March 31, 2005

Bad language and bad manners

Is the f-word now not only acceptable, but appropriate for high-class events? And does part of the problem stem from a general lack of attention to manners, especially in child-rearing?

One night at the opera with my father, I noticed that the respectable-looking, rather dowdy middle-aged couple sitting next to me began to almost vibrate with excitement when the curtain rose. Evidently the set struck them as rather spectacular. "Oh, this is gonna be so f***ing great!" exclaimed the wife to her husband, who nodded benignly in agreement. While I was happy for them and their enthusiasm, I couldn't help but wonder: Since when did the f-word become so acceptable in what used to be called polite society that we now can even hear it at the opera?...

...there's a...disinclination to prevent actual children from behaving like foulmouthed banshees. Rachel Simmons' 2002 bestseller Odd Girl Out marshaled page after page of depressing tales of female adolescent cruelty...but never suggested that the perpetrators were simply badly brought up brats ill-suited for polite society.

Instead, Simmons argued, "girls in our society are not encouraged to express their anger, and so it goes underground" — oozing up in toxic little bubbles of middle-school sniping and ostracism. I'd say the real problem is that girls (and boys) are encouraged all too extravagantly in our society to express anger from an early age. Anyone who's seen a preschooler smack his mother or scream in a restaurant or push another child down at the playground — only to be earnestly asked by the concerned parent about what feelings led to such behavior — knows this is true.

Ms. Seipp isn't the only one who thinks parents are falling down the job. Muriel Grey writes that children who are not taught proper manners and behavior are seriously handicapped in life:

...we fail to take this as seriously as we ought. The bad manners of children, particularly of deprived, working-class and benefit-class children, is so often the subject of middle-class contempt, but very rarely examined with any real pity or concern. Just as we know full well that a great many children, leaving poor schools with no qualifications, are not stupid, but have just been sold short, we must also accept that the absence of anyone teaching them how to be charming, friendly and considerate, does not mean that they do not have the innate capacity to be so. It’s a sign that society at large does not consider the possession of good manners sufficiently important...

My parents certainly had no qualms about enforcing manners. I once saw a 10-year-old kid in Target hit his mom on the arm because she wouldn't buy him a toy. He told he hated her as he slapped her. Had I ever done that - or used the f-word - to my mom, I wouldn't be here writing this post today.

Posted by kswygert at 10:55 AM | Comments (65) | TrackBack

Photos don't kill people

How much crime and mayhem could result from a photo of a gun? Since when did a photo become a weapon? And since when did Douglas McKay High School (OR) become so terrified of guns that even photos of them are verboten?

My 15 year old daughter, Shea, out of sheer pride, took a picture of her brother to her high school to share with a teacher. Her brother, Bill, also a graduate of Douglas McKay High School in Salem, Oregon, is a US Marine and a decorated veteran of the Iraq war...

Shea, a freshman at McKay, has become acquainted with one of her teachers that her brother also had while in school...Mr. Costa has several pictures of McKay graduates hung in his classroom and Shea asked that if she brought a picture of Bill would he also hang it with the others. He of course said yes.

Shea proudly printed a picture of her brother and took it to school. The picture she selected is of her brother in Iraq, in combat uniform and holding a gun. Just, a typical picture of a Marine at work in a war zone. Mr. Costa asked the school administration for permission to hang the picture due to the graphic nature of the picture. He was denied, based on the fact that a gun is included in the picture. From there I’m told it was taken to the Salem-Keizer Administrative offices and it was scanned and the gun removed in order for it meet the guidelines of political correctness.

Michelle Malkin has posted the photo in question. The school's principal believes that posting this photo would send the wrong "message" to the students. And Head's Bunker loses his, well, head over this ridiculous story:

Has it come to this, really? Have we allowed such delusional people to run our schools, brainwashing our youth that there is no legitimate use for a weapon? Are they going to go through the school library and remove all images of guns from their history books? Are they going to take their foolish "no-tolerance" policy for guns and be consistent and strip their books of any significant event in which guns were used to liberate, defend, restore, and dispense justice?

I wouldn't taunt them, HB. I bet they would.

Update: The controversy appears to have been cleared up.

Posted by kswygert at 10:43 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

A beautiful day

Got my code set to run overnight, so I was able to leave work early. Got home in time to clean out my back garden and the garage, and now I'm relaxing in the library, watching Alice watch the world.


Posted by kswygert at 05:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Statistics term of the day: Kurtosis

Kudos to all of you who knew kurtosis was next on the list! Kurtosis is the fourth moment of the distribution, and is the peakedness (that's three syllables, not two) of the distribution. From the Risk Glossary we get these lovely graphs:


The distribution on the right has greater kurtosis - more peaked, less flat - but it's possible that it has about the same SD as the graph on the left, which is more spread out but is thinner at the tails. Normal distributions are likely have a skew of 0 and a kurtosis of 3.The graph on the right is more likely to be leptokurtic (defined as a kurtosis value of greater than 3), while the graph on the left is platykurtic (kurtosis value less than 3).

You now know the first four moments of the distribution (mean, SD, skew, and kurtosis), which come in very handy for describing a set of scores. If a test score distribution has a mean of 75, an SD of 5, zero skew, but a kurtosis of 4, it might look very much like the right graph above. This would suggest a test on which most examinees score very close to the mean, with some out on the fat tails, and no real floor or ceiling effect (i.e., examinees aren't bunching up on the high or low end).

This is the funniest graph I've found to help you remember lepto (peaked) vs. platy (flat) in kurtosis:


Posted by kswygert at 11:18 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Getting it in Georgia

Twenty-five public schools in Georgia have been named No Excuses schools.

The No Excuses Schools that beat the odds include 21 elementary schools, three middle schools and one high school. Atlanta Public Schools dominates the list, with 10 elementary schools among the 25 No Excuses Schools. That includes the high-achieving Capitol View Elementary, where 98 percent of students met or exceeded standards in spite of a poverty rate of 89 percent.

Three guesses as to how No Excuses schools view standardized tests, and the first two don't count.

The No Excuses project has identified seven common traits in low-income schools that excel:

Principals are free.
Principals use measurable goals to foster achievement.
Master teachers bring out the best in a faculty.
Rigorous and regular testing testing are used to improve student performance.
Achievement is the key to discipline.
Principals work with parents to make the home a center of learning.
Effort creates ability.

Emphasis mine. If you haven't read the report, "No Excuses: Lessons From 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools," go do so. It's an easy read that will leave you with the realization that some educators actually get it. Go visit the Capitol View Elementary School webpage, too. The curriculum (such as this one for the third-grade year) looks delightful.

Posted by kswygert at 10:57 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

Desperate in Denver

Hmm, so slashing the pay for substitute teachers results in...a huge dearth of substitute teachers. Who would have thought?

Denver Public Schools is asking parents to fill in as substitute teachers. The school district said it's so short of subs that it's writing to parents in hopes that they'll step in. The shortage comes after daily pay for substitutes was cut from $120 to $81.

School officials say substitutes do not need teaching experience, just a college degree and a special certificate, which can be obtained.

Better yet, why don't those parents just homeschool? I mean, if you knew that your school was willing to let anyone with a degree and a certificate sub your kid, and that they were only going to pay them 81 bucks, and the school is trying to get you to sub your kid to boot - why not just eliminate the middleman altogether? Then you wouldn't have to follow all these guidelines, either.

Posted by kswygert at 04:15 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

She's not heavy, she's my teacher

As much as teachers complain about tests like the PRAXIS, I can't imagine what they'll say about this kind of assessment:

A state lawmaker has suggested Hawaii's public schoolteachers be forced to weigh in as part of the fight against obesity in students, KITV in Honolulu reported. [Hawai'i] State Rep. Rida Cabanilla introduced a resolution in the house requesting that the Board of Education establish an obesity database among public schoolteachers.

"You cannot keep a kid to a certain standard that you yourself is not willing to keep," Cabanilla said...The resolution calls for all public schoolteachers to weigh in every six months.

Not surprisingly, the union has already spoken:

The teachers union said it agrees that teachers are at the front line when it comes to the education and health of children, but it says the resolution is misguided. "I think at this point and time, the focus really needs to be on putting highly-qualified teachers in the classroom," Hawaii State Teachers Association President Roger Takabayashi said.

New catchphrase for the HSTA - "Highly-qualified teachers come in all sizes!"

Posted by kswygert at 12:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Good news for Cleveland

Cleveland's miserable high school graduation appears to have improved considerably, and Jay Greene thinks he knows why:

When a Plain Dealer reporter asked me about the increase earlier this month, I said the numbers should be treated "with some healthy skepticism." I hadn't heard of a district making such rapid improvement in graduation rates...But I've updated my estimate for Cleveland's graduation rate, and found, I'm embarrassed to admit, that my skepticism was unwarranted. There does appear to be a large gain in graduation rates in recent years. According to my method of independently estimating graduation rates, Cleveland went from a 28 percent graduation rate for the class of 1998 to a 29 percent rate in 2000 and then jumped to 45 percent in 2002, the most recent year for which I can compute results. The improvement appears to be real.

...Cleveland began at such a low point that rapid improvement might have been somewhat easier. In 1998, Cleveland had the lowest graduation rate by far among large school districts nationwide...Second, Cleveland is home to a significant voucher program that may have placed pressure on the district to improve its quality...Third, the state takeover of Cleveland's schools may have been exactly the shock the district needed to turn itself around.

Cleveland, in essence, had nowhere to go but up, and two serious shakeups seem to have helped immensely. The national high school graduation rate is 71%; Ohio is actually above average, at 78%. So how did Cleveland get so bad to begin with?

One site, Catalyst For Cleveland Schools, claims the city lacks the " 'community pillars' like churches, large businesses and economically diverse schools" that other cities have. News station WCPN notes the following:

Cleveland ranked near the bottom in a number of categories - children who are disabled, who suffer from lead poisoning, and who live in poverty.

FairTest, not surprisingly, puts some of the blame on the Ohio graduation exit exam. What FairTest doesn't address is why students in Cleveland can't be expected to pass the items on this exam by the time they've completed 12 years of public schooling (caveat: this is the current version, not what might have been in place in 1995).

Sample reading item (following an approximately 540-word-count length essay entitle, "How The Turtle Got Her Shell"):

How do the emotions of the turtle change from before she discovers
her jewels are lost to after she realizes this fact?
A. joyful to spiteful
B. distressed to jovial
C. depressed to mirthful
D. cheerful to sorrowful

Sample math item (I've had to spell out mathematical notation):

The table below shows values for x and y.
x y
0 –1
1 0
2 3
3 8
4 15
5 24

Which of these equations represents the relationship between x and y?

A. y = x - 1
B. y = x + 19
C. y = x-squared - 1
D. y = 2(x-squared) - 5

Given that this exam is currently in place, yet Cleveland's graduation rates have nearly doubled, I'd say that, despite testing critics claims, the exam doesn't seem to be where the problem lay.

Posted by kswygert at 12:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 28, 2005

A policy for butter knives, but not for death threats

What's the opposite of the overzealous school principal expelling a student for possessing a butter knife? A student left dead because the school "bungled" a genuine death threat:

In the days preceding John Jasmer's Aug. 21, 2003, slaying, at least one school-district employee was aware of a murder plot, according to Seattle police. An independent school-district investigation revealed that two days before the slaying a parent told a district employee that members of the Roosevelt High's football team planned to kill Jasmer. On the day she received this information, the employee called a Roosevelt vice principal but only left a voice-mail message. The parent who brought the information forth also left a message for the vice principal, according to the school-district investigation. The vice principal said he didn't receive either message.

The district inquiry failed to provide solid answers on whether school officials followed threat policies upon learning about the murder plot. After Jasmer's slaying, a former district spokeswoman summed up the threat-notification policy as saying that all credible threats of violence or harm against a student, employee or public-school property should be promptly and appropriately addressed.

Sound Politics notes the other aspects to the story, but thinks this is evidence that the school district is going straight to hell.

Posted by kswygert at 03:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Next up: "Dance your way to a higher score"

Schoolhouse Rock meets the SAT:

Pop culture references, jokes about dating and female empowerment messages - "Not Too Scary Vocabulary'' ($45.95) sure isn't your parents' SAT-prep program. Renee Mazer, a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School graduate and a standardized-test tutor for 17 years, uses poems and songs to help students study vocabulary in this seven-CD set. "I watch TV, what kids are watching, listen to the radio. Kids like 'That '70s Show,' and they are listening to the music I'm listening to. All those references are there.'' Some students have told Mazer their scores have jumped 70 to 150 points after using her prep kit.
Posted by kswygert at 03:10 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I did not receive one of these for Easter. My fiance is off the hook, since he had the flu all week.

Given that it's now on my Amazon wish list, you Devoted Readers are (hint, hint) not off the hook.

Posted by kswygert at 11:45 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Putting NY teachers to the test

Hot on the heels of the ridiculous cheating scam one flunking NY teacher tried to pull, Newsday runs an article entitled, "Don't Stop Now In Testing Teachers."

For years, the city employed hordes of teachers who had been in the classrooms for years, even though they never had been able to pass the teacher certification exams. One exam tests the teacher's general knowledge of basic skills such as reading, writing and math, while the other tests the teacher's knowledge of the subject he or she teaches...

Wayne Brightly was able to remain in the classroom for 13 years because he was hired before the new rules took effect and because he got several extensions of his temporary teacher's license. But he hadn't passed the exam in his subject area. His last extension was due to expire in August.

The educators I talked to said the certification reforms have improved the quality of teachers over all, aided by programs such as Teach for America and NYC Teaching Fellows, which have drawn new recruits by making teaching seem a cooler and more professional job. The written exams matter because research shows that students perform better when their teachers have high verbal skills and a mastery of the subjects they teach.

I don't know which specialty exam covers Brightly's subject area, but here's the Liberal Arts and Science test (LAST) is here.

Posted by kswygert at 11:18 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Where in the world are our geography standards?

American high-schoolers tend to fare poorly when faced with geography questions, and the nation's geography teachers want to do something about it:

A Roper poll commissioned by the National Geographic Society several years ago found that just 13 percent of Americans between the age of 18 and 24, or one in seven, could find Iraq on a map, and 83 percent could not locate Afghanistan...As a result of this survey and similar reports, nonprofit organizations have taken up the cause of trying to improve Americans' awareness of geography and its importance; those people most concerned include some of the country's dedicated teachers... Ms. Bednarz sees an improvement in younger students' awareness but remains concerned, she says, "about general public ignorance." Being able to name, spell and locate places correctly, she says, is only a small part of the field of geography that often gets filed away in school curricula under a social studies label. Context and connections are geography's meat and potatoes. Geographers pride themselves on being connectors whose major task is studying relationships between people and places...

...[Ms. Bednarz] admits it was discouraging to find that only 20 percent of her college geography class last semester could find Thailand on a map or locate the site of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami.

(Via the Gadfly.)

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

Exercising his right to speak about bad ideologies

It's very hard to believe this is not an April Fool's joke - the assistant news editor of Lehigh University's student newspaper calls for the redistribution of just about everything:

And now, citizens, we must fight for a more egalitarian society in the United States. It is my opinion that the greatest expression of democracy and equality is the communist system and that it is time for Americans to push for a social revolution where production is made “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” as Karl Marx said...

Besides basic humanistic values, a communist United States would allow all residents to have access to an education of equal quality and value. Capital and racial discrimination would no longer exist. With this new education and in the continuation of the current development of grades at Lehigh, with one-third of students obtaining a 3.5 GPA or higher every semester, a communistic approach to grading could be put into place. The current inflation and leveling out of grades could lead to, just as with capital, an elimination of grades.

Students would study for pure scholastic interest and would put in as much effort as they felt necessary. Instead of spending time learning what is sometimes considered futile, scholars would only learn what they felt useful to them...

Two quick questions for Olivier Lewis:

1. Can he name a country that follows Marx's principles and is a success, and by success I mean, "the government doesn't spend a great deal of time, money, paperwork, and bullets trying to prevent its citizens from leaving"?
2. If I am allowed to work harder in school than my fellow man, how is it possible that we could each end up with an education of equal quality? Wouldn't equalizing education require me to work no more and no less than my school mates?

Love the part about distributing income. If I'm guaranteed an income of $38K a year, no more and no less, no matter how hard I work, why do I want to go to college at all?

(Via FrontPage Magazine.)

Update: And as for equalization of income and giving everyone only what they "need," see what happens when you try to equalize things and take the luxury goods away from those who feel they deserve them?

Posted by kswygert at 11:01 AM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

March 26, 2005

Bored in Bentleyville

Apparently, some misbehaving students couldn't think of a better hiding place for their stash than the local high school:

School officials have discovered a secret hideaway at Bentworth High School, in the small coal-patch town of Bentleyville, Pennsylvania. The secret room was behind a hallway hatch used to access pipes. Inside, officials found marijuana roaches, candles, and a disposable camera with pictures of a boy bound with duct tape and a girl flashing her breasts.

Police say no crimes were committed but at least ten students have been disciplined. However, some parents think officials aren't taking the secret hideaway seriously enough. Kay Keen, a former PTA vice president, says those sorts of things shouldn't be happening in a school.

Guess there's not that much to do in coal-mining towns these days.

Posted by kswygert at 09:14 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 25, 2005

Statistics Term of the Day: Skew

Skewness is simply a measure of the non-symmetry of your distribution; thus, we can add it to measures of central tendency and variability in describing our distributions of scores. When distributions are skewed, this means that scores within that distribution are piled up on one end (or tail) more than on the other.

Skew can be negative or positive. To remember direction of skew, think of the positive/negative number scale, with the "negative" being to the left, and "positive" being to the right. The "skew" part is actually the skinny part of the distribution, not the end where all the numbers pile up. Thus, this distribution (which is what you'd see when measuring personal income, or number of children per family) is positively skewed:


Whereas this distribution of scores (such as you might see on a very easy exam) is negatively skewed:


You'd think that direction of skew would be easy to remember, but my time spent tutoring and teaching entry-level statistics suggests otherwise. Remember SK = "skew" = "skinny part". Graphing your data will make skew evident, but most statistical packages also calculate a statistic that quantifies the amount of skew in your data. In a skewed distribution, the mean, median, and mode may differ markedly from one another, so understanding the skew is crucial when describing your data (and in performing inferential stastistics, as we'll discuss later on). A nice discussion of the skew as the third moment of the distribution (with pretty graphs, too) can be found here.

And that's all, folks. Have a very Good Friday and a lovely Easter, and to avoid eating too many Peeps, try blasting them for a change.

Posted by kswygert at 04:10 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

More reason to worry

From the National Center for Education Statistics (a fabulous resource, I should note) comes a profile of the American high school sophomore, circa 2002. The results? Not too wonderful.

Oh, sure, over half of the sample of 15,362 students are playing sports, and the majority had positive views of their schools. Eighty-eight percent feel safe at school. Most felt well-informed about school rules. And they're ambitious - 81.9% felt they would complete at least some college classes in their lifetime; over half thought they would earn at least a four-year degree.

As the Gadfly notes, though, those ambitions don't exactly square with reality:

There is...quite a lot [of information] about their reading and math prowess based on a specially tailored test. That test gauged reading proficiency at three different levels and math skills at five levels. The news is not good. While most tenth graders possess very basic skills, the percentage who can read at the level of "simple inference" is less than half and the fraction that can handle "intermediate level" math concepts (and formulate "multi-step solutions to word problems") is just one in five. Yet when asked about their educational aspirations, 72 percent expect to graduate from a four-year college and half expect to earn a graduate degree. Talk about a major mismatch between hope and reality.

He's not kidding. Quotes from the report:

[In reading] Under half (46 percent) of 10th-graders were at level 2 (ability to make relatively simple inferences beyond the author’s main thought and/or understand and evaluate abstract concepts). Eight percent of sophomores were able to demonstrate mastery at level 3 (ability to make complex inferences or evaluative judgments that require piecing together multiple sources of nformation from the passage). (p 92-93)

Sophomores reported spending approximately 10 hours per week on homework in all subjects, 5 hours in school and 6 hours outside of school (table 18). Of this total, students spent about 5 hours weekly on mathematics homework and about 4 hours on English homework...most differences in the time spent on homework overall were due to differences in the time spent on homework outside of school. (p. 106)

About two-thirds (67 percent) could perform simple operations with decimals, fractions, powers, and roots...At level 4, one-fifth (20 percent) were proficient, that is, could understand intermediate-level mathematical concepts and/or demonstrate ability to formulate multistep solutions to word problems. Level 5 involves solving complex multistep word problems and mastery of material found in advanced mathematics courses...just 1 percent of sophomores were proficient at level 5. (p.125)

...over one-third of sophomores expected that a 4-year college degree would be their highest degree (36 percent), another 20 percent planned to obtain a master’s degree, and about one in six anticipated receiving an advanced
degree, such as a Ph.D. (16 percent). (p. 155)

Results disaggregated by race are even less cheerful:

For example, among sophomores who expected to complete at least a 4-year degree, at reading level 2 (simple inference), 31 percent of Blacks, 35 percent of Hispanics, and 65 percent of Whites were proficient. Among sophomores who expected to complete at least a 4-year degree, at level 4 of mathematics (intermediate concepts), 6 percent of Blacks and 12 percent of Hispanics, contrasted to 33 percent of Whites, were proficient.

You read that right. Some kids who expect to get a four-year degree are no further along in reading - by 10th grade - than "show[ing] mastery of simple reading comprehension, including reproduction of detail and/or the author’s main thought," and no further along in math than "perform[ing] simple problem solving that involved the understanding of low-level mathematical concepts."

Update: I've listed this post on Wizbang's Carnival of the Trackbacks. This is a regular post on Wizbang on which readers can list any posts they want in the trackbacks; go check it out and see what Wizbang's readers think is essential reading for the week.

Posted by kswygert at 03:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Missing the forest for the trees

Would you be upset if your child's elementary school was named after a former president who also owned slaves?

Parents, students and teachers at Berkeley's Thomas Jefferson Elementary School will soon vote on whether to rename their school because the nation's third president was a slave owner. The question of whether to rename the school has been debated for more than two years -- since several teachers, including an African American mother of three former Jefferson students, said Jefferson's moniker offended them and suggested a name change.

Found via Joanne, who also notes that California's graduation rate is at a low 71%, with only "about half of California's African American and Latino ninth-grade boys graduat[ing] from high school within four years." Doesn't that suggest that debating a school's name change for two years was a bit of waste of time and energy?

And I can't even deal with this - it makes my head hurt. I guess it's okay to be "imperfect" as long as you're PC about it.

Posted by kswygert at 03:28 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

So much for spiking the punch

In response to evidence of a little underage drinking, school officials in Belmont, MA, follow the "time-honored traditions" (according to Wizbang) of handling the situation in the worst possible way.

According to the Boston Herald article:

Belmont Superintendent Dr. Peter Holland said the trouble began when chaperones noticed 10-15 out of the 450 students at the dance acting "in an impaired state.'' Some students were vomiting and at least one teen passed out in mid-conversation, Holland said.

Sounds bad, but the response (as summarized by Wizbang) was worse:

(1) Overreact. They shut down the dance and called for ambulances. 14 ambulances. After fighting over the 6 drunken teenagers who could plausibly be taken to the hospital for intoxication, the other eight went back to their station.

(2) Give the offenders a slap on the wrist. Monday morning, Belmont school officials gave twelve of the now-sober louts their punishment. For showing up at the dance intoxicated, in violation of several state laws, they decided to send a strong message. All the miscreants were given a one-day suspension.

(3) Punish all the other students as well, so the offenders don't feel picked on. School officials over in Westwood decided they would learn a lesson from Belmont's problem. From now on, all students attending dances in Westwood will have to blow into breathalyzers ($300-$500 each).

Is it just me, or doesn't it seem like (a) isolating the offenders & calling the cops, (b) calling all their parents to come them after getting a BAC reading, and (c) kicking all the offenders out of school for at least a week would be the more rational response? It's outrageous that any student will have to blow into a breathalyzer to enter a dance from now on. I also have to disagree with the commenter on Wizbang's site who says this is related to NCLB; wouldn't calling 14 ambulances be making this seem like more trouble for the school than it is, not less?

Oh, and let's talk margin of errors on breathalyzers; this site puts it at 50%. Where does this school intend to set the BAC bar? Will students have to blow a perfect zero score to be admitted? I would assume they would set the bar that low, since drinking is illegal for those under 21, but what does that mean with such a large margin of error? Breathalyzers most definitely are NOT perfect measures of blood alcohol content, which is why those drivers pulled over who blow high numbers on the BAC are almost always given blood tests as well.

If the school was worried about lawsuits now, just wait until they bar some lawyer's daughter from her senior prom for blowing a .02 on a breathalyzer. Now THAT will be a fun lawsuit to watch.

Posted by kswygert at 03:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Testing round-up

Despite recent criticism by UC officials, the College Board trustees voted overwhelmingly to continue using the PSAT as a scholarship qualifier. The arguments used by those opposing the PSAT are exemplified here, where one critic makes it clear that he doesn't consider it fair that students from wealthier homes do better on tests.

Apparently, recent NY DOE practice math items were a lesson in spotting errors. Unreadable graphics, misspellings, items with no right answers...not a pretty sight. (The Powerline guys are succinct: "I assume that pretty much all fourth-graders can spell 'fourth.' So who in the world writes this stuff?"

Let me know if you can make heads or tails out of this coverage of an education-related speech by Professor Joel Spring of Queens College. I can't, especially the part about how competition in schools and intellectual freedom are somehow mutually exclusive. (Free reg required.)

In Northview, MI, they're using cool cereal bowls as part of the breakfast of champions, in order to facilitate learning (and improve test scores).

Another op-ed sees a link between increased emphasis on test scores and the Red Lake School massacre. I agree, though, that schools need to help students feel safe emotionally as part of the academic environment.

Posted by kswygert at 10:05 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 24, 2005

The first catblogging of Spring

At our intake center, we have Scout, who is as fluffy and soft as a plush stuffed toy, and just about as docile:



And on St. Patrick's Day, we got Erin, Little Mistress of the Big Round Spinning Toy:



Posted by kswygert at 07:02 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Blog madness

Something bizarre is going on with the blog. It keeps losing posts when I try to update, and the comments are gone again. Once again, I ask for your patience while I try to figure out what's going on.

Update: The comments are now operational, but not trackbacks.

Update # 2: I have no earthly idea what's going on. If anyone knows where the code may have become screwed up so that I'm getting this weird right indent with each post, please email me at kimberly-at-kimberlyswygert-dot-com. Thanks!

Update # 3: Hallelujah. I had a copy of my entire main index template saved on my hard drive here at work. Looks like we're good to go. Trackbacks are still screwy - you have to click on the Trackbacks link, then again on that same link when it opens the comments page - but that can wait.

Posted by kswygert at 02:41 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Will test for food

I can't improve upon this NY Daily News headline - "Schooolhouse Crock." The zinger here is how the cheater got caught:

A Bronx teacher who repeatedly flunked his state certification exam paid a formerly homeless man with a developmental disorder $2 to take the test for him, authorities said yesterday. The illegal stand-in - who looks nothing like teacher Wayne Brightly - not only passed the high-stakes test, he scored so much better than the teacher had previously that the state knew something was wrong, officials said.

This might seem like an indictment of the exam except for the fact that the homeless man, Rubin Leitner, has more college degrees than Brightly, and was already in the process of tutoring him for the exam. Brightly, who has flunked the exam before, apparently figured he'd have a better shot at keeping his $59,000 yearly salary if he forced an overweight white man (Brightly is neither of those) who wasn't even a teacher to take the exam for him.

If the purpose of the exam is to flunk the hopelessly dumb, I say it's been validated here.

Posted by kswygert at 11:50 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Give me a home where the jump-ropers roam

The NYTimes reports that, even in the more livable cities, families with kids are choosing to live elsewhere:

It is a problem unlike the urban woes of cities like Detroit and Baltimore, where families have fled decaying neighborhoods, business areas and schools. Portland is one of the nation's top draws for the kind of educated, self-starting urbanites that midsize cities are competing to attract. But as these cities are remodeled to match the tastes of people living well in neighborhoods that were nearly abandoned a generation ago, they are struggling to hold on to enough children to keep schools running and parks alive with young voices.

San Francisco, where the median house price is now about $700,000, had the lowest percentage of people under 18 of any large city in the nation, 14.5 percent, compared with 25.7 percent nationwide, the 2000 census reported. Seattle, where there are more dogs than children, was a close second. Boston, Honolulu, Portland, Miami, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and Atlanta, all considered, healthy, vibrant urban areas, were not far behind.

The birth rates for American women are down, and city public schools tend not to be as highly-rated as suburban schools, but that's not the whole story. Parents just can't afford the space they need to rear children in most cities.

I find this article fascinating in part because I work in Philadelphia. I don't know where it is on the list of "healthy, vibrant" urban areas, but certainly there are some trendy neighborhoods where crime is very low. However, the cost of housing here has skyrocketed lately. The last place I rented in the Art Museum area was a house that was only 700 square feet and in desperate need of repair, yet its price nearly tripled in six years. When I looked to buy, almost anything safe in Philly was far more than I wanted to pay.

So I ended up in the 'burbs - albeit burbs that are contiguous to the city, but the 'burbs nonetheless. Upper Darby has incredibly inexpensive housing, and a family with only one breadwinner can easily afford to buy a 1500-square-foot rowhome. I don't remember seeing that many kids in the city neighborhoods I inhabited before, whereas my current block is stuffed to the gills with children of every shape, size, and color. The humongous Upper Darby High School has close to 3000 students, and there's another public high school (in a separate district) just a mile or two away. Upper Darby is 80,000 people packed into less than 8 square miles, and I'd bet half the inhabitants are under 18 (there are nine public elementary schools in the district).

Portland may be suffering the loss of school district monies, but if you ask me, Upper Darby has a bit too much of a good thing. It's fun on Halloween, but not when you're trying to parallel park on a narrow one-way street with parking on both sides and little girls double-dutching in vacant spots.

(Via Joanne.)

Posted by kswygert at 11:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Opting out in Colorado

In Colorado, the number of "conscientious objectors" against standardized testing is on the rise:

[Brentwood Middle School principal John Diebold] said that 10 of the school's 670 students opted out of this year's standardized tests, more than any previous year. He has to honor the parents' right to choose while dealing with the negative affects the decisions have on his school.

When a student opts out of the test, the school receives a minus score for that test, which affects the "report card" the school receives from the Colorado Department of Education. Diebold said he uses the test results to gauge what they are doing well and what they need to improve.

"When parents have their kids opt out of the test it's hard to get the total picture of what your school's capabilities are because your whole school is not testing," Diebold said. "There are no legal ramifications, but it wouldn't be something I would advise."

Antoinette Medina is one student who is opting out; her mother was apparently influenced by testing critic Don Perl, who claims the Colorado State Assessment Program exams (CSAP) create a gap between the "haves" who do well, and the "have-nots" who don't. It's odd, isn't it, the way the test itself is seen as the stumbling block, as though if the test were removed, there would no longer be a gap between those who learn basic skills and those who don't. All that would vanish with the test's removal would be an objective way of assessing the amount of material students have learned.

As for whether or not the CSAP items measure learning, I've yet to see the test's critics present any evidence suggesting that the test items are not valid for the purpose for which they're being used. There are plenty of released items online if you'd like to check them out for yourselves.

Posted by kswygert at 10:57 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Ok, maybe I want to live

After almost a whole week of illness, my fiance's fever has finally broken, and my cough, while loud and wracking, doesn't seem to be getting worse. I'm working from home today, and probably won't get a Statistics Term of the Day up until tomorrow. Sorry for the delay.

Posted by kswygert at 10:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 23, 2005

Running amok at West Seattle High

At West Seattle High School, the organization Operation Support Our Troops provided three pro-military speakers for what they were told would be a balanced presentation of issues surrounding the war. Instead, they walked into the most moonbattish spectacle you could imagine:

Three invited pro-military speakers were shocked last Friday when they arrived for a West Seattle High student assembly to confront a theater stage strewn with figures costumed as Iraqi men, women and children splashed with blood. It was a warm-up for the "Iraq Awareness Assembly" so no students except the actual actors saw the skit before the military guests complained to principal Susan Derse and she put a stop to it. And here comes the crucial part: no teachers or advisers were on hand or evidently even aware of the content although that part is one of several things still under investigation...

For Nadine Gulit of Operation Support Our Troops, the spectacle was sickening. She had been asked by student organizers to provide three speakers and she delivered. "I was told there would be three on each side. No debates. No rebuttal," she said in the e-mail she fired off to members of the Seattle School Board. "At no time was I referred to a teacher nor did a teacher contact me. As I walked into the theater there was a young girl wearing a mask and crawling on the floor. And, over the loud speaker (someone) was denouncing our military, saying 'Americans are killing my family!' "

...With her speakers in tow, Gulit saw the bloodied figures on the floor. Stage right were students in orange Abu Ghraib-style prison jumpsuits, hoods over heads, pounding on plates with spoons. Next, a student dressed as a grieving Iraqi woman knelt near a bloody body while, over a microphone, a narrator wailed the story of civilians shot, kicked and beaten by American soldiers.

Not exactly the civil, balanced forum that Operation Support the Troops was led to expect. Matt Rosenberg lets fly:

Seattle's flailing, public schools are seeking to "stave off bankruptcy" of more than one kind. It's a disgrace that time best used for core subject mastery is squandered to advance an anti-American, anti-military political agenda. Please note that I am talking about the loaded, unbalanced depiction of our country's role, and our military's essence in Iraq; not the different, and entirely acceptable expression of opposition to the Iraq War. Both sides were in fact aired at the speaking forum, which continued as planned, after the principal pulled the plug on the stealth "performance art" planned for the event.

A post-forum writing assignment on the war would have been a good idea, as opposed to politicized theatrics beforehand. As the State Superintendent of Public Instruction reports, only one-third of the West Seattle High School 10th graders tested last school year could pass all three mandatory sections (reading, writing, math) of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL); which will be required for graduation as of 2008.

The seque from this disgrace to the low passing rates is a nice touch. Brian Crouch of Sound Politics has a follow-up that quotes in full a letter written to the the Seattle school board by Major Terry Thomas, USMC, who was present for the whole shebang. This paragraph says it all:

Within the auditorium, numerous adults appeared to have been supervising this behavior and children were literally running amok. What is going on in your classrooms and auditoriums? Who supervised this program? Who are these grown adults dressed as prisoners and performing such the attics on the stage of our public schools? Since when has it become Seattle School Board policy to take an official anti-troops position and declare returning combat veterans from Iraq such as myself as killers of innocent women and children as if this war were some sick sport. As an Iraq war veteran I am outraged by what I witnessed going on at West Seattle High School!

My only complaint is that Major Thomas should have put the words "grown adults" above in double-quotes, as any person who would have willingly participated in this type of outrageous ambush is neither a grown-up nor an adult.

(Everybody scooped me on this, because it happened last week while I was bogged down and getting sick, but here are a few more takes on it: Michelle Malkin, The Prickly Pear, and Hennessy's View, who actually has some emails from WSHS administrators.)

Update: Lots of comments over at LGF on this topic.

Posted by kswygert at 08:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Reading while eating is a valuable skill in life

I would have absolutely rebelled had this rule been in effect at my school:

My son just told me that in his school all the kids bring iPods to lunch but -- get this -- they're not allowed to bring books to lunch. Now, to be reasonable, I'm assuming that's because books are big and clunky and iPods aren't.

Hmmm. Books - especially for kids - aren't always that big and clunky. And some students - I'm thinking of myself here - always have books in their hands. And surely not every child can afford an iPod? My guess is that, at that school, some kid chucked their hardcopy version of Harry Potter at an unsuspecting head, but it would be sad if the result were the banning of all lunchroom books, rather than the removal of the book tossers.

(Via Joanne.)

Posted by kswygert at 05:29 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Why blogs should be encouraged in schools

From Baldilocks comes an emerging new perception of the benefits of blogging (via Instapundit):

I was kind of thrilled to find out that I could research and write a 600-word paper in three hours. Blogging is like weightlifting for bloviators.

Sisu runs with this idea:

Here's a thought. Journalism schools* -- and other writing programs -- should have students maintain a blog as part of their training in good writing (probably some already do). As our best English teachers always said, the way to become a good writer is to read good writing and write, write, write...

Let me run with it even more. The quality of writing skills produced by our K-12 public school system is obviously a concern, and the recent essay additions to both the SAT and ACT are reflections of that. Surely I wasn't the only one who noticed that some criticisms about the new SAT writing section were of the type, "How could we possibly expect students who are college-bound to write a concise essay in only 25 minutes?"

I got news for those critics - even if we grant them the argument that college-bound students shouldn't be expected to do this (and I don't), I bet that if those students were blogging, they'd be able to get a decent essay up in that time, perhaps in even less time if the topic was hot and they wanted to be the first one out with it. Oh sure, I bet the younger the blogger, the more likely you'd see "creative" grammar, spelling, punctuation, debate styles, etc going unchecked on the page. But when it comes right down to it, that blogger would still be learning the power of the written word for communication, even if they do spell their name "cRi$tOpHeR." With reader feedback, they'd be learning how to improve their communication too, once they realized that they'd misstated or misspelled or mis-conveyed something one time too often.

I will admit that I am one of the more optimistic folks when it comes to youngsters and blogging. I do have one more argument for why kids in school should blog, though, that has nothing to do with learning to write, and everything to do with understanding the rights granted to them by the First Amendment. The cases that you see in the news where schoolchildren are punished for thoughts written online and off (of which this and this and this and this are only a few examples) are horrifying.

Bloggers write what they know. Students in our public school system know their public school system, and they should be perfectly free to write positively or negatively about their experiences (should they lie about those experiences, well, it's never too early for aspiring writers to learn about U.S. libel laws, either). If schools really want to get more students interested in writing, they can start by reminding them of their First Amendment rights, and stop implementing zero-tolerance rules that snare every diarist and blogger who's had a bad day.

Update: From Mike M. comes this tale of a student who got in trouble for telling the truth online:

It all began when [Central High School student Eliazar] Velasquez, who is 17, set out to photograph [Principal Elaine] Almagno taking a smoke on school property. State law says no one can smoke within 25 feet of a school building. A friend tipped him off about her favorite spot -- in the parking lot. Armed with a digital camera, Velasquez caught her smoking beside an open door on March 7, around 4 p.m...A few days later, he posted the pictures on his Web site,

"This is a principal we're talking about. She is a leader. And here we caught her smoking on school grounds; breaking the law. . . . We feel that Ms. Almagno is not suited to be principal of Central High School. Don't take my word for it. I have pictures!"

Last Friday, Velasquez was called to the principal's office. He says Almagno began grilling him: "Tell me, who helped you design the Web site?" Velasquez said Almagno called in the school police officer, then searched his book bag. There, she found the fliers, which said, "Wanna see Mrs. Almagno take part in some illegal activities? Wanna see her breaking the law on school property? Go to"...

That same day, Harold Metts, the assistant principal and also a Democratic state representative, told Velasquez he was suspended.

Um, Almagno was the one breaking the law here, right? Is it against the law to take photographs on school property? Is it against the law for a 17-year-old to have a website? Is it against the law to publish non-pornographic photos on that website?

It's not against the law to be a pest, and Velasquez seems to have a talent for it:

In a letter to Velasquez's parents, Metts wrote that the teenager was being punished for harassing and slandering the principal and the dean of students, John Hunt. Velasquez had taken a memo written by Hunt, circled a couple of grammatical errors, then posted copies of the memo around the school.

So let me get this straight. Almagno can break state law with impunity, and the dean of students doesn't know the difference between "they're" and "their" - yet Velasquez and his website are somehow the problem? Do you think any student would have the guts to post anything remotely negative about Central High School on a personal website now, after what's happened here?

And let's not even get into the paranoia and condescension that would lead a high school principal to insist that a 17-year-old isn't capable of building a website on his own.

Now for some good news. In the comments, journalist Linda Seebach describes how her son Peter benefited greatly from Usenet in middle school. Now he's a professional writer with his own blog; here he talks about the importance of learning to write quickly and automatically.

Posted by kswygert at 12:54 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tragedy in Minnesota, Update #2

Well, it didn't take long for experts to link the most recent school shooting and the rise of standardized testing:

In the five years since the Columbine High School tragedy, American students have grown accustomed to security officers and lockdown drills. But on Monday, the extra security failed to stop another shooting at a school, providing a reminder that the solution is not more metal detectors but closer relationships between students and educators, experts said...

The number of violent deaths in and around schools rose last year to 49 after dropping for three years in a row, according to data collected by Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, an independent consulting firm. A total of 28 such deaths have occurred this academic year, including the Red Lake killings. The Education Department disputes the methodology used by Trump but has yet to come up with its own figures for the past two years.

Trump attributed the rise in violence to a variety of factors, including cuts in school safety funding and the overriding emphasis placed by many school districts on improving standardized test scores. He said that school safety issues have ended up "on the back burner in too many schools," with administrators feeling that "their jobs are on the line if their test scores don't improve."

As well they should be on the line, as far as I'm concerned. And it's hard to see how a focus on basic skills education and testing necessarily leads to a decrease in focus on school safety. I don't believe any principal out there thinks that kids can learn, and test, well in a war zone.

Weise sounds like one mixed-up kid:

...Weise was different and seemed to delight in the fact.

"He wore black a lot and painted his face," said Ashley Morrison, a 17-year-old student who escaped from Monday's shooting rampage at the school that left eight dead, including Weise. "... Every time I'd seen him in school he wore a trench coat."

Another student, Parston Graves Jr., 16, said Weise drew a strange and perhaps foreshadowing sketch a month ago. It was a guitar-strumming skeleton with a caption that read, "March to the death song 'til your boots fill with blood."

Should the school have done something? Would it have been possible for them to do anything drastic if Weise had not committed any crimes? Assuming the school had been focusing more lately on raising standardized test scores, does it really make sense to assume that that must be why Weise was somehow overlooked? Or is a culture in which teachers and administrators are afraid to make individual judgments about disturbed children (hence the zero-tolerance rules) more likely the culprit?

Posted by kswygert at 11:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Texas cheating rates

A former school superintendent has been indicted for "tampering with government records" in an investigation of misdeeds that include cheating on standardized tests:

The indictment of Charles Matthews on a single count of tampering with government records was announced Tuesday by the Dallas County district attorney's office. On Monday, the Texas education commissioner decided to take full control of the school district after a report that confirmed extensive cheating on the state's standardized tests...

Cedric Davis, former chief of the district's police force, appealed for fairness in the ongoing investigations of the school district's woes. Davis, who is credited as a whistle-blower in the case, asserted that wrongdoings were probably committed "from top to bottom." He noted that clerks reportedly participated in the alleged tampering of attendance records and teachers reportedly fudged test scores...

Matthews was also indicted in October for allegedly destroying records sought by investigators who are investigating the school district's finances. Matthews was subsequently fired.

These preliminary report findings are just stunning:

According to a preliminary state report, two-thirds of educators involved in giving the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills last year were involved in "testing irregularities," The Associated Press reported.

Investigators found that some students who finished the test early were told to correct answers on other students' answer sheets and some educators prepared answer keys for students. In some classrooms, students were told to raise their hands so their answers could be checked before they moved to the next question.

Every time educators participate in cheating like this, several myths come to seem more like fact:

1. Educators cannot handle pressure
2. Students cannot be expected to learn basic skills and take tests on them.
3. All testing is flawed because educators are willing to cheat.

I don't know about you, but those are three myths that I'd love to see shot down. Events like the recent ones in Texas aren't helping with that.

Posted by kswygert at 11:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Teacher unhappiness in the UK

Doesn't sound like things are going too well on the other side of the pond:

Nearly half of the country's secondary school teachers have suffered mental health problems due to worsening pupil behaviour, a survey has revealed. The research, by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, on 300 secondary school teachers, showed that abuse at the hands of pupils had left 46 per cent taking antidepressants or facing long lay-offs from school through stress.

One teacher told researchers he had been assaulted 10 times during 18 years in the profession and had suffered two breakdowns. He said he had been on antidepressants for more than three years as a result.

The survey also revealed that 72 per cent of teachers had considered quitting their jobs because they were worn out by some pupils' persistent disruptive behaviour...One in seven (14 per cent) said they had suffered actually bodily harm from pupils. However, in many of the cases, the school had turned a blind eye to abuse and failed to exclude the pupils involved.

I'm wondering how this sample was chosen. Was it random? Or were inner-city schools more likely to be chosen? Also, the article mentions 300 teachers researched, but does that mean 300 surveys were returned? Out of how many sent out? Certainly, an emotional topic like this could have produced quite a self-selection effect, if only the teachers who are completely fed up with things were the most likely to respond.

Interestingly, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have voted, at their annual conference, to oppose the idea of 200 private academies being set up to replace inner-city schools. The ATL claims that the public sector could run these new private academies, but at the same time they claim their hands are tied in dealing with their own students. It sounds like they view the suggestion of private academies as a way for the best students to be siphoned off, while the problems with public schools go untreated.

Posted by kswygert at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Carnival Week 7

The Carnival of Education, Week 7, is up, with Jenny D guest-hosting.

Every week, I am amazed at the amount of quality output from edubloggers out there. But I guess I shouldn't be.

Posted by kswygert at 09:30 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Kill me now. I mean it.

Now my fiance has the flu. Shivering, whimpering, being totally helpless about the whole thing. He didn't get a bit of sleep last night - was up all night coughing. I know he's really sick, too, because (a) he didn't go to work, and (b) he let me give him medication without much of a fight. Normally it's WWIII just trying to get some ibuprofen down his throat when he has a whopping headache, but this morning he dutifully took the Nyquil I poured for him.

The cats are probably confused, though happy - "What, you mean one of them is always going to stay home with us all day? Really? Wheeee!"

Posted by kswygert at 08:56 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

Tragedy in Minnesota, updated

More strange details are emerging regarding the school shooting earlier this week. The shooter, 16-year-old Jeff Weise, wore a bulletproof vest during the attack. He apparently admired Adolf Hitler, and had posted online at the website of the Libertarian National Socialist Green Party (lovely sounding group, isn't it?), whose ULR is Wizbang quotes Weise as admiring the "ideals" of the group, and the often-irreverant Jeff Goldstein gets serious:

Moral: if a kid claiming to love Nazis threatens violence, take him seriously.

Jeff links to a blogger living near where the shooting occurred, who says the following:

The Red Lake Ojibwe reservation is about 40 minutes from the very northwest corner of the Leech Lake reservation where I live. I played sports against the Red Lake Warriors in high school. I played VFW and Legion baseball alongside a handful of friends from Red Lake on Bemidji's team in the early 1990s. I still see several of them each summer in the local softball league, and we take a minute to say hi, catch up on life. Despite the wrenching poverty and desperate squalor that infests much of the Red Lake rez - one of the poorest places you will ever see - the Red Lakers I know are (by and large) happy people, no different than you or me...

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this for me - even more than the fact that this shooting happened in my back yard - is the fact that these school slayings have happened all across America and all across the socioeconomic spectrum...What has gone so horribly wrong? What has changed so drastically that school kids now work out their anger with shotguns and pistols rather that with fists and, in extreme cases, the occasional knife fight? And what can we hope to do to halt this disturbing trend?

Posted by kswygert at 08:42 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 22, 2005

Statistics term of the Day: Standardized scores

The head's still pretty clogged, folks, so this one will be a quickie.

Now that we've learned some wonderful things about measures of spread and measures of central tendency, let's see a way we can use those to determine where someone's score lies within a distribution.

Let's say you have twin fifth-graders (bless your heart), enrolled in two different math classes. Bonnie comes home with a 75 on her math test, while Clyde has an 80. Clyde's score is higher, sure, but can you really compare the two? And how can you tell which of your kids is doing better within their class?

That's where z-scores (or standardized scores) come in. Z-scores tell you precisely where an observation lies within a distribution (they also tell you something about how representative a sample is of a population, but we'll get to that later).

Every score in a distribution has a corresponding z-score, or standardized score. All you need to calculate the z-score of a population is (a) the observed, or raw score, (b) the mean, and (c) the standard deviation. Let's consider Bonnie's class to be population #1, and Clyde's class to be population #2.

Bonnie's class has a mean of 71 and an SD of 2, while Clyde's class has a mean of 77 and an SD of 3. Hmm. We can tell already just from this information that both kids are above the mean in their class, so we know they're doing better than average. But how much better? To find the answer to this, we simply subtract the class mean from each score, and divide by the class's standard deviation.

Bonnie's z-score = (75-71)/2 = 4/2 = +2
Clyde's z-score = (80-77)/3 = 3/3 = +1

These scores of +2 and +1 are on the z-score metric, which has a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1. The positive sign tells us that Bonnie and Clyde's scores both fall above the mean, and their scores are in the standard deviation metric - Bonnie's score is 2 SDs above the class mean, while Clyde's is 1 SD above his class's mean. So, even though Clyde's raw score is higher, Bonnie is actually doing better in her class.

Can we really compare the two in this way? Yes, we can. This is one of things for which standardized scores are very useful. Without standardization, comparing Bonnie and Clyde's scores are like comparing apples to oranges.

One caveat to remember here. You can standardize any score, as long as you know the mean and SD. However, it's not as useful to standardize scores that come from a non-normal population, because the z-score transformation assumes that the underlying distribution is normal. For many psychological measures, it is, but it is important to be aware of any non-normality in the population. The assumption of normality doesn't matter so much for small comparisons like this; it matters a great deal when we get to probability and the use of z-scores to find areas underneath the curve.

One common error that people make is to misremember what standardization actually does. Standardization does not turn non-normal distributions into normal ones - a z-score distribution will always be the same as the underlying raw score distribution. The website gives this graphic to remind you of what the z-score distribution is assumed to be:


Posted by kswygert at 03:36 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Secretary Spellings speaks out

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings defends tests in the Hartford Courant:

Connecticut Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg has asked the U.S. Department of Education to exempt half of the state's students from annual testing under the No Child Left Behind Act. She said, "Adding tests in grades 3, 5 and 7 ... will tell us nothing that we do not already know about our students' achievement."

I disagree. For one thing, it will tell you how well your third-, fifth- and seventh-graders are doing. Teachers cannot remedy weaknesses they don't see. The whole point of assessing students regularly is to catch problems early so they can be fixed before it's too late...

Connecticut has received more than $23 million to develop its assessments. Commissioner Sternberg claims the assessments for grades 3, 5 and 7 would cost Connecticut another $41 million. This estimate is off the mark. It includes costs either unrelated to testing, such as "curriculum adjustment" and school choice, or met by the federal government already, such as professional development. The testing mechanisms are in place - they simply need to be applied to the rest of Connecticut's schoolchildren...

Former Clinton administration official and state Education Commissioner Gerald Tirozzi, who now leads the National Association of Secondary School Principals, called it "two Connecticuts: separate and unequal." Students were misdiagnosed, victimized by low expectations and hidden behind district-wide averages - out of sight and left behind.

President Bush saw this for what it was: unacceptable. Today, nearly every state has reported improved academic performance, with minority students and urban schools posting some of the greatest gains. Thanks in part to No Child Left Behind, the pernicious achievement gap is finally beginning to close.

Posted by kswygert at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Attacking the PSAT

Not content with picking on the SAT, UC officials are now going after the PSAT as well:

...officials at the UC system have a new target: what they perceive to be the National Merit Scholarship Program’s overdependence on the the SAT’s cousin, the Preliminary SAT. A forthcoming article in National Crosstalk reports that a faculty committee at the university has recommended that the system’s campuses stop awarding National Merit Scholarships, and that a longtime UC administrator at is asking the College Board to break its ties to the program.

At the core of the university’s objections is the belief that by using students’ scores on the PSAT examination as a strict cutoff for whether they qualify as National Merit Semifinalists, the merit scholarship program discriminates against black, Hispanic and American Indian students and students from low-income families who, on average, score significantly lower on standardized tests than do their white, Asian American and more-privileged peers.

Classic misunderstanding of test bias. The results of using PSAT score as a cutoff don't agree with the politically-correct version of how UC officials think the world should work; thus, the test is allegedly unfair.

There is nothing wrong with asking, as some UC officials and former officials are, if the PSAT is a valid test in this situation. It's true that it was not designed (to my knowledge) to be used as a means to obtaining a scholarship. However, it measures basically the same skills as the SAT, and thus it is an early measure of students who should be on the college prep track, and who could most likely use the money. (Full disclosure: I was a National Merit Scholar.)

College Board officials could not be reached for comment on Sunday. But Wayne Camara, the board’s vice president for research and development, told Crosstalk that the process by which the National Merit Scholarship Program and some individual colleges winnow the 16,000 semifinalists down to the 8,200 students who actually receive National Merit Scholarships each year takes factors other than PSAT scores into account. “The practice that National Merit is following is very consistent with the requirement that they use multiple sources of information in making a high-stakes decision,” Camara told Crosstalk.

Camara also said in the interview that because the PSAT has been shown to be valid in predicting students’ SAT scores, the SAT’s validity in predicting student performance extends to the PSAT.

It's nice of the Colloge Board to point that out, but the heart of the complaint here is that not enough of the under-represented groups get scholarships when the PSAT is used for selection. It's disappointing to see the test being attacked in this situation, rather than a school system in which minority students are overwhelmingly short-changed. We can certainly discuss predictive validity and cutoff ranges, but those attacking the test would do well to step back and ask themselves just why so few minority students (and poor students, allegedly) are able to score at the high percentiles required for scholarship selection.

Posted by kswygert at 11:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tragedy in Minnesota

The latest, horrific school shooting happened yesterday in Minnesota:

MINNEAPOLIS -- A student on a remote Indian reservation in Minnesota burst through the metal detector at his high school Monday and shot dead five classmates, a teacher and a security guard before turning the gun on himself, authorities said.

Before his rampage at the school, the student shot and killed his grandparents at their home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, authorities said. His grandfather, Sgt. Daryl Lussier, had served for more than 35 years on the Red Lake police force. "The boy took his grandfather's duty belt with the guns. That's what he used," said Roman Stately, the Red Lake fire director...

Stately described a devastating scene at the small high school in Red Lake. The school's security guard, who was unarmed, was dead at the front door. The slain students and teacher were bunched in one classroom, along with several wounded teenagers. The gunman, an underclassman, had shot himself in the face. His body lay near those of his victims.

Authorities said as many as 15 students were injured.

"It was just so sad to see the children lying on the floor like that, lying on top of each other. Just a terrible sight," Stately said. "I've seen a lot of bad scenes in my time, but nothing like this."

The FBI, which is investigating the shooting along with tribal police, would not speculate on a motive. "It will probably take the rest of the night to put it all together," FBI Special Agent Paul McCabe said. "We still have a lot of work to do."

This Google Search will link you to more than 1,600 news stories on this topic. The NYTimes coverage is here. And at least one news article is spreading the "goth loner" theory around.

My heart goes out to the relatives of the victims.

Posted by kswygert at 11:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Jelly beans lead to madness

Girl reacts, officials overreact:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A 5-year-old girl was arrested, cuffed and put in the back of a police cruiser after an outburst at school where she threw books and boxes, kicked a teacher in the shins, smashed a candy dish, hit an assistant principal in the stomach and drew on the walls.

The students were counting jelly beans as part of a math exercise at Fairmount Park Elementary School when the little girl began acting silly. That's when her teacher took away her jelly beans, outraging the child. Minutes later, the 40-pound girl was in the back of a police cruiser, under arrest for battery. Her hands were bound with plastic ties, her ankles in handcuffs.

Although apparently arrested, the girl had no charges filed against her. Mom's response, while perhaps understandable, isn't the most healthy:

The girl's mother, Inda Akins, said she is consulting an attorney. "She's never going back to that school," Akins said. "They set my baby up."

Mom, your kid does have some kind of behavior problem. Wouldn't it be best to focus on that, rather than on this alleged "set-up?"

Update: Now here, on the other hand, is a kid who deserves to be arrested, and charged. And I don't want to hear any stories about how he didn't get enough jelly beans when he was younger...

Posted by kswygert at 10:57 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

Kill me now

Still out sick with a sore throat, sore muscles, and stuffy head. Sitting upright is possible, but not enjoyable. The most comfortable position I've found is curling up in a fetal position in bed and whimpering, although the comfort level isn't what it could be when the cats, looking for attention, decide to lovingly and enthusiastically headbutt me.


Update: The view from the bed.

View #1:


View #2:


And did I mention the kid in the adjoining rowhome - who's apparently out of school today - owns a drum set?

Update #2: Pippin is as bored as I am with daytime television.


Posted by kswygert at 11:03 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

When Irish eyes are - *ow!*

Mmfpgh. Sore throat. Itchy eyes. Stuffed nose. Throbbing head.

Either I've finally come down with something horrible and allergy-related, or I'm just feeling the effects of having visited this fine establishment last night. My, but the Irish are friendly.

And yes, I went to work today. Notice I didn't say that I "worked;" I "went to work." There's a difference.

Posted by kswygert at 08:20 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

Something different: Vampire Bat Research

Last night, high on cold medicine, I was researching vampire bats online. I love bats, period, and vampire bats definitely have some unique qualities apart from the whole sanguivorous diet. Did you know they're the only bats that can run and jump? They're also very social, and will regurgitate blood to help save unrelated blood-buddies from starvation.

Best of all, their saliva contains extremely powerful anticoagulants (the better to keep the cow blood flowing as they feed). A blood-thinning drug has been derived from their saliva, and it's been delightfully named Draculin (as has the anticoagulant factor in the wild).

Update: Hee hee hee hee. Comment from Triticale:

If, as legend has it, being bitten by a vampire bat causes one to turn into a vampire, then would would happen to a person bitten by a fruit bat?


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

Punctuality begins at home

From The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree department:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Prosecutors summoned parents of repeatedly truant children to attend a meeting about the law concerning excessive absences, but 241 of the adults didn't show up. Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols mailed letters about the Tuesday evening meeting to 582 parents, and about 41 percent were absent.

State law allows prosecutors to to hold parents accountable for their children's school absences. Knox County in February arrested 19 parents whose children had 10 or more unexcused absences from school. Parents found guilty can be punished by a year in jail.

This response is just classic:

Cecelia Donaldson, who received a letter about her 5-year-old grandson's absences, went to the school where the meeting was held but refused to enter the auditorium where the other parents heard remarks from county officials. Donaldson said the boy has asthmas and other medical problems. "I don't want to hear what Randy Nichols has to say," she said. "He needs to call my house when (my grandson is) up at 3 in the morning throwing up everything he ate."

Donaldson said she was furious after receiving Nichols' letter. "I sat down and I ate three Mr. Goodbars because I was so angry," she said. "You can't lump parents in one group."

You can if they refuse to come speak to the principal, as Donaldson apparently did. It's hard to understand why she thinks she should not be hindered by the state laws, nor informed of what she should do if she has a chronically-sick child in her home.

Posted by kswygert at 10:29 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 16, 2005

The un-diverse students have had enough

A speaker who was "passionate on the topic of diversity" left some students at a Catholic high school feeling, well, offended:

HADDON TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Some white students at a South Jersey Catholic school walked out of classes Tuesday in protest over a speech by the New Jersey Secretary of State Regina Thomas. Tensions have been building up at Paul VI High School since Thomas' speech on racial justice last week.

Many students and faculty members walked out of the speech offended. They said that she lambasted one student for not knowing his black history and that she insinuated that the students were racist. "It's, like, really crazy right now. Teachers are just standing by the doors. Kids are trying to get out. Kids are in the hallway, they won't go to class," one female student said...

Many students said the racial problems began only after the secretary's speech. "I think she just started up a bunch of stuff and basically tried to start something," a student said. "There's an issue at every school, it's no more of an issue at this school than any other school," another student countered.

Thomas issued a statement Tuesday in which she said that she is passionate about the topic of diversity and wanted to raise the level of awareness. She said that she never meant to be personal or critical of the students or the school.

If she walked into the school and said that white-on-black racism was a problem, she should be honest about that and not hide behind mushy statements of "raising awareness" and "diversity." Racist acts are behaviors. If you accuse a bunch of students of racist behaviors, or if you accuse them of allowing those behaviors to happen, then you are criticizing those students. It's perfectly appropriate for those being criticized to walk out and tell you you're full of crap for assuming they're racist. And it's perfectly appropriate for others to criticize the secretary's commitment to racial peace if all she cares about is white-on-black racism.

Allegedly there's a backlash against black students in the school now. So much for "diversity."

The secretary isn't going to let the rest of us know what she said, either:

Secretary of State Regena L. Thomas said her March 7 presentation to 600 freshmen and sophomores at Paul VI High School in Haddonfield was not meant to belittle the predominantly white audience, as some have charged. "My purpose was to raise the level of awareness and discourse of these issues, and to leave an impact," Thomas said in a statement issued Tuesday. "It was never meant to be personal or critical of the students or school."

Thomas was not available to be interviewed Tuesday and a written copy of her remarks was not available, said her spokeswoman, Regina Wilder.

At least one attendee was quoted as saying that Thomas concluded her speech with the statement that she hoped she'd made some students angry. She got her wish.

Update: Far as I can tell, no transcript of the speech has been released. But I did find one website that alleges a quote from it:

I first heard about this last week, from a neighbor who's son attends SP6. Then I read the article today. And on the ride home, heard Dom Giordano talking about it. Now, from what I've heard of the tone and content of her remarks, they were out of place and out of line. Had a few things been reversed, like the skin color of the speaker, there would be calls for a head to roll. As it is, many parents have written the school expressing concern or even anger, over this speech. At least a few more, like my neighbor, are still stunned.

She's amazed that her son had to listen to this rant, and the implied message that white people are racists and the a black person can't get a fair shake. This, after she and her husband work 3 jobs between themselves, so they can afford our blue collar neighborhood and send their 2 children to nice schools. And what did one of the ranking members of our state's government tell their 14 year old son? You're black. The world is against you. The boys and girls, to your right and left, are racists. I don't need to know them or meet them. You can tell too, if you just look at that white skin.

Hube describes another outrageous comment by the secretary. La Shawn Barber also had a bit to say about this:

...Thomas had no business saying or implying that these white kids were racists, and her passion for the “topic of diversity” is a poor excuse for this grown woman’s behavior.

I hope more white students (Black ones, too!) get fed up with these bureaucratic “diversity” shills and stage similar walkouts. Don’t let anyone intimidate you into backing down from what you believe. Don’t sit there and swallow garbage, either. Stand up for yourself, be bold and don’t be afraid of the old “You’re a racist!” tripe.

Good for these students. I hope it happens more often.

I think the walking out is the most hopeful aspect of this whole debacle (that and the fact that the students are sticking up for themselves, and their school, in the press as well). It's appalling that Black History Month was followed by this sort of abuse and name-calling, rather than by a speech by someone who was genuinely interested in fostering education as well as racial harmony.

Posted by kswygert at 03:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Something's rotten in Norway

Wow, the distribution of scores on this exam ought to be interesting:

A group of student activists opposed to international standard testing launched another effort this week to foil a national mathematics examination. They almost succeeded, with the help of the Internet. The activists got hold of the math exam Monday and put it out on the Internet, thus enabling a sneak peak at what 10th graders were supposed to see for the first time in class on Tuesday. State officials immediately said the test would be administered anyway.

The student activists tried to foil the examination attempt because they want state authorities to postpone the national math exam until next year. They also don't want to see exam results publicized on a school-by-school or township-by-township basis....[they] also...want the content of the exam to reflect Norwegian teaching plans, not those of researchers at the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)...

The test was to be administered to around 60,000 10th graders on Tuesday. At least 10,000 of them are believed to have seen the test by early Tuesday morning.

Time for the Norweigan Education Ministry to up its security. They might not want to use this year's scores for any comparisons purposes, either.

Posted by kswygert at 02:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Carnival #6

I'm under the weather today, folks, so I probably will not be posting. The Carnival of Education is up, though, with rich linkage goodness.

Posted by kswygert at 11:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

Nothing hurts worse than stepping on a Lego

From the American Spectator, a reminiscence on the plague of toys in American households:

HOW DOES THIS PLAGUE of toys come to be? Through generosity, of course. You cannot invite grandparents or a favored uncle and aunt over and tell them, cuttingly, "Don't buy the kids any toys." Toys are part of the deal there. Adults love to buy toys. It takes them back --- no, actually, their own childhoods did not include experiences like buying toys or even receiving them very much. Buying presents today creates a nostalgia for what never really was, the most powerful nostalgia there is. Few parents can resist the impulse to buy toys, either. (I can, but I'm a grouch.)

Some toys are undoubtedly superior to others. Lego's a good one. So is Play-Mobile. Both share the irritation of requiring tiny pieces by the hundreds. Remote control vehicles create cacophony for a day or two in our house, then lie forgotten. Car racing layouts do not charm for more than a week.

I have to admit I am madly nostalgic for paper dolls, but then I was completely obsessed with them until about the age of 14, and I had dozens of them. I designed all their clothes and spent hours drawing, coloring, cutting out. Perhaps my parent's generation did not actually receive many toys in their childhood, but my generation sure did. And I have heard parents my age request others not to buy toys for their offspring, on the grounds that "they already have so much." Sounds like they're trying to push the pendulum back the other way.

Posted by kswygert at 12:17 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Shining at the bees

Spelling bees are on the rise:

The Lincoln School Committee dropped the bee initially because of concerns that it was damaging to children who lost and it did not meet the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Parents argued that the bee taught good study habits and provided students who might not excel in sports or theater a place to shine in front of their peers.

Many people in education agree, which may be contributing to the bee's sustained growth despite budget woes that have landed many extracurricular activities on the chopping block. "Spelling bees can boost self-esteem and help students reach high standards," said Ed Walsh, deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. "We want schools to incorporate creative ways to teach students"...

"It makes me feel proud," said Adelaine Arias, 13, of Providence. Arias, who speaks Spanish at home, represented Springfield Middle School in the Rhode Island statewide spelling bee this month. "Even if you don't win, you've learned a lot"...

...Since [1994], spelling bees have been the focus of the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Spellbound" and the current off-Broadway musical hit "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

The National Spelling Bee has a cute logo. And does anyone else find it amusing that English is such a crazy language that our spelling bees are the mental equivalents of Ironman competitions?

Posted by kswygert at 09:43 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 14, 2005

The edublogging corner

Michelle Malkin points out to oh-so-important Maureen Dowd that female bloggers are plentiful - if you're willing to accept that conservative women are "real" women too. But she leaves out one rich area of female bloggers with non-PC ideas - the edubloggers.

Joanne Jacobs is of course the most well-known, and you know me if you're reading me right now, but there are edublogeresses out there who aren't impressed by the feminists' victim stance or the eradication of Western Civ in schools. Others go for serious content, with equations or thoughtful essays about modern education. Here's my list of recent reads (not all would call themselves edubloggers, but all have postings that are at least occasionally related to education):

Erin O'Connor
Moebius Stripper
Learning Curves
Illuminaria's Voice
Guilt-free Homeschooling
The Classical Family
Education Weak
Jenny D.

Posted by kswygert at 07:50 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Statistics Term of the Day: Experimental Method

The experimental method is, basically, a method for manipulating variables in order to observe change in other variables. Let's say we have two methods of teaching a cat to roll over (yes, I realize that in real life, this will only happen when and if the cat feels like it, but work with me here). What's the simplest way that we could see if one method works better than the other?

Let's take that random sample of 1000 kitties that we obtained last week. First, we create our independent variable, or the variable that we are going to manipulate. In this case, or independent variable (or IV) is method of teaching. The IV needs to have at least two values, but it can be continuous (where an infinite number of possible values may fall in between observed values) or discrete (where values are separate and indivisible). In this case, we have two levels of a discrete variable (method #1 and method #2).

The IV is usually pretty easy to figure out, but the dependent variable - the variable in which you hope to see change after manipulating the IV - is trickier. The reason for this is that it all depends on how you define success. In our case, we're going to manipulate cat roll teaching method, but how do we show that one is "better" than the other? As measured by cat satisfaction with the roll? Owner satisfaction? Time to complete the roll? Total number of rolls completed in a minute? Flair and style in rolling over? Not scratching innocent bystanders while rolling? Deciding upon a specific DV takes some thought, because your research question should determine your DV, and what you measure with your DV will limit the research questions you can answer.

Let's say our DV is time to complete the roll. We'd want to measure it before we try any method, so that we can measure the change in time at the end; this is a repeated measure.

So what's the simplest experiment we could do? We could take that random sample of 1000 kitties, assign one random half to method #1, the other random half to method #2, and then try to hold all the other variables constant while we teach them. This means, perhaps, that we have the same woman teaching both sets of cats, and she teaches them at at the same time of day on alternate days, using the same room, the same treats for rewards, and the same tone of voice for commands. In real life we usually can't control all the confounding variables that we like, but it's best to limit confounds as much as possible. If a woman teaches one group of cats and a man teaches the other, the group that does better might be responding to the lower voice instead of to the teaching method.

We could also divide the cats randomly into three groups (with an extra kitty in one to balance out the total) and have a control group for comparison. This is a group to which you do nothing, but you still measure them before and after to see if they change on the DV. We all know that untrained cats aren't going to waste much time rolling over on command, so we don't expect to see much change here. Control groups are essential in the health sciences, though, when it's useful to compare treatment methods to subjects who either haven't been treated, or who have received placebos.

So good luck with the experiment. If you get any result other than your cat sleepily ignoring you, let me know.

Posted by kswygert at 05:25 PM | Comments (371) | TrackBack

Even a have-not can pick his underwear up off the floor

Oh, this is just ridiculous. Please tell me this is satire.

After recent approval by Associate Dean of the College Thomas A. Dingman ’67, other members of the Dean’s office, and all 12 House Masters, a new student service is sweeping onto campus. Dormaid, founded by Michael E. Kopko ’07, is a cleaning service that allows students to avoid the perennial problem of dingy, smutty, questionably-habitable rooms. But as appealing as the thought of a perpetually tidy room may be, (independent of family visits), Dormaid could potentially mess up as many rooms as it cleans. By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on campus, Dormaid threatens our student unity.

There are already plenty of services at Harvard that sharpen the differences between socioeconomic classes. Harvard Student Agency Cleaners, for example, lets some students pick up clean and neatly-folded clothes in crackling plastic bags. The less well-off among us, however, make semi-weekly journeys to the basement with bulging mesh laundry bags and quarters in hand...while class differences are a fact of life—yes, there are both rich and poor people at Harvard—there is no reason to exacerbate these differences further with a room-cleaning service.

Dorm life is one of the few common experiences left that all students, regardless of class or background, have to endure with a measure of equality. The egalitarian nature of dorm life helps to foster a sense of collegiate camaraderie, an unadulterated respect for peers; it generates a level playing field that encourages learning between people of all upbringings. A service like Dormaid can bring many levels of awkwardness into this picture. For example, do two people sharing a double split the cost? What if one wants the service and the other does not? What if one cannot afford it?

If this is not satire - and I'm 65% convinced that it is ("crackling plastic bags" seems like a giveaway) - I'm a tad surprised that the authors don't give Harvard students credit for the intelligence to figure out a solution to the question of "do two people sharing a double split the cost?" Are we supposed to believe that Tomorrow's Leaders would be stymied by a situation that your local community college grad would deal with in a skinny minute?

Hey, Harvard Men, if you want to expand your brains a bit - and get better chicks - either clean up your rooms yourselves or figure out a way to pay someone else to do it. Either way, the ladies will be more impressed by that than if you sit around in the clutter and pontificate that your pigsty is fostering "a sense of collegiate camaraderie."

Oh, and if this is satire - bravo. Every site I've seen linking to it is taking this high-minded diatribe seriously.

Posted by kswygert at 04:55 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Surviving the new SAT, part II

Here's the standard blurb, listing the specific changes to the SAT, that is making the round of the news sites. The FingerLakes Times lists the pros and cons of the new version.

Out in Amish country, they don't scare easily. In New Jersey, they used the essay to "rack up points." (They hope.) In Florida, they needed neck massages, while in Massachusetts, they needed snowshoes. In every state, it sounds like teens went home and went back to bed afterwards - which is what they would have done anyway, after having to get up at 7 am. (Update - I'm betting they were all comfortably-dressed while test-taking, too.)

My favorite line (from the AZ Daily Sun article): "Some 330,000 mostly grumpy high-schoolers became the first to officially take the revamped SAT college entrance exam this weekend..." Aren't "mostly grumpy" and "high-schoolers" redundant phrases?

Posted by kswygert at 01:47 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Surviving the new SAT

The new SAT premiered this weekend, and the world is still spinning on its axis. Examinees seem more bored/numb than overwhelmed (although show me a teenager who isn't bored after three hours of anything not related to sugar, video games, or the opposite/most attractive sex.)

The columnists are the ones who are still having hissy fits, amazed that, even after all the changes, those who prepare for the SAT tend to do better than those who don't:

Remaining as the single largest flaw in an increasingly test-happy approach to education at all levels is that the SAT, new or not, still is basically unfair to those who either have not had the emphasis placed on it in more affluent public and private schools and whose parents can't afford the rising cost of buying a better score. Major U.S. prep schools build their endowments on making certain most of their students do well on the SAT and are admitted to the schools with the best reputations. They teach to it from the earliest grades. Now some of that is being adopted by public schools in wealthier districts. Left out, of course, are the inner-city high schools.

Got that? It's unfair that some parents give their kids all the scholastic advantages. It's unfair that some kids take advantage of great schools. It's unfair that some kids who pay money to help prepare themselves for the SAT might see an increase in their scores. All this and the assumption that the SAT measures nothing but test prep skills, to boot.

Here are two things that you'll never see mentioned in this kind of column:

1. That idea that real life, and not just the SAT, almost always favors the better-prepared, and
2. The idea that the entirety of the educational experience, from kindergarten to graduate school, tends to improve when there's more money involved.

Sure, we can quibble about funding allocations and whether or not people are idiots for paying high prices for test prep, but articles such as this one always boil down to, "It's unfair that some people have more money than others." This attitude is monstrously offensive to those students who have worked hard to improve their minds and do well on the SAT without benefit of tony prep school or expensive prep course. Notice that these types of columns don't treat those who do well as motivated individuals, only faceless pawns of the "unfair" system, as though having wealthy parents is both necessary and sufficient for doing well in academia.

Update: I can't believe I forgot to add, as part of my rejoinder to economics-obsessed columnists, this article from, appropriately enough, The Economist. Thanks to Mike McKeown for the link, who also sent excerpts (the article is subscription-only).

The old SATs were responsible for producing one of the great silent social revolutions in American history--the rise of the meritocracy. They helped to open America's universities to people who had nothing to recommend them but brains. And in the process they helped to turn those universities into the greatest educational institutions in the world. You fiddle with a mechanism that has such a history at your peril.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the old SATs was that they did exactly what they were supposed to do...The result [of the implementation of the SAT] was both an academic and social revolution...Poorer children flooded into the universities as never before--and thence into the sort of jobs that had once been reserved for the Wasp elite. And richer children either had to survive on their own brain-power or else make do with less famous institutions. George Bush sailed into Yale in 1964, thanks to his family connections; but seven years later, when Yale had belatedly embraced the SAT revolution, his brother Jeb went to the University of Texas instead.

This is not to say that the old SATs were perfect. But many of the time-worn criticisms of them are either exaggerated or misplaced...Critics complain that a giant industry has developed to game the tests. But how can you stop people trying to boost their performance when so much hangs on getting into a good college? Critics complain that richer students do better, on average, than poorer ones. But has anybody ever developed tests that are better at finding bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds?

This article also points out that when colleges allow factors other than test scores to play a part in admissions, they are at greater risk of admitting students who are not prepared for the college work, and thus may actually be decreasing the number of successful-but-poor applicants. I've been saying that for a while, and it's nice to hear The Economist back me up.

Posted by kswygert at 11:41 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

N2P, the gilded blog

Hee hee hee...

Much has changed about the SAT that will be given to high school juniors today. One thing hasn't: When proctors for the college-admissions test give the order to "read the directions and begin work," sweaty palms across the nation will grab No. 2 pencils.

Is there an excuse for not having one? No. The No. 2 is everywhere. Smooth to write with, easy to erase, and with just the right graphite-clay mix for marking a test a machine will score, the No. 2 is number one - ubiquitous, reliable, inexpensive.

"The No. 2 has always been the most popular," said Len Dahlberg, executive vice president of Dixon Ticonderoga Co., which cranks out 840 pencils a minute at its Versailles, Mo., factory, from the soft and smudgy No. 1 to the hard-nosed No. 4, used by accountants. The company even makes a model for southpaws. The wording stamped on the side is flipped, so that it reads from eraser to tip when the pencil is held in the left hand.

How does "ubiquitous, reliable, inexpensive" sound for a blog motto?

Update: But the good ol' N2P is apparently scary to some.

Posted by kswygert at 11:24 AM | Comments (59) | TrackBack

N2P is all about content

The blogosphere is having a great time dissecting this NYTimes article about how left-wing blogs are desperately trying to get their message heard in the mainstream media:

...a group of bloggers is trying to use old-fashioned telephone conference calls to share their ideas with newspaper and television journalists. The bloggers, who describe themselves as liberal or progressive, say the conference calls are intended to counter what they regard as the much stronger influence of conservative pundits online. Bob Fertik, president of, the host of the two calls so far, views them as a step toward getting their reports out to mainstream news organizations.

Not surprisingly, the conservative blogs feel they have greater influence because they focus more on facts and debunkings than on conspiracy theories:

Asked what lessons liberal and progressive bloggers could learn from the experience of FreeRepublic, Mr. Taylor replied that while "I'm loath to give them advice," they might have to outgrow the conspiracy-theory stage of blogging to produce reports that are credible and relevant to a wider audience.

"In the old days of FreeRepublic," he said, "we had all kinds of black helicopters" and speculation about the effect of the Y2K problem. After the world did not end on Jan. 1, 2000, he said, "We tried to be more realistic."

I must say that this has been my experience too. Wizbang says it well:

At the end of the day it comes down to content. If the lefty blogs were on the right side of the facts, the media would find them. Rather than trying to manipulate the media thru conference calls, why don't the liberal bloggers just get on their blogs and find something impressive to say?

But Noooo... Rather than compete in the arena of ideas, they want a "media subsidy" to "level the playing field."

They want affirmative action for boring bloggers.

I'm very happy to have a blog that readers come to for statistics lessons and fiskings of hysterical anti-testing rants. That's much more useful content than a blog where the main topic is, say, how President Bush is evil and wants to keep every minority child from graduating high school.

Posted by kswygert at 11:21 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 11, 2005

Statistics Term of the Day: Populations vs. Samples

How many kitties are there in the United States? According to the Humane Society, 60 million live in homes , and National Geographic says that 70 million feral cats are roaming the streets. If we assume all cats are either in homes or the street, and toss in an extra 2 million for those temporarily housed in shelters, then we have a population of cats in the United States that's around 132 million, give or take a few fuzzbutts.

In statistics, population has a very specific meaning - it's the entire collection of scores/observations/cats of interest in a particular study. It can be very large, or it can be very small (if I were interested in studying just cats who live on my block, and not the entire US). But it's whatever I'm interested in, and it's whatever I'd like to be able to generalize to with my sample.

Samples are just subsets of the population. Samples are intended to represent the population; usually it's the sample on which you crunch all your numbers. Samples can also range from very large to very small. Larger is better; the closer the sample size gets to the population size, the more likely your sample statistics will be representative of the population statistics, and the better an inference you can make from your sample to the population.

Values used to describe populations are called parameters, while values used to describe sample are called statistics. When we calculate descriptive statistics on a sample, sometimes we are interested in just that sample, but more often we are interested in making inferences about the population parameters.

Perhaps what you want to know about American cats are their weight, their eye color, or their numbers of stripes. You can't possibly take measurements of every cat, but you can take a sample of cats that is as large and representative as possible. If you're interested in knowing weights, you'd want to be sure your sample included spayed- and non-spayed cats, old and young cats, and cats of both sexes - or you might want individual sample of all these groups. Perhaps kitties in Arizona have more stripes than those in New York; you'd want to make sure you got samples across geographic regions.

This representative sample problem is one that you often see in relation to studies related to education and testing. Earlier this week, we saw a columnist try to infer from a sample (of Bates College) that the SAT was not useful for the population (of universities in the United States). Not only is that not a large enough sample, but one could argue that, even if every small, private, liberal-arts college found the same results, the results do not generalize to big state schools.

No matter how representative a sample is (as long as it's not equal to the population), the measurements you obtain from it will not likely be the same as what you'd get from measuring the entire population. That difference between sample statistics and population parameters is called sampling error. Sampling error is affected by sample size and characteristics of the sample, and can be random or systematic. One way to combat systematic sampling error is to use random sampling, in which each observation in the population has an equal chance of being selected from the sample.

Our last topic is about bias in estimation. Let's say I have a magic wand that makes 1000 random kitties from all over the US appear in my laboratory. I can weigh each one, and calculate a mean and standard deviation of the weights. My goal is to make an inference about what the mean and standard deviation of weights are for all the kitties in the US.

When I calculate the mean of my sample, I have what's called an unbiased estimate of the mean of my population. This means that my sample mean does not consistently over- or under-estimate my population mean, and thus the sampling error is more likely to be random. Variability, though, is different. The formula I provided here is for the standard deviation of a population. However, if I were to use that formula on a sample, I'd get a measure that is biased, and that will systematically underestimate our population standard deviation.

So we correct for that bias by modifying our formula for the sample standard deviation. We still subtract each kitty's weight from the mean weight, square those deviations, and sum those up. But instead of dividing by the total number of kitties in our sample, we'll divide by the number of kitties minus 1. This decreases the denominator of our formula, resulting in an increased variance (and when we take the square root of that, an increased sd) that does not have systematic error from the true population standard deviation.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of kitties to feed (999, to be exact).

Posted by kswygert at 02:08 PM | Comments (1876) | TrackBack

Take those beads off and sharpen your pencil!

Some Louisiana students will soon be celebrating. While students in other states will be struggling this time next spring with state standardized tests or the SAT, St. Bernard parish plans to give its students an entire week off for Mardi Gras:

At a meeting of the St. Bernard Parish School Board's general committee this week, Associate Superintendent Bev Lawrason said a group of administrators and school employees have recommended three school calendar options for employees to consider but that all three call for an entire week of vacation for Carnival, instead of the traditional three-day holiday...

Lawrason said school officials are concerned about higher absenteeism among students and employees on school days after Mardi Gras and the effect it has on schools' scores under the state accountability program...In the past, she said, students had standardized testing in the week after Mardi Gras. School officials thought it was wiser for students to return to school, even if only for two days, to get them back into a school mood before the tests began.

Now the tests are given later in the year, and next year there will be two full weeks between Mardi Gras week and standardized testing, she said...Another factor is the decrease in attendance on the Thursday and Friday after Mardi Gras, she said. This year, student attendance dropped 4 percent compared with normal attendance for those two days, she said.

Employee absenteeism rates weren't discussed at the meeting.


Posted by kswygert at 09:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Hoosier highest-scoring school?

Indiana reports the results of their high school exit exam:

Nearly one-third of 10th-grade students statewide failed on their first attempt to meet the academic standards required to graduate. Test results released by the Indiana Department of Education on Thursday showed 68 percent of 10th-graders passed the English portion of the Graduation Qualifying Exam and 64 percent passed the math portion. State officials consider this a baseline year for the exam because changes were made to more closely align it with the state academic standards.

You know, one could see this as good news. If the exam is meant to measure academic skills above the 10th-grade level, then we wouldn't expect every 10th-grader to pass it, would we?

Regardless of a student’s background, however, the student must pass the GQE before graduating. If a student fails the test the first time, it can be retaken four more times before graduation..

The most concerned administrators are those who worry five testing attempts won't be enough:

Brad Bakle, EACS elementary curriculum and assessment director, said he is trying to figure out what barriers are troubling Paul Harding High School. Scores on the GQE dipped this year after going up last year. “It’s not good,” Bakle said as he looked at the scores. Only 20 percent of 10th-graders passed the math portion and 35 percent passed English.

The Indiana State Board of Education recently approved new high school graduation requirements. ISTEP+ scores for 9th- and 10th-graders are out as well.

Posted by kswygert at 09:44 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 10, 2005

SAT-isfaction guaranteed?

The new SAT happens Saturday morning. The newspapers are going crazy with articles about this; I like the Modesto Bee's article best. The title's cute, and they take the time to mention that the SAT was originally created to help combat the unfair "wink-and-a-nod" pipeline of quotas and legacy admissions. (I could do without the roach ad at the bottom, though.)

USA Today cracks me up with its description of the value of text messaging:

Though plenty of adults grumble about e-mail and instant-messaging (IM), and the text messages that send adolescent thumbs dancing across cell phone keypads, many experts insist that teenage composition is as strong as ever — and that the proliferation of writing, in all its harried, hasty forms, has actually created a generation more adept with the written word...

As for the much-maligned lexicon of IM — "r u there?" and "wuzup?" — teens insist they haven't forgotten formal English, and are undaunted by transitioning between the two. E-mail "has made us definitely way more comfortable about writing, because we're doing it every day," says Myles McReynolds, a junior at Mullen High School in Denver, who's taking the SAT Saturday...

Yes, but what are they writing about? If this student's quote is representative, the answer is, "Not much":

Nathalie Arbel, who's taking the SAT Saturday, has reservations about the essay questions, too...she's skeptical of the topics, which offer students a quotation and ask them to respond with their own opinions and examples from literature, history, or personal experience. "In general, they're kind of dumb," she says. "We're regular teenagers, and a lot of times we don't necessarily have an opinion on issues they test us on."

She recalls a sample question: What is your view of the claim that history is made not only by the actions of great leaders, but also by the contributions of average people? "I don't know or care if contributions are made by leaders or average people," she says. On top of that, she questions the rubric for scoring tests. "People generally despise standardized testing, and standardized essays are even worse because it's really difficult to tell how it's going to be graded."

Ooooh my. She doesn't know or care, so she thinks she shouldn't be tested with an essay prompt that allows students to write about personal experiences, so knowledge of facts isn't necessarily essential. What's more, she thinks she shouldn't be tested at all, because "people generally despise standardized testing." For someone who doesn't know or care about a lot of things, she's quite a know-it-all.

Posted by kswygert at 09:41 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Statistics Term of the Day: Scales of Measurement

Today we'll cover something simple: Scales of measurement. They're not tricky, but they're important, especially when it comes to deciding what inferential statistics can be used, and what conclusions can be made.

And we'll mix some catblogging in here as well.

First, there's the nominal, or categorial, scale. This really isn't a quantitative scale at all, but a qualitative grouping. A survey item that asks a community, "What different kinds of cats do you own?" is nominal; the responses might be "tabby," "Siamese," "Maine Coon," etc. The correct descriptives here are counts and the mode; when we get to inferential statistics, you'll learn about non-parametric analyses such as chi square that are suitable for categorical data (for example, a chi square test could help you answer the question, "Is type of cat owned independent of college major?").

Next, there's the ordinal scales. Think "order" when you hear ordinal, because that's what this scale preserves. Class rank, movie ratings, the "AmIHotOrNot" ten-point attractiveness scale - all of these group observations and preserve the order of observations (a perfect 10 is cuter than a 6, a movie that gets 5 stars is better than one with 3 stars), but you don't know how much cuter, or better, observations with the higher values are. With ordinal scales, the mode and median are useful, along with the inter-quartile range.

In the photo below (taken tonight at the intake center), the kitties are in position 1 (top), 2 (middle), and 3 (bottom), but just knowing their value on an ordinal scale doesn't tell you how far apart they are:


Next on the list there's the interval scale. This scale groups observations, preserves the order, and tells you how far apart each observation is. Each point on an interval scale represents the same magnitude on the trait being measured, no matter where on the scale you are. The classic example of a true interval scale is temperature in Fahrenheit. When it's 30 degrees out, it's 10 degrees warmer than when it's 20 degrees; when it's 80, it's 5 degrees cooler than when it's 85.

However, there isn't an absolute zero on the Fahrenheit scale, which is what keeps it from being the next level of measurement - ratio. Ratio scales have an true zero point, so not only does one unit's difference mean the same thing across the scale, but you can also say that 4 units on a ratio scale is twice as high as 2 units. 30 degrees F is not twice as hot as 15 degrees F, but 300 degrees Kelvin IS twice as hot as 150 degrees Kelvin , because the Kelvin scale starts from absolute zero.

Many measurements made from direct observation, or in the hard sciences, are on the ratio scale. Time in finishing a race is ratio - the person who finished in 20 minutes took half as long as the person finishing in 40 minutes. If I have 100 bucks in my pocket and you have 150, I have 50 dollars less than you, and the person with $200 has twice as much as me (and let me tell you, I know all about the true zero point when it comes to income).

"Number of stripes on this kitty" is on the ratio scale. If he has 25 stripes, he has half as many stripes as another cat with 50:


Note that each scale builds on the one before, and has the qualities of all previous scales. Ratio scales allow you to group observations, rank order, add or subtract scale values, and multiply and divide scale values.

Psychological and educational measurements - such as IQ, SAT scores, or personality measures - are not ratio, and not really interval, although they are often treated as such. The issue rests on whether you can say that measures of latent traits really have equal intervals across the scale. Someone with an IQ score of 180 is smarter than a person with a 150 (so the order is preserved), but does that difference of 30 points mean the same thing when we're talking about two people who have scores of 120 and 90, respectively? What about an anxiety scale? Does a 5-point difference at the bottom mean the same thing as a five-point difference at the top?

If we have these concerns, why do we often assume psychological/educational scales are interval? Basically, we do it so that we can use descriptive statistics like the mean and standard deviation, and use powerful parametric statistics to make inferences. However, we take our chances in doing this; the appropriateness of our analyses rest on the assumptions that we make about the underlying scale, and the more incorrect we are in our assumptions, the less confidence we'll have that our analyses - and our inferences - are correct.

Posted by kswygert at 07:18 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Bad kitty!

The look in this (staged) photo says, "Just try to take my toy mice away from me...."

On a related note, did this man find cooking to be so dangerous that he felt the need to be armed while in the kitchen?

Posted by kswygert at 09:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

Statistics Term of the Day: Measures of Variability

Variety is the spice of life, and variability is the essence of statistics. Why crunch numbers on anything? Why not just assume everyone is the same? Because we know they're not the same, but we don't necessarily know just how different everyone is. That's where variability come in. Variability, in a statistical sense, is a quantitative measure of how close together - or spread out - a distribution of scores are. In our last lesson, we discovered ways to understand where the representative score in a distribution lies, but while the mean, median, and mode tell us something about the most representative point in the data, they tell us nothing about how all the scores vary around that representative point.

Thus, measures of variability (or spread) go hand in hand with measures of central tendency, and you need at least these two measures to get a picture of what a distribution actually looks like.

Let's go from simplest to most complex. First, there's the range - crude, but easy to calculate. With observations as whole numbers, the range is (highest score - lowest score) + 1. (With non-integers as observations, you have to be concerned with upper and lower limits, but we'll skip that for now.) Note that the following two groups have the same range, but the distributions are very different:

Group 1 - 10, 10, 10, 10, 2
Group 2 - 10, 8, 6, 4, 2

The range can be divvied up. The interquartile range is the (75th percentile score) - (25th percentile score), answering the question of what the spread is in the middle of data (useful for when there are outliers).

What you'll most often see to describe variability is the standard deviation of a distribution. This is a quantity (so it can't be less than zero) that approximates the average distance from the mean. So the mean is the representative value, and the standard deviation is the representative distance of any one point in the distribution from the mean.

Let's skip back to just the term deviation. Let's say we have a distribution with a mean of 100. You have a score of 90. Your deviation from the mean is thus -10. Your friend, with a score of 105, has a deviation of +5. If I add up the deviations of everyone in the distribution from the mean, I'll get zero (that's part of the definition of the mean, in fact.) So adding these deviations up doesn't get us anywhere, yet.

Let's get rid of the + and - signs by squaring every deviation. If we add those squared deviations up, we have sums of squares (a very important concept in both descriptive and inferential statistics). If we divide by the number of observations in our distribution, we get what's called the variance. The variance gives us the representative squared distance from the mean, which is not that useful for descriptive statistics.

So take the square root of the variance, and you get the standard deviation (which is also sometimes sd, or just s). It's in the original unit of whatever your distribution was, so it's easy to interpret. If a distribution has mean of 100 points and an standard deviation of 5, then the representative deviation from the mean in that distribution is 5 points.

Because the standard deviation is an average, it's affected by outliers - those extreme scores on either tail of the distribution. This means when you have a distribution for which the mean isn't appropriate - like income, or number of children - the standard deviation won't be too useful either. The interquartile range, on the other hand, nicely complements the median in these situations. Just like with measures of central tendency, just because you can compute the standard deviation for skewed data, doesn't mean you should.

(You can also calculate the average absolute deviation and the median absolute deviation, which are just what they sound like - the average or median of the absolute unsquared deviations from the mean. These are less affected by outliers than the standard deviation. Thanks to Raina for pointing me down this path.)

And again, always look at your data (image borrowed from Dr. Gaten's online course):


Distribution A and B have the same mean, but different standard deviations. B's variability is smaller, so its variance and standard deviation are smaller, too. A and C have the same variability, but different means. Note that A and C overlap, so some people in A have higher scores than some in C, although C's mean is greater than A's.

If you understand all of this, you're ahead of some of the people who were criticizing Harvard Presidents Larry Summer's infamous comments about male and female scientific ability (link goes to a site that defends Summers). Many of Summer's critics immediately assumed that he was saying all men are smarter than all women, or that no women have the ability to become scientists and engineers. These statements could only be made be people who do not understand distributions, or even basic statistics.

As Slate so nicely described Summer's comments:

It isn't a claim about overall intelligence. Nor is it a justification for tolerating discrimination between two people of equal ability or accomplishment. Nor is it a concession that genetic handicaps can't be overcome. Nor is it a statement that girls are inferior at math and science: It doesn't dictate the limits of any individual, and it doesn't entail that men are on average better than women at math or science. It's a claim that the distribution of male scores is more spread out than the distribution of female scores—a greater percentage at both the bottom and the top. Nobody bats an eye at the overrepresentation of men in prison. But suggest that the excess might go both ways, and you're a pig.

I don't know what the population distributions look like for the abilities that Summer was describing. But if they looked like B (women) and A (men), and there were more men in fields that required this ability, it would be clear as to why.

Posted by kswygert at 06:03 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Birds + Bees - Morals = Sex Ed

"The birds and the bees" have become "the vegetables and the non-traditional families."

The Montgomery County [Md.] public sachool system yesterday announced the three high schools and three middle schools that will participate in a pilot program for a sex education curriculum that has riled some parents and activist groups throughout the county. Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School in Bethesda, Seneca Valley High School in Germantown and Springbrook High School in Silver Spring will take part in the high school course in which 10th-graders will be shown how to put condoms on cucumbers.

Martin Luther King Middle School in Germantown, Tilden Middle School in Rockville and White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring will participate in the middle school curriculum in which eighth-graders will learn that homosexual couples are the newest American family. School system officials have noted that some schools were unenthusiastic about testing the new curriculum, which also will teach students to "develop" a sexual identity...

This is interesting enough, but this quote near the end really caught my eye:

"I think it's great. It sounds like a representative sample," said Christine Grewell, a parent and organizer for Teach the (TTF), which backs the curriculum...TTF and other curriculum supporters say the new course introduces information about homosexuality that students will find out regardless of whether they are taught about it. They have said morality has no place in the debate.

1. If student will find out about these things, regardless of whether they're taught, why teach them?
2. Why doesn't morality have a place in the debate? Is that because these programs don't consider themselves capable of addressing that, or because they want to present the idea that sex and morality can be completely separated?
3. Why is the procedure of putting a condom on a cucumber considered a "fact?" Is this just an admission that the public school system is producing kids who won't be able to read condom package inserts when they get older?
4. Why do these programs assume that the same parents who are wholly responsible for teaching morality are also incapable of teaching these "facts?"

This particular quote from is stunning:

Across the nation and in our own back yard, religious extremists are attempting to impose individual religious beliefs on all of our children, and to dictate what our children learn about themselves, their bodies, and about the people around them.

Um, isn't that actually, "religious extremists" are trying to control what their children learn? How did all of their children become TTF's children?

TTF also has a "vigilance" blog, which links to the eighth- and tenth-grade curriculums. I note with interest that TTF, which apparently said morality has no place in this debate, supports an eighth-grade program covering the following:

* Explore how cultural and family values affect relationships and marriage * Explore the effect of family stress and divorce on the family and society * Analyze the influence of peer pressure and other factors on an individual's decisions regarding sexual behavior * Analyze consequences of sexual activity * Discuss how family values, culture, religious views, and other factors influence family planning

Morality-free discussions of the influences and consequences of sexual behavior and family planning? Good luck with that.

Update: This was left in the comments section:


Most intelligent people recognize that not all of what they read in the media is true. [Which is why I used the word "allegedly," but never mind.] Sometimes, you hear reports about aliens being spotted in supermarkets. The quote about morality attributed to TTF, has about as much factual basis as those alien "sighting". The report, made that up.

I do apologize for undermining your argument. Have a great day.

Maryam Balbed

Posted by kswygert at 04:39 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

But you can judge people by their arguments

An op-ed about the SAT, "You can't judge people by their scores", that misses the boat entirely:

An interesting study recently emerged from Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine. Bates is one of nearly 400 colleges and universities (according to FairTest) that no longer require standardized tests for admission. At these schools, applicants have the option of submitting their SATs. Admission officers have long assumed that applicants who choose not to submit their scores have lower scores than those who do. This proved true. In fact, there was a considerable difference -- 160 points -- between the two groups. So far, no surprises, right?

So, now for the interesting part. The study showed no difference in academic performance or graduation rates between students who submitted their scores and those who did not. It also found that there was little difference among SAT submitters and non-submitters and their chosen career paths, with the exception of fields that require additional standardized testing, such as graduate programs in medicine, law and business.

So, what does this all mean? It clearly strengthens the argument that the SAT and ACT are not accurate predictors of either intelligence or of potential for success in college and afterwards. High-school grades, course choices and class rank are far more precise indicators.

No, it clearly does not.

It supports the argument that the SAT may not be highly related to college GPA or graduation rates or career paths for Bates College. If there's one thing I'd like opinionists to get straight before I die, it is the concept that the SAT's predictive validity can vary from college to college. It might not be useful for Bates, but one cannot generalize from that scenario to say that this is proof it's not useful elsewhere. Universities differ, standards differ, and students differ. The validity of an exam does not exist in a vacuum, and "the predictive validity of the SAT," as a concept or value, can be interpreted only in how it is used in a particular situation.

What's more, there are plenty of reasons that the SAT might not be correlated with GPA at Bates, some less flattering to Bates than others. Grade inflation may be rampant, and a reduced variance in GPA would necessarily result in a reduced correlation with the SAT. A 160-point mean difference is large, but not huge, and this certainly doesn't mean that someone with rock-bottom SATs will do just fine at Bates. What's more, this little caveat is particularly weaselly:

...It also found that there was little difference among SAT submitters and non-submitters and their chosen career paths, with the exception of fields that require additional standardized testing, such as graduate programs in medicine, law and business.

I find it fascinating that, of all the ways in which these fields could differ from the other programs at Bates, the one this writer mentions is that these fields require further testing. True - and they also require solid scientific knowledge, good math skills, top-notch reading ability, good memorizational and organizational skills, etc. Gee - I wonder if maybe the students with the higher SATs are more likely to end up in these fields because they're better qualified?

This writer wants schools to re-evaluate the SAT's usefulness, but perhaps, "even better," says schools should drop the SAT altogether. Why would it be better to drop an admissions step without doing the research, than to do the actual research? Is that perhaps because this writer really doesn't want anyone to know how useful the SAT is at some universities?

Update: Illuminaria crunches the numbers. Read it all.

Posted by kswygert at 01:10 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Some names are worse than others

In London, they're getting quite specific when combating bullying:

Teachers are warned today that words such as "slag" and "slut" lead to boys feeling superior to girls and make domestic violence seem more acceptable. The call comes as the Government and the National Union of Teachers launched a joint campaign to reduce assaults in the home. School staff will be encouraged to spot signs that pupils may be living with a violent parent and report their concerns. And they will also be urged to intervene if they hear sexist language used by pupils. The NUT lists unacceptable insults including "lezzie", "pro" and "your mum's a whore".

Boys should be challenged if they are heard directing such terms at girls. It is considered equally unacceptable for girls to aim such insults at one another. Teachers' leaders said such language is common in secondary schools and even among older children at primaries.

And what about girls calling boys names, or boys calling boys names? Is that now okay? Is that not considered bullying?

A leaflet circulated to schools says: "Sexist language and playground banter that seeks to legitimise violence against women should be challenged." An NUT spokeswoman said: "Words like these promote the attitude that females are lesser beings, and as lesser beings they can become the target of violence. It doesn't have to be physical violence to be mentally destroying. We need to nip that attitude in the bud and get kids to treat each other with respect."

I'll pass up the obvious joke about the teacher's union acronym, lest I be accused of encouraging violence against women. And the last sentence quoted here is correct; I just disagree with the specifics of going about it. I've written before about why I don't think that anti-bullying rules that single out certain groups, or require students to accept other students, are useful.

In this case, if teachers are worried about name-calling, a ban on that across the board is the only fair thing to do. All this discussion about domestic violence is interesting but may not be related to what's actually going on with bullying in schools; to say that teachers should be more concerned with "sexist" bullying terms is splitting hairs in a way that may not get to the root of the problem.

The Ankle-Biting Pundits have a more humorous take on the topic:

Now we sure don't promote kids using such language, but come on. Banning kids from insulting each other with sexist insults? They might as well try to stop the sun from rising in the east.

But the article gave us an idea. We'd like to hear from you on some of the funniest and best stories from your childhood playground, preferably those that invovled bullying or insults. Please use the Comments section to add your story. Yes, it's juvenile and idiotic - but no more so than the rules they're trying to set up over there. Oh, and can one of our Brit readers tell us what a "pro" is? I'm guessing it means a prostitute?

Posted by kswygert at 12:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Carnival # 5

The latest edition of the Carnival of Education is up, and there are lots of good links there. The Education Wonks are doing a great job with this feature.

Posted by kswygert at 12:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 08, 2005

Cheaters at Yale

Caveon's Cheating in the News roundup is back, though I can't seem to find the link to the most recent version. You can also see the whole Caveon crew here at the 2005 Association of Test Publishers conference; Don Sorensen (who alerted me to Caveon's existence) is the gentleman in the blue shirt, front right.

The CITN copy in my inbox contains a link to a Yale Herald article calling for a better policy on academic honesty:

Three students approached their professor after they witnessed a student copying from their tests on multiple occasions. The professor said he didn't want to know the student's name; rather than investigate the situation or hand the case over to the Yale Executive Committee, the professor simply moved subsequent exams to a larger room without addressing the specific allegations of cheating. A senior in the class said that he wasn't offended that a peer was cheating and didn't care that his professor did not punish the student. "All people have the same motive," he said. "The people who cheat and the people who study all just want good grades. Cheating is just a more efficient way of doing it, and no one's against efficiency."

Uh, really? Those who really study aren't actually pursuing knowledge, but just good grades? Cheating is just a "more efficient" way of getting good grades, and isn't shortchanging cheater, other students, and professor in the process? What are these students planning to know, and do, after they graduate college, I wonder? And could a more explicit honesty policy really help someone who is this thoroughly jaded of, and disgusted with, the quest for knowledge?

Or someone who has professors like this one?

Professor of Psychology and Linguistics Paul Bloom, this year's ExComm chair, agreed that faculty should not tempt students, but still feels strongly that cheating is a person's own choice. "You don't want to put [people] in a situation in which a student has to force him or herself not to look at another paper," he said. "On the other hand, you wouldn't take that excuse seriously if it were raised as an excuse for sexual assault, or arson, or anything like that."

Why mention the student having to "force" himself not to cheat if you're not considering it as any excuse? And why, exactly, is it a bad thing to put a student in a situation in which they are expected to, no matter what, keep their eyes to themselves and do their own work? Is that sort of stressful situation too much for Yale undergrads?

For that matter, having to put all personal items aside during an exam, and having to mark a page to show the blue book is new, has no relation to "police state" conditions. The article's author should be embarassed to use that phrase, even in double-quotes.

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

Self-esteem and the SAT

Touchy-feely educators, listen up!

Youth Focus - - Annchen Knodt

Annchen Knodt of Brenham is a senior at Brenham High School. She is the daughter of Tom and Diana Knodt and has a sister, Anya, 16. She has performed volunteer work at the hospital Wednesdays for the past two years. She is a member of Grace Lutheran Church, where she has played the handbells in the church choir for the past two years...

Q: What is your least favorite thing about high school? "Standardized tests."

Q: What is your biggest accomplishment? "When I aced the SAT test."

Interesting. She doesn't like the standardized tests in schools, yet her biggest accomplishment - and this from someone who plays handbells, served as drum major, and does useful volunteer work - was acing a standardized test. I don't understand. Haven't we heard all along from the educrats that children and teenagers suffer irreparably when asked to do things they don't like, or things that might be too challenging? Haven't we been told that self-esteem comes from being told you're perfect just as you are, rather than from things you do? And yet here we have someone who acknowledges that the high point of their life, so far, was successfully tackling something they didn't like very much at all, but which was important, and needed to be done.

Here we have someone who gets it.

Posted by kswygert at 04:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A tale of two schools

This compare-and-contrast discussion of two Indiana schools highlights one of the most obvious disparities in testing attitudes (I'm quoting paragraphs here out of order to make my point):

Indian Creek and Crestview -- the best and worst performing schools in Lawrence Township on the statewide exam -- highlight the difficulties faced by teachers and administrators, said Jan Combs, the district's director of primary education. "The schools with high test scores tend to have a limited amount of diversity," she said.

The standardized test scores are one of many indicators that show students in poverty need more help learning, she said. Test scores, particularly for ISTEP-Plus, have taken on a life of their own, she said...

At Indian Creek, Dennie Brooks tries to ignore standardized tests. "ISTEP is not the major event of our school year," he said. Teachers teach the curriculum, which includes all of the standards tested on the state test, Brooks said. But the school spends little time preparing students for ISTEP-Plus and instead focuses on good teaching, he said.

Many anti-testing advocates take statements like those of Brooks and try to generalize to the population at large, but I don't think you can generalize these statements. A school that's doing great - and doesn't have many special-needs students or high turnover - can afford to be cavalier about testing; in fact, the high test scores result in part from good teaching of the curriculum. Low-performing schools live and die by the test scores, and often focus explicitly on teaching to the test. Sometimes this helps those scores rise, and sometimes it just highlights the fact that teachers aren't teaching much of anything except what's on the test, and may not be teaching that material very well, either.

Long story short - Indian Creek can afford to be cavalier about tests, and Crestview cannot. This seems like common sense to me, yet you'll often see anti-testing types (often in well-funded schools) trying to abolish tests for all schools, when those test scores are essential benchmarks for the low performers.

Posted by kswygert at 04:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Statistics Term of the Day - Measures of Central Tendency

I'm already getting good feedback from Devoted Readers about this new feature, so I guess I'll continue. I'd also like to put my $.02 in here and say that, hands down, the best textbook I've found for teaching undergraduate statistics in the social sciences is Graveter & Wallnau's Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences. I have the third edition; two more editions are currently out.

Also, I'll try to add in statistical notation images later when I get home and have the software for it.

Let's step back from percentiles and talk about measures of central tendency. Central tendency of what, you might ask? Of a distribution - a word many non-statisticians consider intimidating, but which just means a collection of observations; in testing, distributions are often sets of scores.

Measures of central tendency are one kind of descriptive statistics (measures that describe or summarize a distribution of scores.) Any measure of central tendency identifies a single score as something that is representative of the entire distribution. Needless to say, the correct measure of central tendency - the one that is most likely to give you a representative score - will depend on the type of data and the shape of the distribution.

The three most-often used measures of central tendency are the mode, median, and mean. The mode couldn't be simpler - it's the most commonly-occuring score in the distribution, and it's suitable for use on discrete (not "discreet"!) and continuous data, and any scale of measurement (ratio, interval, ordinal, and nominal). If more students score a 1060 on the SAT than any other score, that score is the mode; if more students respond "Yes" to a survey than "No" or "No opinion," "Yes" is the mode.

The median is, as we discussed yesterday, the 50th percentile of the distribution - the point at which half the observations are above and half are below. Medians are good for skewed or open-ended observations. If you're asking local families how many children live in each house, a median will give you a better representative number than the mean, which could be skewed too high by that little old lady who lives in the shoe. Medians are also good for ordinal data; i.e., data that are ranked in order but that do not have equal intervals between scores. Ranking of standings in a race are on an ordinal scale - you know you got 2nd place, but you might have been only a second behind the person in first, whereas you might have been an hour faster than the person in 3rd place. Ordinal scales preserve only the order of observations, and not the distances between them.

Finally, there's the mean, aka the average. Add up all the scores in the distribution and divide by the number of scores. You can thus also think of the mean as the score each individual would get if the total of the scores were divided equally among the population (this is what anti-testing types would like to see happen, to combat the "unfairness" of unequal scores). The mean is also a balance point of the distribution, but not with 50% of scores on each side. Instead, it's more like a seesaw, where a score way on one end is balanced out by a lot of lower scores on the other end.

With standardized tests, means, medians, and modes are all useful to know. If the distribution of the test scores is normal (e.g. the "bell curve"), the mean, median, and mode should be roughly equal; this equality is in fact part of the definition of a normal distribution.

If you add/subtract a constant value to each score, the mean will shift by that constant.

If you multiply/divide each score by a constant value, you can multiply/divide the old mean by that same constant, and you'll get the new mean.

Last but not least - be suspicious when the wrong central tendency measure is used (mean income of a group and median income of a group could be very different), and be very wary of measures of central tendency that are provided in the absence of measures of spread (that's tomorrow's term).

Update Devoted Reader Doug S. notes the following:

You might wish to discuss situations when none of these measures is appropriate. Specifically, datasets with multiple strong local maxima make any measure of the central tendency of the whole data set much less useful. Lack of utility doesn't seem to correlate with a reduced frequency of use though. After all, if I have a dataset, the mean (or median, or mode) must mean something (so to speak).

Good point, and something I should have said first thing when discussing descriptive statistics. Important Rule # 1: Always look at your data. Graphing data is ideal; non-normality, skewness, kurtosis - all those will show up with graphing. Descriptives statistics provide one kind of look, but there's nothing like nifty graphical representation of quantitative data.

Here's one example of what Doug is talking about (graph cheerfully stolen from a discussion of what "normality" means for the atmosphere, by Chuck Doswell:


This is a bimodal distribution - something like what you might see if you combined men's and women's heights into one distribution of measures. Often, bimodal distributions are an indication that you have more than one distribution of scores going on in your sample, and might need to separate them. Sometimes, though, this is what one population actually looks like. There can be any number of modes, or any number of bumps in the distribution's curve (those would be the local maxima).

You can calculate a mean and median for this distribution, sure - but they won't be very descriptive as a representative of your data. Important Rule # 2 - Just because you can calculate a statistic doesn't mean it's correct for your data.

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

March 07, 2005

Om Om Om

My gym workouts are really having an effect. Tonight, I was able to hold vasisthasana (sideways plank), kataranga (bending the elbows backwards in plank pose), and urdhva muhka svanasana (upward-facing dog) much longer than ever before.

Bear in mind that as I try to hold difficult poses, I have two cats swarming around my body, brushing up against me, and licking my fingers (Pippin has a thing for fingers) when I'm trying to balance on two fingers and one toe.

Posted by kswygert at 09:12 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Statistics term of the day: Percentile

Welcome to my new feature - the Statistics Term of the Day. I'll try to start by focusing on terms that you non-statisticians out there are likely to see on your - or your child's - test score report. I'll try to keep the order somewhat logical but these early terms might be a tad out of order. I'll put stats terms that I've either covered, or (since this is the first installment), plan to cover, in bold.

If it gets heinously boring, tell me.

Today the term is percentile. Put simply, the percentile is a value ranging from 1 to 100 (so it looks like a percentage) that indicates the percent of the distribution that lies below it. Often test scores are accompanied by a percentile; e.g., "This student's reading score is at the 98th percentile." That value is the percent of examinees in some reference group (often, the examinees who have taken the exam in the years prior) below the given score.

If you are at the 98th percentile, your percentile rank is 98. You have scored higher than 98 percent of some reference group of examinees. the College Board provides percentiles so that examinees can see how they did on the SAT as compared to examinees who took it in previous years.

Another phrase you might see with percentiles is cumulative frequency distribution or cumulative percentage. Cumulative in this case means increasing by successive additions; a cumulative frequency distribution is created by adding up all the ranked values in a distribution. Cumulative percentages are used to create percentiles; in order to know that score X is at the 98th percentile, the percents of all scores below score X had to be summed.

The 50th percentile is also known as the median, which is the measure of central tendency that divides the sample (or distribution) in half. Fifty percent of observations lie above the median, and fifty percent below. The median is not the same as the mean, which is the mathematical average or center of a sample or distribution. When a distribution is non-normal or skewed, the median is often the correct measure of central tendency. This is why you often see median, not mean, incomes reported, so that the few millionaires in the bunch don't confuse the analyses.

Posted by kswygert at 07:56 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

The insider's word on education in California

Daniel Weintraub - the Sacramento Bee's "California Insider" and all-around cutie-pie - mentions a note from a local education professor:

In response to this column Sunday defending the state's high school exit exam, I got an interesting note from an education professor at one of our state universities. She opposes the exam, she said, because only 19 percent of students who were not fluent in English passed the test in 2004. Further, she said, only about 60 percent of students who begin school in California after kindergarten and don't speak English as their native language will be fluent by the 12th grade. "In other words," she writes, "if a student is a second language speaker of English, his or her chances of failing the HSEE are somewhere between 40%-80%. This is not fair."

Is this a matter of fairness, or simple fact? Perhaps the situation the professor describes is a reflection of a simple and deliberate policy: if you can't speak English by the 12th grade, you don't get a diploma in California schools...The fact that it's controversial to require students to speak, read and write English before graduating from high school shows just how dysfunctional our education system has become.

Well said. I shudder to think that a professor of education believes the only argument one needs muster against a test is, "It's not fair." Especially when what's allegedly "not fair" is a test requiring a mastery of English for graduation from an American high school.

Daniel's good at pointed, concise conclusions, by the way:

The exam's opponents fear the stigma that will be attached to any student who, failing the test, leaves school without a diploma. Maybe they should worry as much about the prospects for students who for far too long have been leaving high schools with a diploma but without the basic math and English skills they need to survive in society.
Posted by kswygert at 07:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Mysterious visitors from Oz

All of a sudden, I'm seeing a spike of referrals from Tim Blair's site. I love his stuff and read him daily, but I can't find, for the life of me, anywhere over there that is linking back to here. I haven't commented on there lately, and he doesn't have a permalink to me.

If you're visiting from there, would you mind dropping a comment here to let me know what led you this way? Thanks!

Posted by kswygert at 07:09 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Behold the standardisto bandito!

I've not been paying attention to the most recent round of articles blaming ETS and the College Board for the fact that test prep companies are set to see profits rise because of the new SAT. For starters, I'd think it was crystal clear to most observers that the testing companies have no control over what the test prep companies charge, and that most if not all testing companies offer prep material for free or at a very small price. It's asinine to blame the College Board for the fact that some test prep companies charge four-figure sums.

What's more, the complaint that tests scores rise with familial income has little to do with the cost of test prep, and everything to do with the fact that children from wealthier families are likely to have a top-notch educational experience in every sense. Even though I don't support the for-profit testing industry, it's not Princeton Review that produces the income gap.

This is a new one on me, though:

Make no mistake about it, profits loom foremost in the minds of many of the 'standardistos' and other so-called education 'reformers.'

Eh? Those of us who want to reform education are the same as those charging $1000 a pop for test prep courses? We somehow all profit from that? Where the heck's my check?

From blaming ETS for the cost of test prep, to insisting that test prep money funds those of us supporting the use of standardized testing - the march of anti-testing hysteria continues.

(Thanks to Devoted Reader Triticale for the link.)

Posted by kswygert at 06:56 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Head Start results looking good

Testing of preschoolers for the Head Start program regularly comes under scrutiny; this Newsday article is the latest example. Thankfully, no tears are featured.

...many Head Start staffers on Long Island and elsewhere question whether children so young should take standardized tests at all. Scores now are rolling in from the U.S. government's first-ever tests of more than 400,000 preschoolers nationwide -- one of the biggest federal educational assessments in history. The new tests are the brainchild of the Bush administration, which seeks to measure whether the $6.8-billion Head Start program is doing its job in preparing impoverished youngsters for school. Nationwide, the 40-year-old antipoverty program enrolls more than 840,000 children, ages 3 to 5, including about 2,000 on the Island. So far, test results look mostly positive...

Established in 1965, Head Start started out focusing on children's socialization skills, such as following directions. The program gradually has grown more academic. Skeptics in the education field wonder if this particular test is the best way to measure performance, though test sponsors say it serves as a useful reality check in combination with other assessments.

That's $6.8 billion, with a "b." I'd say a "useful reality check" is necessary to make sure all that dough isn't going down the drain.

Posted by kswygert at 06:41 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The chicken or the egg

In the Valley Patriot (whose website hurts my eyes), Sandra Stotsky asks whether it's the math teachers or the math programs that are the problem.

A November 8 editorial in the Boston Globe, for example, noted the “collective groans” of over 100 Boston teachers attending a weekend retreat when the name of their K-5 math program was brought up. Like many school systems using a NSF-supported program, it was introduced into the system by a top-down administrative decision, with little teacher input.

Among other limitations, according to the deputy superintendent of teaching and learning in the Boston schools, it leaves Boston’s students without the strong computational skills needed for higher level mathematics courses (and for which calculators are not a substitute). Not only must their teachers figure out how to supplement the program’s deficiencies, they must also take massive, never-ending professional development and—to rub more salt into the wounds—have coaches...

It does not seem fair to hold teachers accountable for results on tests that are slanted towards the very math programs many of these teachers seem to find so problematic.

Posted by kswygert at 06:09 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

"the more unhappy they are, the more undressed they are"

Remember our previous discussion on the new modesty for young women?

The Manolo, he would agree. Via Insty.

Posted by kswygert at 06:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

That's quite a welcome mat

Should I tell them I supported NCLB?

Ocean Haven: Nature friendly lodging on the beautiful Oregon Coast.

WE WELCOME DIVERSITY: Respecting the interdependence & diversity of all life....



NO VISITORS: We charge for all persons on premises, regardless of age or length of visit...

No Hummers, No RVs, No Bush Voters (due to his environmental destructive policies.)

Good thing I wasn't planning on staying there anytime soon, eh?

(Via Opinion Journal's Best of the Web.)

Posted by kswygert at 04:48 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Some mistakes are worse than others

Note: I've moved this post to the top, because of two updated links.

I don't have the stomach for this story, but Wizbang is of a stronger constitution. Funny how we've become so PC that statutory rape and dangerous underage sexual behavior with multiple partners can be labeled as an"unfortunate pattern of behavior."

Oh, and when young girls engage in this type of depravity, repeatedly, they're just "super kids" who made "a couple of mistakes" - mistakes that were much easier to rent when the parents rented a hotel room for the kids.

Avoid responsibility much, Dad?

My take on the whole thing is one of horrified wonder - I find it fascinating/appalling that our society has made sexual urges so sacred that even young adults and old children (whose sexual urges are unfocused, immature, and sometimes very strong) are encouraged (either by lack of parental control or laxness of societal expectations) to express that sexuality as soon as possible and in any way possible, with no stifling discussions of acts being "wrong," "abnormal," or "dangerous."

Update: Good God Almighty. Illuminaria takes us all to task for missing what might be the most obvious conclusion.

Posted by kswygert at 04:10 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Harassment and voluntary segregation

Well, it'll be fascinating to see if any cliques/hierarchies evolve in this school:

Ashley Werner does not mince words when describing her experience as a lesbian at Milwaukee's Pulaski High School. Ashley Werner, 17, a junior at Pulaski High School, talks to friend J. Botsford, a Marquette University student. Werner says she is often teased and ridiculed at school because she is a lesbian "If you are even remotely different, (the students) harass and make fun of you," Werner said. The 17-year-old junior said she is teased, called names and singled out almost every day...

Werner hopes her situation will improve next year. She plans to attend the Alliance School, a charter high school that will focus on students who feel discriminated against or bullied. That might be a Goth student, a painfully shy student or a gay one. All three have enrolled in the school, which plans to open in August. The school will be the first of its kind in the state, and possibly the nation, its founders say.

Fascinating (though it's similar to Harvey Milk in NYC). Thoughts that spring to mind:

(1) Doesn't anyone feel weird that it's the kids who were bullied who are having to change schools? Isn't this a safety valve that keeps the schools with bullies from having to improve their situation?
(2) Isn't it possible that some of the misfits might not approve of the other misfits? For one thing, I can see where a kid who is extremely religious might not approve of a lesbian, but both might feel enough outside the mainstream to attend this school.
(3) Isn't it possible that the small size of the school - only 100 students - in and of itself will create a less harassing atmosphere, rather than the fact that all 100 students consider themselves misfits?
(4) Mightn't this create a slippery slope towards "separate but equal," and a future where anyone who is different can just be told that they'll go to a school "for their kind?"

Bear in mind I'm speaking as someone who was very conscious of being a misfit in school, although the overt harassment had stopped by the time I entered high school. An alternative school might have done me worlds of good, though who's to say that my high-school peers (who were forced to treat me civilly) didn't benefit more from my sticking around?

This seems like a related topic.

And, for the record, "goth" should not be capitalized unless you're referring to the Sicilians during the Middle Ages.

Posted by kswygert at 03:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Springtime approaches

Yesterday, a squirrel appeared on the windowsill of Dave's studio. Next door, in my library, I noticed as the cats suddenly became very interested in something going on over on the right hand side. The camera phone doesn't capture anything in bright light very well, but then again, I don't think the squirrel was dumb enough to stick his head around the corner.


Posted by kswygert at 12:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Slimming down school lunches

Adults who are trying to lose weight might be a tad envious of Florida schoolchildren who get to try the South Beach diet at school:

Nine-year-old Kelly Ferrer no longer gets the waffles, pancakes and sugar cereals that she loved eating for breakfast last year in her school cafeteria. This year, instead, she is served whole-wheat bread, lowfat cheese and fruit.

Does she like it? No.

"I want to go back to the old menu," said the fourth-grader at Mill Creek Elementary School. "We had better food last year."

Kelly's is one of six schools in this Orlando suburb taking part in a study by a research center founded by Dr. Arthur Agatston, the author of "The South Beach Diet." The goal of the study is to figure out whether school cafeterias are capable of serving more nutritious food, whether kids will eat it and whether their health will improve...

Although the 3,000 students in the study haven't been put on the low-carb diet per se, many of the diet's guiding principles have been incorporated into school menus. White bread has been stricken and replaced with whole-wheat. White potatoes were subbed with sweet potatoes. French fries were abolished. Grilled chicken replaced breaded chicken. Fruits serve as dessert.

As long as they're not actually limiting calories - and it sounds like they aren't - this seems like a good idea.

Update: I bet Lee would think it's a good idea, too.

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

March 06, 2005

When tulips and test forms appear

The news today is all about the new SAT, which will be administered for the first time next Saturday, March 12. Many newspapers are carrying articles like this one (featured at Inside Bay Area) on the pros and cons of the SAT in admissions.

Spring's a big time in testing whether or not there's a new SAT. The FCATs start on Monday. The benchmark exams in Arkansas are next week. The Ohio Graduation Exam will be given on March 14, and will count for the class of 2007. I'm sure there are plenty more I'm not listing here.

One bit of news with an interesting twist - the University of North Dakota, and North Dakota State University, will not require the new essay portion of the ACT for admissions. Mainly, it's because they're interested more in developing their own essays - and not penalizing students who took the old ACT without the essay - but I found this comment from the student body representative to be amusing:

In November, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education approved a new policy asking the state's 11 public universities to set the requirement. However, the board left the door open for schools to set exemptions. UND and NDSU's stop-gap approach was needed because the schools didn't have enough time to get formal, more permanent exemption policies in place. Many high school juniors have already taken the ACT without the essay...

Jordan Schuetzle, UND student body president, said he's pleased with the UND administration's response. UND's Student Senate opposed the essay requirement because of its cost and because it added a layer of subjectivity to a standardized test. Schuetzle added that the requirement is unfair because it gives an advantage to larger, more affluent school districts with means to hire quality writing teachers and coaches. He said also it might impact enrollment.

If I read this right, Jordan believes it's unfair for people who write better to have the edge in college admissions, all those remediation classes be damned. He seems to think that the ND administrators agree with him, but it sounds like they're planning their own much more substantial writing exam.

Posted by kswygert at 02:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 05, 2005

The ethics of choosing schools

Via Joanne Jacobs, a great post at This Week In Education about the ethics of senior teachers refusing to teach at poverty-stricken schools, framed as a debate between a hypothetical union leader and superintendent. I have to admit, I've never thought of teachers as being like firefighters - who don't get to choose what fires to put out - but if that's really the mindset of some school superintendents, that would explain a lot.

Posted by kswygert at 02:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Somewhere over the Rainbow

The USA Today has finally noticed that, over the last couple of years, Yale University psychologist Robert Sternberg has been working on an alternative/augmentation to the SAT:

The test, dubbed "The Rainbow Project," evaluates creativity and problem-solving rather than analytical skills. Instead of multiple choice questions, it asks students to write captions for cartoons, outline how they would solve a problem, or write stories with unusual titles like "The Octopus's Sneakers" or "35,381."

What most interests many experts about Sternberg's early experiments is that they appear to predict students' freshman GPA in college more accurately than SAT scores, and with a narrower gap between ethnic and socio-economic groups...

The test results could be interpreted as a threat to the College Board, which has funded Sternberg's research, and Sternberg says some in the testing field have reacted defensively. He is waiting to hear soon if the College Board will fund an expanded trial that would show if the patterns hold beyond the initial 800-student sample.

I've mentioned Sternberg on N2P before, and was in fact very skeptical of his items. I find it hard to believe that anyone could think this would ever replace the SAT.

This is not the first article published on Sternberg's work, by far, seeing as how this project has been going on for a while; this APA article from 2003 notes that Sternberg doesn't see his test as being a replacement for the SAT:

The test is based on a theoretical framework developed by Sternberg called the triarchic theory of successful intelligence. According to the theory, every person possesses a unique mix of analytical, creative and practical abilities. Although schools often only recognize and reward analytical skills, Sternberg said, creative and practical skills can be more useful in real-world settings--helping to spark innovation in the workplace, for example, or allowing Alaskan children to safely navigate the wilderness in conditions unsafe for the average person. Those that are successfully intelligent, said Sternberg, recognize and capitalize on their strengths in the three areas of intelligence and correct or compensate for their weaknesses.

"The traditional tests like the SAT and the ACT provide quite reasonable measures of analytical ability," he explained. "What we're trying to do is to supplement with additional analytical measures, but especially with creative and practical measures."

Those who disagree with Sternberg most likely think it's easier to guess/fake the answers to his exams:

For the time being, students know that their answers to quirky questions — like how to handle gossipy co-workers — don't matter. But if in the future the answers affect their college admissions, test subjects may be tempted to bluff — a problem that employer-administered personality tests have. "You can't fake solving a math problem," says Linda Gottfredson, a professor of education at the University of Delaware. "You can fake conscientiousness."

Or, like me, they just wonder if the score gap closes because there are so many right answers to each item. I also wonder how he's going to address the standard claims of bias that accompany every test nowadays. As I said on Aug 11, 2003:

What's more, if questions like "If Y = 5 and X = 6, what is Y+X?" are accused of being racially biased, how are you going to design a key for the item, "What would you do if you walked into a party where you didn't know anyone?" that is acceptable to everyone? I would argue that, for this item, there are indeed multiple correct answers based on culture - so many, in fact, that I'd be hard put to say what "correct" means in this case. Could that squishiness be the reason for the reduced score gap; i.e., a wide range of responses were considered to be "correct"?

Update: Psychometrician John Ray had this to say about Sternberg's work last year:

One of the people best known for disparaging the importance of IQ (general problem-solving ability) is Robert Sternberg. He acknowledges the reality of IQ but says it is only one of three types of important mental functioning that can be measured. But the other two he puts forward are pretty desperate proposals. The second one he himself summarizes as "street smarts" so is nothing more than knowledge of a particular culture or environment -- and nobody has ever disputed that you need both intelligence and knowledge to solve problems well. So while knowledge is important, to refer to it as an "ability" is evasive. And his third alternative is creativity -- which again seems reasonable at first. The problem with creativity, however, is that there appears to be no such thing...So Sternberg is still left with IQ as the single useful generalization about abilities.

And the criticisms of his work simply seem to have driven Sternberg to retreat further and further into dishonesty. He simply ignores whole bodies of data -- including things he had acknowledged in his own earlier work -- as Linda Gottfredson (PDF) points out.

Posted by kswygert at 02:15 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

I'd like to ping them upside the head

I got hit hard by spammers in the middle of the night last night - hundreds of pings to some useless website selling some useless product. Apparently the MT code that prevents multiple comments from being made within a short period of time doesn't do the same thing with trackback pings.

So if the webpage was down, or you were trying to ping me and couldn't, I apologize.

Posted by kswygert at 01:59 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

March 04, 2005

Dealing with the asshats

One of the most important lessons to learn at college is that asshats will always exist, and no amount of lobbying, legislating, or demanding retribution will ever change that:

Recently, at my alma mater [Penn State], a student shouted racist and homophobic comments from a dorm window. Predictably, the Lesbian and Gay Alliance and the Black Caucus reacted with outrage, as if we need people to remind us that racists are morons.

You know, I spent four and a half years in State College. People also shouted that the Steelers sucked balls and that all women were sluts, among other things. Strangely, the Steelers did not hold a press confrence to demand everyone be educated about how great they were...

Yet, when some idiot decides to shout out something racist or homophobic, their respective advocacy groups demand that the University take ridiculous steps to ensure that it never happens again! Yes, I guess Spanier should just wave his magic no-more-racism wand, because apparently all racists need to change their minds is to read some flyers.

The Penn State Black Caucus's demands have pretty much nothing to do with the actual incident, nor would satisfying the demands stop asshats from existing. It looks like they've just taken the opportunity to squeeze more money and concessions out of the Penn administration, in ways that would probably inflame other students, and the Penn State Collegian is right to point this out.

The Captain approves as well:

Finally, someone has the courage to say it. No matter how many "sensitivity" programs activist groups want to shove down our collective throats, racism will always exist. And so will people being assholes in general.

Update: Those "homophobic" Penn students should be glad they don't go to Harvard, where innocent statements by celebrities espousing traditional values are taken as the most egregious of insults.

Posted by kswygert at 10:23 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Let the students correct themselves

Schoolroom discipline is a popular topic here at N2P, so I eyed with interest this article on East Baltimore's self-policing students (registration required).

Since it was established in November, the East Baltimore school's Student Court has handled about two dozen trials, including one involving two students who fought during an assembly attended by several Ravens players, an incident that deeply embarrassed the school.

Courts run by teenagers have existed in schools and communities across the country, including in the Baltimore region. Some teen courts handle nonschool offenses and serve as alternatives to the criminal justice system, giving young offenders a taste of the courtroom without its dire consequences. Others, like the one at School No. 426, located in the Lake Clifton High School complex, aim to create a sense of order and community within a student body.

The process, to me, sounds worlds away from - and better than - zero tolerance:

Jazmine Murchison, a petite 17-year-old serving as the teacher's lawyer, laid out the offenses: the student had been insubordinate, disregarded an instruction, skipped detention and exhibited a pattern of misconduct.

The issue of guilt or innocence was not at issue. For the students who act as judge and jury, the goal in these cases is to get a full account of the defendant's offense and decide on an appropriate penalty, such as an apology or community service. The court takes into account circumstances surrounding the offense and notes whether the student is sorry.

(Via the Education Wonks.)

Posted by kswygert at 06:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 03, 2005


A photo of my slitheriest pet, Sabio the Thayer's Kingsnake:


Investigating the table:


Isn't it nice to see loved ones chowing down on a nice hot meal you've prepared especially for them?


Update: How cute - Sabio's been featured in the "Other Vertebrates" section of the "Friday Ark" over at the Modulator.

And yes, there is an "Invertebrates Blogging" section.

Posted by kswygert at 09:08 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

The taxpayers should be storming the gates

There's quite a tale of "funding" issues going on in the wealthy Roslyn (Long Island, NY) school district. Specifically, $11 million smackeroos intended for the district went instead to plane tickets, mortgages, student loans, jewelry, and acrylic nails:

Top Roslyn school officials and their friends and family siphoned off more than $11 million of district money in an elaborate scheme involving far more people and far more extravagant spending than had been suspected, a state report has found.

Those implicated allegedly made mortgage payments on six different homes -- including two in Florida -- paid off personal loans, bankrolled vacations to the Caribbean, leased luxury cars and shelled out thousands of dollars at Tiffany's, Nordstrom's, Sharper Image, Coach and Rolex...

The Roslyn school scandal unfolded last year after an anonymous letter tipped off authorities that top officials had engaged in systemic misspending for a decade. So far, three former district officials -- Superintendent Frank Tassone, Assistant Superintendent for Business Pamela Gluckin and accounts payable clerk Debra Rigano -- have been arrested and pleaded not guilty to charges of grand larceny. Now auditors say as many as 29 people may have benefitted from the scheme.

Accounts payable clerk Debra Rigano - who certainly took the "payable" part of her job title to heart - allegedly lavished $334,452 of taxpayer's money on, among other things, hair and nail boutiques. And here I thought I was the only woman who could easily rack up a six-figure bill at a beauty salon.

(Via reader Ashley L.)

Update: The Education Wonks note that Long Island local Tony of A Red Mind In A Blue State has been all over this. The Wonks helpfully provide links to all six of Tony's posts on the topic.

Posted by kswygert at 08:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Magical thinking in California

In California, as in Arizona, there are those legislators who don't really want exit exams to be, you know, exit exams (registration required):

With the moment of truth fast approaching for California students, a high-powered drive has begun in the Legislature to delay or eliminate tying high school graduation to passing a controversial exit examination. Beginning with the class of 2006, state law requires high schools to deny diplomas to any student who doesn't pass a mathematics and English test, a consequence that was delayed two years ago to give schools more time to prepare.

Three guesses as to what political party the new procrastinators claim, and the first two don't count.

Two new bills, proposed by Democrats, take separate approaches to the issue. But both question the fairness of the high school exit examination and neither would allow imposition of high-stakes consequences next year. Perata and Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, argue that some campuses have been shortchanging children for years, providing inadequate instruction or textbooks. To deny diplomas to students at deficient schools would essentially victimize them twice, they contend.

This kind of thinking fascinates me. How is giving someone a worthless diploma doing them any good whatsoever? Why are these lawmakers convinced that if kids have been shortchanged for years, making sure they receive this piece of paper - without demonstrating the skills that lay behind it - will somehow rectify the situation?

It's a piece of paper, not a magic wand. The exit exam, though, certainly has some magic in it, because the exam allows California to see just how badly their schools are failing the students. If the lawmakers mentioned here care so much about drawing attention to how bad the schools are, you'd think they'd support this exam. Without it, how is anyone really supposed to know how bad things are?

Posted by kswygert at 08:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"Teaching to the test" might just be bad teaching

Villager (TX) guest columnist Jennifer Leeth understandably wants to raise good thinkers, not good test-takers. But part of her argument doesn't exactly hang together:

High-stakes test scores alone reflect neither best teaching practices nor good learning. Case in point: We have twin fifth graders in separate public school classrooms. For those who don't know, fifth grade is a "fail the test, fail the grade" year. In preparation for last week's reading TAKS test, Teacher A drilled the students all quarter on reading passages and testing strategies at the expense of other learning activities. The week before The Test, her class read 14 passages in language arts class alone, and still more in science and social studies classes. By TAKS time, this child was burned out and stressed beyond consolation.

In contrast, Teacher B continued to teach the state-mandated curriculum while preparing her students for The Test. This class continued to read authentic literature and engage in discussions and projects while they prepared for the TAKS. Not surprisingly, this child was more relaxed and mentally ready for The Test.

Which child will score better on the TAKS? Does it really matter?... before you fault Teacher A, ask yourself whether you really want a school finance system that forces teachers to teach to a test for their own survival and that of their school.

But, given the fact that Teacher B apparently exists, can't the argument be made that the test is not the problem? After all, Teacher B wasn't forced to "teach to the test." I read this and I think that Teacher A chose to teach in a manner that was stressful, though presumably effective, and I could logically conclude that the problem is Teacher A's strategies, not the test itself.

I would be very interested in knowing which teaching method was more effective, as measured by the test, and I would not be surprised to hear that Teacher B was in fact more effective. However, it would be nice if a better argument against the TAKS could be mustered than, "Some teachers get stressed out and focus only on the exam."

Ms. Leeth closes with:

...if you are able to process these arguments and respond with critical thinking skills, ask yourself whether your own test scores reflect the full extent of your abilities, and then thank your teacher.

No one test can reflect the full extent of educational ability; no test should claim that it can. Most if not all "do-or-die" tests, like the fifth-grade TAKS, are basic skills exams that do not claim to measure the full extent of skills possessed. They claim to measure the absolute basics that are needed to progress to the next level. Thus, it's legitimate to be concerned with confronted with a teacher who is supposedly great at imparting higher-order thinking skills, yet produces students who are clueless about the basics.

The notion that, somehow, children can be very educated and advanced and free-thinking and logical, yet unable to handle a test of basic reading, science, and math skills, is so pervasive these days. Where did this meme come from? When did we decide that it was more important for fifth-graders to have these "critical thinking" skills than to understand how many days there are in a year, or be able to summarize the main point of a three-page story?

Posted by kswygert at 11:39 AM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

Performance is the key

Devoted Reader Shakir noticed this article on accommodations in admissions testing for professional schools:

Over the past decade students with learning disabilities have gotten used to having extra time on tests and, in some cases, separate rooms to reduce distraction. In many cases that makes sense. Giving a dyslexic third grader extra time on a standardized test makes it more likely that his answers will show what he knows rather than how fast he reads.

But a sensible accommodation for little kids can create a misleading double standard for adults. How much you know isn't the only thing that matters in school--especially when you're training for a demanding professional job. What patient wants a genius doctor who can't focus in a distracting environment, reads so slowly that she can't keep up with medical journals or tends to misspell drug names on prescriptions?

Read it all, for it is interesting. The point below is particularly appropriate to the argument - yet it's not one you'll often see explicitly stated:

That argument [that tests only measure how good a test-taker you are] denies the fundamental reality of professional schools. No matter how theoretical their classes, these programs aren't about learning for learning's sake. They're trade schools that prepare and certify people for demanding jobs. In those jobs, performance--not intelligence or knowledge--is what matters.
Posted by kswygert at 06:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

Whine and cheese

Would you like to know a little bit about the psychometrician behind the curtain?

Specifically, my day?

Things really aren't getting any less horrible. My code keeps crashing. I've had to apologize three times in the last week to co-workers I've inadvertently offended. I was home sick on Monday with a sore throat. I accidentally missed a meeting today, thus most likely offending a fourth person. And I could not get one single solitary thing to go right today - not one little piece of SAS or SPSS code, not one simple question from someone else, not one simple decision on something that needed be done. Twenty hours of work in two days, and I've accomplished diddly-squat.

Meanwhile, my fiance called me at the office twice today, to tell me the following things:

* Danzig was scheduled to play tonight at the Electric Factory. Did we want to go? (No.)
* has a link to an absolutely hilarious list of curse words banned by the NFL from the back of personalized jerseys.

Dave, in fact, spent most of his workday perusing the list, and the Farker's comments on it. Which wasn't a problem, because he forwarded his boss the list, and he also spent most of the day reading it.

Nice to know someone around this house actually works for a living.

Posted by kswygert at 07:16 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Asking questions about the NJ ASK

Fascinating discussion going on over at The Art Of Getting By (via The Education Wonks):

As if 9 week "assessments" weren't enough, my poor little third graders spend the entire year eating, sleeping and breathing the same mantra, "THE TEST IS COMING! THE TEST IS COMING!" Meanwhile, us teachers feel like the little engine that could's engineers repeating, "I THINK THEY CAN, I THINK THEY CAN..."

The test I am speaking of is the NJ Ask. It's this huge standardized test a la, the SAT's for eight year olds. So, before they even know how to write in cursive, these kids know all about anxiety. The NJ Ask is supposed to be a formal assessment of all skills the average third grader should be, at the very least, proficient in. It covers everything from from multiplication and division, to decoding and writing to a prompt. I think they might even ask kids for a recipe for how to make a good gumbo, I'm not really sure.

Some of the comments devolve into the usual Bush-bashing, but others are thoughtful concerns about over-testing students - and at least one parent likes the tests. Unlike many people, I believe the tests are a good thing, but like many testing opponents, I believe it's possible to have too much of a good thing. This teacher's school tests kids formally every nine weeks, and I think it's acceptable to question whether that's appropriate.

So what is the NJ ASK, anyway? It's a measure to see how well the state's third- and fourth-graders are "learning the knowledge and skills called for by the state’s academic standards, the Core Curriculum Content Standards." I found this presentation on the NJ ASK.

I also found sample math items online. Does it look difficult? Yes, it does, although I can't say "too difficult," because I'm not a content specialist in this area. But it troubles me that the math items are so wordy. For example:

Estimate 423 – 174. The difference is between which numbers?

A. 0 and 199
B. 200 and 399
C. 400 and 599
D. 600 and 799

I''m wondering why estimating to get a range is important here. Why not just ask them:

423 - 174 = _____

Also, unless they're giving them partial credit for "good" wrong answers when scoring, there's not much to be gained by making this type of item an MCQ. Of course, MCQ's do allow students to guess.

The open-ended sample item is:

A juice machine charges 65¢ for a can of juice and accepts only nickels, dimes, and quarters. The machine requires exact change.

•Show a combination of coins you could put in the juice machine to get a can of juice.
•Is there another combination of coins you could use to get a can of juice? Show your work and explain your answer.

To be honest, I'm confused by "show a combination." Does that mean list the coins by name? List the amounts? Draw the coins? Perhaps it means all three, but what's wrong with "What is one combination of nickels, dimes, and quarters that could you use to buy one can? Is there another combination?" It's a good construct to test - certainly, it's got real-life applications - but as I neither teach nor have third-graders, I can't say for certain if this seems like something they should be able to do.

(Amusing side anecdote: One time in graduate school, an officemate of mine - who was notoriously ignorant about children - mortally offended another student's precocious 9-year-old daughter when first he asked her if she could put coins in the drink machine all by herself, then asked her if she was able to read the button labels all on her own. There is no huffiness like that of a capable 9-year-old girl.)

Posted by kswygert at 05:57 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

AIMing to keep AIMS

In Tucson the natives are restless:

Legislators are wiggling worse than this year's high school juniors over the status of AIMS as a graduation requirement. The class of 2006 will be first to face passage of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards as a prerequisite to graduation.

The kids get five tries. They already have taken the tests twice, and about half of them didn't pass all parts of AIMS. Then again, they took the tests as sophomores. They have until senior year to pass all parts. And they know that they must conquer AIMS to graduate.

Or do they? Some lawmakers insist the kids should get diplomas without passing AIMS. So instead of studying, many juniors may be crossing their fingers and biding their time.

Talk about mixed messages. Reminds us of the mom who tells her son he can't have the car till he finishes his homework, then tosses him the car keys. Please. Our kids deserve consistency - and not just at home...

The test series isn't perfect. No standardized test ever is. But we likely will spend eternity refining AIMS to better reflect evolving state standards. In the meantime, the least we can do is keep a strong and certain stance with our students. They know what to expect.

And our lawmakers have chosen precisely the wrong year to mess with those expectations.

What's gotten Tucson editorialists so steamed? My guess is, events like this:

Disabled and special-education students would be exempt from passing AIMS to get a high school diploma under a bill approved overwhelmingly yesterday by the House K-12 Education Committee. Students who meet other criteria would be exempt: those who had near-perfect attendance, completed all required courses with C grades or better, took AIMS every time it was offered and participated in senior-year AIMS tutoring...

The legislation is a watered-down version of a bill (HB2294) that would have retained AIMS, a reading, writing and math test, but eliminated the graduation requirement.

The editorialists aren't the only ones aggravated by this:

State Senate President Ken Bennett said he would prevent his colleagues from debating a proposal to let many high school students graduate without passing the AIMS test...

The lawmakers sponsoring the plan say the exam has taken away autonomy from local school boards and that they will continue pushing for their plan. They appear to have the support of about half of the Senate and a large majority of the House.

Bennett said he would halt any attempt to dismantle AIMS as a graduation requirement unless there are other legitimate alternatives in place, such as a specified score on college placement exams such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test...

Schools chief Tom Horne isn't kidding around, either:

The class of 2006 must pass the high school AIMS exam to graduate, and now Arizona schools chief Tom Horne wants each student's AIMS scores stamped on his or her diploma.

Critics say the proposal would unfairly rank kids, and students would be less likely to show off their diplomas to families and friends on graduation day. Horne says it would motivate students to study harder and reach their potential. He will ask the state Board of Education to consider the plan when it meets Monday...

Under the proposal, districts would be required to place a sticker on each diploma, showing a student "met the standards" or "exceeded the standards" on the math, reading and writing sections of the exit exam. For example, kids who "met the standards" on last year's math section scored 70 percent to 83 percent; those who "exceeded the standards" scored 84 percent or above. A graduate who exceeded standards on all three sections and made A's and B's in college prep courses would get a "high honors" sticker.

...and you can just imagine what types of responses this plan got:

Linda Ronnebaum's stepdaughter is a junior at Deer Valley's Mountain Ridge High School, and Ronnebaum fears the stickers would become a competition and a stigma. "Once you start putting labels on diplomas, you're labeling children," said Ronnebaum, an administrator at a West Valley elementary district. "Let's make them feel good about getting their diploma, not comparing what stamp you got on it."

Mary Silva and Louise Silva are not related, but both have children who passed AIMS and are juniors at Agua Fria High School in Avondale. They had very different reactions to adding the sticker to their children's diplomas. Mary Silva worried that such individual labels would make a child "feel better or less than someone else."

"I know there are some children who study and study and just pass," Mary Silva said. "How does that make them feel?"

Let's take that thought even further. What about those students who study and study but don't earn a diploma? Aren't we all making them feel bad by giving those who pass a diploma in the first place? Shouldn't we have a piece of paper to give the failers to put up on their walls - something along the lines of, "You're perfect, just as you are!"?

Seriously, people. We're not talking about children here. We're talking about young adults - some of whom might enter military service immediately after leaving high school - who, if they haven't already, will soon realize that the world out there is going to let them know just where they stand in comparison to everyone else.

Posted by kswygert at 03:46 PM | Comments (92) | TrackBack

What happens in school, stays in school

When a teacher loses it over students being disrespectful during the national anthem, while other students videocam the ruckus and post it on the web - who should be punished?

The Board of Education may toughen its policy on use of wireless telephones in schools, after a videotape showing a Brick Township [NJ] High School teacher screaming at his students to show respect for the national anthem — and then pulling the chair from underneath one student who refused to stand — was posted on several independent Web sites.

The tape was made by a student in Stuart Mantel's class and shows Mantel screaming at his students about standing quietly while "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played. When a student, identified on the Web site only as "Jay," refused to stand, the video shows Mantel yanking the chair from under him.

Although state statute does not specifically address whether a student must stand during the national anthem, Ron Rice, a spokesman with the state Department of Education, said there have been numerous court rulings stating that a student cannot be punished for refusing to stand while the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. Rice said those same rules apply to the anthem.

On the video, Mantel tells the class to stand and keep their mouths shut. At one point, whistling can be heard, to which Mantel screams for the student to stop. He also told the students to stop whispering. Then, while the anthem is playing, Mantel approached Jay, who was sitting, and told him to stand. When Jay told Mantel he did not have to stand, Mantel pulled the chair from under him.

"Are you serious?" Jay asked.

"I am damn well serious," Mantel replied.

According to a written description posted on some of the Web sites, the student who taped the confrontations was suspended for 10 days. Mantel was not disciplined.

Interesting. On the one hand, I can certainly understand the frustration of the teacher; at my school, we sure wouldn't have been able to get away with much during the national anthem. On the other hand, he seems to have crossed a line in his actions. It seems that the suspended student got in trouble for breaking the rule about using cell phones in schools, which would cover the video part.

Posted by kswygert at 07:05 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

EWF, 36, seeks advice

According to my Control Panel stats (my Sitemeter stats aren't yet accurate, since I forgot to put the meter code on my archive pages until today), there were 50 visitors today who spent over an hour on this page.

My, but you Devoted Readers need a life.

However, seeing as how some of you are parking here pretty much permanently, I could use some advice. I'd like to increase my traffic. Sure, an Instalink is always good for an extra 5000 visitors or so, but most of his readers are more interested in political blogs (as am I).

Things I've done before and will probably try again: paying for monthly ads (mainly on right-of-center political websites), commenting on other blogs, sending link suggestions to other bloggers, and so on. I was just wondering if any of you out there had any additional ideas for what else I could do. I'd be willing to put together a monthly or weekly summary page, and perhaps a column or two (a la Joanne's sweet - and entirely deserved - deals with Fox News and Jewish World Review), if I knew who might be interested.

Any suggestions, short of actually putting photos on here of the "nak3d t3achers" for whom so many surfers are searching, are welcome.

Posted by kswygert at 08:49 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Protesting the lack of fun

Note: I've moved this post to the top after adding an update. Newer posts are below.

We've got another little testing opponent on our hands:

Saying too much emphasis is placed on the Texas Assessment for Knowledge and Skills exams, fifth-grader Macario Guajardo is refusing to take this year’s TAKS reading, math and science tests.

"In fourth grade, I was under a lot of pressure for the TAKS, and I decided I wanted to something about it," he said. "Teachers focused on TAKS, and it wasn’t fun for us anymore. Sometimes we had to stay in from recess to prepare for it. It was a lot of worksheets."

Ah, yes. A product of the "schools must be FUN" generation.

With his parents’ permission, the student who makes As and Bs skipped school Wednesday to miss the reading test. He declined to take a makeup exam Thursday. State law says students must pass TAKS tests to pass each grade level. In cases of TAKS failures, a committee of parents, teachers and a principal must decide whether the student can advance.

Macario, 11, has already appeared in articles in The New York Times. Network TV news stations including NBC and Telemundo have also contacted his parents and school officials. Macario said he hasn’t received any bad vibes from teachers or students and that many seem to support him.

Wow. So he's definitely learning that there's pretty much no downside to opposing the tests, no matter how hysterical the arguments get about how tests are taking over our lives and being crammed down our throats.

Although he grew up hearing his father’s complaints about TAKS, the protest idea was entirely Macario’s, he said.

Uh-huh. Forgive me for being skeptical about this part, which seems to reflect only the trendy notion that children develop entirely apart from any parental influence whatsoever.

Macario’s parents are behind him 100 percent, said Francisco Guajardo, assistant professor in the University of Texas-Pan American’s educational leadership program. "He stopped having fun at school. For me, it just broke my heart to see my son frustrated, upset, even angry," he said.

Ah. His dad is a prof in an educational program - and regularly berates the TAKS. At least the dad is honest enough to admit that his views have affected his son:

Guajardo said he probably influenced Macario’s opinions. "We’ve been talking about this since Mac was a little baby. Mac grew up with this," he said. "I like the TAKS. … I’m not in support of the way it’s done. The whole school is organized around … the test. Teaching to the objective on the test — that’s pervasive (in the area"...

TAKS scores don’t improve graduation rates or SAT scores, Guajardo said...Teachers have little time to encourage students in imaginative, creative work. Macario hasn’t once had an art class in his elementary years, he said.

So who's really protesting here, I wonder? And does the lack of art really have anything to do with the TAKS focus? I'm thinking Guajardo knew a newsworthy story when he saw one.

Not that Guajardo Junior shouldn't be allowed to protest; heck, I give him credit for it. But I'd be more impressed if his argument was something other than school isn't fun enough for him anymore. The Bernard Chapin chapter I quoted earlier today addresses this issue as well:

There are a plethora of pseudo-scholars in the field of education that wholeheartedly approve of the videogameification of the modern classroom. Those “scholars” would have been disappointed to discover that our principal’s devotion to fun was more based on her own lack of seriousness than it was rooted in any educational methodology.

Update: Education Gadfly found another young testing opponent - interestingly, also in Texas...

Anti-testing types have taken up the cause of Mia Kang, a 14-year-old Texan who defied teachers and counselors and turned in a little essay announcing her opposition to standardized testing instead of completing a mandated practice TAKS test. She has vowed not to participate in the real thing this spring, even at the risk of not graduating from high school. Kang is one of a gaggle of Texas students who has refused to take state tests, and posters to the liberal blog Daily Kos hope to start a letter-writing campaign to ensure she will graduate despite opting out of the test.

We have two thoughts on this. First, Kang and the other objectors mentioned share one thing in common: parents in the education system. (Kang's mother is getting her teaching certification; the father of another boy who dissed the test is an ed school professor; the father of a third is a school principal who has written a book opposing testing.) So we wonder who's pulling the strings here.

Further, it's a strange form of civil disobedience that demands both notoriety for breaking the law and exemption from the consequences of law-breaking. If Mia Kang doesn't want to take the TAKS, fine. If someone's conscience dictates that they cannot participate in a mandated activity, they should refuse. But civil disobedience without consequences is merely showboating. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his magnificent "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" because he accepted the consequences of his refusal to accede to unjust laws. The nation was moved by his example to correct an injustice. "Letter from My Living Room" likely would not have had the same effect. And if Ms. Kang believes the TAKS to be unjust, we invite her—and would applaud her gumption in so doing, even if we disagree with her interpretation of the facts—to convince the Texas legislature of the rightness of her cause.

Good point.

Posted by kswygert at 03:41 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Dreaming of literacy

The San Francisco Bay Guardian wonders whether the recent "Dream Schools" are living up to their names. Readers will appreciate the information in this thorough and balanced article - but may also be shocked by the low levels of student proficiency:

JUST OVER A year ago the San Francisco Unified School District launched its Dream Schools Initiative, which is intended to transform floundering inner-city schools into college prep academies on par with the most exclusive private schools. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who, sources said, takes the success of the program very personally, announced that the first three Dream Schools would open in the long-neglected Bayview in August 2004. Eventually 15 of the least desirable schools in the city, Ackerman said, would be rejuvenated with longer hours, a highly structured academic program, uniforms, field trips, and even the art classes that are so rare in public schools today...

...staffers and parents are beginning to paint a more nuanced picture that exposes how challenging it can be to reform a neglected school. Almost everyone who's been close to the reform effort acknowledges that it's been exhausting and often confounding. Some voice deep concerns about aspects of the program. Yet for every critic, there is an enthusiastic supporter who believes that in spite of the challenges, the Dream Schools program could truly rehabilitate the educational opportunities in this African American sector and, eventually, throughout the entire southeast part of town.

Sounds good so far, right? But listen to what one critic has to say:

Jayson Matthews was already working at 21st Century Academy when the school was chosen to become a Dream School. When he first heard about the program, he was thrilled...

When the fall semester started, Matthews said, he quickly saw that some of the program's promises couldn't possibly be kept. During the first months, 21st Century had few bonus classes, he told us. "Having 45 minutes of Spanish or 30 minutes of music a week isn't cutting it. It's a little better [than the average school], but it was billed as stellar."

Matthews's biggest gripe was the fact that most of the extra afternoon class time was devoted to rote, scripted learning exercises he says did little for the sixth graders he was teaching. "It would be like, 'Turn to page five, put your finger on the word the,' " he said. " 'Say the with me: The, the, the.' " Matthews doesn't blame the district or the Dream Schools program entirely for the stifling curriculum, but rather the current nationwide emphasis on preparing students for standardized tests. Still, he said the practice of "teaching to the test" increased once 21st Century became a Dream School.

Okay, if I have this right, this teacher - who's obviously very devoted - is blaming the nationwide obsession with tests on the fact that tutorials had to be developed for sixth-graders to teach them how to read and say the word, "the?" I'm confused. Either the curriculum is set way too low - and should be ramped up - or Matthews is blaming tests for the fact that these kids got to the sixth grade without being able to read three-letter words.

If they need that much help reading the word "the" when they're on the brink of puberty, the tests aren't the problem.

Posted by kswygert at 03:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Give us money, and don't ask what we do with it

Eduwonk notes that the national PTA viewpoint on testing doesn't exactly come down on the side of sharing educational information among parents:

The National PTA opposes:

*federal legislation and/or regulations that mandate standardized testing or would lead to such testing;
*federal policies that mandate comparisons of states, school districts or individual schools.

Wait a minute. Obviously parents -- and pretty much everyone else, though you wouldn't know it from the hyperbolic tone of the current debate -- thinks there is a lot more to schools than test scores. But isn't information -- including test scores -- to make such comparisons, and the comparisons themselves, exactly what parents do want? Ask any realtor for God's sake. For that matter, how do people who work at the National PTA choose schools for their own kids? Randomly?...

PTA also has a new poll out about NCLB and what parents want. Except Eduwonk can't locate the poll, only the highlights in a press release. Even those are not a slam dunk for the anti-NCLB crowd...when the NEA buys a national interest group, don't they expect them to stay bought? Is there a warranty?

Note that the PTA opposes "federal mandates" for testing, or for comparison of schools by testing. Sounds like they want the federal government out of the schools, doesn't it?

Not really:

National PTA

* Supports annual passage of federal appropriations bills containing adequate levels of funding for education and child-related programs;
* Opposes funding proposals and budget process changes that cut or negatively impact the availability of funds for education and child-related programs;
* Opposes tax credits and deductions for elementary and secondary school tuition and other education-related expenses for public and nonpublic school students; and
* Supports public funds for public schools only and opposes using tax dollars to finance education vouchers for private and religious schools.

Got that? Everyone's money must go to public schools, but the government - and parents - can't demand accountability in the form of test scores in return.

Posted by kswygert at 02:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mean, squat right-handers need not apply

I have to admit, it's articles like this one that make me skeptical every time some activist or politician claims that only rich Americans can afford college:

There's money for college in duct tape. Being left-handed has cash rewards, too, as does being tall or exceedingly nice. And anyone who likes to flap his arms has a chance to go to college free. A mountain of college scholarships based on almost every imaginable qualification is available -- more than 2.4 million awards worth more than $14 billion each year, according to Sallie Mae, the corporation created by Congress to provide financial aid and information.

"The days when only the class valedictorian and the football quarterback get a college scholarship are long gone," said Sallie Mae spokeswoman Martha Holler.

With college tuition skyrocketing, many students are scrambling for ways to finance their higher education, yet millions of dollars in scholarship money goes unused for lack of applicants each year, financial aid experts say.

More students could attend college if they took time to research, experts say.

Parents who do their research will be happy to know that there are options for their weird - er, unique - children who don't have great grades, nor any discernible athletic ability:

Some scholarships are open to all, such as one sponsored by Henkel Consumer Adhesives Inc. The company awards $5,000 to the couple who attend their school prom wearing the best outfit or accessories fashioned out of Duck brand duct tape...

There are scholarships for tall people: The Carolina Tall Club awards scholarships based on academic and personal achievement, school activities, volunteer work and other qualifications -- but only to males who are at least 6-foot-2 and females at least 5-foot-10.

There are scholarships for those who are left-handed: One, at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., was created by Fred and Mary Beckley, who were married after pairing up on the tennis team there in 1919 because they both were left-handed. It is awarded every year to left-handed students based on academic achievement.

And there are scholarships for students with average grades -- including one for telecommunications students at Ball State University in Indiana endowed by graduate and late-night talk show host David Letterman.

If your kid can't be tall, left-handed, or average, you can still teach them to be nice:

At Hiram College in Ohio, the Hal Reichle Memorial Scholarship is available for students based on their anonymous acts of kindness. (Reichle, a Hiram graduate who died in the Persian Gulf War, was known for his kindness.) The award is not given every year, because, the school Web site says, "understandably, qualified recipients cannot always be located."

This means you need to teach your kids to do anonymous acts of kindness that someone, somewhere, can find out about and drop a dime to Hiram College. If they can figure out a way to do this, college ought to be a cinch.

Posted by kswygert at 02:19 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tinkering with the selection process

An interesting editorial in the Chicago Tribune, mirrored at

Chicago Public Schools should set aside up to 20 percent of slots at each of the city's eight selective-enrollment high schools for students with abilities not measured by standardized tests or grades, an outside panel has urged.

Striving for racial and ethnic diversity in the schools should remain a goal, the group said. But other factors such as a student's leadership qualities, athletic ability or community service also should be considered during the application process. Students also could be selected if they show academic potential despite family difficulties, a language barrier or attending an underperforming school.

Twenty percent. That's not a small number. And for what? Leadership ability is all well and good, but if the academic ability is not there, how does the slot benefit that child more than it benefits a more able child? Or are all of these code words for trying to make the school more "diverse"? Community service is very nice, but it's absurd to suggest that community service makes one more prepared for harder coursework.

I have no problem with a selective school using criteria other than standardized tests for admissions. But I do have a problem when a school chooses to use test scores in admissions, and outside forces descend to tinker with that formula simply because it doesn't produce the "diversity" that some consider important.

And tinkering is exactly what is going on here:

Duncan formed the 13-member group in September to examine whether race should still be considered when enrolling students into magnet or selective-enrollment schools....

Other panel recommendations include:

Improving outreach to racial and ethnic groups underrepresented among applicants.

Informing parents about the importance of 7th-grade standardized-test results and final report cards for that year, a process that produces considerable middle school angst but isn't going to change.

Boosting publicity of eligibility requirements and application deadlines.

Ensuring that students who are still learning English and students with disabilities have equal access to selective-enrollment testing

I have no problem with outreach and publicizing of important information. No student should miss their chance to attend this school just because Mom and Dad missed the deadline. These suggested changes are very important. But I'm still leery of those who consider it "segregation" when the "correct" racial breakdowns don't ensue following test-based or grades-based admissions.

Posted by kswygert at 01:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The wonders of Derbyshire

John Derbyshire is one of my favorite columnists. Here are two reasons why:

Larry Summers: This month's release of the full transcript of that January speech did nothing to get Summers off the hook, but it did demonstrate that he is a mathematically literate guy well informed about the human sciences.

Which is more than can be said for most of the commentariat. Andrea Peyser in the New York Post extruded the following bit of malicious nonsense: "Well, he said it. Harvard University President Lawrence Summers did, in fact, declare that, in his learned opinion as head of one of the world's leading educational institutions, women, on average, are dumber than men. Just read the transcript."

OK, Ms. Peyser, I have read the transcript. Where, exactly, does he say the thing you said he said? I couldn't find anything even close. Summers's only reference to averages in this context — he uses the word "means," which is favored by statisticians — was as follows: "There is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means — which can be debated — there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population." How you get from there to Ms. Peyser's statement is a mystery to me. Perhaps she doesn't understand the difference between "mean" and "standard deviation." Perhaps she isn't very good at math...

Not that male commentators did much better with Larry Summers's mathematically sophisticated argument. Bill O'Reilly: "Harvard President Lawrence Summers is still bruised after saying some women might not be as good as men in math and science." What's up with that? Some women are not as good as some men? Some women are not as good as the average man? Dumb women are not as good as smart men? Smart women are not as good as dumb men? Or what?

The maddening thing is that all public discussion of the human sciences is conducted like this, by people so statistically illiterate that they simply cannot understand the most elementary points of fact. If a person who does have a clue what he's talking about sticks his head above the parapet and states one of the basic truths garnered from decades of research, he gets a bullet between the eyes. It's appalling.

Oh, can I ever talk about people who are statistically illiterate...

And the second reason I like him so much:

We went up to the Catskills for the Derb family annual ski trip. The skiing itself was fine, except that I had been too lazy busy to do my preparatory squats and calf raises in the preceding weeks, so that after a few hours on the slopes my legs came out on strike.

I did, though, notice the following distressing phenomenon. I suppose it goes with fatherhood, but I'm just not ready for it, and am not sure I ever shall be. What I noticed was, guys looking at Nellie, my daughter. I mean, looking. Nellie is only 12, but tall for her age, and slender, with a pretty face and long straight hair. She has no figure to speak of, but in ski clothes that doesn't notice. So these guys were looking at her. They weren't her coevals, either; these were brutes — sorry, I mean lads — of 17, 18, 19. It was all very disturbing. Memo to teen boys everywhere: I have guns.

Posted by kswygert at 11:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bad ideas in school

Someone at the Washington Times is ticked off about the state of public education:

Any parent with a child in a public school has likely discovered our education system is little more than a means by which liberals indoctrinate children with socialist ideology. If this seems a radical assertion, I assure you it is not. In fact, examples abound indicating its accuracy.

Take the "community box," for instance. How many elementary school kids across the country show up the first day of school, only to have their brand-new supplies pilfered by their teacher and thrown into one big box, to be distributed henceforth as said teacher sees fit? (Karl Marx also had very little regard for private property rights.)

Or how about "cooperative learning" methods of instruction? I use quotation marks to point out how impossible it usually is to get kids to cooperate or learn when they sit in groups a pencil length from their neighbors. But if a teacher is blessed with darling little angels who would never think of misbehaving, students who have "more" knowledge are regularly expected to help those with "less." (How's that saying go again? "From each according to his ability.")

Ever heard of social promotion? This egalitarian concept is standard procedure at most public schools, where students are promoted from one grade to the next regardless of academic aptitude. It practically takes an act of Congress to retain failing students these days, lest we give them the impression they are responsible for their accomplishments.

I think the "community property" charge is the least serious, though it might be the most upsetting to some kids. I agree, though, that the expectations that good students should be expected to mentor others, and failing kids should do well after social promotion, are products of flawed ideology, not reality.

Posted by kswygert at 10:42 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Failing in Florida

Unhappiness in the Sunshine State:

Florida schools rank among the worst in the nation in teacher salaries and college funding, according to a new report aimed at improving the state's education. The Constitutional Accountability Commission report said state schools are above-average only in third-grade reading and in the number of students returning for a second year at community colleges.

"Florida is not competing on a national level. That is pretty obvious," said Steven Shimp, a Fort Myers contractor serving on the panel and Florida Tax Watch, a consumer-watchdog group.

The amount Florida spends per student is 45th among the nation. Florida is also behind in teacher salary and funding of colleges, the panel members concluded.

Can't find the report online. Does this report actually criticize educational achievements in a meaningful way - or is it just a "give us more money" effort?

Posted by kswygert at 10:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Why the surprise?

Via Joanne Jacobs, we see a light bulb go on above the head of formerly-skeptical educational consultant Tim DeRoche:

As recently as this past year, I would have told you that the standards and accountability movement was a necessary evil. It was necessary that we raise our expectations for poor and minority students. It was necessary that we make student-achievement data public. It was necessary that we use test results to weed out incompetent or unmotivated teachers.

But, I would have added, certainly the best students and teachers would find this new environment stifling. The creativity of these high performers would certainly be cramped by standards and tests targeted at the lowest common denominator. Standards and testing would make education, well, more standard, more average.

It turns out I was dead wrong...

The districts that we visited were the finalists for the 2004 Broad Prize for Urban Education, given annually to a high-performing district that shows overall gains in student achievement while also closing achievement gaps...I was most astounded by what we heard from classroom teachers. Almost unanimously, they told us that standards and testing have made their jobs both more rigorous and more rewarding. Specifically, they mentioned that the new focus on results fosters more collaboration...

On the one hand - good for him. On the other hand, I want to tear my hair out over the fact that in this day and age, an intelligent educator can be so surprised at the idea that objective standards as measured by standardized exams can be so useful. He is astonished that teachers like clear standards and meaningful feedback on student progress. He is amazed that tests of basic skills don't hamper the development of higher-order thinking and creative lesson plans.

I'm happy his eyes are open, but I'm still frustrated by the prevailing knee-jerk anti-testing ideology that closed his eyes in the first place.

Posted by kswygert at 10:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

When journal entries are illegal

Just when I think the zero tolerance policies can't get any more insane, or be applied in more abusive ways, I'm proven wrong.

Winchester police say William Poole, 18, was taken into custody Tuesday morning. Investigators say they discovered materials at Poole's home that outline possible acts of violence aimed at students, teachers, and police.

Poole told LEX 18 that the whole incident is a big misunderstanding. He claims that what his grandparents found in his journal and turned into police was a short story he wrote for English class.

"My story is based on fiction," said Poole, who faces a second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge. "It's a fake story. I made it up. I've been working on one of my short stories, (and) the short story they found was about zombies. Yes, it did say a high school. It was about a high school over ran by zombies."

Even so, police say the nature of the story makes it a felony. "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function it's a felony in the state of Kentucky," said Winchester Police detective Steven Caudill.

Say what?

1. It was a journal article, and a work of fiction. Can we pass a law requiring that "making a threat" involves actual contact of some kind with an intended victim?
2. It should be illegal for anyone to be held legally responsible for anything written in a journal (obviously, I say this as someone who's had her journal snooped through before).
3. "Possess matter involving a school or function"? Can someone please tell me what the heck that means?

Additional details show that the idiocy here is spread far and wide:

The arrest came after a tip from a family member that Pool was trying to "recruit a gang to take over the school," Detective Berl Perdue said. "He didn't have a gang, but he was attempting to organize one," Perdue said.

4. Don't the laws against gangster crime require that one have a gang, and commit a crime?

Police said writings in which Poole tried to persuade other students to take part in the takeover were found.

5. Did any of the other students receive these writings?

And this:

An 18-year-old junior at George Rogers Clark High School has been charged with terroristic threatening, a felony, after notes outlining possible acts of violence against students, teachers and security guards were found. No direct threats were made against named people, Winchester police Detective Steven Caudill said.

6. Once again, can we require that a terroristic threat charge involve an actual threat against an actual victim? calls this a "thoughtcrime," and correctly so.

(For some reason, I can't get to load, but I'm sure he's all over this.)

Update: Oh, yeah, ZI has the story:

The short story did not mention Poole's school, any teachers, the principal or any cops, officials or students.

His bail was raised from one to five thousand dollars at the request of prosecutors because of the "seriousness of the crime".

There is no mention of the school itself being involved here. This madness seems to be 100% from the police.

Winchester Government contact information:
Mayor Dodd Dixon
Chief of Police W.M.Jackson II - Phone: 1-859-745-7400, Fax: 1-859-745-7404

I've noticed ZI has been including email addresses and phone numbers whenever possible in these tales of zero-tolerance madness, which is mighty useful for any concerned parents/teachers/students/bystanders who want to register their displeasure. But note also one dissenting commenter who claims this isn't the entire story, nor is the first time this student has been involved in this sort of trouble.

Posted by kswygert at 10:27 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The issue of merit pay

Andrea Neal suggests that merit pay should be given a chance in Indiana schools:

Raise the possibility of merit pay for teachers and the gut reaction of many – most members of the teachers union – is negative. As one 30-year educator from Muncie wrote me after last week’s column on this subject, “Basing teacher pay on performance just doesn’t work as long as human beings are involved.”

This fascinates me. Why are teachers expected to be so different from those in most other professions, where salary is tied to some measure of quality of work? There's nothing inherent in education that prevents schools from measuring, somehow, how well teachers do in the classroom. I constantly hear teachers going on about how important it is to "make a difference" in children's lives, yet there's this overwhelming resistance to assessing just how much of a difference teachers can make.

The Teacher Advancement Program developed by the Milken Family Foundation offers a comprehensive assessment of teachers - and doesn't leave out the areas of training:

The Teacher Advancement Program doesn’t merely tie student test scores to teacher salary; it is a comprehensive effort to make teachers better, says its executive director Lewis C. Solmon. Its four main ingredients are:

Career paths. In the typical school, the quickest way for teachers to make more money is to move into management. TAP sets up a career leader so teachers can pursue positions of Mentor Teacher and Master Teacher, which mean greater responsibility and higher pay.

Professional development. TAP restructures the school day to give teachers time to learn, plan, mentor and share. Teachers spend much of the time practicing instructional techniques found to be most effective with the most children. Schools focus their attention initially on the subject area in which students in their building tested lowest.

Regular evaluation. In the typical school, a teacher’s boss observes in the classroom one day a year as part of an annual review. TAP requires four to eight evaluations, most of them unannounced, by the principal and trained professionals who assess the teachers on 14 skills related to effective teaching.

Performance-based pay. TAP ends the current single salary schedule in which all teachers get the same pay based on degrees and years of experience. Instead, it rewards teachers for roles and responsibilities, performance in the classroom, and gains made by their students (not passage rates) as demonstrated by standardized test scores.

The idea of merit pay is gaining steam, and it looks like California is set to be the next big battleground.

Posted by kswygert at 10:15 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

A grand example of missing the point

A classic example of missing the point in a Daily Californian editorial:

Anyone who has had to endure standardized testing in high school knows how useless it is. It’s true there has to be some standard for education nationwide, and that California’s secondary educational system is in shambles when it comes to consistently turning out students with basic skills. But such standardized exams force teachers to “teach the test,” compromising the real learning that should be going on during class time. Those who refuse to bend to such tactics are forced to devote days, even weeks “teaching” students how to pass the test right before it’s thrown at them.

So the author admits both that there should be a nationwide standard, and that California high schoolers aren't learning basic skills. Yet the most efficient method of assessing an objective standard - standardized tests - are rejected, as are any attempts on the part of teachers to teach the basic skills measured by the tests. Somehow, "real learning" that won't be assessed must be imparted to these students who have missed on out basic education.

Of even more concern is student equity in taking these tests. Having standardized tests only favors the affluent—as soon as a new test is devised, test-taking programs will spring up, offering complete success on the exam for exorbitant prices.

Here we go again. The tests get blamed because test prep companies - who have never shown good evidence that they are worth the money - jack up their prices. The tests get blamed despite the fact that any student willing to stick to a schedule can prepare themselve using old tests for cheap (or free, if they go to any library). The tests get blamed despite the fact that students from affluent backgrounds do better in every sphere of educational development.

If the price of test prep companies are such a sore point, why don't we see editorials calling for outlawing the companies, rather than banning the tests?

Posted by kswygert at 09:38 AM | Comments (199) | TrackBack

The basics

Education author Bernard Chapin (who's been featured on here before) hits the nail on the head in a description of why touchy-feely educrats don't like standardized tests:

I had a chance to look at one of the Illinois books that involve “teaching to the test” the other day. It was quite informative. It contained exercises in phonological awareness that are intrinsic to any child’s learning how to read. I was rather impressed. The real thing that progressives hate about standardization is that it takes warm and fuzzy out of the process. All that is left is what you know and what you don’t know. Standardization merely compares the performance of an individual to that of a larger population. That’s it. Yet, comparisons of any kind are despised. It takes all the excuses and variables out. If a child cannot read as their peers do then is their manner of reading acceptable? No. Is it what we would call reading at all? No. That the testing of students is counter-productive is a widespread belief in our schools...

When I taught at the university...I had a student tell me that her brain did not think that way in regards to the multiple-choice examination that she got a C on. What processing deficit could she have had possibly had? All she had to do was select the right answer amid three wrong ones. It was child’s play, at least many years ago it was child’s play, now children, and some adults, are not expected to do it.

Emphasis mine. Standardized tests cut through a lot of the sheep dip in "progressive" educational techniques.

Posted by kswygert at 09:32 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Alabama students speak out freely

The Volokh Conspiracy puts it nicely: "It really is extraordinary that we live in an age where students have to educate faculty on the importance and educational value of free speech.".

The full story is here:

In a remarkable display of intellectual independence and moral courage, the University of Alabama (UA) Student Senate last week passed a “free speech” resolution that directly opposes a “hate speech” resolution passed by UA’s Faculty Senate last fall. Recognizing that the faculty’s “hate speech” resolution was a thinly veiled call for a speech code, the students’ resolution urges the UA administration and faculty “to adopt policies that explicitly protect free speech for all students at the University of Alabama.”

The "free speech" resolution is nicely done:

WHEREAS, The right to free speech is an inalienable human and civil right that is protected by the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Alabama;

WHEREAS, Free speech is absolutely vital to the mission of any university, where new and often controversial ideas must be discussed openly and rationally in order to make advances in knowledge;

WHEREAS, The Faculty Senate of the University of Alabama has recently passed a resolution urging the University of Alabama to regulate the speech of students at the University of Alabama;

WHEREAS, Speech codes have been used by other colleges and universities to silence dissenting speech, not merely so-called “hate speech”, and to persecute those with unpopular opinions;

WHEREAS, There are currently numerous legal challenges pending against such speech codes, and the adoption of such a speech code at the University of Alabama would invite a lawsuit against the University that would be costly and would greatly tarnish its public image;

WHEREAS, In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it”;

WHEREAS, By defending free speech for all students, one in no way condones any kind of hate or intolerance; On the contrary, one is promoting tolerance of others despite their differences, especially their differences of opinion;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT The University of Alabama Student Senate most strongly urges the Administration and the Faculty Senate of the University of Alabama to refrain from adopting any form of speech code, even one that purports to ban only so-called “hate speech”;

BE IT FURTHUR RESOLVED THAT The University of Alabama Student Senate most strongly urges the Administration and the Faculty Senate to adopt policies that explicitly protect free speech for all students at the University of Alabama;

BE IT FURTHUR RESOLVED THAT Copies of this resolution also be sent to Dr. Robert Witt, President of the University of Alabama, Dr. John Mason, President of the Faculty Senate of the University of Alabama, The Tuscaloosa News, The Crimson White and Dateline Alabama for informational purposes.

Good for them. College speech codes are one of the worst ideas to come out of the PC era.

Posted by kswygert at 09:25 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack