Testing professional Rick Stiggins on the lessons to be learned from the recent obsession with standardized testing:
Politicians are so painfully misinformed about sound assessment practices that they do exactly the wrong thing with them. They misunderstand how testing impacts student motivation...
The problem is that not all students respond to the increased pressure in productive ways. High achievers bank their confidence, redouble their efforts and learn more. But perennial low achievers see success as even more unattainable. They give up in hopelessness and learn less. For them, high-stakes tests have exactly the opposite effect.
Average them and what do you get? No change.
But what if we could keep those low performers from giving up? We know how to do just that, not with intimidation-driven tests but with effective confidence-building classroom assessment...The problem is that teachers and administrators have never been given access to those practices because it has not been part of their initial training and there is no money for professional development...
I agree that tests in and of themselves don't increase learning. I also agree entirely with Rick that the way for children to build confidence on high-stakes exams is to have plenty of experience with those "confidence-building" low-stakes classroom assessments that provide plenty of helpful feedback.
However, I believe that the educational community often has such an ingrained suspicion of tests of any kind that even "effective confidence-building classroom assessments" might not be welcomed with open arms. I agree that education is not about once-a-year tests - it's about multiple tests, some which are high-stakes, and some which are for feedback only. But I suspect that many "educators," trained to value "self-esteem" above all, avoid any sort of objective assessment or feedback in the classroom. Until we can get away from the notion that one bad test score (high-stakes or no) will irreparably damage a child's self-esteem, educators will not take advantage of the positive impact that testing can have.
Why is an elementary school that consistently has among the highest test grades in its district facing closure?
Massive fund-raisers and sponsorships may be necessary, but the Van Buren school district should keep Haggerty Elementary School open, a parent told the school board Monday...In addition to closing Haggerty next year, the district is considering $420,000 in cuts for this year.
Among the cuts are the layoffs of about 25 people, including about 10 teachers, social workers and counselors. The cuts would occur in the middle of the school year. The mid-year reductions would be to cope with a possible mid-year cut in the state funding, which could range from $50 to $150 per student...
After the meeting, Board Treasurer Keith Johnston said he would support some mid-year cuts but would not support closing Haggerty. "Why are you going to penalize a school for being successful?" Johnston said. Haggerty has consistently had among the highest standardized test scores in the district.
I guess it's all about the money:
Superintendent Pete Lazaroff...said the district learned last week that the state may cut the per pupil foundation grant by $100 per student for this school year. To deal with the reduction, which would cost the district about $607,000, Lazaroff is recommending about $420,000 in cuts to take effect during the middle of the school year. These include eliminating 10 certified staff positions and about 15 other positions and eliminating three high school classes.
For the 2005-06 year, Lazaroff said the district would save about $615,000 in custodial, food service and utilities by closing Haggerty and redistricting the school's students throughout the remaining five elementary schools.
Linda Schrock Taylor has apparently had it with poor spelling education:
Schools only pretend to teach spelling. Children are assigned spelling books in many classrooms; in many schools. Lists of words are included; activities around those lists are completed; tests are given. So…why is yet another generation of poor spellers being sent out from the schools, into the working world, where they are lost, even with computers and tools such as Franklin Spelling Aces?
The main reason for this outrage is that possibly as many as 99% of the teachers do not understand that English is written in an alphabetic Code, and that this Code for English is used to encode auditory speech and inner speech (i.e. thought). Most teachers are not even aware that English is well structured and logical...
My early teachers often gave me only part of a spelling rule, then told me that everything else was an exception or a rule breaker...They wasted my learning time and allowed me to develop totally inappropriate strategies for spelling my mother tongue...
To make matters worse, textbook writers do not understand the surface, let alone the underlying structures and layers of English, so they write textbooks that fail to teach spelling, rather than writing books that would help teachers, who have already been so damaged by their own schooling, both in the grammar years, as well as in teacher training classes, to make mental repairs and finally learn how to spell logically, and how to teach logical spelling. Modern textbooks only offer lists of words that anyone could put together so that a child might work on memorization – although certainly not on spelling.
Don't hold back, Linda - tell us how you really feel.
A Boston Herald Op-Ed takes the gloves off:
The Board of Education proposed to make teacher certification easier in Massachusetts, and that's fine. But what's really needed is a complete overhaul that junks most of the requirements that do little for the profession.
The research is clear: The best predictor of success in teaching is the brainpower of the teacher. Demonstration of intellectual ability ought to be the only requirement for a probationary license. One criterion could a minimum score on the SAT or ACT college admission tests, or the Graduate Record Examinations. Candidates not meeting the threshold would have to present an acceptable college transcript.
Demonstration of competence in the classroom, as judged by visits to the classroom in the probationary year, might be even better.
Emphasis mine. I eagerly await the stream of snitty letters to the Herald insisting that "love of teaching" and "caring" should be the primary qualifications for teaching, and that those who "love kids" shouldn't be held to objective standards, much less those assessed via (horrors!) standardized tests.
From Devoted Reader Ashley comes this tale of cheating with style - and lots and lot of of Old Money (in the US, having rich grandparents qualifies for that):
When they named a University of Missouri sports arena after their daughter, billionaire Wal-Mart heirs Nancy and Bill Laurie pronounced themselves "very proud parents." But this week, they found themselves stripping Paige's name from the building - after allegations that she paid a roommate $20,000 to do most of her coursework at the University of Southern California.
Elizabeth Paige Laurie, 22, graduated from USC this year. But her first-semester roommate, Elena Martinez, said Paige hired her to write her papers, prepare her oral reports and even exchange e-mail with her professors in nearly every class she took for four years.
Nearly every class? Good Lord. I can understand students who buckle to the pressures of one tough professor, but if you're not going to do anything the entire four years, why go to school?
Meanwhile, USC has opened an investigation into the alleged cheating. In 25 years in academia, vice president for student affairs Michael Jackson said, "I've never heard of possible cheating of this magnitude."
Martinez said this week she never intended the fraud to go so far. She helped Paige with a paper first semester of their freshman year, she said, and happily pocketed $25 as thanks. But soon, she said, Paige was asking her to take over almost all her schoolwork - even after Martinez dropped out for financial reasons.
Martinez said Paige continued sending her books and assignments - and e-mails critiquing the work she sent back.
"I rarely got a bad grade, but if I did, she'd say 'This was horrible.' She was pretty picky," Martinez said. "She was a very demanding, expect-the-best boss." She said she collected about $20,000 over four years.
Only $5K a year for someone who's broke and doing all your schoolwork - and forced to adhere to high standards, to boot? The drive to get the most product for the least amount of money must run in the Wal-Mart heir's veins.
From a new Devoted Reader who shall remain nameless (for now) comes this lovely email:
I stumbled upon your blog several weeks ago and I definitely liked what I found. In fact, I must admit that going through the archives to catch up on old entries has become a favorite method of procrastination. :)
Anyway, I thought I would share a story that appeared in my hometown newspaper that would be perfect for your site....
Take notes, people. THIS is the way to send email to bloggers. If you ever want to send me a link and aren't sure what to say in the email, just cut and paste this and insert your name at the end. Seriously, there's not much more you can do to make a blogger feel good than to write emails like this. Makes it all worthwhile.
Here I thought my stepfather was the world's biggest packrat, but he's been beat. It appears that the Internet never throws anything away, even evidence of my geekiest (and previously married) days:
From: Kimberly Swygert Raines (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: question about string-to-number conversion
View: Original Format
i have a question about using C++ to read in data from files which are not white-space delineated (in fact, some of the data will be in Fortran's scientific notation (-1.456e+2, for example, and some of the data may come from dialog boxes). we are unsure at this point as to how to read this data in. cin won't work, and while we have gotten hold of some sample programs that utilize the "atoi" command, it's only in the context of the argc and argv commands, and i think those are only needed if we run this on UNIX (which we're not). can someone supply me with some info on atoi, as well as any info about reading in string data? i may not be explaining this too clearly, as i'm part of a research group that's just now learning c++. we haven't found too much in the documentation that we have.....
any info would be appreciated
Oh, yes, this was from my "trying to master C++" days. As well as my "I'm so cool, I don't need to use capital letters" days. Yeeks. On the plus side, it wasn't long after I posted this email that I started my first (now-defunct) web site that was all about me, freedom of speech, and industrial music.
In a rivalry that is 121st old, students at Yale University successfully pulled off the most impressive prank in the history of rival pranks.
The students (in a video you can view here) faked being members of the "Harvard Pep Squad," passing out pieces of paper to the Harvard side of the stadium. These Harvard fans were told that the pieces of paper would join together to spell "GO HARVARD." Little did they know, when held up at just the right moment, the pieces actually spelled "WE SUCK."
While this was not an original idea, it was still a great feat in and of itself. The prank was reminiscent of the Great Rose Bowl Hoax on January 2, 1961.
These kinds of tricks are perfect for Ivy League football games, where the crowd is too preppy and well-behaved to be violent. There's a reason that no one pulls this kind of prank against, say, Georgia Tech.
The pro-voucher Captain's Quarters wonders why the Washington Post understands the disease - poor public schools - yet prescribes an ineffective "cure" - AA at the college level:
Today's Washington Post editorial decries the sudden dropoff in enrollment for African-Americans at the University of Michigan after a long legal battle upheld the college's affirmative-action programs. The Post tries to blame the publicity surrounding the lawsuit for the stark decline, but in the next breath notes that the falling enrollments belong to a national trend...
The Post correctly deduces the problem -- a failing public-school system -- but then continues to advocate the same tired diversity policies at the college level for a cure. The Post provides no evidence that discrimination exists at the college level at Michigan or anywhere else. In fact, they note that colleges compete heavily for qualified African-American applicants. So why propose further affirmative action for the problem?
The true cause of falling enrollments is a public-school system that locks children into failing institutions with no hope of upward or outward mobility...
School voucher programs would solve most of these problems, even if given limited application to failing school districts. In order to produce students who can succeed at the college level, schools must produce successful students in the primary grades first. Once in high school, the battle is all but over; if they have not learned the basics at that point, they likely will fail there, let alone apply to college.
It's odd that the WaPo understands that the problem is that "American public schools are preparing many fewer African American students...for education at elite universities than those universities would like to admit," yet insists that more intelligent AA policies, and more scholarship money that is unrelated to merit, are part of the solution. Bottom line: If schools really want "diversity" without sacrificing academic excellence, they'll stop lowering standards, stop giving money to unprepared students, and start insisting that public schools - and local governments - work together to improve K-12 education.
Real-life imitates Rodney Dangerfield (well, sort of):
Roger "Rusty" Martin is the oldest freshman at Saint John's College in Annapolis -- by four decades. The 61-year-old president of Randolph-Macon College, in Ashland, Virginia, says he wants to study the freshman experience in a way that would be impossible from the president's office. At Randolph-Macon, Martin's one-on-one contact with students took place mostly across a desk. But he wants to know what first-year students are really like.
So he's taking a semester-long sabbatical from the top of the academic food chain to dwell at the bottom. After his semester at Saint John's ends, Martin plans to publish some of his thoughts in one or more magazine articles. He says his fellow freshmen are strikingly focused, keen to study, averse to drugs and loyal to their parents.
Something tells me Martin's experiences won't generalize too well to the college-age population as a whole. But if just one silly orientation class or crappy food-service company gets the boot, I figure Martin's foray into froshhood will have accomplished something.
Tim Blair lets loose a fine rant about the recent hand-wringing and fretting over driver's education specifics in Australia. The Daily Telegraph, you see, is worried about the "supercars" available to provisional drivers, and wants to hold the government - and car manufacturers - responsible for making such cars available. But Tim notes that when tragedies (such as a 15-year-old pregnant girl killed in a crash) happen, those responsible are usually those in the driver's seat:
Please. Do you think the driver was unaware that it is not a good idea to drive at 200km/h in a 50km/h zone with a pregnant teenage passenger? Speaking of whom, her 33-year-old boyfriend was also on board. Why wasn’t he demanding that his youthful friend slow the hell down? For that matter, why didn’t Mr Schyf [the dead girl's father] educate his kids about not getting pregnant at 15 to men more than twice their age?
A certain issue of personal responsibility appears to have been dodged here, at several levels. Yesterday The Telegraph ran a puzzling piece by Luke McIlveen (not available online) defending Natasha Schyf’s pregnancy: "We should be praising Natasha Schyf for committing to one of life’s biggest challenges at such a young age."
Excuse me? She was knocked up by a 33-year-old. Congratulations!...
In its zeal to pursue the NSW government, The Telegraph has missed the bigger story. We've got here a 20-year-old so irresponsible he drives a car containing a pregnant girl at four times the speed limit; a 33-year-old so irresponsible he has sex with 15-year-olds; and parents so irresponsible they allow it. And the Telegraph is worried about ... driver ed.
There are irresponsible idiots here, but the car manufacturers - and the government - aren't the problem.
Of course, schools are bound by law to be concerned with children's safety. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's motto, 'That which does not kill me makes me strong', is catchy, but it makes poor childcare advice. But the culture of fear has rarely resulted in reasonable policies and accurate information. In fact, reactions are likely to prove more harmful to children's development and education than the risk from which they are being protected.
For example, in the early 1980s the TV programme That's Life ran a series of stories on the risks of school playground surfaces causing head injuries, showing films of china plates smashing on the floor. But children's heads have little in common with china plates, and serious head injuries from falls do not appear at all in the statistics on playground injuries.
When a 15-year-old boy tragically drowned in a pond in 2000, a national newspaper launched a campaign, backed by politicians and other public figures, urging parents to fill in their garden ponds. It is indeed true, as TV presenter Esther Rantzen solemnly put it, that 'toddlers can die in the shallowest of water'. But should one accident lead us to abolish water from children's experiences?...
An overcautious approach makes for dull environments. Such environments present too little challenge for children, and some children respond by looking for other opportunities for adventure, sometimes with much greater risk of personal injury.
I believe I learned to swim by falling into a lake, although my grandmother was pretty quick to yank me out by my heels. I also got knocked out when some kid climbing down a metal jungle gym wasn't looking below him and kicked me in the head and off the contraption entirely. If I recall correctly, that kid got a talking-to from the principal like I've never seen before - but the jungle gym stayed in place. I'm sure it's been replaced now with safer plastic construction, but as long as kids continue to be kids, the dangers will be there. Better to have them learn the rules in a reasonably-safe environment than to try to remove all risk entirely.
Update: Perhaps I should clarify. When I say that parents should not be over-cautious, and should allow their children to roam and risk danger, I don't mean this (first letter). Or this. Allowing children to experience danger doesn't mean abdicating all sense and responsibility, or letting your young daughters spend a lot of time around complete idiots.
True-crime junkies like me are always looking for weird tales of mayhem and murder. Variables such as teenage angst, familial hostilities, wicca, gothy depression, and the internet never fail to ratchet up the weird factor, as the tale of Rachelle Waterman demonstrates:
The teenage daughter of a woman whose body was found in a burning van on Prince of Wales Island has been charged with her mother's murder, along with two men that she knew, according to authorities.
Lauri Waterman, 48, of Craig, a community of 1,200 about 220 south of Juneau, was killed early Sunday. Craig Police Sgt. Mark Habib said Lauri Waterman's daughter, 16-year-old Rachelle Waterman, was arrested late Friday, although she was out of town when her mother was killed. No specific information on her involvement was available, but she was to be arraigned Saturday in Craig District Court, according to the Ketchikan Daily News.
She faces first-degree murder charges along with two men arrested in the case.
According to some, Rachelle is an "ideal" child - and an honor student. Unluckily for her, though, the entire world gets to check out her grammatical skills, because she has a journal - and it's online:
Well I'm going to anchorage tomorrow morning, huzzah for going to hot topic! ^_^ it shoudl be af un trip besidse the massive amounts of caluculus I have to do and nobody can help me cus nobody knows it :P taht kidna sucks but oh well
not a lot else going on, I sprained my ankle monday but it's a lot better so I'm still playing, that's what a brace is for. Unfortuantely I might be getting sick, which sucks but I have some flu stuff. though it did suck today in school when I had a migraine from about 9am-6pm.
And so on, misspelled word after misspelled word. Most days, her mood is listed as sick, tired, or depressed; me, I would have selected "whiny" as the appropriate label for most posts. She claims to have gotten in trouble with the folks for having wicca books around. And, allegedly after she had been made aware that her mother was dead, she posted this:
Well back from anchorage and it was an okay trip. I got kinda sick but oh well
Did shopping, played v-ball (got 5th, bah), and that's about it. Not much to tell, well I got these incredibly awesome boots that go up to my knees, I absolutely love them. will post pic later
Five days later - and one day before her arrest - she mentions that her mom has been killed, and that the police are taking her computer. I haven't had time to slog through the 4000+ comments from that post, but I'm sure there are some interesting comments on there (Barista has selected a choice few, though, and Wizbang has the best post title). Here are the unhappy teenagers in court. And the Alaska State Troopers' press release has some additional information about Lauri Waterman's last, horrific minutes.
Update: Glassdog is not impressed by Rachelle's tales of woe. As one commenter notes, "Further proof that you can never trust a Wiccan Hot Topic Patron that can't spell simple words."
And Michele notes here in my comments:
Do NOT slog through the comments. Lots and lots of ugly, pornographic images inserted therein.
I'm not surprised. In fact, I'm only surprised that LJ hasn't disabled the page yet.
For several days, the Web site was quiet. Then came stories about Waterman's arrest and arraignment, some of which mentioned the journal. Since then, it's become a hot spot...Most [of the comments] seem to be written by teens and young adults. Many are glib, some are heartfelt, a few are disturbing and a number are obscene.
Taken together, they create a fascinating peephole into a world where lock-and-key diaries have been replaced by journals written for the whole planet to read and respond to, a world where voyeurism has been compounded by participation.
This is a no-filter, no-editors world where people speak their mind in sometimes profane outbursts. Sometimes, they don't really have all that much to say, but feel compelled to comment anyway...
"No-filter, no-editors world"? That's rather ominous phraseology to describe pages on which people are creatively exercising their freedom of speech. What, are we supposed to be scared of blogs and online journals now?
In the past, some less-than-motivated students have been able to use a loophole, related to North Carolina's extensive end-of-grade and end-of-course testing, to avoid working consistently throughout the year. Students in Orange County were able to squeak by and pass classes with high test scores - but low homework scores - and now administrators are looking to close that loophole:
Occasionally, an Orange County student who's hasn't done his or her classwork during the school year has wound up passing the grade or class by acing a state-required standardized test.
Now, the county school board is trying to change that. Members are considering a policy that would require students to meet classwork and attendance standards before they could pass a class. The current practice allows students to move on just by showing proficiency on state tests.
"You potentially had students who would do nothing during the school year," said Superintendent Shirley Carraway. "It's just awful. If you think the end-of-grade or end-of-course test is a minimum standard, you could pass and simply eke by."
Board members are now aiming to make promotion dependent on any local requirements as well as test scores.
Schools in Florida are reaching out to Hispanic parents with FCAT primer sessions - and breakfast meetings:
...Lujan goes to Dixieland Elementary in Lakeland, one of several Polk schools making new efforts to reach parents exactly like Hernandez. The school is hosting breakfast meetings, school tours and cultural family celebrations in an effort to familiarize Hispanic parents with the curriculum and make them feel more comfortable at the school.
The hope is that if parents feel they're part of the school's community, they'll play a more active role in their child's education.
"When they come here, these parents feel very isolated from the school," said Julie Dean, Dixieland's school psychologist. "We want to put parents in a role where they can be a part of their child's education"...
Many teachers and school administrators think parental involvement is key to a child's academic success.
"When parents are involved, children do better. Their attendance goes up. Their attitude is up. Their behavior problems are better," said Dean of Dixieland Elementary.
Pinellas County, FL, leads the state's urban counties in SAT scores and percentage of students heading off to college. They've got an educational system to be proud of.
...as Times writers Thomas Tobin and Donna Winchester reported in a revealing survey of Pinellas education gauges, that laudable record has masked a more disturbing one. Throughout Pinellas schools, as measured by the FCAT, large numbers of students are failing to measure up.
Of Florida's seven most populous counties, Pinellas rates last in the percentage of black students whose reading and math scores place them at or above grade level, last in the performance of Hispanic students, last in the performance of white students, next to last in the gap between white and black students, second from last in the performance of poor students. Last year, Pinellas was the only of the seven districts to post no gains in the percentage of students passing the reading and math tests...
... the raw test scores in math and reading do tell a worrisome story. They suggest Pinellas is letting down far too many of its schoolchildren and that a county that in the 1980s was deemed an education leader has lost some of its vision, if not its direction.
Ask teachers. Morale is so low they at first rejected their contract earlier this year. They complain of unproductive interference and constant changes in the classroom...
Ask administrators. Their own satisfaction with public education dropped from 70 percent in 1998 to 56 percent in 2001.
Ask parents. The rate of private-school enrollment in Pinellas is twice that of comparable districts nationally.
The special report is here. Disturbingly, even those who are more likely to succeed on the FCAT - white and Asian students - are more likely to fail it in Pinellas. Although the county has "relatively few" poor students, the academic underclass is large, with over a third struggling just to graduate. There are no F schools in Pinellas - but half of them are D's.
Pinellas has long been known for innovative educational policies - but when simple tests can throw the whole system "for a loop," it's time to take a closer look.
More testing for home-schooled kids in Oregon?
An Oregon Department of Education plan to crack down on school districts that receive money for teaching home-schoolers could require hundreds of Central Oregon students to take yet another standardized test.
The policy change will require home-schooled students to take the Oregon Statewide Assessment test if they receive tutoring or take special classes in reading/literature, math or science that are paid for by public schools. Oregon home-schoolers already must take a national standardized test in third, fifth, eighth and 10th grades.
Parents who don't rely on public school classes at all won't be affected.
New Jersey's Star-Ledger is fed up with the endless discussions of what types of math to teach in schools, because no matter how you slice it, NJ's students aren't learning it:
State data released this month show a gap of 10 percentage points between language arts and math on both grade levels. In fourth grade, about 72 percent of students pass math (it's 82 percent for language arts) and the passing rate falls to just under 62 percent in eighth grade (versus 72 for language arts).
The problem gets worse when kids hit high school. Scores for 2004 are not yet available, but in the previous year, 80 percent of high school test-takers sailed though language arts, while just 66 percent passed math.
And how have the battle lines been drawn in the math wars?
On one side are traditional basic skills advocates. On the other are those who favor conceptual understanding and problem-solving -- the experts who say student improvement lies in teacher re-education.
"People hate the way (math) was taught. It was boring. It was about skill and drill," said Eric Milou, president of the Association of Math Teachers of New Jersey and a math professor at Rowan University who is working with a number of districts to improve math skills. "We have to talk about how math should be taught."
Fine - as long as the "skills" aren't left behind when the "drills" are. Some are concerned that overly-conceptual programs may keep children occupied without actually teaching them much. It's good to see everyone agree, though, that the problems need to be fixed starting in elementary school.
Hope you and yours are all having a restful, food-full day. I'm looking forward to catching up to blogging this weekend, as this is the first time in a month that I've had more than one day in a row off from work.
Hope all my Devoted Readers are well, and I'll be posting soon. Until then, here's a long list of things you can do this Thanksgiving to help our military members, and those who love them.
Thanks to the most recent wave of spammers, I've had to disable anyone with a Hotmail address from posting. If you have such an address and you're NOT a spammer, I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience (and I'm afraid that two of you who are legit commenters had recent comments removed during my housecleaning). I'll let you know when I can restore access to these addresses.
You know the saying, "Make the punishment fit the crime"? Sometimes parents need to be reminded of that:
A woman who forced her son to rake leaves in the nude as punishment for misbehaving in school has pleaded guilty to a child cruelty charge. However, the 47-year-old mother might avoid a felony record...
Defense attorney Beverly Haney said the woman has no criminal record and does not deserve a felony conviction. "She lost her cool that day and she regrets it deeply," Haney said.
The woman is not being named to protect the boy's privacy.
According to evidence, the incident occurred on April 27 in the Mayfield subdivision. The 12-year-old boy had aggravated his mother by continuing to get in trouble at school, and the mother responded by sending him outside that evening to rake leaves naked.
Well, it is a non-violent solution, true, and April in Virginia is probably not too chilly outside. But what on earth could have been going through this mother's mind to think this was a suitable punishment for anything? Being forced to rake the leaves, okay, fine. Nude? I would never have even thought of that, much less imposed it on a child. I know the law allows parents some latitude in discipline. But when a mere photograph of your child performing the punishment would be enough to put someone in jail for years, you've gone beyond what's acceptable.
If I sound a tad cranky in any posts I write today, it's because of how I was awakened this morning.
I'm an anxious, high-strung person, and I don't like to wake up suddenly. As far as alarm clocks, I prefer clock radios with the music volume set to low. Or a soft ringing sound, or a very soft beep. Nothing startling. If you want to wake me up, just sit near me and hum to yourself. No loud noises or jostles, no sudden moves. Waking up gradually suits my temperament best.
This morning, my younger cat Pippin must have rubbed his paws on every carpet in the house, and rolled around in the blankets for a while, just to build up as much static electricity as he possibly could. Then he situated himself on my pillow, reached out, and touched his nose firmly to my nose.
Nothing like sitting bolt upright from a dead sleep, every hair on my body on end, heart racing. And Pippin's sitting there looking at me, like "What? What's your problem? Aren't ya gonna get up now?"
Gah. I'm now drinking herbal tea in an attempt to calm down before I get to work.
Update: Verve Hosting must have their own electric cats walking around, short-circuiting things; my hosting server was down all day.
Boulder (CO) High School has moved beyond focusing on reading, writing, and 'rithmatic; its students have time to assemble talent acts that call for presidential assassinations:
Colorado high school talent show turned into a political hot potato after some parents said a trio of students planned to use a Bob Dylan song to say they wished for the death of President Bush (news - web sites), officials said on Friday.
Calls were made to the school, students were interviewed, local talk radio jumped into the fray and the U.S. Secret Service even sent two agents to interview the principal at Boulder High School.
Even if there was a misunderstanding over whether the students -- some of whom called themselves the "Talibanned" -- meant to wish harm to the president, they learned how offended people can get.
Why, isn't that sweet. Aren't we glad to know that these high-school students are just now figuring out that it might be a tad ugly to - as was alleged - alter anti-war lyrics to call for the assassination of President Bush - and to chant those lyrics while flashing a photo of the president on a big screen?
Of course, the whole thing could be overblown, since it appears to have started from rumors spread by those who were not directly involved. Then again, this is the same school where students recently staged a sleep-in to protest the presidential election. You mean, teenagers can use sleeping as a form of protest? What genius!
The students told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver they are performing Bob Dylan's song "Masters of War" during the Boulder High School Talent Exposé because they are Dylan fans. They said they want to express their views and show off their musical abilities. But some students and adults who heard the band rehearse called a radio talk show Thursday morning, saying the song the band sang ended with a call for President Bush to die...
The 1963 song ends with the lyrics: "You might say that I'm young. You might say I'm unlearned, but there's one thing I know, though I'm younger than you, even Jesus would never forgive what you do ... And I hope that you die and your death'll come soon. I will follow your casket in the pale afternoon. And I'll watch while you're lowered down to your deathbed. And I'll stand o'er your grave 'til I'm sure that you're dead."
Let me guess - they had to make sure to take out the line about Jesus before they chanted it. Can't have that reference to Christianity in there when wishing someone dead.
The students insist they just planned to use the song as is, and not make any direct references to President Bush. On the other hand, they also had planned to call themselves the TaliBand. And one teacher who had originally planned to play backup for the group had this to say:
Vacca praised a group of 70 students after they camped out overnight in the school library last week to protest the results of the presidential election and to announce their worries about the direction of the country. The students wanted to meet with Colorado's political leaders to get assurances that they were being heard. The students said they worried about war, a return of the draft and the future of the environment after the election in which they could not participate.
"In an age where narcissistic college students riot in an inarticulate drunken stupor, you have students here at Boulder High School, principled, thoughtful and yet scared of four more years of pre-emptive war, the Patriot Act and an increase in militarism at school through the No Child Left Behind Act," Vacca had said.
NCLB increases militarism in schools? The worries about the draft are thoughtful and principled, as opposed to influenced by rumor and wholly uninformed about the reality of such a process? Rooting out the enablers of those who attacked us three years ago is considered "pre-emptive"? And students who live in an area where the median income for a family is over $70K are somehow powerless and dispossessed?
OK, competition for homecoming queen is tough enough when you're up against only the female hotties. But now the latest trend appears to be gender-nonspecific homecoming "queens", as reported by SCSUScholars:
Via Cold Spring Shops and Tongue Tied, I read this morning that another school has decided to pitch the idea of homecoming queens as gender-nonspecifc. At least in their case you could argue that the reason was noble -- they wanted to give everyone an equal chance to win a scholarship.
However, I agree with SCSU that trumpeting one's love of "diversity" and "tolerance" by electing a male homecoming queen is still sillier than doing away with the whole "elected royalty" nonsense. It seems that at SCSU, a group of students deliberately nominated a male for homecoming queen (and a female for king) in order to "challenge traditional gender roles and promote tolerance among the student population." Sorry, but it's still a cheesy popularity contest, and I don't need anyone to challenge my belief in traditional gender roles in order to decide that.
Holding on to something "obsessively, perhaps neurotically" is what the debate over the usefulness of the SAT ought to be about, [vice president for external and alumni affairs at Bates College William] Hiss said.
When it comes to the SAT, Hiss...is no "wild and crazy guy." Twenty years ago, he persuaded the prestigious liberal arts college to make the submission of SAT scores optional for prospective students. Six years later, the Lewiston, Maine, school made all testing an optional part of the school's admissions process.
So what happened, besides a predictable increase in students clamoring to get into Bates? Between 1984 and 1990, when only the SAT was optional, a quarter of the school's students were admitted without submitting their SAT results to the admissions office. And since all testing was made optional in 1990, a third of Bates' students have been "nonsubmitters"...
The biggest beneficiary of the school's decision to make the submission of SAT scores optional turns out to be white students. By a ratio of 5 to 1, white students have outnumbered minority students who sought to enter Bates without submitting any college entrance test scores. A large percentage of these white students came from rural areas or low-income families.
The end result has been that there is no difference in graduation rates or cumulative GPAs between those who used the SAT for admission, and those who did not - which is being lauded as evidence that the tests are not useful and should not serve as hurdles. But there are many ways to interpret these results:
1. Students who choose to make the SAT optional may not necessarily be the ones who would score low on it, or who don't possess the necessary skills - there are plenty of test-phobic smart kids out there. It's not a given that the students who chose to avoid the SAT would have done poorly on it, so it may not be that odd that those who self-select to avoid submitting do as well as those who take the exam.
2. White students, even those from a poor background, might have enough of a educational drive that they would do well once admitted into college. I'd be very interested to see the breakdown of SAT/non-SAT results by race and sex, because I'm betting there are some subgroups differences, even if it's politically incorrect to say so. It's entirely possible that some groups will do well in college with a much wider range of SAT scores, or no score, than other groups.
3. I'd also be interested in seeing results for FYGPA - first year only - because that's the year for which the SAT is supposed to be most predictive.
4. Let's let some students with low SAT scores in the door, and compare them to the high- and no-SAT group. The results might be surprising.
5. If tests are optional, how does Bates choose students? Is it possible that their non-standardized admissions process approximates some of the selections that a standardized test would make? I'm betting that's the assumption here - that schools should get rid of tests and use their own personalized admissions process. And I'll be the first one to say that, for some schools, that's the best thing to do. But it's certainly not feasible, nor is it appropriate, for all schools. While the Bates results are interesting, it's premature to conclude - as does columnist DeWayne Wickham - that standardized tests may be useful only for maintaining the "status quo" in education across the board.
A recent study by the Great Lakes (MI) Center for Education Research and Practice suggests that parents are uniformed about the MEAP exams:
High stakes testing is the pillar of education reform under the national No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Yet, despite all of the time and money spent on the testing process, one out of four parents do not know what the results are used for and two out of three do not even discuss MEAP during parent- teacher conferences.
Parents rate grades, report cards, and classroom tests as the most important indicators of whether their child is getting a quality education. Their child's interest in and attitude about school follow.
"Standardized tests alone don't meet the needs of students and parents, yet teachers and schools are spending more time, energy and money on them than ever," said Teri Moblo, director of the Lansing-based Great Lakes Center. "Standardized testing is not a bad thing if it is one of many ways that student progress is assessed. But we must find better ways to use such tests to help individual children, and we must address the other things that parents believe are even more important for their kids."
I agree with parents that great test scores are not necessary for success in life, because test scores in and of themselves are not the key. It's the education behind high test scores that is a key; scores are merely a measure of how well schools are doing.
I also found these results interesting:
One in three parents asked feel that rewards such as increased funding from the state or higher property values based on a school's test results is a bad idea. One in three parents asked feel that the current state and federal government consequences under NCLB for schools that perform poorly on such tests are a bad idea.
Does that mean that two in three parents felt that increased funding was a good thing, or that NCLB consequences based on testin are a good thing? It's a bit frustrating for only the oppositional results to be reported here.
The study found that parents who say they did poorly taking similar tests (one in four) when they were in school were twice as likely not to go on to college as those who did well on such tests. This raises the issue of whether test scores might hold their children back from getting the education/training needed in today's competitive job market.
Again, it's not the test scores - it's the education behind them. It's not tests that hold children back from college - it is the fact that their secondary education was subpar that holds them back from being competitive in academics. The parents surveyed here do realize that test scores are not the be-all, end-all; what's behind them is what's most important.
The Akron, OH Beacon Journal is skeptical about claims of homeschooling success:
...there are many among the approximately 1.1 million home-schooled children who are receiving an above-average education. However, if Americans accept the idea that home schooling is putting public schools to shame with an extraordinary crop of bright students, it's mainly because home schoolers successfully have marketed good anecdotes and bad analyses of the few national studies.
Despite [president of the Home School Legal Defense Association] Smith's assertion, there are serious critics [sic - I think they mean "criticisms"].
• Studies routinely cited as evidence that home-schooled students perform better than public school students don't prove anything because there are huge, untested segments of the home-school population that may be failing, according to many researchers.
Yes, and they may also be passing. Why assume that only the ones who agree to testing are doing well? That might be a valid assumption, but we don't know at this point.
• Representatives of the SAT and ACT college testing services said their annual reports are being misused and don't prove that home schoolers are smarter.
Really? I haven't seen this anywhere. And how could high scores for homeschooled students been interpreted any way other than evidence that those particular students did master the material? Certainly, representatives of the College Board, ETS, and ACT may say that those tests are not IQ tests, but that applies to all students. Likewise, the scores of homeschooled kids might not be generalizable to the population of homeschooling kids at large, but that doesn't mean we should conclude that untested kids are in fact doing poorly. We just don't know.
• Some state universities, Ivy League colleges and military academies said that home schoolers have been underrepresented among their incoming freshmen.
And this is a criticism of homeschooling how?
• Only a few states collect information about home schoolers. In Arkansas, where the state has aggregate standardized test scores for home schoolers, results show a downward trend for at least six years and, at best, academic mediocrity.
Fine. Solid data to suggest that in Arkansas, homeschooling students may not stand out. But if we're not going to generalize to all homeschooled students on the basis of the few who test, I see no reason to generalize to homeschooled students across the country on the basis of Arkansas.
• There is concern among school officials and some researchers that the number of home-school failures is growing at a rate and a social cost that are unknown -- and no one is paying attention.
You mean, a high social cost as compared to what is placed upon society by failing public schools? Given the relatively small numbers of homeschooled children, it's very hard to believe that they're representing all of what's wrong with kids these days. I'd have to see some seriously hard data to believe that inadequate homeschooling has anywhere near the negative impact on society as bad public schooling.
Although this introduction is not promising, the rest of the article is fairly well-informed, albeit sensationalized, with the obligatory "homeschooled-kid-shackled-to-a-bed" horror story. All the caveats included by researchers in this article are good ones, and the criticisms are exactly what I expected - the results of previous studies do not "prove" that homeschooled kids are, as a whole, better off. However, neither do they suggest, as opponents of homeschooling would have you believe, that homeschooled kids are as a whole worse off. And I certainly wouldn't conclude from what's presented here that we should all worry about those untested homeschoolers and their potential negative impact on society.
Certainly, the topic of how much oversight should be focused on homeschoolers is debatable. I also agree that homeschooling support groups may have been too effusive with their claims of success. But I also still feel, even after reading this article, that a lot of opposition to homeschooling comes from the belief that only parents who want to ignore or mistreat their kids keep them away from the public school system. Perhaps the reason homeschooling supporters get carried away with their praise of homeschooling is because they're tired of being viewed as religious freaks who want to keep their kids chained to beds all day.
One troubled Camden elementary school has quite an inspirational principal - and she seems to be turning things around:
Parkside Elementary principal Claudia Cream immediately commands attention when she enters a classroom. She greets students in the African language Swahili: "Ago," or "May I have your attention?" Sitting up straight in their chairs, they politely respond, "Amay," or "Yes, you may."
At Parkside, in Camden, students are immersed in African American and Hispanic culture from the moment they enter the three-story brick building. Enrollment is 100 percent black or Latino. The hallways are lined with pictures of famous heroes. Twice a month, a black scientist visits the school.
Cream, in her third year as Parkside's principal, has sought to boost student achievement by instilling ethnic pride, setting high standards, and imposing strict discipline. "Children seem to thrive when they realize they come from greatness," she said. "I give them a sense of who they are."
It's my impression that too many schools that focus on the "pride" part of things, be it ethnic pride, self-esteem, or what have you, forget about the high-standards-and-strict-discipline part that goes hand-in-hand with producing an educated child, of any color. It's nice to see that the standards aren't considered secondary here.
On the latest standardized state tests, covering the 2003-04 school year, 47 percent of the fourth graders achieved proficiency in language arts, up from 35 percent the previous year. A bigger gain came in math, with proficiency more than doubling, from 17 percent to 35 percent...
An educator in Camden for three decades, Cream has earned a reputation for turning around troubled schools. Along the way, she has ruffled some feathers, too, with her strict discipline. She has taken on some of the most difficult assignments, including a two-year stint at the now-defunct Challenge Square Academy, an alternative school for adjudicated teenagers, most released on probation for drug offenses.
Former student Tony Hand, 24, said that Cream "made sure kids were in line" and that if they got into trouble, she "was there to correct you."
Making sure kids stayed in line and correcting them is considered "strict discipline"? Sheesh.
More examples of Cream's "strict" management style:
Each morning, Cream greets the more than 300 kindergartners through fifth graders when they line up in the schoolyard. She delivers a positive meditation on the public announcement system daily to set the tone. Throughout the school are learning centers where students can quickly read a lesson, and stations where they can sit for longer learning sessions.
At the top of a third-floor stairwell, they can stop for a lesson about money and read about Maggie Walker, the country's first black female bank president, who founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903 in Richmond, Va.
Teachers now describe the school as having "peace, quiet and organization," which is a rare thing in any school, much less an inner-city one. Sounds like Cream's doing a great job, and if her students don't appreciate it now, they will later on.
Great photo, too.
The Valley Independent (PA) disapproves of the idea of merit pay for teachers:
It is a good thing that a proposed incentive pay program for high-performing teachers likely would be barred by collective bargaining agreements. That's because the incentive pay plan - a $500 million proposal backed by the Bush administration - is a bad idea.
While the concept of better teaching is attractive because it would benefit students, the idea that it could be driven by money is misguided. Teachers are supposed to give all they have all the time. They are being paid to do so. And an extra $10,000 a year is not going to transform a poor teacher into an excellent educator.
Emphasis mine. Wow. Are they serious? Has the idea that teachers do what they do purely of love for the profession, with no thought whatsoever to the practicalities and necessities of life, become this thoroughly ingrained? That someone could say with a straight face that a job this demanding doesn't deserve better pay? And that a teacher who "gives her all" but yet doesn't teach well deserves as much money as one who actually educates her students?
On the other hand, this type of thinking certainly reflects the "effort matters more than results" and "anyone who loves teaching should be allowed to teach" theories that infest our school systems.
The incentive program would lead to discord. School officials would be hard-pressed to establish effective systems for rating high performance. It certainly could not be based on test scores. Students, in terms of academic performance, are not formed from a single mold. Their skills and individual abilities to learn vary widely.
And test scores can't reflect those individual abilities because? Actually, I'm betting the author of this editorial knows quite well that those students with highly individual learning abilities may not be learning a lot, and tests make it difficult for administrators to ignore that.
Some educators work wonders with students who have little academic potential. They bring out the best out in students who might founder under the tutelage of some lesser educator. Likewise, some educators might strain to properly mentor high-achievers.
But those teachers who do so much and work so hard don't deserve extra money because that might cause "discord"? As in, other teachers who don't do as much shouldn't be made to feel bad?
If there is an extra half-billion sitting around, the Bush administration should turn it over to public school systems. In the hands of local school boards and administrators, the money could be spent to best benefit students.
Oh, yes, I'm sure that would happen. Pardon me for being skeptical.
Most teachers out there are working as hard as they can to educate their youthful charges. An extra 10 grand would not make them work more diligently. As for those rare teachers who just put in time and collect paychecks, financial incentives are not going to inspire them to do better.
An extra 10 grand would make the life of a teacher a heck of a lot easier, though. And why isn't anyone worried about the "self-esteem" of good teachers, here, who would benefit quite a bit psychologically from that pay boost? Besides, we've all known great teachers who spent their own money on educational supplies; with 10 grand, they can buy even more.
It's absurd to assume that giving extra money to teachers results in no educational benefits whatsoever, and this editorial is just another example of the "no teacher is worth more than another" mindset that drives good teachers away from our classrooms.
At least someone around my household is relaxed...
Believe it or not, Pippin is actually pretty active...when he's awake.
Unsurprisingly, John of Discriminations is all over the soon-to-be-published study (available here) by Dr. Richard Sander (of UCLA Law School) that promotes the provocative idea that affirmative action for black law students may actually be disadvantageous to them. Dr. Sander thus explores an idea that's often bounced around my head - that affirmative action has the potential to do great harm by placing unprepared students in programs that are far too demanding. And I've always felt that AA programs were more for the benefit of the schools - who could pride themselves on their "diversity" - than for individual students, who were often admitted on merits that had nothing to do with academic potential.
So what does Dr. Sander have to say?
[John Rosenberg] According to an article in today's Chronicle of Higher Education, Prof. Sander conducted a systematic study of the bar passage rates of the 27,000 law students between 1991 and 1997. Among his findings:
* After the first year of law school, 51 percent of black students have grade-point averages that place them in the bottom tenth of their classes, compared with 5 percent of white students. "Evidence suggests that when you're doing that badly, you're learning less than if you were in the middle of a class" at a less-prestigious law school, Mr. Sander says.
* Among students who entered law school in 1991, about 80 percent of white students graduated and passed the bar on their first attempt, compared with just 45 percent of black students. In a race-blind admissions system, the number of black graduates passing the bar the first time would jump to 74 percent, he says, based on his statistical analysis of how higher grades in less competitive schools would result in higher bar scores. Black students are nearly six times as likely as whites not to pass state bar exams after multiple attempts.
* Ending affirmative action would increase the number of new black lawyers by 8.8 percent because students would attend law schools where they would struggle less and learn more, and earn higher grades...With the exception of the most-elite law schools, good grades matter more to employers than the law school's prestige.
As John notes, the unnamed critics so beloved by reporters are howling with anger over this departure from the politically-correct orthodoxy. John also notes that the articles criticizing Dr. Sander's work seem to be starting from the assumption that "social conservatives" who oppose AA do so only because they feel that whites are treated unfairly. Not only is this a bigoted and unwarranted assumption, but it misses Dr. Sander's point so completely as to suggest that these critics are wholly unfamiliar with his work, as well as with the reality of graduation rates for AA students. This type of reaction also suggests that AA has been removed from the realm of "interesting educational policy that might be useful" to a near-religious faith that must be defended against heretics at all cost.
The data are there. Take a look at the article for yourself, and check out the Volokh Conspiracy for Dr. Sander's guest blog posts. As with any study, the methodology of this one may be open to criticism, but to ignore the conclusions of this study by screaming "racist!" is to reveal oneself as unscientific and closed-minded - and unconcerned about the potential negative impact of AA to boot.
Police in Miami-Dade County, Fla., say they used a Taser gun on a 6-year-old boy to keep him from hurting himself. The boy, who wasn't identified, was shocked with 50,000 volts on Oct. 20 at Kelsey Pharr Elementary School. The principal called 911 after the child broke a picture frame in her office and waved a piece of glass.
When two police officers and a school officer arrived, the boy had already cut himself under his eye and on his hand. Police said the officers talked to the boy without success. When the boy cut his own leg, one officer shocked him with a Taser gun and another grabbed him to keep him from falling.
Um, wouldn't getting close enough to use a Taser necessitate getting close enough to the child to just grab him? This seems unneccessarily harsh - but, interestingly enough, Joanne Jacobs' commenters are on the side of the police on this one.
An "uncomfortable" report for San Diego's educators:
Although they are a majority of students in San Diego County, Latinos face a bleak academic environment, according to a report released Saturday by the county Office of Education. The report, presented at the ninth annual Latino Education Summit in San Diego, showed that Latino students have disproportionately higher dropout rates, lower test scores and less preparation for college than their white and Asian peers...
Oscar Medina, a bilingual education coordinator with the county and a member of the San Diego Latino Coalition for Education, which helped prepare the report, said the data should make community members feel "uncomfortable."
Among the report's findings:
About half of Latino students are not fluent in English.
Latino students have a graduation rate of 66 percent, compared with an average of 79 percent for all students. Dropout rates are higher for males than females.
Latino students are less likely to pass the standardized tests used to assess a school's academic performance. Likewise, they score consistently lower than their white and Asian peers on college admissions tests.
When it comes to meeting the prerequisites for admission to California's public colleges, about 20 percent of Latino students complete all of the required courses..
Bad news indeed. However, it's hard to see how Latino students will make strides towards learning English - which is essential for educational success in this country - if this type of report generates this type of response:
Much of the discussion focused on improving bilingual education and ensuring equal access to educational opportunities from kindergarten through college. Medina, the county coordinator, said preserving a student's native language strikes at the heart of promoting success.
"It's an issue of identity that has to do with a student's notion of self-worth and self-esteem," Medina said. "It also allows access to grade-level curriculum and helps guarantee academic success."
If half of all Latino students in San Diego can't speak English, I'd say the schools are doing a bang-up job of helping them "preserve" their native language - but I also think that's part of the problem. I may be off-base here, but I don't recall that America's former immigrants became successful because our schools worried endlessly about their self-esteem or cultural identities, and wanted them to preserve their native language at all cost.
Some attendees said that while it was important to examine the obstacles to higher academic performance and college admissions that face Latinos, eliminating those discrepancies ultimately rested with focusing on the needs of individual students.
"We have to move one step beyond that and mentor, and counsel and encourage them," said Carol Herrera, a trustee of the Vista Unified School District. "We know that for any child, praise and encouragement is a big factor in academic success."
Yes, and so is challenge, discipline, and taking risks of failure. I don't think that Latino students are so individual that these methods that work with other kids won't work with them. It's good to see schools focusing on Latino students early to prepare them for college, but given the dismal results of this report, I'd have expected to see a lot more hard ideas discussed about how to fix this growing problem.
A vision of the "new educators":
Tracy Henry has a list of expectations on the blackboard of her Family and Consumer Sciences classroom at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk High School: "No judgment." "Have fun." "Be nice." "Not too peppy." It's not what she expects of her students. It's how they want her to behave.
Henry figured it was only fair, since she laid out her own expectations for her kids.
"No judgment"? Let's hope that, in this exchange of "only fair" requests, Ms. Henry explains to her students that accurate judgments are a lot of what being a good teacher is all about.
Down the hall, Kiley Shortell and Majiel Noonan run a physical education class for the 21st century. After the day's activity, such as badminton or speedball, Shortell and Noonan plug daily grades for their students into a computer grid. Students also go online and calculate their heart rates.
Cool. A phys ed class that adds technology - and doesn't remove competition.
A few miles away, Sean Powers teaches his fourth-graders at Peter B. Coeymans elementary school about thigmatropism, the phenomenon by which certain plants, like Venus flytraps, respond to touch. He realizes the youngsters won't fully digest the terminology, but in future years, they'll remember that some plants will move when you touch them. The knowledge may serve them well when, down the road, they take standardized science exams, one of many tests facing students from this year on.
Excellent. I would expect them to be well-served by a science teacher who didn't dumb things down for them.
This is what it's like for the Teaching Class of 2004...They bring a mix of old and new ideas to an education arena quite different from that of their predecessors.
Most of all, teachers know their students will take standardized tests throughout their school years, and instructors will be judged in part on how well their kids do. Consequently, there is more structure than ever before as schools constantly adjust their curriculum to adhere to the tests their students must take. And there is a bit more pressure, especially for those who don't yet have a guaranteed job under the tenure system...
Fourth grade is when serious testing begins. Students are tested in math and English, and teachers are under pressure to keep scores up. In future years, thanks to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, students in grades 3 through 8 will be tested. This nationwide push for accountability and testing has prompted some of the biggest changes, says Patricia Baldwin, coordinator of the department of teacher education at The College of Saint Rose in Albany. For one thing, teachers receive more guidance on what to teach, with a more defined, standardized curriculum, she said.
What follows is the boilerplate blather about how we now have a pressure-cooker environment for both teachers and students, but that's to be expected. And there's even a pro-testing teacher featured at length:
Others, such as Stanford University political science professor Terry Moe, see testing as a plus. A frequent critic of the education establishment, teachers unions and the tenure system, Moe believes testing may weed out new teachers who aren't effective.
"There is a selection effect that is good," Moe said.
Heh. With comments like that, I bet he is at odds with the teachers unions (More about Dr. Moe here; he's also, unsurprisingly, a supporter of vouchers). It's nice to see his ideas at work in the classroom, too:
"The biggest change in the last 20 years has been the accountability movement." Accountability and testing are all newcomers like [teacher Sean] Powers know, and consequently, he's OK with the concept of "teaching to the test."
"I don't think it's bad if it's a good test," Powers said.
The reality of standardized testing affects how he runs his class. The carpet on the reading area of his classroom -- where students sit when they read along -- is a brightly colored map of the United States. He plays a game, prompting students to stand on a state, such as Oklahoma or Minnesota. It's a way to get them ready for social studies tests, which start in fifth grade.
Powers works math and reading -- the most heavily-tested subjects -- into almost everything he does. A history lesson on the Pilgrims also serves as a math drill when math teacher Alice Whalen gets the kids to figure out how many Pilgrims died in the first few years after leaving the Mayflower. Students then put the numbers in their "math journals," in which they combine writing and math skills.
Nifty. Sounds to me like this new wave of educators is accepting the reality of, and need for, testing, and they understand the purpose behind laws such as NCLB.
Weekly Religious Education - or within-school-day Bible study - has existed in Virginia for almost 80 years, and has faced down numerous opponents. But now NCLB requirements are being touted as a reason to eradicate the program:
It's been challenged in the courts, closely watched by opponents and questioned by parents of new students every fall, but Weekday Religious Education hangs on, protected under a Supreme Court decision that affords it the constitutional right to take public school children from classwork for Bible study.
Now WRE has a new foe threatening its school day operation: stringent and increasing state and federal academic standards...
In August, the Harrisonburg School Board cut WRE from its school day. The 30 to 45 minutes used each week to provide Bible study would be better spent on instructional time, the board decided. Last Monday, a group of Staunton parents asked the city School Board to conduct its WRE class after school, citing the same academic concerns. By 2014, the federal No Child Left Behind law will require all students in public schools to pass standardized tests, or the school system could lose funding.
Interesting dilemma. I was unaware of WRE, and I find it telling that NCLB is being touted as a reason to discontinue Bible study during the school day. Aren't educators usually complaining that programs shouldn't be cut to force the focus back to basic skills?
"The weekday release of some students to WRE is jeopardizing the academic progress of all students and their ability to perform well on the standardized tests by which Adequate Yearly Progress is measured," parent Beverly Riddell told the Staunton board last week.
"Last year there were supplemental after-school academic review programs offered at some elementary schools to help prepare these students to pass the SOLs," she said. "Yet, students were still being released during school hours for WRE."
Color me naive, but why would releasing some students for WRE jeopardize the progress of all students? Certainly the program doesn't interfere with the learning of others. Now, if the WRE students were doing poorly on exams, their performance may cause the school's reputation to suffer - but are there data to suggest that WRE students are in fact bombing the exams?
JoAnne Shirley, state director of WRE and a former public school teacher, said she doesn't see the half-hour program as a threat to curriculum. The WRE council keeps up with the Standards of Learning for each grade and incorporates them into the Bible study, she said.
"Being on the other side of things, having been a teacher, I know there is great pressure on the teachers, SOLs, No Child Left Behind," she said. "My concern, though, is how is 30 minutes (a week) of the children's time going to make a difference?"
That's my concern, too. This is an optional program, held off school grounds, and students only attend with parental permission. If a student is doing poorly in school, wouldn't a parent be more likely to withhold permission to attend?
So what's at stake for both sides of this issue as the fight for instructional time ensues? WRE advocates like Shirley say it's time well spent -- offering children spiritual guidance and character lessons, as well as academic study.
Opponents like Riddell say every minute counts and Bible study should be considered an elective and instructional time kept to work toward mandated standards.
We're talking only 30 minutes a week here. And I'll say it again - it's odd to see educators so fiercely taking the let's-cut-all-the-fat streamlining approach, when normally there's a great outcry when programs are cut to make way for more basic skills instruction.
It could have been Wednesday or Saturday. For Ellanah Rhoades, 13, and her family, those two days aren't as different as they are for most. Rhoades is a student at Napa Valley Alternative School, the independent study program run by Napa Valley Unified School District, and she makes up her own schedule.
The independent study program has been around for decades, originally designed to serve kids who were on the brink of failing out or who didn't fit in, as well as bedridden children who became ill during the school year. But long-standing enrollment caps were lifted three years ago. Now that anyone can attend, a growing number of people, like the Rhoades family, are signing up for a brand-new reason: to homeschool.
The homeschooling contingent remains a significant minority of the 120 students enrolled, but they have been increasing in numbers, said Kurt Schultz, who oversees the program...
June Rhoades doesn't have to help her daughter much. Ellanah, who caught up to her mom in height in the past year, is a smart kid, scoring above her grade level on standardized tests and "going through books like water," June said. A teacher assigns homework and monitors her progress, meeting with Ellanah once a week to grade assignments and talk about the coming week.
Interestingly, the Napa Valley materials are often based on Christian beliefs, which fits, I suppose, with an area that describes itself as "Eden" (for wine grapes, anyway). And, delightfully, there is competition in the homeschooling market in this area, which forces the NV Alternative School to try to keep up. Who benefits the most from this? Three guesses, and the first two don't count.
The Praxix II continues to get under the skin of education majors:
As University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point senior Jenny Berg sees it, she and her fellow education majors already have plenty to cope with. There's ever-increasing tuition, sometimes-questionable financial aid and already stringent teacher certification that can be discouraging to potential future teachers.
Yes, but why is it considered a bad thing for the profession to have some hurdles? Certainly, college students for every major have to deal with tuition and financial aid issues. And many other professions have much more stringent hurdles. These aren't kids, but young women and men who are entering the professional world. Hurdles are there for a reason.
The latest hurdle, Berg said, is Praxis II, a statewide teacher certification examination that has been required of all Wisconsin teachers since August. The test and an exit portfolio are mandated by the state's Department of Public Instruction.
Educators have largely denounced the standardized tests, saying they measure course content rather than a person's true capability to teach. "The problem, I think, with this kind of test is students who do well aren't necessarily good teachers," said Paula DeHart, associated professor of education. "And students who don't do well aren't necessarily poor teachers."
Look. It's true that possessing a great deal of knowledge does not de facto make one a good teacher. I'm willing to admit that. We've all known genuises who can't communicate. But if the education programs want to be taken seriously in the Information Age, they've got to admit that a teacher who is brilliant at communication and caring but doesn't actually know anything is not a good teacher. It's ridiculous for them to insist that teachers should not be subject to content exams, because what good is a teacher without anything to teach?
Berg, 27, said the tests weren't an accurate assessment of what kind of teacher she'll be. Substitute teaching for a couple of years before coming back for her certification gave Berg a much better test than any formal exam, she said...Despite the tests' general unpopularity, state teachers have had to accept them, Berg said. "I don't like the fact of all the hoops we have to jump through," she said. "I don't think it's the right path for the accountability that they want."
Berg is 27? And she's still complaining about the fact that she might have to jump through some hoops and master some hard facts before being unleashed on schoolchildren? Schoolchildren to whom she will have to teach hard facts, and test on those facts? Sheesh. This article seems as though it's trying to be sympathetic to education majors, but the reporter surely picked one unsympathetic person on which to focus.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Praxis II, it's a three-part licensure examination that includes "essays, oral response tasks, listening tasks, portfolio reviews, video stimuli, and in-class observations." You can download guides to the tests here. It's most definitely not a no-brainer test, but calculators are allowed for the math portion, and it's entirely appropriate for college graduates wishing to enter a professional arena that requires a well-rounded liberal arts education.
Update: The delightfully-named Dr. Cookie has more on the Praxis, and a lot more on why it's so disturbing to hear education majors complain about the hurdles of demonstrating content mastery.
Devoted Reader Mike D. wonders why schools should struggle to stay open when no students are around:
Even as Elk Grove becomes the fastest growing big district in the country, the state's overall student enrollment is leveling off and as many as half of California districts are seeing enrollments fall.
The consequences can be dire for school districts. The principal source of school funding is money the state gives districts based on how many children are showing up each day, and the state gives districts more money than the direct costs of educating each student.
That mismatch is a good thing for districts like Elk Grove, which can use that money to enhance programs, and a very bad thing in rural and urban districts with declining enrollments.
For every 30 students these districts lose, they lose more revenue than the cost of the single teacher needed for that class. To make up the difference, programs need to be cut even though demand for them may not have gone down with enrollment. Sports teams are sidelined, class sizes balloon, and schools are closed.
"It's almost paralyzing," said Steve Morales, the facilities director in South Lake Tahoe who has wrestled with the enrollment numbers and still can't figure out how to keep all the programs running, even after closing two schools and seeking a local tax increase.
It is paralyzing, but it also seems unavoidable. If the district loses population, especially school-age population, struggling to keep a school open seems like a bit of a waste. I admit I'm not an expert in this area, though, so if anyone has an opinion to share, let us all know.
Sounds like this school is "troubled" in more ways than one:
A student at the troubled Wilmer-Hutchins school district says his teacher helped him with answers on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills standardized test last year.
"The teacher would walk around the class during the test and be like, 'Hey, that's wrong,"' James Wright, now a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Kennedy-Curry Middle School, told The Dallas Morning News for its Sunday editions. "You'd go through the answers and you'd say, 'Is this the right one?' They'd say 'nope.' And you'd say, 'Is this the right one?' And they'd say 'nope' until you got the right one. Then they'd say 'Yeah' and nod their head."
Sounds like someone needs to say to this teacher, "Hey, that's wrong."
An analysis by the newspaper first raised suspicions that cheating took place on the TAKS tests in the district. It found that despite a history of poor academic performance, one elementary school in the district posted the state's highest scores on the third grade reading TAKS test last year.
The district has been investigated in recent months by the Texas Rangers, two grand juries, the FBI and others on alleged misappropriation of funds and other accusations.
The Texas Rangers got involved? Whooo, that's heavy. And good for the newspaper for poking around in the data.
Damm said he has told district principals that if any of them knowingly allowed cheating at their schools, they will treated as if they did the cheating themselves. Falsifying testing documents is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison...
The newspaper did not find evidence of cheating on other tests in other grades at the school. Another school in the district, Alta Mesa Elementary, scored highly in all grades and on all tests. Some students said cheating was widespread.
"When the test started, some people didn't know the answers, so they'd raise their hand and the teacher would come up to them. The teacher read the question and then gave us the answer," said Guyler Easter, who attended Alta Mesa in the fifth grade and is now a seventh-grader at Kennedy-Curry Middle in Wilmer-Hutchins.
If it's that widespread, maybe it is a job for the good guys in the white hats.
Oh, for heaven's sakes. California just keeps getting sillier....
Cartwheels and handstands have gotten an 11-year-old girl temporarily bounced out of her Los Angeles-area school. Deirdre Faegre was suspended for a week after repeatedly disobeying school officials who told her not to perform gymnastic stunts during lunchtime.
"Our first concern is the safety of all children," San Jose-Edison Academy Principal Denise Patton told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Patton said Deirdre could accidentally strike another student, or injure herself, and other children could get hurt trying to imitate Deirdre, who has been doing gymnastics for five years.
Deirdre's father, Leland Faegre, said it was absurd to suspend his daughter for doing gymnastics when students were allowed to play basketball and other sports. "Contact sports, apparently, are fine. But this one is so dangerous it requires the cartwheel cops," Faegre said.
California, California - can we talk? Someone is not telling you what you need to hear. Apparently, you've spent the last 30 years surrounded by snake-oil salesmen pushing bogus child-rearing theories about self-esteem, creativity, the evils of discipline, and the supposed fragility of children. At some point, you've become convinced that it makes sense for the State to do everything in its over-reaching power to prevent children from ever encountering anything nasty, offensive, challenging, problematic, or painful. You've become convinced that no child should do anything unless all children can do it without fear of any pain being involved.
But if I may paraphrase P.J. O'Rourke here, pain is good. Pain is useful. Pain is Mother Nature's way of telling us that we're all boneheads, and that's a very good lesson to learn, as soon as possible. A student who is afraid to do cartwheels for fear of injuring one of the masses - or a student who is afraid to even try a cartwheel because they can't handle landing on their bum - is not a student who's going to grow up to be a leader in the global economy.
I spent a good two years (ages 7 to 9, if I recall correctly) doing a cartwheel every time I went through our living room, and somehow I survived to the ripe old age of 36. I even learned to do one-handed cartwheels, after falling on my head numerous times - which prepared me for the pain of facing a dissertation committee.
Pain is good, California. Let your children risk it.
Update: Oh ho! A commenter says:
I happen to know that this child was repeatedly told not to do these stunts in the walkway in the middle of foot traffic in front of the school office. She chose to disobey multiple times and for that reason she was suspended.
Get a little perspective and stop sensationalizing the antics of a disobedient child - this is not national news fodder.
Hey, I'm not the one that chose to put it out on an international press wire. And what I was mocking was the school's statement that they did worry about other children imitating the cartwheeling child, as though this were a terrible thing. I also now wonder if the kid was given a choice of an alternative place to do cartwheels, which would seem like the first line of response, rather than suspension.
Looks like Secretary of Education Rod Paige is stepping down from his position:
Education Secretary Rod Paige intends to leave his Cabinet position, a Bush administration official told The Associated Press Friday...A Texan like Bush, Paige, 71, rose to prominence as an award-winning superintendent in Houston before becoming the nation's first black education secretary.
He has been an outspoken defender of No Child Left Behind, the education law at the center of Bush's domestic agenda.
Interesting. I'll miss him - rather, I'll miss his outspoken exchanges with the standardized-testing-is-evil crowd. I like how the NCLB Act is described here, too:
Paige has presided over the biggest federal shakeup to education in a generation, a law demanding that schools show improvement among all students, regardless of race or wealth.
Something opponents of NCLB would like you to forget when disadvantaged or minority children show up with poor test scores.
So who's going to step in? It's only speculation at this point, but:
A leading candidate to replace Paige is Margaret Spellings, Bush's domestic policy adviser who helped shape his school agenda when he was the Texas governor. Spellings has a keen interest in schools and may want the Cabinet-level education job.
She looks younger than I do (although I suppose I can expect that more and more from now on...). Here's her response to a question on NCLB:
Trent, from Orange County, CA writes:
Hello, I am a high school student and I have served on two school boards. I am a big fan of the No Child Left Behind Act but I have a question about it. My question is; how does the No Child Left Behind Act help schools that are not meeting the the national standard in standardized testing? Thank you for your time.
Thanks for your service on your local school boards and for your support of No Child Left Behind! Across the country, we are seeing positive results and student achievement is rising.
First, No Child Left Behind does not set a national standard for schools. Each state develops its own testing and accountability system that best meets their needs, but that ensures that all students will be proficient in reading and math in twelve years. The annual targets that schools must meet are set by each state according to their state assessments.
Each state, as part of its accountability plan, must also develop a system of sanctions and rewards for schools. When schools do not meet their annual targets for two straight years, the school must develop a school improvement plan and allow parents to transfer their child to a higher-performing public school if they so choose. If the school does not meet their targets for a third straight year, it must offer after-school tutoring to struggling students. Each state is also required to set aside 4% of its total Title I allocation (that would be over $500 million of the Federal 2005 education budget) to assist schools that are identified as needing improvement. This funding goes directly to these schools to assist in improving the school, implementing new curricula, hiring reading instructors, or addressing other needs of the school.
President Bush has also provided significant increases in funding for Title I schools across the country--those schools that serve the neediest students. Including the President's 2005 budget, Title I funding has increased 52% since 2001, and overall K-12 funding has increased 49%.
Good answer. Education at the Brink has done a bit more digging about Margaret Spelling - and other potential replacements - so go check him out.
Newsday wonders whether the high-stakes exams for NYC's third-graders are working:
Nearing the end of a 45-minute intervention session in PS 100 in Queens, Amy Strauss looked into the faces of six third-grade and fourth-grade boys...The children, using a dozen block letters, had been asked to form three-letter words on their white magnetic journals.
"'Pat.' The next word is 'pat,'" the teacher said slowly. "P ... A ... T." Choosing from a selection of nine consonants and three vowels, five of the boys spelled the word correctly. The sixth boy spelled "p-i-t."
"OK, let's tap it out," Strauss said, holding up her fingers so that all the boys could see and rhythmically touching fingers to thumb in succession. "P ... A ... T."
The boy who had misspelled the word, mumbling to himself and following Strauss' example by tapping his own fingers, removed the "i" and inserted the "a" block in its place. "Very good, everyone," Strauss told the group approvingly.
Remember, these are third-graders, who aren't being asked to write out letters, or even know how words are spelled without being told. They're being asked to identify letters of the alphabet from a reduced set of block letters. Is there really any question about whether a kid who has trouble with this should be promoted to fourth grade?
The intervention sessions, held during the school day as part of the students' regular curriculum, are another crucial part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein's efforts to end so-called "social promotion," to keep failing students from being passed to higher grades.
It's not "so-called" social promotion. When failing students are promoted, it is social promotion.
Citywide, more than 3,600 third-graders were held back -- or "retained," in the Department of Education's words -- after posting Level 1 scores on a city standardized test in reading and math. Level 1 is the lowest of four levels on the test. Students who posted the low scores on the test last spring were required to attend six weeks of summer school and make a higher grade upon retaking the test to go on to fourth grade. In a small number of cases, students who had low scores successfully appealed and were allowed to advance...
City officials have touted the social-promotion policy, which caused an uproar among parents and education advocates for months last year, as a success. This year, the city has expanded the policy to fifth-graders and is offering intervention programs to struggling students on Saturdays.
Third-graders who were held back, those who barely made it into fourth grade and those who were promoted through the appeals process can qualify for help such as that given by Strauss...
Many education experts, however, say the jury remains out on the intervention programs until the citywide standardized exams are given to third-graders in the spring...Some third-grade teachers have had mixed feelings about the intervention programs, saying whatever improvement a student who is getting extra help shows is countered by the chaos of being moved around too much during school hours. One teacher, who asked not to be identified, said he found the interventions disruptive because, among other reasons, the push-in programs took away from his lesson.
I agree that the jury is still out until the test scores come in - even if the idea of intervention sounds good to us, that doesn't mean that what's being taught is effective. However, I think it's absurd to say that, if the intervention work is useful, it's negated by being moved around a great deal. And if the push-in programs take time away from lessons that aren't working, as evidenced by test scores, I don't see where that's a bad thing. Teachers should be kept more informed about how the intervention programs work, for sure, but if classroom lessons aren't working, there's no reason not to try something else.
Once again, I disappoint my loyal readers by not posting enough. Heck, I didn't even manage a catblogging photo on Friday, much less the Cheating In The News roundup! I know, I'm lame. I have no excuse other than an insane workweek (let's put it this way, on Monday night I had to take my analysts out for drinks, because the week was already that hellish) and the fact that I am now in Boston for a conference. Which requires a lot of networking. And 7:00 AM business breakfasts. And moving hotel rooms, because they couldn't get me into a non-smoking room last night, thus ensuring that I would wake up this morning totally snotty and with bloodshot eyes. Gah.
I'll make it up to you sometime this week, I promise. And if any of my Devoted Readers are in the downtown Boston area and you can email me in time, I'll be happy to buy you a drink.
Sorry for the recent lack of posting; I've been a blog-addicted political junkie over the past few days just like the rest of you, and haven't been keeping as close an eye on the testing news.
Regular education- and testing-related blogging to resume shortly.