Caveon has a new Cheating in the News newsletter out. One of the big articles linked this week is Newsweek International's "The Perfect Score," which focuses on the prevalence of cheating in student communities outside the US. A must-read.
Closer to home, there's the cheating episode in Texas that shows why schools should confiscate cell phones before handing out test booklets. I'm actually a bit surprised to discover that some states are only now developing policies regarding the use of devices such as cell phones during exams.
Is this good news or bad news for Indiana? You be the judge:
More than half of Indiana's seventh-graders passed the state's mandatory science exam, administered to that age group en masse for the first time last fall. Fifty-two percent of the state's 80,863 seventh-grade students passed the science assessment, a new section in the annual Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus exam. That left 47 percent below the benchmark, said Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education; 1 percent of the results were unscoreable.
"We certainly know we need to do better, but this is a starting point," said Tiede Wilhelmus. Two areas that gave kids trouble, she said, were sections on the nature of science and technology -- which included scientific investigation -- and one focusing on the physical universe.
Indianapolis schools fared much worse, with only 18% passing the exam. A sample exam is here. It's pretty open-ended. I had to guess on the first one - I remembered the orbits as being circular rather than elliptical, and that is one of the correct answers.
From the article:
...Tragically this culture of cheating afflicts children from a very early age. Children as young as seven or eight arrive at school showing off polished projects that have benefited from more than a little help from parents.
But parents are not entirely to blame. From day one in primary school they are told that the performance of their children is intimately linked to how much support they get at home. In a desperate attempt to improve standards of education, parents' concern for their children is manipulated to draw them in as unpaid teachers. The outsourcing of education by schools encourages a dynamic where many parents become far too directly involved in producing their children's homework.
Scott notes that the researcher who advances this theory, Prof. Furedi, is "correct that the internet is not a sufficient moral force to create a society of cheats." However, is it correct to assume that parental overinvolvement is a sufficient enough force? Scott says no:
...I think the answer is no - something deep, systemic and much more unfortunate has happened to the society at large, with ramifications that go beyond those of cheating in universities...
What has brought about the moral change in question is precisely this attitude: that immoral actions are no longer the responsibility of the individual concerned, who is perceived as an innocent let down by the system's deficiencies - deficiencies which can be corrected by social expenditure of resources.
This philosophical position, a mainstay of the academic left, is also prevalent among left-leaners in general; working together, such groups and individuals have largely succeeded in the creation of a society based on the principle of individual blamelessness.
A society, in other words, in which media coverage of cheating teachers always include quotes from "experts" explaining that this is the fault of our "testing culture;" the poor teachers just can't help themselves.
One Florida middle school springs the Holocaust on its students:
Local 6 News reported that eighth-graders with last names beginning with L through Z at Apopka Memorial Middle School were given yellow five-pointed stars for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Other students were privileged, the report said.
Father John Tinnelly said his son was forced to stand in the back of the classroom and not allowed to sit because he was wearing the yellow star. "He was forced to go to the back of the lunch line four times by an administrator," Tinnelly said. Tinnelly said the experiment upset his child. "He was crying," Tinnelly said. "I said, 'What are you crying about?' He said, 'Daddy, I was a Jew today.'"
Other parents and children shared similar stories, Tinnelly said...
"Teachers felt that it would have defeated the purpose to tell the students ahead of time because that would have prepared them," Principal Douglas Guthrie said. "Students came in and all they got was a star."
Well, if the object was to teach children what it feels like to be persecuted, I'd say it was a success. Did the reporter talk to any of the privileged kids? How are they feeling today? If any of them were happy with the way things were, now there's a spot to introduce a lesson.
However, I've always found it odd that some educators believe children have to go through this sort of role-playing in order to truly understand a historical event. Do they really think that the horrors of the Holocaust can't be understood without these sorts of theatrics? Have the qualities of empathy disappeared so fully from today's students that the horrors of anti-Semitism escape them entirely? Whatever happened to teaching students about an event, letting them read texts related to it, and encouraging them to think critically about what happened, and why?
A "sneak peek" sounds like an innocuous thing - but not when it comes to the Maryland State Assessment:
Two fourth-grade teachers have been removed from their classrooms after Carroll County school officials found that the pair had given copies of questions from a state achievement test to other teachers and pupils before the exam.
A teacher at Linton Springs Elementary School in Sykesville acknowledged that she had taken notes from the fourth-grade Maryland State Assessment reading exam last year while working at another school, Carroll schools Superintendent Charles Ecker said Monday. The teacher used the notes to create worksheets for her pupils for this year's tests, Ecker said. The tests were administered from March 13-22.
Interesting that the names are being withheld from the press. And it's interesting, but not the least bit surprising, that the quoted experts rush to blame the current culture of testing for this mess, rather than a lack of ethics on the part of the teachers involved. And this despite the fact that the teachers would have not been penalized had their students not done well. I don't think our "culture of testing" forces teachers and students to cheat. I think our culture of cheating is aided by all the testing criticism in the media today. Everything said by the "experts" quoted by this article would absolve a teacher of personal responsibility if they succumbed to the urge to leak test items to students.
Oh, and why was copying last year's exam such a helpful cheating tool?
After they noticed similarities between the worksheets and this year's test, the Mount Airy teachers alerted the principal.
Emphasis mine. If we really think teachers are so helpless against the temptation to cheat, it might be better to, you know, not use the same test form twice in two years.
(via the Education Wonks)
NBC has a new show called Teachers, and if you were hoping it would be a laugh riot, well, you'd be wrong:
We just finished viewing the episode. The only joke that I found amusing was when the stereotypically clueless principal told the buxom newly-hired teacher to "Draw the curtain on the burlesque show," as a way of saying "cover-up your cleavage." As for the rest, I offer-up this prayer to one of the Dark Lords Of Network Television:
O'Dark Prince Of The Peacock Network, Please preserve us from this dumb, cliché-filled, poorly-written, poorly-acted, and unfunny program masquerading-as-comedic-entertainment. If it be your will, make the Nielson Families both blind and apathetic to such idiocy, so that the ratings stay low and result in its swift and just cancellation.
The Education Wonks link to quite a few other negative reviews. Even the positive reviews don't sound all that encouraging - who needs a "Boston Public with a laugh track"? It's my impression that to really capture the absurdity of the classroom/school experience, you need black humor and surreality (a la Election, Heathers, or Ferris Beuller), not laugh tracks.
Cathy Seipp of the National Review is taking some odd flack for writing about her daughter's journey in the college admissions process:
A couple of days ago, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by me about Maia’s rejection-letter dejection before she was accepted at UC San Diego as a Russian/Soviet Studies major. This inspired one Times reader to e-mail... he added, “regardless of whether you had her consent (which as a minor she cannot give without your consent — which would be conflicted), your disclosure of your daughter’s personal information was a shocking and unjustifiable invasion of her privacy. I hope it was worth it for you"...
For the record, of course I had Maia's consent to write about her grades and test scores in the Times, so no privacy was invaded.
Other web discussion suggests that Maia's right to privacy wasn't really the issue:
But after Maia sent me a link to a lengthy discussion of my piece on the frighteningly addictive College Confidential, I discovered that many parents disapproved of far more than her graduating early. Some thought she was uppity for expecting to get into any UC except maybe Riverside or Merced — although, as one of the reasonable commenters noted, since Maia was indeed accepted to UC San Diego her hopes couldn't have been that unrealistic. Others accused me of being naive, or "gaming" the system — presumably by raising a daughter who unfairly impressed admissions officers with all those after-school college Russian classes.
Why am I not surprised that a student who works hard and shoot for the best possible college risks being called "uppity", or that parents who push their children are accused of "gaming the system"? No wonder some conservative parents are unwilling to document their experiences with the educational system. Joanne Jacobs on the other hand, writes about her daughter all the time, although she notes that her daughter is just too hopelessly well-adjusted to be a useful subject for a book.
Quite a few bloggers have been following the protests in California related to the enforcement of immigration laws and border security. Euphoric Reality has a much-updated thread on the Los Angeles high school students who have been walking out of the classroom to fly the flag of Mexico high - above the US flag, in fact, which has apparently been flown upside-down in more than one school. Right On can't figure out why schools can't seem to stop students from leaving in protest nor figure out ways to discipline them. And Captain Ed minces no words:
...by flying American flags upside-down under the Mexican flag, [these students are] showing a loyalty to Mexico that overrides their loyalty to the US. And then they have the temerity to demand that we allow them to live here without following our laws governing entry into the US as well as continue to provide government services to them.
One suburban Philly teacher leads tai chi classes to help prepare kids for the state standardized exams:
A Centennial teacher is utilizing the ancient martial art of Tai Chi Chuan to help his students get ready for the state's standardized mathematics and reading tests.
“I want you to concentrate. Think about what you are doing. Breathe in and breathe out,” Joseph Pisacano, a fifth-grade teacher at Everett A. McDonald Elementary School in Warminster, said Thursday morning as he and the students made smooth, circular motions with their arms and hands.
The class went through the Tai Chi relaxation exercises as calm, soothing music played quietly in the background.
“Think about how wonderful you are going to do on the test and how easy it's going to be. Think about all that you have learned this year. Take all of that, and use it,” the teacher said as the class wrapped up the exercise session by sitting in a meditative position on the floor.
As long as he's making sure to actually teach the material along with some relaxation exercises, I'm all for it. This approach is worlds better than the chicken-little squawks you see from some educators who are so stressed out about testing that they end up stressing out students as well.
Geography whiz-kids head to the Central Michigan U campus for some healthy competition - and a shot at a $25,000 college scholarship
Steven Townsend will be nervous tomorrow. As he steps onto the campus of Central Michigan University, stomach butterflies will multiply into bats while he psychs himself up for the 2006 Michigan Geographic Bee. "I will be trying to hope I do well," Townsend said.
As he waits for his name to be called, then steps before the microphone, Townsend will wish hard for a state geography question. That is his specialty. His dad will cheer him on. Townsend, a Meads Mill Middle School seventh grader, said he doesn't really have a particular weakness.
Don't believe him? Take a look at his credentials.
Anyone who reads atlases for fun is a cool kid in my book.
Part of what's keeping me away from N2P is wedding planning. I'm making sure that everything is scheduled, arranged, and paid for, and this has had a bit of an impact on my time. However, the alternative is certainly ugly:
We can never stress this enough: Don't cheat people you owe out of money for your wedding. A perfectly planned wedding in Swaziland was horribly interrupted because a private investigated was looking for something his client wanted back...the wedding rings. It turns out that the groom bought the wedding rings with a check that bounced. So, mid-ceremony the PI Hunter Shongwe went in and repossessed the wedding rings at the very point when they were to exchange vows with the disputed jewelry.
It's quite possible AmEx will be tracking me down by May, so - ssshhhh! - don't tell them where I'll be.
The deluge continues:
An additional 393 students who took the SAT in October earned higher scores than were initially reported to them, bringing the total number of test takers who received incorrectly low scores to 4,411, the College Board announced on Wednesday.
In a written statement, the College Board said it learned last weekend that its test-scanning contractor, Pearson Educational Measurement, had not "fully evaluated" 27,000 of the total 495,000 exams from October. Two weeks ago, the board said it already had rescanned nearly all of the tests and found approximately 4,000 students whose actual scores were higher than those first reported. After reviewing the 27,000 tests that had not yet been "fully evaluated" this week, Pearson found another 375 students who had received falsely low scores.
Last week, the College Board announced that it had failed to include 1,600 exams in its initial review. After those answer sheets were rescanned, the board found an additional 18 students with falsely low scores, according to its statement on Wednesday. The board did not disclose the number of students who had received falsely high scores.
Problem is, admissions officers may be just as interested in falsely-high as falsely-low scores. And again, why was any public statement at all made before the entire pool of suspect exams had been fully evaluated?
It's a sad statement on the state of statistical literacy in this world when no one seems to recognize a useless study for what it is:
Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.
At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals...
The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right...[Researcher] Block admits in his paper that liberal Berkeley is not representative of the whole country. But within his sample, he says, the results hold...
So, in other words, Block can give no reason why he feels these results would generalize to the population, meaning every line in this article suggesting that these results do generalize is completely, utterly wrong. I'm not surprise the reporter doesn't realize this. I'm astonished that Block doesn't seem to realize it - else, why would he make such a dumb statement? Of course the results hold within the sample, that's...the sample he used. In the world of research, that's wholly beside the point.
Block's statement reminds me of a particular kind of student in the statistics classes that I've taught - the ones who understood the segments on descriptive statistics, sort of, but hit a brick wall when it came to inferential statistics. They could crunch numbers on a dataset, but never could grasp the concept that we sample data for the purpose of generalizing to the population, and that the representativeness of the sample directly effects the extent to which the results can be generalized.
Instead of failing these students outright, I always took them aside to have a chat - the empathetic, caring, Perhaps A Major That Requires A Course In Statistics Is Not For You talk. They always got the message and dropped the course. Block is obviously made of sterner stuff and persevered despite his utter lack of statistical knowledge. Nice.
(Ace is but one of the whiny conservatives having fun with this article.)
Well, I suppose this is good news for the College Board - pushes the SAT off the front pages - but it's terrible news for quite a lot of other people:
Almost from his first day as principal at Charles Brimm Medical Arts High in Camden, Joseph Carruth found himself sounding an alarm over grade fixing and test-score rigging - allegations that have embroiled the district in scandal. He and another administrator at the school discovered an alleged grade-fixing scheme within weeks of Carruth's arrival in July 2004, according to court documents. Twelve seniors at the school for high performers had apparently graduated with failing grades.
Six months later, Carruth has told state education and local prosecutors, an assistant superintendent pressured him to alter the 2005 state High School Proficiency Assessment after students finished it, giving him step-by-step instructions on how he was to cheat. Carruth has said he refused to take part, according to sources familiar with the allegations. He even strapped on a wire for criminal investigators trying to implicate that district official.
It's uglier, and it's not going to get better soon:
The New Jersey Department of Education is investigating irregularities in standardized testing. One investigation involves allegations by the principal of Charles Brimm Medical Arts High, Joseph Carruth, that he was pressured to rig math scores on the state High School Proficiency Assessment last year. Carruth refused to join in the alleged scheme.
The other involves dramatic improvement in the test results of at least two Camden elementary schools. The state began that investigation after The Inquirer asked the state to verify results. One city school had the highest fourth-grade math score in the state. That investigation has expanded to a dozen schools outside Camden.
Am I the only one who read the first few lines of this article and thought, "What about those goth sheep who dress all in black?"
Has anyone ever actually seen a rainbow-colored sheep? That's surely what a few British toddlers are asking. Teachers at nursery schools in Oxfordshire, England, have asked children to change the words of "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" to "Baa, Baa, Rainbow Sheep" to avoid the possibility of offending anyone.
Yes, I suppose I was. But at least I was thinking, and I'm not sure that anyone else involved in this silly situation was doing any of that.
When I heard that Ben Domenech was helping to create a conservative blog called Red America at - of all places - the Washington Post, I mentioned to my friends that I hoped the WaPo was ready for the vitriolic hate mail (and possible DDOS attacks) that seems to follow statements by any conservative blogger (Ben most likely had familiarity with this from his time at RedState).
Unlike the group of Ben's critics who have already amassed, I didn't obsess over his background, so I didn't realize that he was homeschooled. And boy, does that ever seem to piss people off. Michelle Malkin has compiled quite a list from the comments at liberal blogs. After reading this sort of tripe, I definitely sympathize with those homeschooling parents who report negative experiences with public bias.
If Ben replies to any of these critics who claim that he's stupid and narrow-minded and warped mainly due to his homeschooling experience, it should be along the lines of, "Well, maybe being stuck in the house with your parents for 18 years would have been a traumatic, dumbing-down experience, but my parents were pretty damn wonderful."
(RedState also has an amusing summary of all the hating and shrieking going on.)
Amusingly, the future lasting effects of the goth culture is only now being researched:
It's every parent's nightmare. Their apparently well-adjusted child suddenly comes home with hair the colour of a coalface, a face whiter than anything made by Dulux, and announces, "Mummy, I'm a goth." However, according to a new study, parents of goths will probably end up boasting about their son/daughter the doctor, lawyer or bank manager. That is the surprising finding of Sussex University's Dunja Brill, whose doctorate in media and cultural studies looked at people with funny hair and eyeliner in London, Brighton and Cologne, and who is herself a former goth.
"Most youth subcultures encourage people to drop out of school and do illegal things," she says. "Most goths are well educated, however. They hardly ever drop out and are often the best pupils. The subculture encourages interest in classical education, especially the arts. I'd say goths are more likely to make careers in web design, computer programming ... even journalism."
Goth began in the 1970's It's interesting to speculate about what today's Hot Topic shoppers will do in the future, and there are an awful lot of adult/former goths to interview today. What are we doing? Did we continue to be geeks with lots of black t-shirts and weird tastes in music, like yours truly?
So perhaps parents shouldn't be too worried that a new generation of goths is cropping up again. There's a goth couple on Coronation Street. Hosein's bands include Black Wire, who wear black eyeliner, winklepickers and sound a lot like the Sisters of Mercy, although they had never heard them until they started rifling through his record collection. For some goths - who run T-shirt businesses or enterprises such as Whitby's biannual Gothic festival - goth can become a livelihood as well as a way of life. But most simply drop back into the mainstream.
Parents should not worry about goth just for the sake of worrying about goth. Researchers and psychologists who have far more experience and knowledge than I note that incidents of teenage violence are much more highly related to parental abuse, substance abuse, and lack of community support than to music or makeup choices.
Standardized testing has always been a villian to some, and now it's in black and white - or, rather, in animated pixels. As the New York Times reports, the No. 2 Pencil is part of the institutionalized-racism collective of super-villians on Adult Swim's new cartoon, Minoriteam:
They don't leap tall buildings in a single bound or scale skyscrapers. They don't transform into not-so-jolly green giants or zoom around in tricked-out sportsmobiles. Instead, Minoriteam — a motley band of minority superheroes — uses stereotypes to fight their archenemy: racism...
The multiethnic crew battles a gang of villains including the sniveling Corporate Ladder (an anthropomorphized ladder with a cape and a pipe), Racist Frankenstein (a bigoted monster) and Standardized Test, whose head is shaped like a No. 2 pencil and whose body resembles a Scantron test.
Oh yeah. I'm all about that. I've been trying to find a screenshot online but haven't seen one yet. Please send one if you find it!
A scoring error by a standardized testing company changed accountability reports for 14 Alabama schools, putting four on probation when they actually met their goals for reading and math - while another 10 got passing marks they didn't earn, education officials said Monday.
The mistake by Harcourt Assessment Inc. affected nearly 2,500 students in grades 3-8 in 589 schools. An independent firm rescored the tests and found that 14 schools were put in the wrong category.
Four had been placed on a statewide "needs improvement" list when they had actually made Adequate Yearly Progress - a major part of proving accountability under the federal No Child Left Behind act.
Merit pay for better student achievement - it's a growing phenomenon:
In the past year, Minnesota, Florida, Texas and the cities of Houston and Denver have established merit pay programs that partly or completely tie bonuses to student achievement. Other states, including Ohio, Iowa and Mississippi, are considering similar programs. advertisement
Merit pay for teachers has been around for decades in various forms as a way to reward instructors whose salaries are chiefly determined by years of experience and post-graduate degrees. Teachers unions have been critical of most merit pay incentives, arguing the money for such programs would be better - and more fairly - used to raise basic pay.
That's such an odd idea to me, on the face of it. I suppose that's because I've never worked in a field where the idea is to equally distribute all the money in the budget, rather than rank performance and distribute money based on rankings. For the record, however, even if merit pay is a good idea, that doesn't mean tying raises to test scores necessarily is.
I had to struggle with the Australian English to understand the headline, but if I read this correctly, people are unhappy that Western Australia's official English exam is being dumbed down:
Authors and academics have criticised Western Australia's new English exam for making spelling and grammar optional extras in written expression. Fremantle Arts Centre Press publisher Ray Coffey said yesterday punctuation and grammar were critical to written language.
Mr Coffey, who publishes texts included on the WA English syllabus, said syntax, sentence structure and grammar had been taught to increasingly lower levels over the decades but they remained a crucial part of the language. "Educationalists aren't locked in a time warp," Mr Coffey said. "(Methods) may vary from the kind of approach we grew up with but expression and communication to others is a cornerstone (in education)," he said.
The Curriculum Council of WA's sample English exam for 2007 does not penalise students for incorrect punctuation or spelling and allows them to draw answers or respond in dot points.
Er, um, what do you mean, "draw" answers? Is this an English exam, or isn't it? How useful is it to test English reading comprehension if the examinee isn't required to communicate back in standard English? I went all over the CC/WACE website, but I'll be damned if I can find this information in any scoring rubrics. There is a nifty sample English exam here, which mentions that examinees can bring dictionaries and thesauruses to the exam.
If they can bring dictionaries, they should be required to spell correctly.
One Florida school boards tries to block the release of a video game about bullies:
The Miami-Dade school district in Florida is attempting to become the first major school district to fight against the release of Rockstar's upcoming game, Bully. According to the Miami Herald, School Board member Frank Bolaños proposed a resolution to pressure Rockstar into withholding the release of the action game, which is set in a reform school, asking local merchants not to carry the game and urging parents not to buy the game.
''This game is built entirely around bullies and is staged in a school -- it's the antithesis of everything we're trying to promote,'' he said.
(1) Lots of free publicity for the game - 'nuff said.
(2) Additional glamour surrounding the game - students may assume that anything the school board hates would be fun.
(3) Further eroding of parental responsibility - the school board wants to make the call whether students are mature enough to experience the game. Are they going to demand that R-rated movies be banned next?
The only information that's online from Rockstar are screenshots. It seems this game has been under development for quite some time, but doesn't actually exist yet. How, then, can any school board justify a preemptive call for a ban?
In Delaware, on the other hand, they're at least attacking existing games, although it seems very silly to attack games that are already rated 'M' and are not to be sold to anyone under the age of 18. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, on the other hand, claims that the vast majority of these games that fall into the hands of children are bought by parents. I wonder if they know that such statistics play into the hands of outright bans, such as those suggested by the Miami-Dade school board.
You’d need a heart of stone not to root for the plucky, fresh-faced kids in Walkout, a new HBO film about Mexican-American teenagers who in 1968 organized classroom walkouts to protest conditions at their East Los Angeles high schools. The movie, which premieres March 18, is directed by actor and activist Edward James Olmos, and depicts Latino students locked out of school bathrooms at lunch, discouraged from applying to college, and paddled for speaking Spanish in class. Their peaceful demonstration got them in trouble with school officials and beaten by police, while the teacher who inspired them was arrested and faced with a possible prison sentence of 66 years (the charges were later dropped). But in the end, by golly, the school board was forced to pay attention. Real life, though, has a sad habit of not playing out the way it should according to Hollywood. The students’ list of 39 demands included not only access to school bathrooms (which of course never should have been denied in the first place) but compulsory bilingual education and an end to janitorial duties as discipline. But since the argument for keeping all kids out of the bathrooms was that some kids trashed them, it’s hard to see how forcing a few miscreants to push a broom now and then was cruel and unusual punishment.
More problematic is the enduring policy issue of bilingual education begun by these protests. The walkouts ushered in three decades of herding native Spanish-speaking students into a patronizing ethnic and linguistic ghetto, broken only when California’s Prop. 227 severely scaled back bilingual education here in 1998.
Cathy also notes that a lack of historical information targeted to one's ethnic group doesn't seem to be holding back non-Latino students.
The idea of standardized testing in college is still gaining attention - most of it negative:
A parade of college presidents will appear before a federal higher-education commission meeting in Boston tomorrow, and early signs suggest it will be a lively, even contentious scene. Texas businessman Charles Miller, chairman of the commission appointed by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, has made waves by suggesting that some kind of standardized testing would help measure whether college students are taught well. There is no formal proposal yet, and Miller has stressed in press interviews that there would be no single test for every school. Still, the idea has alarmed many educators.
Susan Hockfield of MIT, who had lunch with the Globe editorial board last week, didn't mince words when asked about the testing notion. ''I think it's a terrible idea," said Hockfield, who is scheduled to testify tomorrow. ''Higher education needs help, but what is really broken is K-12 education. We need more high school graduates who can understand and do math."
In other words, there's a problem, but it can't be fixed in college. I agree with Dr. Hockfield, but I wonder if she knows how strong the opposition can be to "fixing" anything in the K-12 system:
At School Without Walls and two other high schools where I am a guest teacher -- Wilson High School in the District and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in lower Montgomery County -- I have never given a test. I respect my students too much to demean them with exercises in fake knowledge.
Tests represent fear-based learning, the opposite of learning based on desire. Frightened and fretting with pre-test jitters, students stuff their minds with information they disgorge on exam sheets and sweat out the results. I know of no meaningful evidence that acing tests has anything to do with students' character development or whether their natural instincts for idealism or altruism are nurtured.
I have large amounts of evidence that tests promote the opposite: character defects.
Good luck convincing this teacher that reading and math basic skills can and should be assessed. She's much more concerned about "idealism" and "altruism." How far do those get one at MIT, I wonder? As Betsy's Page notes, this teacher teaches a class on peace. Most of his students love him, it seems - and wouldn't you, if testing was banned? - but not all:
At Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Peace Studies is taught by Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post reporter and founder and president of the Center for Teaching Peace. Though the course is taught at seven other Montgomery County high schools, some say B-CC's is perhaps the most personal and ideological of the offerings because McCarthy makes no effort to disguise his opposition to war, violence and animal testing.
Saraf and Avishek Panth, also 17, acknowledge that with the exception of one lecture they sat in on this month, most of what they know about the course has come from friends and acquaintances who have taken the class. But, they said, those discussions, coupled with research they have done on McCarthy's background, have convinced them that their school should not continue to offer Peace Studies unless significant changes are made. This is not an ideological debate, they said. Rather, what bothers them the most is that McCarthy offers students only one perspective.
Of course he does. This is a crusade for him. One that doesn't involve anything as nasty and dehumanizing as testing (and that's even funnier than "high comedy," according to one Devoted Reader who forwarded the link). After reading his WaPo diatribe about testing, it's hard to believe that he actually is "welcoming of conservative dissention" on any topic.
When the stakes are high, do the results make sense? Jay Greene, Marcus Winters, and Greg Forster address the issue:
Several objections have been raised against using standardized testing for accountability purposes. Most concerns about high-stakes testing revolve around the adverse incentives created by the tests. Some have worried that pressures to produce gains in test scores have led to poor test designs or questionable revisions in test designs that exaggerate student achievement...Others have written that instead of teaching generally useful skills, teachers are teaching skills that are unique only to a particular test...Still others have directly questioned the integrity of those administering and scoring the high-stakes tests, suggesting that cheating has produced much of the claimed rise in student achievement on such exams..
Most of these criticisms fail to withstand scrutiny...This study differs from other analyses in that it focuses on the comparison of school-level results on high-stakes tests and commercially designed low-stakes tests. By focusing on school-level results we are comparing test results from the same or similar students, reducing the danger that population differences may hinder the comparison. Examining school-level results also allows for a more precise correlation of the different kinds of test results than is possible by looking only at state-level results, which provide fewer observations for analysis...
The conclusion? That, within a school, correlations between high- and low-stakes tests tend to be large and postive:
The finding that high- and low-stakes tests produce very similar score level results tells us that the stakes of the tests do not distort information about the general level at which students are performing. If high-stakes testing is only being used to assure that students can perform at certain academic levels, then the results of those high-stakes tests appear to be reliable policy tools. The generally strong correlations between score levels on high- and low-stakes tests in all the school systems we examined suggest that teaching to the test, cheating, or other manipulations are not causing high-stakes tests to produce results that look very different from tests where there are no incentives for distortion.
Jim Sanders of the Sacramento Bee asks, "Is the bar set too high?"
Too many students fail to meet California's standard for proficiency, sparking a simple solution under consideration in the Capitol: redefine "proficient." By changing a few words in state law, legislators could dramatically affect how the federal government rates the state's education system.
"I think it's a totally sensible thing to do," said Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. Critics of Hancock's proposal, Assembly Bill 2975, say the state's goal should be to improve schools, not alter words. Hancock counters that both are needed to avoid severe sanctions in coming years under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB.
"What all of this needs is for grown-up egos to be set aside and to focus on the young people," she said...
Under AB 2975, proficient students need not necessarily perform at grade level. Rather, test scores must show that they are acquiring adequate skills, year by year, to pass the state's high school exit exam by the end of 12th grade.
The concern here is that the US accepts each state's definition of "proficient," and requires each state's students to reach the state English and math standards of "proficient" by 2014. The bar, in California, is apparently set high, and currently fewer than half make it in each area.
Resetting the bar such that "proficient" is out of alignment with grade level seems rather surreal. If the argument is that it's wrong to judge California by their set standard, there should be data - other than the percent of students not making it - to support the argument that the standard is in fact too high. By twiddling with the numbers to make the percentages look better, the message would be that California in fact has no idea what their standard should be.
When it comes to the internet, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander:
An exasperated father has discovered to his cost that cyberspace is not the ideal arena for family feuds. Two weeks ago Steve Williams became so fed up with his daughter's messy bedroom that he built a website featuring pictures of his slothful offspring's lair in an attempt to shame her into action.
But the public humiliation proved a short-lived victory. While it did spur his daughter, Claire, into tidying up her room, it also whet her appetite for revenge. With the help of her father's friends, the 20-year-old business student has now set up a rival website that displays photos of him in a variety of compromising situations.
Lesson to be learned: Don't rely on public humiliation via a method that your child can master. And it's probably best not to send the message, "It's okay for me to air your dirty laundry to the world," at all.
Last week's Carnival linked to a fantastic rant about more-pious-than-thee textbooks that mix "social justice" with basic math ("It’s an equation! No, it’s an inequality! No, wait…it’s bullshit!"). This week, there's a great discussion of why Nancy Drew should never be seen text-messaging her crime-solving compatriots ("What's wrong with you? Do you really think our kids are too stupid to understand that things were different back in the day?").
That little oops continues to make negative press:
The College Board disclosed a new problem yesterday in its efforts to assess and correct mistakes in the scoring of its October SAT test: an overlooked batch of 1,600 exams that have not been checked for errors.
The admission that there were still unchecked tests came a week after the board began notifying colleges that it was raising the SAT scores of 4,000 students whose tests had been graded incorrectly because of processing problems at a Texas scanning facility.
The revelation meant that colleges were likely to face a second scramble to reassess additional applicants just as the admissions season was drawing to a close.
This is just ugly. So ugly, in fact, that I'm wondering why this story was released last week before the full picture was known internally. It's very hard to understand why a testing organization would report an error before accounting for all possible test forms that could have been affected.
The error was first uncovered January 31st, when exams were hand-scored at the request of students. It's only Mar 15th. Six weeks is not a lot of time to investigate a scoring problem on an exam given to half a million students. Did the College Board feel pressure to rush to the press with the announcement of the mistake? It's good that they now appear to be disclosing everything they find, but this sort of trickling information makes the public wonder what it hasn't been told, and in fact, if the College Board even realizes the extent of the problem.
It also causes news organizations to start using words like "scandal," rather than error.
Remember how I said yesterday that it's difficult enough to report a testing error, but it's really embarassing to report an error too early and then have to amend that report?
A day after the College Board notified colleges that it had misreported the scores of 4,000 students who took the SAT exam in October, an official of the testing organization disclosed that some of the errors were far larger than initially suggested. With college counselors and admissions officials scrambling to take a second look at student scores in the final weeks before they mail out acceptances and rejections, Chiara Coletti, the College Board's vice president for public affairs, said that 16 students out of the 495,000 who took the October exam had scores that should have been more than 200 points higher.
"There were no changes at all that were more than 400 points," Ms. Coletti said. She did not say how many students had errors that big...On Tuesday, Ms. Coletti characterized the largest errors as in the 80- to 100-point range.
As I said before, I don't see a problem with the time it took to investigate the scoring error. It's not wonderful that the error was uncovered by students requesting score checks, instead of via a QC process, but that happens in the real world. What could have been avoided, though, was the two-part error reporting here, where the public discovers on the second day that the initial error report understated (or otherwise mischaracterized) the severity of the problem. The cause might have been simple - incorrect information provided to the public affairs VP - but it can have a really ugly PR affect. Things like this convince the public that the testing company is not providing the full picture.
Bad press for the SAT as "technical errors" are reported:
About 4,000 students who took the SAT last October received test scores that were lower than they should have been — some by as much as 100 points — because of technical problems in the scoring process, the College Board said yesterday.
The College Board, which administers the SAT, said it had begun to notify college admissions offices, high school counselors and affected students this week in letters and in e-mail messages, and expected to complete the process by Thursday. It also said that it planned to return registration fees and charges for sending test scores to colleges to the students whose scores were in error.
It should be noted that this is less than 1% of the examinees who took the SAT reasoning test in October of 2005, but 4000 unhappy examinees is still a lot of examinees. Snotty comments from FairTest spokesmen aside, it's just plain silly to propose that testing companies admit any error before they've had a chance to (a) fix it and (b) figure out what caused it. Rushing to notify the public before doing a complete investigation could lead to further embarassments (like having to amend the first notification as complexities are uncovered). When half a million test forms are involved, a four-month period of error investigation doesn't seem overly long to me.
Of course, someone could make the argument that SAT scores should be held for four months following exam administration, so that any errors could be corrected in time, but my guess is colleges and examinees - and FairTest - won't go for that.
Maine is now testing its third-graders regularly, and teachers are having to walk a fine line of test prep and emotional support:
They want the students to take the tests seriously, because they're used by the state and federal government to measure whether schools are teaching students math and reading effectively. But they don't want to pressure young students new to the game of high-stakes testing.
"We tell them to just do their best," said Hall-Dale Elementary School third-grade teacher Maureen Mathews. "You want to them to know it's important. But you don't want to make them nervous."
Love the photo of one neophyte examinee, who appears to be a direct descendant of Dame Judi Dench.
Critics are howling about ten-buck-an-hour temps grading FCAT essays:
Critics were fuming Friday after learning the FCAT -- the standardized test that will leave a permanent mark on the academic future of thousands of Florida students -- will be graded by $10-an-hour temporary workers who are required only to have a week's training and a bachelor's degree.
"It's just incredible to me that after all of the pressure that is placed on me to maintain my teaching credentials, the countless hours spent in workshops, and then they turn around and hand these tests off to be scored by a bunch of temps," said David Worrell, president of the Leon Classroom Teachers Association. "It's just insulting."
The DOE says that many of the workers have teaching experience and are very familiar with the exams. Keeping permanent full-time graders would certainly up the costs of the exam. Others say that criticizing the temps misses the point:
Of the many legitimate concerns raised about the FCAT over the years, this is the least of them. Temps are used to grade other important exams, such as the ACT college entrance exam, and the FCAT graders will have bachelor's degrees and training. Those grading essays will handle questions that relate to their college degree. Essays are to be graded twice, and possibly a third time.
The real problem is that, under Gov. Jeb Bush, the FCAT has been wielded like a cudgel in the evaluation of school quality - and now, teacher quality.
In other words, they're fine with how the essays are graded; they're just not happy with the FCAT use as a whole.
Camden (NJ) school administrators get a public spanking:
The nearly 18,000-student system has long been plagued by a high dropout rate, low test scores, and violence. The district has been under state oversight since 1999. Superintendent Annette Knox has been criticized for everything from her handling of racial tension to her $185,000 salary in a city where nearly half the children live at the poverty level.
With so much holding them back, is it possible for so many Camden kids to surge so far ahead so fast? That's what my colleagues Melanie Burney and Frank Kummer wondered as they reviewed statewide standardized tests results from 2004-05. Crunching the numbers, they noticed dramatic performances at two Camden elementary schools, H.B. Wilson and U.S. Wiggins.
Wilson posted the highest average fourth-grade math scores in the state, besting more than 1,300 elementary schools. Wiggins placed sixth.
In fourth-grade science, both schools posted 100 percent proficiency, ranking far ahead of the district average and putting them in the ranks of traditionally high-performing schools in wealthy suburbs...
...my colleagues' questions sparked a state inquiry and the discovery that education officials already had been looking into a related issue at Charles Brimm Medical Arts High School brought up by a most unlikely tattletale: principal Joseph Carruth. A high-ranking district administrator reportedly pressured Carruth to help rig scores of last year's 11th-grade tests. Carruth resisted and reported the incident to state education officials...
...would they really be so stupid as to fake success so grand even Camden cheerleaders would doubt it? Much as he'd like to believe them, Angel Cordero said, he thinks the numbers are just too good to be true. And that makes the Camden education activist (and frequent Knox critic) both sad and mad.
As well he should be.
Zero tolerance for the sweet stuff at a Cape Cod (MA) high school:
A Cape Cod high school may soon be the first in the state free of all colognes, perfumes, scented deodorants and body sprays. The Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School committee met Monday night to discuss the fragrance ban for staff and students proposed by Superintendent Barry J. Motta.
The proposed policy will be sent to a subcommittee for review, Motta said, and will likely become part of the student handbook.
Strong fragrances can irritate people with asthma, trigger headaches, and cause respiratory and neurological symptoms. Motta said he did not know about the possible effects of perfumes and colognes until one of his staff members said they suffered from chemical sensitivity.
Leaving aside the fact that some teenagers do seem to bathe in Axe and White Rain, emitting toxic fragrance waves to the point where local TV reception is disturbed, I think a ban is a ridiculous idea. For one thing, zero tolerance policies are problematic enough when limited to drugs. How can this possibly be enforced? What teacher wants to be the one sniffing under arms each day? How are they going to prove who has on perfume, and what the penalties should be? Will it be detention or sponge baths for the smelly little delinquents?
Also, while asthma and allergies are no joke, "chemical sensitivity" problems have no unified underlying syndrome or triggers, and are thought by many to be of psychosomatic origin. Why should it be considered a "not overboard" response for all student to have to replace all their toiletries, or give them up altogether, because one staff member - who has presumably chosen to work among hundreds of kids - is making this claim?
Hey, look, it's a foolproof method for making college educations cheaper!
Oh, wait, that's not what they meant. Never mind. I'll just point out that the author is against college-level standardized tests, in part because, "achievements in math and science will speak for themselves." Couldn't that theory be used as an argument to test everyone who doesn't take those kind of courses in college?
Boy, is THIS ever an inventive excuse:
A Bosnian university's decision to clamp down on widespread cheating by installing surveillance cameras has sparked complaints from students, a professor said. "We have already received complaints from some students who claimed it is difficult to concentrate on their exams while being filmed" a week after the cameras were put in place in the economics faculty, said Banja Luka University's Goran Radivojac...
"Cheating in exams is a part of our Balkan mentality and it will take years to change students' mentality, but I believe that corruption in our faculty will be minimised by this," he added.
Is that really something you want to mention to a reporter?
One Harlem school is so dangerous that Aeven the dedicated recruits are staying away:
Teach for America, known as the Peace Corps for struggling urban schools, has sent its teachers to the worst crime-ridden schools in the nation. But one Harlem school is too dangerous — even for them.
The national group pulled about 10 of its teachers from Intermediate School 172 after one of them was threatened and others were assaulted last year, the Daily News has learned.
And Teach for America is refusing to send any corps members back to IS 172 until order is restored, sources said. It is believed to be the first time the organization has blacklisted a school anywhere in the nation in its 16-year history.
"The feeling was the administration hadn't addressed the questions of security with our teachers," said an official at Teach for America, who asked not to be identified.
The teachers at this school dodge hurled chairs and wear earplugs to block out the noise. One expressed concern at why the DOE wasn't doing anything. Short of enforcing martial law, I'm wondering what could be done when the students apparently care so little. I can see why TfA doesn't want to "lure" recruits in with high pay and then leave them, undefended, in war zones.
West Virginia is apparently going completely down the tubes, due to...homeschooling parents?
In December, a Home School Legal Defense Association member family in Fayette County, West Virginia, received a letter from the county's attendance director. The two-page letter demanded that families complete and return a form declaring whether they intended to use the WESTEST or another standardized achievement test for their end-of-the-year assessment.
Furthermore, the letter demanded that a certified teacher complete and send the school district an invasive, four-page form for families choosing the portfolio evaluation option.
HSLDA called the county's attendance director. She repeatedly stated that she thought that homeschoolers needed to have more supervision by the school district. At one point, she said, "You've heard of third world countries? Well, that is what is happening to West Virginia because of homeschooling."
Well, that's a pretty nasty comment.
A surprise delivery for one teen from New Mexico:
It was on a bumpy bus ride home from a basketball game in Questa that 18-year-old Kayla Alire started to have terrible stomach pains.
The senior point guard at Mesa Vista High in Ojo Caliente didn't realize she was experiencing labor pains. She had just played in her last basketball game Feb. 18, a game in which she sank two 3-pointers.
Two hours later, she was at Española Hospital in labor. An hour after arriving, she gave birth to a 6-pound, 4-ounce baby boy no one knew was coming.
It's a sad story. But it's not the school's fault:
A jury ruled Wednesday that a school district was negligent - but not responsible - for the alcohol-poisoning deaths of two 11-year-old boys who skipped class and died after drinking half a gallon of vodka.
Jurors awarded no damages to the parents of Justin Benoist and Frankie Nicolai III, who sued the Ronan School District, alleging officials failed to notify them the boys had left school on Feb. 27, 2004.
It was the school's job to notify them of their child's absence. It was not the school's job to notify them of an absence before their 11-year-olds (!) could drink a half-gallon of vodka.
Talk about setting a bad example:
A retired soldier is on trial in France on charges that he drugged the tennis rivals of his children 27 times from 2000 to 2003, a report said. Christophe Fauviau, 46, is accused of unintentionally causing the death of Alexandre Lagardere, 25, by administering anti-anxiety drug Temesta.
Lagardere died in a July 2003 crash while driving home after losing a match to Fauviau's son, Maxime. Authorities say Lagardere had traces of the anti-anxiety drug in his system and may have fallen asleep at the wheel, Sky News reported.
The victim, like other opponents of Fauviau's children, complained of weakness and tiredness during the match and slept for two hours afterward. Prosecutors claim Fauviau drugged six opponents of his son and 21 opponents of his 15-year-old daughter, Valentine.
And we thought murderous hockey dads were bad news.
I'm not quite sure why this article expresses such surprise about these educational findings:
A study by academics at University College London (UCL) and Kings College London has given statistical backbone to the view that the overwhelming factor in how well children do is not what type of school they attend- but social class. It appears to show what has often been said but never proved: that the current league tables measure not the best, but the most middle-class schools; and that even the government's "value-added" tables fail to take account of the most crucial factor in educational outcomes - a pupil's address.
I'm not familiar with the "league tables" referenced in this (confusingly-written) article, but it appears they contain rankings of schools, and the authors of the study referenced above appear to have data showing that the rankings correlate highly with the address of the student. The authors are horrified about this "polarization," and hope these data will be used to oppose privitization and school choice. I'm finding it hard to see why allowing middle-class parents and middle-class schools to "find each other" is such a bad thing.
Also, just looking at these results, I don't see a causal relationship. Why are the authors concluding that a middle-class address is a cause, rather than concluding that better children, and more involved parents, actually help produce better schools?
(Disclaimer - I don't have time at the moment to try to find the original study online, if it is online, and I'll confess that I'm not even sure if "middle-class" means the same thing in the UK as it does in the US. So make of my commentary what you will.)
Where does your kid rank among his high school class? You may not be able to find out:
In the cat-and-mouse maneuvering over admission to prestigious colleges and universities, thousands of high schools have simply stopped providing that information, concluding it could harm the chances of their very good, but not best students.
Canny college officials, in turn, have found a tactical way to respond. Using broad data that high schools often provide, like a distribution of grade averages for an entire senior class, they essentially recreate an applicant’s class rank.
The process has left them exasperated.
Admissions directors note that without ranks, the alternatives are...standardized exams like the SAT. A good thing, I say, but perhaps not what the schools were intending. One principal insists that refusal to rank forces universities to look at "the whole child." Putting aside the argument for a moment that many, many aspects of an entire child have little to no impact on how they may do in a college setting, how likely is this to happen for students wanting to attend a local university - like, say, the University of Miami, which receives 18,500 applications a year?
I'm not saying there's no room for improvement in the college admissions process, especially now that college degrees have gone from being superfluous to being useful to being required. But the withholding of useful data isn't necessarily going to produce the results the high schools are hoping for.
A University graduate with at least one prior arrest careened a rented silver Jeep Grand Cherokee through the Pit about noon Friday, gutting a community psyche and leaving many questions unanswered in a media spectacle that has turned the international lens on Chapel Hill.
University police Chief Derek Poarch confirmed that Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, 22, a 2005 graduate, is being held in the Central Prison in Raleigh on a $5.5 million bond on nine counts of attempted first-degree murder and nine counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury with intent to kill.
I agree with Newsbusters that it's absurd to label this a "skirmish," on par with publishing cartoons. I find it informative - and correct - that the Daily Tar Heel article that explores his possible motives does not mention the cartoon.
The Chicago Boyz stir up a hornet's nest:
So, collectively we all need children and benefit when they grow into productive adults, but the cost of raising children is increasingly being borne by fewer and fewer in the general population.
Childless adults are rapidly becoming economic free riders on the backs of parents...There is already grousing in some blue zones by the childless that they shouldn't have to subsidize the "breeders'" children. How long before child-hostile places like San Francisco become the norm?
The contemptuous attitude towards "breeders" in certain locales is something I've posted about before. Maybe it would help if children in strollers wore t-shirts that read, "In only 15 years, I'll be paying taxes towards your retirement"?
This has been a stressful week, and health issues landed me in the ER. Blogging will resume once my energy returns.
Update: Erin of The Redhead Papers nails it, only (1) I was sick for only 3 & 1/2 days, (2) my combined asthma attack/sinusitus didn't involve coughing - heck, at first it didn't involve breathing, so that was pretty scary, and (3) my slippers, which are huge black fuzzy Doom Kitty slippers, are less likely to be lost than to be confused with one of the actual cats.
Update #2: I feel much better, and everyone's happy!
Now go and read about this year's - I mean, this week's - winners!