the NYTimes reported on the arrest and felony charges leveled against two students charged with making terroristic threats based on a wisecrack they made in a Halloween Parade on the town common in Litchfield, CT. Writers Lisa Fodero and Benjamin Mueller reported on the incident that triggered the response as follows:
The State Police said the boys made “threats of bodily harm to other students,” and the Litchfield Public Schools superintendent said they went out for Halloween on Saturday night dressed in trench coats and sunglasses…
Mr. Moraghan (the young men’s lawyer) offered the first detailed account on Thursday of how an ill-advised costume turned into criminal charges.
He said that on Saturday night, the boys went to a Halloween party on the town green that draws students from several schools who want to trick-or-treat and hang out with friends. He acknowledged they were dressed in distasteful costumes but said they did not have “any object that can be used or perceived as a weapon.”
A group walked up to them, according to Mr. Moraghan’s account, and after commenting that they looked like the Columbine High Schoolkillers, someone added, “I bet you’re going to shoot up the school.”
Mr. Moraghan said, “There was a sarcastic response to that, and that was basically the end of it.” He said one girl told her parents, who then called the police. Investigators, in turn, searched the students’ cellphones and their homes, he said…
The State Police confirmed the home search, but declined to answer questions about what they found. Mr. Moraghan said, “Nothing was found in either boy’s home that could in any way give credence to what they claim the boys were going to do.”
Prosecutors declined to answer questions about the case because the defendants were juveniles.
The Litchfield Public Schools superintendent, Lynn K. McMullin, said in an email on Wednesday that “there was no credible threat and students were never in physical danger.” She did not respond to a message left for her on Thursday.
The boys did not face any weapons charges.
Because we live and thrive on fear, an ill advised choice of Halloween costumes combined with a typical teen-age wisecrack ends up with a national news story and police threatening to lock up two students for an offense that the school is evidently willing to overlook.
In retrospect, Columbine was public education’s 9-11 and the reaction to spend money providing more surveillance cameras, more door locks, more entry guards armed and otherwise was public education’s Iraq. The problem at Columbine was not one of too little security or too few cameras in the hallway. The problem was the ready access to weapons combined with two outcast students’ disaffection with school that was either ignored and untreated or overlooked because there were no resources to re-connect the disaffected students to school. If we spent our resources on staffing schools with caring teachers and provided them with the resources to do their jobs we might have created a climate of caring. Instead, we’ve created a climate of fear.
Anne Murphy Paul’s Motherlode article on the opt out movement, “Instead of Opting Out of Tests, Teach Students to Take Tests Right” utterly and completely misses the point of the opt out movement. In the article Paul naively suggests parents encourage students to test themselves, to avoid cramming for tests, to shuffle their work in unpredictable ways, to study the test itself after taking it, and to develop skills to be calm when a high-stakes test is administered. She ends this list with this preposterous assertion:
The opt-out movement has encouraged many parents and teachers to aspire to a world without tests. But better than getting rid of tests would be turning tests into promising opportunities.
This prompted me to leave the following comment, which drew from ideas Ms. Murphy had for ways that test could be useful:
Sorry, but the opt-out movement has NOT encouraged many parents and teachers to aspire to a world without tests… it wants a world where teachers and students are not obsessed with a single test but rather focussed on the day-to-day assessments that give the student, teacher and parent timely feedback on how well the student is progressing through the curricula adopted by the local district. Standardized tests do not encourage self-testing, do not help students space their study time, do not “change things up”, do not provide students with a means to “study the test” in advance, and because of their “black box” nature and the fact that the continuation of their school’s operation depend on successful pass rates they ADD to test anxiety.
The opt out movement wants testing to be done “…the right way now” to provide their students with “…a deep well of resources to draw on in the future.” They would welcome “…frequent, low-stakes exams instead of infrequent high-stakes ones” that would “…provide timely and detailed feedback on students’ answers to give them an opportunity to learn from the testing process”. They would welcome receiving “…results could be presented to students in a format that fosters a “growth mindset”  using scores like Highly Proficient, Proficient and Not Yet, while offering opportunities to improve and try again.”
Unfortunately the NY Regents and NY Governor do not want this kind of test. It would help if they listened to want parents want.
Ms. Paul seems to think that the Regents and the politicians want meaningful tests that will help inform instruction and help parents understand how their children are faring in schools. If that were the case, they would listen to teachers and parents and offer those kinds of tests…. but testing is designed to serve a different purpose altogether in the Global Education Reform Movement.
I just read a maddening article by Natalie Wexler from the September 24 Washington Post titled “Why American’s Can’t Write”. Ms. Wexler’s reason for this situation?
Surely one reason so many Americans lack writing skills is that, for decades, most U.S. schools haven’t taught them. In 2011, a nationwide test found that only 24 percent of students in eighth and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just 3 percent were advanced.
Ms. Wexler writes a well thought out explanation of how writing could be taught in schools, noting that the punctuation and grammar skills need to be developed incrementally and hierarchically and that teachers need to spend time reading and correcting increasingly lengthy pies of writing. She notes that the common core delineates the skills needed but implies that teachers might lack the capability to deliver instruction on those skills.
What Ms. Wexler fails to note is that writing is not tested effectively… and when it IS tested creativity and flow are far less important than consistency and format… because computers cannot “measure” creativity and flow nor can “readers” who must scan “essays” quickly in order to get tests graded quickly.
We are reaping bad writing because grading writing is complicated, slow, and expensive and we want to measure our students with standardized tests that are easy, fast, and cheap… We won’t get good writing until we are willing to provide the time needed to teach it effectively and the time needed to grade it well.
Alternet cross-posted Jill Barshay’s essay from the Hechinger Report summarizing the findings of OECD research based on the 2012 PISA tests that found that the highest performing students on that test used computers in school the least.
While the findings were not as strong based on home computer use, it was evident that students who used computers the most at school did worse on the tests.
Bruce Friend, the chief operating office of iNACOL, a group that advocates the use of technology in school, suggests that US schools might be overlooking the real power of computer technology, which is the real-time analysis of student performance to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. As he noted in Barhsay’s article, improving education for each child requires much more than giving each of them a computer: it requires trained teachers to assist in the application of that technology.
Barshay ends her essay with this suggestion: “Perhaps it is best to use the computer money into hiring, training, and paying the best teachers”.