loaded earlier today. Go here and use Instapundit's link if you're having trouble on mine; it might work better).

Posted by kswygert at 04:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bam! Your educational career is over!

One of the most phenomenal examples of bad judgment that I've ever seen in a school principal, and that's saying something.

Parents at Bromley East Charter School are still trying to get all of their questions answered after a safety drill last week went too far, they said.

Last Wednesday the Brighton school practiced a lockdown that was supposed to teach students emergency procedures. All classrooms had to lock their doors, but one first-grade room didn't. That's when the principal went in to the classroom and did something that traumatized the students, a parent said.

"He went up to each one of them and went, 'Bam, bam, bam!' And said, 'You're dead,'" said parent Jeanie Styer.

If the school tries to defend the principal's actions by making a Columbine reference, the parents should sue the pants off the place. Columbine doesn't justify telling first-graders that they'll be shot to death if they forget to lock a door (and why isn't that the teacher's responsibility?). Let's put it this way; if a group of first-graders failed to follow the directions for a fire drill, would the principal be justified in holding up a match and pretending to torch the students? Please. There's a not-so-fine line between driving a point home in a manner appropriate to six-year-olds and being hysterically threatening, and this principal is way over it.

Parents should also find out if a student who pointed a finger at another student and said "bam!" would be in violation of this school's "zero tolerance for violence" rules. My guess is there's rampant hypocrisy at work here, in addition to the boneheadedness.

Posted by kswygert at 03:32 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

A good use of test scores

In suburban NY, school report cards are impacting school board races:

Armed with facts and figures culled from the voluminous, data-rich report cards, a group of parents is endorsing candidates who support their push for a more back-to-basics approach...

Typically, anxiety over report card scores has been highest in New York City suburbs, Ernst said, where housing prices, frequently linked to the reputation of local schools, are astronomical. They've also been of concern in poor, urban school districts whose officials frequently say that if they have lower scores, they are reflection of the poverty rates in their communities.

Since its inception in 1997, release of New York's annual Report Card on the Schools has become a spring ritual, with students, teachers, administrators, real estate agents and, last but not least, parents, waiting eagerly for the scores...

Parents and students can use the results to compare their school with others across town, across the county, or clear across the state.

In Guilderland, the report card scores are fueling the latest incarnation of the perennial reading wars, which have raged for more than a decade. The issue has also spilled over into the board race in which five candidates are competing for three seats on a nine-member board. Three candidates are being backed by a group that is using report card scores to pick apart the district's elementary school reading program.

"You don't know if you are good or bad unless you have a point of comparison," said Melissa Mirabile, who heads a group of Guilderland parents who want the district to adopt a more structured reading program in the early grades.

Ms. Mirabile is a stockbrocker who waded through the data on the report card and didn't like what she found:

"The numbers started to jump out at me," she said. Among her findings: between 1999 and 2002, the percentage of students in the top of four scoring levels dropped from 30 to 25 percent. Statewide, it rose from 16 to 21 percent.

Broken out by school, the situation is even more stark, she contends.

Ms. Mirabile's response was to organize a pro-phonics parental group to endorse the election of three school board candidates who support that approach. My only question is - this is news? I mean, is this the first and only area in which parents have been perusing the accountability data and using that information to drive school board elections? If so, that's a shame.

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

Minnesota Mensans

If you're near Duluth, Minnesota, and you're itching to join Mensa, here's your chance:

A group of 17 people is reviving a Twin Ports chapter of the international organization. The local chapter began in January. They've met three times now, most recently at the Chester Creek Cafe on Ninth Street in the East Hillside...

"It's a lot about socialization," said Anna Roos, a Duluth Mensa member and University of Minnesota Duluth associate professor of history and head of the school's honors programs. "We like lots of puns and word games that are always lively."

While most of those members say a high IQ is a big plus, they really want to find bright people who are willing to engage in open-minded and far-ranging conversations...

Everybody is invited into Mensa, just as long as he or she is a genius. The lone requirement for Mensa membership is to score in the top 2 percent on a standardized intelligence test.

While Mensa may have an elitist or exclusive reputation to many, local members said they try to make it inclusive and don't care for pretentious attitudes.

Problem is, political correctness being what it is, just supporting the use of intelligence tests is often considered pretentious (and bigoted) in and of itself.

You Duluthians can go here to test for Mensa, or you can peruse the list of acceptable scores on outside standardized tests on the Mensa US site.

In case you're wondering, I was a member of Mensa in my early twenties (my WAIS-R, GRE, and SAT scores all qualified; I'm nothing if not consistent). Those were the days before everyone had email, and I was looking to expand my penpal circle. And I got some very interesting letters from very, um, interesting people, not all of whom were men, and not all of whom were incarcerated (yeeks). Let's just say that I've since found it more entertaining and fulfilling to converse with people of all intelligence levels who have interests, goals, and life experiences similar to mine, than with people who are very smart, but often are disillusioned and unhappy underachievers.

Posted by kswygert at 01:52 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Brown vs. Board of Education roundup

It's the 50th anniversary of the legendary Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared segregated schools to be unconstitutional. President Bush is visiting Topeka, Kansas, in order to speak about righting this great wrong; not be outdone, John Kerry will be there, too (I feel for the Topekans, who can expect some serious traffic jams).

Other anniversary celebrations are rather subdued; as Znet reports, white flight has produced de facto segregation in some parts, with a not-suprising fall in funding for primarily-minority schools as well.

Regular readers of N2P don't need a rehashing of the test score gaps. However, I have to disagree with Znet article's insistence that standardized testing is the real problem in beleaguered schools. It's absurd to say that reliance on testing and rote memorization is driving teachers from schools in poverty-stricken neighborhoods and preventing minority students from achieving in life. It's absurd to say that poor schools are "neo-Dickensian," and controlled by a "corporate-Stalinist curriculum;" more likely, the problem is the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that prevents poor schools from adequately challenging their students. And how can someone claim that poor children are being deprived of quality teachers without pointing the finger at teachers' unions, instead of test developers?

This article, on the other hand, takes a more sensible, less knee-jerk approach. It acknowledges the gap but doesn't disregard or vilify testing; it posits reasons that the score gaps might exist, and explores ways those gaps can be closed.

Finally, here's an article about one South Carolina high school that remains fairly segregated for a "sense of community":

Despite the Brown vs. Board of Education decision 50 years ago, segregation never really ended at Alfred E. Beach High School. Today, Beach High still has the district's largest black student enrollment...

Ninety-four percent of the students there are black, compared to the district average of 66 percent. The difference between the all-black Beach High of 1954 and the primarily black Beach High in 2004 is the exodus of some of the best black teachers and students...Today, even the brightest of the students who remain in the neighborhood have the option of enrolling in academically enriched magnet programs and charter schools in other neighborhoods.

Still, a great many choose to stay right where they are.

They don't find the modern facilities and standardized test scores at other schools as appealing as their school's promise and rich history. In fact, there is a sense of pride and ownership at Beach that is not as strong at more desegregated schools.

Beach High is not without its problems. Located in a high-poverty, high-crime neighborhood, it's not surprising that Beach High crimes often make the news (on the other hand, the teacher who got voted Miss Savannah and then was indicted for murdering her boyfriend was probably an unexpected event). SAT averages are low, but school spirit and community participation are high, which means Beach High stands a fighting chance of fixing its problems.

Posted by kswygert at 01:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Great Books

From the College Board, a list of the 101 Great Books (all fiction). Bloggers like Michele and Damian have been posted the list with the books they've read in bold; I've done the same.

Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Bronte, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily - Wuthering Heights

Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Dante - Inferno

Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter

Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms

Homer - The Iliad
Homer - The Odyssey

Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni - Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth

Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice - The Color Purple

Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie.
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard - Native Son

Posted by kswygert at 09:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 16, 2004


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've become a foster mother. In addition to my two permanent squabbling "siblings" (shown here during a brief detente), I now have three adult cats and three tiny kittens to mother. The kittens are taking the most of my time, since I try to spend an hour or two a day with them out of their cage. They are too tiny to leave unattended, so it means I sit on the basement floor and read while they exercise their little legs.

No, it's not really an excuse for not blogging, but a diversion nonetheless.

Posted by kswygert at 07:41 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

Ah, the good old days

If we needed any evidence that school rules - and life - were different in the 1950's, here it is:

A woman whose stolen kiss in a long-gone era kept her out of the National Honor Society will be inducted 51 years late.

Catherine Peters Wagner, 69, of the Shaw High School class of 1953, will be inducted Friday. Wagner said she was reprimanded after being caught giving a quick kiss to a boyfriend as they passed in a school stairwell during their senior year. She suspects that is why her name was left off a list of new honor society members posted a short time later.

"There was a character issue there, apparently," Wagner said. "I had the point average. I had the activities. Both of my sisters had been inducted with the same grades and activities. Same with my classmates."

Can you imagine the howls of protest, the chaos, and the lawsuits that would ensure if "character" were involved in the choosing of honor society members these days?

As for Wagner, I'd say her character is just fine; she earned a college degree and is still married (48 years and counting) to the guy she was caught smooching.

Posted by kswygert at 10:18 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 13, 2004

Distractions, distractions

A list of things distracting me both from work and blogging:

The trailer for Shrek 2. I keep watching it over and over and over again, just for Antonio Banderas' rendition of, " BOOTS." Giggle.

My shopping list. You see, a couple months back, like an idiot, I offered to foster some cats for the shelter where I volunteer, as long as the cages were provided to me. Somehow, I ended up agreeing to take three kittens and three adults cats from another shelter. They were on Death Row (sigh), so I couldn't turn 'em down. I need: Kitty litter, adult canned food, beds, and toys. The three kittens have already moved in, and were sacked out all night after I cleaned them and fed them.

Metal Yarmulke - who happens to be a Devoted Reader of N2P - is back and blogging. I eagerly await any future criticisms she has of me (just kidding).

In high school and colleges, I wore no other watch but Swatch. But I didn't wear this kind of Swatch. Even as a punk rocker, I don't think I would have been able to get away with this without my mom swatting me. After all, even New Yorkers can't handle it now.

From, a photoshopping contest about phobias. I love this one.

Finally, my work is interrupted as I contemplate owning this dress, from DangerDame. I totally want it.

Posted by kswygert at 10:53 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The "super stalker" teacher

This teacher's love of poetry - and one of her students - has landed her in hot water:

"It pleases me that you want me as much as I want you," read one of the 13 notes attributed to [Georgia high school English teacher] Carla Murray, 32. The notes were found in the [17-year-old] male student's locker after other students tipped authorities.

One note included a poem: "The smell of your cologne mixed w/sweat/ The sounds you make while - / The touch of your hands/ The taste of your mouth,/ There's more, but I won't embarrass myself by mentioning them"...

Albany Police will review the letters to see if criminal charges are warranted, Capt. Charlie Poole said Wednesday.

Is really bad poetry a crime in Albany, Georgia? If it's not, it should be.

Especially worrisome to officials were the notes written after the alleged relationship ended.

"I hate to see you flirting," one note read, and, "I'll try not to be super stalker for a few days." In another letter: "I hope you don't mind if I keep tabs on you. ... So if I look mad ... it's really sadness you're looking at."

Okay, yes, THAT should be a crime, too.

Posted by kswygert at 10:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dumping the TAKS?

Testing reform got snuck into a Texas finance bill: The high school exit exam TAKS may be replaced.

A little-noted section buried in the finance bill given final approval by the House on Wednesday would kill off the high school TAKS entirely. Its replacement: a new series of 13 course-specific tests tied to classes such as world geography and English II.

Some Texas education leaders say they're astounded a decision so big could be made at a time when lawmakers are focused on things like whether to allow slot machines and how much to raise the sales tax...Although the proposed move survived in the House, its fate in the Senate is unclear...

One reason lawmakers are considering tossing the high school TAKS: Students haven't done well on it. Last year, about half of all juniors failed at least one section. While this spring's scores aren't in yet, it's expected that around 100,000 students will be at risk of not graduating next year.

"A lot of students are going to find themselves in an awkward position at the end of their high school career," said Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, who said the expected high failure rate for juniors was a major reason he supported the change.

You mean, even more awkward than they already were, given that they had yet to master basic skills? I know, I know, the TAKS isn't perfect. But unless the consensus is that it was completely irrelevant, dumping it solely due to the fail rate isn't necessarily the wisest move.

The bill would require the Texas Education Agency to have these new end-of-course exams – four in science and three each in English, math and social studies – in place by the 2008-09 school year.

Once the end-of-course tests were in place, students would have to pass at least eight – two in each of the four subject areas – to graduate.

Does that mean someone could pass only the 9th and 10th grade science, English, math, and social studies exams and still graduate? I suppose if the TAKS was on a 10th-grade level, this really isn't that different. End-of-course tests certainly have their benefits, including a more relaxed testing schedule and, ideally, a greater link to course content. This won't stop the battles about "teaching to the test," though, not by a long shot. And if students flunk these tests at a high rate too, what's next?

Posted by kswygert at 08:28 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 12, 2004


There's a reason that for-profit testing centers like Prometric forbid examinees from taking cell phones into the exam rooms - that policy prevents events like this:

School officials banned cellular telephone use after a student was caught using a camera phone to photograph an exam and trying to send it to a friend.

"All we are doing is stepping up the enforcement level, because of the student's flagrant violations," Principal Joe Rice said Monday.

Cheating by using camera phones and text messaging has become a nationwide concern.

Last year, six University of Maryland students admitted cheating on an accounting exam by using their phones to send information to one another via text messaging.

"I'm in detention after being given a flunking score on the exam - can you hear me now?"

Posted by kswygert at 12:22 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The results of Alaskan exit exams

In Alaska, one high school struggles with the consequences of an exit exam:

Fourteen [out of 347] Juneau-Douglas High School seniors who haven't passed the state exit exam will receive certificates of achievement rather than diplomas on graduation day, Juneau School District officials estimate...The Class of 2004 is the first to have to pass the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Examination as one of the requirements for a diploma. Students also must earn a certain number of credits by passing courses in various subjects.

The number of seniors who wouldn't earn diplomas this year would have been higher. But the state has exempted special-ed students from the requirement as the state looks for a way to settle a class-action lawsuit.

So that's only 4% of seniors who are not special-ed who flunked the exit exam while fulfilling other graduation requirements. That's not a huge number, but there's plenty of fretting about them nonetheless:

Students who haven't passed the exit exam - which consists of separate tests in reading, writing and math - can retake the portions they failed. There's no limit on the number of retakes. But the test is offered only twice a year, in early October and early April, and it takes several months to get the results.

The state Department of Education may ask the test contractor, Data Recognition Corp. of Maple Grove, Minn., to devise an online version that could be offered more frequently in regional test centers, said Les Morse, the agency's assessment director.

Employers and institutions such as the military and colleges vary in their stance toward people who hold only a certificate of achievement. Without a diploma, students aren't eligible for apprentice programs in the trades, said Jim Williams of North Pacific Erectors.

Again, this is 4% of the non-special-education seniors. That means 96% got through just fine.

Not having a high school diploma might affect the admission of marginal students, said Eastern Washington Director of Admissions Michelle Whittingham.

"Clearly, we want every student to have a high school diploma. We want every student to do their best and take (exit exams) very seriously," she said...

Juneau School District administrators have talked about offering programs to exiting seniors who didn't pass the test, said Superintendent Peggy Cowan. But officials haven't firmed up anything yet.

"We are looking at creating some different types of courses or study sessions," JDHS Principal Deb Morse said.

Emphasis mine. One way to have students take the exit exams seriously is to withhold their diplomas if they fail it. Offering special programs to help those who fail is fine - and the school should certainly look hard at why students who fulfill other requirements fail the exam - but at some point, the school has to send the message that it's up to the student to work as hard as possible to learn the material to pass this exam. And the school should unapologetically withhold diplomas from those who don't pass the test.

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

The wrong solution to a real problem

Jay P. Greene and Marcus Winters are skeptical that presidential hopeful John Kerry's plans to increase funding for college will solve America's educational problems:

Unfortunately, while it may be desirable to engage more young people in public service, Kerry's plan is unlikely to significantly increase the number of students who enroll in college. Contrary to popular belief, the evidence indicates that the cost of tuition prevents very few students from pursuing a college degree. The problem isn't that students can't afford college — it's that not enough students possess the academic qualifications necessary even to apply. This cannot be fixed through better financing for tuition: It requires reforming K-12 education.

Emphasis mine. This is also why I oppose quota-driven and double-standard AA programs.

In order to even be considered for admission at almost any four-year college, students must meet three requirements. They must have earned a high-school diploma, have completed a minimum number of academic courses (usually a prescribed number of English, math, and science classes), and they must also be able to read at a basic level.

Using data provided by the U.S. Department of Education, a recent study by the Manhattan Institute estimated the number of students in the nation who were college ready. The study found that nationally only 32 percent of students leave high school prepared to apply to college. The picture is particularly bleak for minorities: Just 20 percent of African-American students and 16 percent of Hispanic students are even eligible to apply to a four-year college at the end of high school. plan can increase college participation simply by providing greater access to funds. And since nearly all minority students eligible to enroll in college already do, attempting to increase their number by expanding affirmative-action policies is similarly futile.

This is why I support measures like NCLB, flawed though they might be, because such plans focus on where the real problems lie. Anyone who thinks the American educational system can be fixed by throwing college tuition money at underprepared students is living in fantasyland.

Unfortunately, such folk are also in the politically correct majority, because so few are willing to say, as Green and Winters do:

Even if college were free — or, for that matter, even if we paid students to attend — students who are this poorly prepared simply can't be admitted.

Posted by kswygert at 10:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More like "show-and-run"

One Robert E. Aylor Middle School student (VA) showed some enthusiasm for show-and-tell, and the next thing you know, hysterical officials were evacuating everyone from the school. Gee, all the kid did was bring a foot-long artillery shell into the classroom:

“Any time you see something like that, you never know the shape or condition it’s in, if it’s a live round or not,” Aylor Principal Donald Williams said. “The student brought it to school to show his civics teacher.”

But before the student reached civics class, another teacher saw the shell — it is nearly a foot long — and notified school administrators. They evacuated the building and called the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Department. Fire and Rescue Capt. Tim Welsh examined the shell and notified the Army.

“We don’t know what this is, so we’re treating it as an explosive,” he said. “We called in the Explosive Ordinance Division of the Army.”

Williams guessed that the shell was used by the Army during World War I.

He said the student would be disciplined for bringing the shell to school, but would not face formal criminal charges. The shell belonged to a relative of the student, Williams said.

Welsh said the shell would not be returned: “This is the property of the Army. He shouldn’t have had it to start with.”

The kid probably shouldn't have opened up the shell on his own the night before, but he did that, too. Such zeal for historical artifacts is touching. Perhaps the kid should consider a career in curating or archeology when he grows up - if he lives that long.

Posted by kswygert at 06:00 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 11, 2004

Psychometricians could use some relief

From Safe Havens, by Bill Holbrook:


Posted by kswygert at 08:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A charter school that demands, and gives, more

Joanne Jacobs comments on the Preuss charter school in San Diego which has the right approach for poor kids - brutality:

The school is an intensive college-preparatory school for low-income students in grades 6-12, most of them minorities and all of them required to prove they would be the first in their families who would graduate from college.

This spring's high-stakes college admission season for the school's first graduating class has given Preuss powerful evidence that it is achieving its ambition...

About two-thirds of the first graduating class gained admission to the University of California system, including its most prestigious campus, Berkeley. Students have been accepted at Dartmouth College, New York University, Spelman College and Claremont McKenna College. All but five of the 55 students in the class won admission to four-year institutions...

Preuss (rhymes with choice) promises its 750 students the kind of education that will allow them to succeed in a college admissions process that makes no concessions for race or ethnicity. It also promises to be an example for schools across the state and country struggling to improve the education of poor, minority students...

One word characterizes Preuss: more. The school year is nearly a month longer. The school day is an hour longer. Classes are intense, scheduled in every-other-day blocks that run for 1 hour, 42 minutes, rather than the typical 55 minutes. Some students return for Saturday-morning sessions.

One senior, David Iaea, who is headed to New York University, says with a nod toward the brutal schedule, "College will be a breeze after Preuss".

Good for Preuss for taking an approach that "makes no concessions for race or ethnicity." As Joanne notes:

Not everyone makes it through. But those who do will be the first in their families to attend college.

Posted by kswygert at 02:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More FCAT opinions

St. Petersburg Times columnist Howard Troxler takes a look at all the recent FCAT numbers:

The most important news was that for the first time, more than half of Florida's kids in grades 3-10 are reading at or above their grade level. To be exact, it is 51 percent.

A naysayer might look at the same number and say: That's terrible! You mean that 49 percent of Florida's kids are NOT reading at their grade level? Indeed, as if on cue, Florida's Democrats issued a statement finding fault. "Victory!" sneered the Democrats' sarcastic headline. "Half of Florida Kids Can Read!!!"

Does this mean the Democrats agree that the FCAT Reading test does in fact test genuine reading skills? Hee hee.

Really, I thought Bush was fairly frank and realistic about the numbers he presented. For the most part they represent slow and incremental improvement...The best news in Bush's numbers came in the lower grades, where the most emphasis has been placed on reading.

But that is a nice way of saying that the latter grades ... well, stink.

There also still is an enormous performance gap between white and minority students. Only 32 percent of black kids are reading at grade level and 42 percent of Hispanics, compared to 63 percent of white kids. The numbers for math are similar.

In other words, a black kid in Florida is still only half as likely as a white kid to be reading at grade level. Find all the economic, cultural or educational excuses you want - this is a bedrock problem for Florida.

Do the Democrats have a solution to that, other than tossing the tests which spotlight the reading gap?

Posted by kswygert at 02:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Little school, big scores

Grand View Elementary School has 400 students, 17 teachers, a majority of the student body listed as poor, a third of the student body not fluent in English - and one of the highest Academic Performance Index scores in California:

Employees say its small-school country charm brings a community feel. Teachers say they come to the small country school, fall in love and never leave. At the school teachers, on average, have been at Grand View for 20 years...

The small school enables teachers to work as a team. It's not rare, [teacher Theresa] Enns said, for all teachers to sit down together at lunch and discuss their classes. One may have a hard time teaching the multiplication table and another teacher can say, "You know what worked for me," she said...

[Teacher Delores] Armo, who said veteran teachers at the school get together and help the younger teachers, added that one of the reasons the school does well on the standardized tests is because of the veteran teacher population.

"There is no substitute for experience," she said.

[Parent Kelly] Derderian said teachers push her children to perform well.

"Most of the time my kids would perform well just because they wanted to do well," she said. "Occasionally they would say, 'Oh, I'm being pushed too hard.' But they would rise to the occasion and do it."

But what happened to "Standardized tests are biased against poor kids and immigrants?" What happened to "Poor kids should be coddled and not pushed too hard?" What happened to "Teachers should spend more time enhancing self-esteem than teaching the basics?"

Looks like Grand View Elementary has decided to ignore these bits of "conventional wisdom." Good for them.

Posted by kswygert at 02:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fill in the spots, er, bubbles

The good news: Students at the Berkeley Arts Magnet Elementary School were feeling pretty good about the upcoming state standardized exams.

The bad news: They've all got spots.

Somehow, death and religion have become involved:

A sudden outbreak two weeks ago has left six students home sick with the virus, as well as eight students barred from school for three weeks because of their refusal to accept the vaccine...And for good measure, the outbreak comes just as students are taking state standardized tests which can label schools as failing if they fail to test enough students...

It’s also been a trial for city Health Officer Dr. Poki Namkung. She is responsible for coordinating the school’s response, and has taken some heat from at least one parent for her stance that any child not vaccinated be kept out of school for the 21-day period that the virus takes to incubate. Many of the families refusing the vaccine say it violates their religion.

Nora Akino, whose daughter attends Berkeley Arts Magnet, questioned if the policy was intended to “force parents to vaccinate their children.” She said no doctor had ever urged the vaccine for her child, but said it seemed to her that now chickenpox had been redefined as a dangerous disease...

Health Officer Namkung counters that the virus has killed a “significant number of children” and that she is following standard public health procedures in dealing with the outbreak—which is defined by the state as more than five cases in one elementary school.

I thought kids had to have proof of vaccinations to enter public schools in the first place. Has that changed?

Posted by kswygert at 02:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Cheaters never win in this classroom

On OrangePhilosophy, an essay about plagiarists and how to catch them, by Mark Steen:

...I hold that the following, if they come up, give you prima facie reasons for searching the web (or other sources). Almost none of these are at all sufficient for indicating that plagiarism has in fact occurred, however.


1. Bad Writing/Good Writing
This, of course, is the most common cause for alarm, and sets bells off in even the beginning TA. Several paragraphs or sentences of piss-poor prose or moderate writing is followed by excellent writing, profundity, etc.

2. Differences of Style
...This often happens when a student buys a paper from a paper-mill site which, while on the same rough topic, is different enough so that the student had to customize it to fit the bill. Look especially for an introduction and conclusion that do not match the body of the paper in style, or coverage of one issue that differs in style quite a bit from the rest of the paper.

3. Citation Indicators
Scan your students’ endnotes and footnotes...Sometimes you’ll find that the page numbers they list have no relation to the page numbers of the articles in the anthology/reader you use, even if the rest of the bibliographic info is the same....Another warning sign is a particularly rich bibliography. Some freshman just happen to be well-motivated and genuinely interested in the topics and doing extra research, but most, of course, aren’t...

4. Content Indicators
...Often you’ll find a paper that roughly matches the essay assignment, but is off in certain key respects...Look for terminology that you didn’t use in the course and is unexplained in the student paper....If a paper seems eerily familiar, then it just might be because you read it earlier, and another student wrote it, or, like in several cases of mine, that you wrote it yourself. A good reason to require every student to email you a copy of their papers as well...

5. Warning signs from outside the paper itself.
Know your students. If one seems very dumb, and you can see that a certain paper is beyond them, even though it’s not very good, this of course is an indicator, though a very fallible one....if [their] second or third paper is much better than the first or second, you just might be a redneck, or, have a plagiarizer.

I have to admit, this is an issue I never had to deal with in the classroom. Then again, Steen never had to decide how much to count off for someone who makes an arithmetic mistake while calculating the components of an ANOVA table (one point if it's a small error, many points if the student ended up with negative sums of squares and didn't realize their mistake).

(Via the hopelessly honest Jane Galt).

Posted by kswygert at 12:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Booboos in Honolulu

Harcourt Assessment, Inc., is in the news again - and not in a good way:

Specialists at the [Hawai'i] Department of Education are combing through a battery of standardized tests looking for more errors after test coordinators, teachers and students spotted numerous mistakes this spring.

The errors raise questions about the high-stakes tests, which are taken by thousands of Hawai'i students and used to determine whether schools meet annual goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law, with schools that fall short facing consequences.

The state has documented errors in the instructions, samples and the actual tests. After the review is complete, the DOE may either throw out incorrect test questions, give students credit or partial credit for some questions or, as a last resort, have students retake portions of the tests.

The tests were prepared by Harcourt Assessment Inc., a San Antonio, Texas-based company that has a five-year, $20 million contract with the DOE...

Harcourt's president apologized to state officials in Oklahoma last month after errors were found on sample questions on student tests. In the past several years, according to press reports, Harcourt has also been involved in test errors in a handful of other states, including Nevada, where it paid a $425,000 fine after mistakes led to failing scores for more than 700 Nevada high school students.

Posted by kswygert at 09:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Those who learn from the past

Last spring, as graduation neared, we had the saga of New Jersey litigant, plagiarist, and professional whiner Blair Hornstine to keep us amused. This year, another top student in New Jersey makes the news, by not repeating Blair's mistakes:

On paper, Joshua Bocher, 18, son of Gordon and Betsy Bocher, is the top student in Vineland High School Class of 2004. But he was home instructed for a portion of his high school career due to a medical reason. He was not mandated to take gym.

A hairbreadth behind him in the grade point average race, Christina Crum, a traditional student, did fulfill the gym requirement. That cut into the time that she could devote to the advanced and weighted courses that may have nudged her grade point average even higher.

As the academic competition headed down to the wire, there was public speculation about what would happen next. Blair Hornstine's legal battle last year was still fresh in everyone's mind. Home-instructed Hornstine successfully sued to be Moorestown High School's lone valedictorian, kicking off a backlash that caused her to skip graduation.

The valedictorian scenario was put to candidates at last month's school board candidates' forum. People brought the issue to the podium at recent school board meetings. But Bocher met with Principal Charles Ottinger, who said he would stand by the student no matter what he opted to do.

So Bocher took matters into his own hands, offering a solution that allows everyone to shine.

He will share valedictorian honors with Crum, 18, daughter of Mercedes and Fredrick Crum Jr. That means room at the podium for the third-highest ranking student, Lee Levkowitz, who said she was grateful for Bocher's goodwill gesture.

Posted by kswygert at 08:29 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Hyperbole watch

Fellow blogger Daryl Cobranchi drew my attention to an outrageous statement by a political wanna-be in Delaware. Dave Graham, who is seeking the Republican nominee for governor, believes parents who support testing are terrorists, and said so in a speech:

It's not in this article, but Mr. Graham uttered one of the dumbest lines in the history of Delaware politics during his stump speech yesterday. Saying that the country is at war with terrorism, he announced that the state accountability tests had turned parents into terrorists of their children. Yes, he actually equated testing with terror.

Absurd. On the other hand, it's quite sensible to equate "Graham" with "loser:"

Graham said he notified all 344 delegates to this weekend's state Republican Party convention about his scheduled campaign announcement, not one of whom showed up in Dover.

"I take it as a compliment," he said. "It takes a concerted effort for no one to show up."

Posted by kswygert at 08:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 10, 2004

Round-up #2: Testing news

Still trying to get caught up on my "blogligations" here...


Power to the people, man! Modesto High students protest standardized testing policies. You'd think I'd be mocking them, but the kids have their heads on straight. Their complaints - that the tests they must score "proficient" or above on are not in sync with their International Baccalaureate program - are pretty sensible. Their black t-shirts are pretty spiffy. And they're wearing these t-shirts as part of a silent protest. Teenagers who use common sense, wear black, and understand the power of silence - they've converted me to their cause already.


High school GPAs are up, nationwide; test scores aren't. This editorial in the Las Vegas Review Journal wonders why.


An Arizona State University survey reveals that parents like the idea of ranking schools with test scores and imposing exit exams. Ethnicity didn't matter, and the survey was conducted in both Spanish and English. It's a telephone survey, though, which means that people with only cell phones, or no phones, were left out.


If you're an NYC third-grader and you missed the first reading test, the makeup is on May 12th. Be there, or be in third grade again next year.


North Carolina is inching closer to dropping a test for teachers. But the Governor is fighting the change in plans, which was apparently pushed through to help battle a teacher shortage.


Finally, in Louisiana's St. Charles parish, three teachers have flunked a different, very important kind of test:

...three teachers became cheaters themselves, betraying their profession, their school district and, worst of all, the children in their charge.

A teacher at Norco Elementary School gave answers to 15 fifth-graders who were taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills last month, according to state education officials. A teacher at Ethel Schoeffner Elementary School in Destrehan looked at questions on the Iowa test and gave 15 sixth-graders examples of the types of questions they would be asked, officials said...

These teachers set a terrible example for their students. Ironically, it was the children who brought the incidents to light by telling another teacher what had happened. They showed courage and honesty in doing so, but they shouldn't have been put in that position.

Posted by kswygert at 05:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Do as I say, not as I do

From this article on the STAR in California comes an odd, unquestioned testing criticism:

Sergio Miguel remembers all too well what it was like taking tests in a foreign language, something nearly 30 percent of Tulare County students do. Miguel moved to Lindsay from Mexico when he was a high school freshman.

"It was extremely difficult to learn English," he said.

Nevertheless, Miguel learned English at Lindsay High School, went on to College of the Sequoias and got his bachelor's degree at California State University, Fresno.

Now back at Lindsay High, where he teaches math, Miguel watched last week as his students who speak limited English struggled on standardized tests, re-quired by California law to be in English, the very same tests that determine statewide school rankings.

He watched, not able to help.

"There is a huge frustration for me," he said. "If they were given a test in Spanish, without doubt their scores would be way ahead of their scores now."

Does Miguel not see that the reason he was able to succeed in our society was because Lindsay High School insisted on teaching him English? His students might very well do fine on the test if it were given in Spanish, but so what? Does that mean his students would have the tools necessary to succeed in our society? No.

That much said, I'm aware the tests aren't perfect, and testing does not in and of itself improve education. But I wonder if so many teachers would be "throwing their hands in the air" if there wasn't the constant, not-quite-accurate refrain about how these tests only measure affluence. Schools, and educators, who insist that accountability measures reflect only the home environment make me wonder why we should be paying their salaries.

Posted by kswygert at 02:32 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More about the FCAT than you ever wanted to know

The big FCAT news: More than half (51%) of all FCAT-takers this past year are reading on grade level. Today's press conference webcast can be found here; score reports are on the same page. The reading scores suggest that schools in the lower grades are doing a much better job of educating readers than the upper grade schools; 70% of fourth-graders scored a 3 (out of 5) or better, while only 32% of ninth-graders did the same. There's no such pattern for math, though.

Third-graders with disabilities fail the FCAT at twice the rate as their non-disabled peers. 8,300 of them have flunked the test for the second year in a row, and more than half of those have a disability. There is a loophole: "special education students who already have been retained one year and have received intensive remediation are eligible to be promoted, even if they flunk the test a second time."

And speaking of loopholes: The 143 Collier County seniors who failed the FCAT but fulfilled all other graduation requirements will still be able to walk across the stage at graduation. The lone voice of concern ("Somehow our curriculum and instruction does not correlate with the FCAT. What should we be doing to prevent this discrepancy?") was bypassed in favor of making sure students don't become "another statistic in welfare." But if those students don't ultimately learn what they need to know to pass the FCAT, that graduation walk isn't going to get them hired.

Florida's senate said parents of failing students should be able to view FCAT items and answers; however, the measure, approved by the Florida senate three days before the end of this year's legislative session, did not make it through the House. The fight to open up the test to parents (and, on the part of education officials, to keep the test confidential) will resume next year.

More FCAT opinions and letters to the editor: The FCAT provides "a measure of reality". The FCAT is "not the solution". Retaining disabled students is somehow "breeding failure." And schools need to be teaching the skills measured by the FCAT, not the test-taking skills that have been the focus.

Last but not least, a bill approved by the state Legislature this spring allows seniors to substitute "passing" scores on the SAT and ACT for the FCAT requirement. The qualified students must have failed the FCAT three times but make a "passing" score on the SAT/ACT. In case you're wondering why I'm putting "passing" in double-quotes, it's because I'm skeptical about how such a standard will be chosen for a college admissions exam when the population in question has repeatedly failed a tenth-grade exam.

There's no reason to provide this alternative if the FCAT and SAT/ACT scores would identify the same group, so the thesis must be that there is some "passing" point on the college admission exams that students who fail the FCAT can achieve. But if the purpose of the exam is to "rescue" those repeated failers, the SAT/ACT standards will be set so low as to do nothing but verify that those students aren't too skilled.

Reading further, I see my worst fears are realized:

...the cutoff scores that seniors must earn to qualify for the substitution are a 15 each on the ACT reading and math tests. For the SAT, they must earn a 370 on the SAT reading test and a 410 on the SAT math test.

In other words, if you fail the FCAT three times, you don't get a standard diploma. But if you fail the FCAT three times and then, on the SAT, score around the 15th percentile on reading, and around the 28th percentile for math - scores which essentially show convergent validity with the failing FCAT scores - you can get a diploma.

To whom did this make any sense whatsoever?

To these state representatives, I assume:

State Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, said Thursday he proposed that the Legislature make the SAT or ACT tests permanent substitutes for the FCAT for seniors who fail the FCAT, but the state Senate did not agree. Pickens said that means the Legislature must approve a new law each year for the SAT and ACT rule to apply.

[Tony Hill Sr., D-Jacksonville] said in the release that "obtaining a high school diploma after diligently working toward it for 12 years should be joyous [sic] occasion, celebrating the end of the first phase of ones [sic] life and the beginning of the bath [sic] toward the remaining phases in ones [sic] life..."

If that's a verbatim quote, I worry about Senator Hill just as much as I worry about those students who learn so little from their Florida high schools.

Posted by kswygert at 01:42 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Round-up: Testing news

The nation's class of 2006 have a choice to make - the new SAT, or the old SAT? The majority of schools will accept scores from either one, and students might feel their performance would be better on one of the two. And the two largest test-prep companies, Kaplan and The Princeton Review, are already sniping at one another about the best method of test preparation.


The subheadline for this story says it all: "District fears total collapse; voters tired of poor test scores." How poor? Considering that Southfield (MI) Public Schools is one of the most highly funded districts in Oakland County, pretty poor:

If the June millage passes, the owner of a $200,000 home in Southfield would pay $1,963.45 for schools in each of the next five years.

In West Bloomfield, where the tax on homes is almost 4 mills, the owner of a $200,000 home pays about $400 a year.

Despite the heavy tax burden, only 48 percent of all tested Southfield students passed the standardized Michigan Educational Assessment Program, or MEAP, test. That compares to 78.4 percent in Bloomfield Hills and 72.4 percent in West Bloomfield, according to Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services. The figure is a percentage of all students in grades four, five, seven, eight and 11 who meet or exceed state standards.

Some say the demographic specifics of Southfield mean that students just don't have opportunity. But with this tax crunch, pretty soon, there won't be any students left. A testing opponent is quoted as saying that Southfield's poor test scores aren't actually a reflection of ability, but instead of the amount of "opportunity" available to students. Why parents should pay so much money in taxes for schools that don't seem to be doing much to provide opportunity goes unexplained.


In Ontario they're disputing the 10th-grade literacy test because it "discourages" those who fail it. Presumably, those who who fail to attain a 10th-grade literacy level but are still awarded a high school diploma will not be "discouraged" by their subsequent life experiences. Apparently, there are tons of jobs in Canada that don't require tenth-grade reading skills. Who knew?


They start young in Texas: Fifth-grade students to begin SAT test prep.

Posted by kswygert at 09:52 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 09, 2004

Round-up: Educational news

California's poll of 1,056 teachers reveals a "stark reality" of educational gaps, according to the Tri-Valley Herald. While I'm no believer in "redistributing wealth," it's appalling that any American schools should have to deal with vermin, missing equipment and textbooks - and underqualified teachers. Be interesting to see what the public - and political - reaction is.

Tennessee's proposed scholarship system might run out of money very, very soon. Is the solution more time - or higher standards?

Is getting kids out of the classroom and into real-life "laboratories" the way to close the achievement gap? Opinion writer Richard Louv thinks so. But what's really having an effect here - the outdoor classroom itself, or the school's willingness to participate and the teacher's ability to work this into a lesson plan? This type of education requires committed schools and teachers well-versed in the scientific method - could that be the real key?

New site that you might enjoy:, from the Progressive Policy Institute. Informative and non-partisan (they support both NCLB and John Kerry's suggestions for improving teacher quality. (Update: Joanne Jacobs comments: "I think Eduwonk is excellent, but I wouldn't call them non-partisan. They're New Democrats aka moderate Democrats. They do seem to put education first, and partisan issues second." I think I'm so used to seeing far-left writings on education sites that Eduwonk seemed non-partisan in comparison.)

In the UK, there's just as much controversy over educational accountability as there is here.

Textbook distribution is now entering the 21st century, as IBM and Vital Source Technologies are offering Texas schools the option of buying laptops instead of textbooks. The laptops will contain the digital versions of state-approved textbooks. Unsurprisingly, the "e-textbook" pilot will be done with elementary-school students, as they're the perfect group to test whether the software is intuitive and useable.

Here's a snapshot of a troubled Philadelphia school that asked Foundations Inc., a New Jersey-based nonprofit education organization, for an overhaul. Martin Luther King High is ending its first year as the first Philadelphia high school to be run by outside management, and the results are not overwhelmingly encouraging.

Posted by kswygert at 09:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Round-up: Various things

Remember my post from a few months back about the California (where else?) senator who wanted to give 14-year-olds the vote? Well, that bill, SB 1606, just passed the state Senate Committee on Elections and Reappointment. Don't know what exactly that means for the bill's chance of success, but the fact that such an inane idea passed muster with any group of adults is a little scary. I have to say I love Right Thinking From the Left Coast's take on it: "And look, the idea of children voting is offensive. The reason they can't vote is because they are children, and therefore are idiots. They can't legally enter into a contract, but they can vote? Idiocy. If people in this state aren't interested in voting, then the way to get them interested is by fielding candidates who aren't a bunch of complete tools."


In Great Britain, the National Foundation for Educational Research and the Department for Education and Skills have teamed up to study, and promote, a skill that doesn't seem to have much to do with education. But this type of research is certainly more interesting than crunching scores on educational tests, isn't it? And I wonder - will the "skills" in question lose their appeal when teachers start promoting them?


A tribute to Mother's Day that notes the importance of ignoring "self-esteem" and displaying a zero tolerance for whining. A tip for mothers out there: This is one way to teach your kid proper bathroom etiquette.


Finally, Steve Sailer has had just about enough of the current rumor floating around, disguised as research, which says that states who voted for Bush in 2000 have lower mean IQs than state who voted for Gore. Not only does Steve deflate the rumor entirely:

Hoax Update: The table of IQs by state spreading across liberal blogdom is purportedly based on the Ravens Advanced Progressive IQ Matrices test. Psychometrician Chris Brand tells me: "John Raven knows of no comprehensive State-by-State data for his test."

Case closed.

...he also points out the following attitude, which never fails to bug me, too:

Nothing demonstrates the hypocrisy of Democrats on the topic of IQ than the enthusiasm with which so many leapt aboard this bandwagon as a way to prove they were mentally superior to Republicans, despite, in the near-decade since the publication of The Bell Curve, having constantly denounced IQ tests as meaningless, racist, and evil incarnate.

The website which had the most to do with spreading the bogus graph now claims it was all a joke. Doesn't sound like Steve's laughing. Would these liberal "hoaxers" be laughing if, say, a rumor was spread that women's studies majors and Democrats all had demonstrably lower IQs? Or would that be termed "hate speech"?

Posted by kswygert at 09:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 07, 2004

Still swamped

Today - Even more non-bloggage (the workload is still frighteningly heavy).

This weekend - A roundup of all the testing and education stories I've neglected to post in the past week or so.

Next week - Back to regular blogging (I hope!).

Also, I've recently noticed an influx of people requesting help in the comments of various posts. If the idea is to get input from my readers, that's fine; if the idea is to ask me a particular question, you need to send me an email, not leave a comment, because there's no guarantee I'll find a comment on an old post. The email address is kimberly at kimberlyswygert dot com.

See this post for information on what I can and can't help you with. Also note that I know little about battling school systems with regards to zero tolerance rules and crappy dress codes. I'm certainly willing to help publicize such matters, but you must send me an email that either (a) contains links or (b) can be quoted in full with your name. I'm not going to post anonymous or unsupported charges against a school.

Update: I had planned on providing a link to Zero Intelligence for those of you who are battling zero tolerance policies, but I didn't want to send everyone there without clearing it with Jim first. Lo and behold, Jim posted in my comments section and invited readers to visit his site.

Posted by kswygert at 11:07 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 05, 2004

Still crazy

Work is still quite insane, and I don't expect to get to the mounds of suggested links and emails until tonight at the earliest, possibly tomorrow. Apologies for the blog outage. I had planned on taking a brief blog vacation during the first two weeks of June; it might have to come sooner than that.

Posted by kswygert at 10:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 03, 2004

Monday, Monday

Apologies for the lack of posting. I'll be working on other things until tomorrow afternoon, at which point I promise I'll post all the articles that have been sent along by my Devoted Readers.

Posted by kswygert at 02:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack