Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

More Medicine For Kids

April 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTmes featured an article by Alan Schwarz on an emerging new form of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) called “sluggish cognitive tempo” (SCT) which is “…characterized by lethargy, daydreaming and slow mental processing.”  Schwarz writes:

Experts pushing for more research into sluggish cognitive tempo say it is gaining momentum toward recognition as a legitimate disorder — and, as such, a candidate for pharmacological treatment. Some of the condition’s researchers have helped Eli Lilly investigate how its flagship A.D.H.D. drug might treat it.

It isn’t hard to imagine that Big Pharma and Big Data might be joined at the hip: Big Data tests kids based on their “academic growth” as compared to students in the same age cohort and Big Pharma comes up with a “flagship drug” to treat students whose growth fails to match that of their peers.

Fortunately, at this juncture, the existence of SCT is still in dispute. The article quotes some academics and medical practitioners who are cautious about defining SCT as a medical condition:

“We’re seeing a fad in evolution: Just as A.D.H.D. has been the diagnosis du jour for 15 years or so, this is the beginning of another,” said Dr. Allen Frances, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University. “This is a public health experiment on millions of kids.”

A public health experiment whose patients are too often identified because of our obsession with test scores. Later another skeptical academic was quoted:

Steve S. Lee, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, said in an interview that he was conflicted over the journal’s emphasis on sluggish cognitive tempo. He expressed concern that A.D.H.D. had already grown to encompass too many children with common youthful behavior, or whose problems are derived not from a neurological disorder but from inadequate sleep, a different learning disability or other sources.

The article eventually links the pharmaceutical industry with the medical practitioners who are advocating the identification of SCT as a medical condition, reporting that Eli Lilly underwrote the study that determined that Strattera, their leading ADHD drug, benefited children with this diagnosis. Later in the article, it noted that the physician who identified SCT as a medical condition “…received $118,000 from 2009 to 2012 for consulting and speaking engagements” underwritten by Eli Lilly. The same physician declined to comment on “…his financial interests in the condition’s acceptance.

Having recently watched The Dallas Buyers Club and had too many instances of cancer diagnoses among family members and friends, I can appreciate where someone suffering from a disease might be annoyed that a drug that might help them is unavailable… But my experience tells me that in too many cases parents, doctors, and teachers often look for a quick and simple way to solve a complicated problem… and Big Pharma is only too happy to provide what the “patient” needs. Before we go any further with this “public health experiment” we might want to take a look at what is leading to the diagnosis of this disorder: our unrealistic expectation that all children will develop at the same rate intellectually and that all children must conform to an education system that defines “daydreaming” as a condition requiring medication.

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Baby IQ Tests?

April 8, 2014 Leave a comment

The science section of the NYTimes occasionally “explores topics covered in Science Times 25 years ago to see what has changed — and what has not”… and today’s paper features an article describing an intelligence test for infants that has proven to be effective in measuring future IQ and academic performance. Assuming the test is as effective as described in the article, the use of such a test is problematic in today’s environment where sorting and selecting dominates developmental learning.

On the one hand, the test could be used for the purposes the test designer, Dr. Joseph Fagan III intended:

Dr. Fagan suggested that the test could be used to identify children with above-average intelligence in poorer families so they could be exposed to enrichment programs more readily available to wealthier families.

But his primary motivation, said Cynthia R. Holland, his wife and longtime collaborator, was to look for babies at the other end of the intelligence curve, those who would fall behind as they grew up.

“His hope was always was to identify early on, in the first year of life, kids who were at risk, cognitively, so we could focus our resources on them and help them out,” said Dr. Holland, a professor of psychology at Cuyahoga Community College.

These are noble intentions… but one’s that are unlikely to be put in place in today’s environment where funding formulas are insensitive to the socio-economic status of families, making it impossible to “…focus resources on (at-risk children) to help them out” and certainly impossible to expose children from poorer families with above average intelligence to “…enrichment programs more readily available to wealthier families”. In today’s educational and political environment these tests would be used to sort the infants into groups where they would be drilled on unproven pre-kindergarten tests designed to determine their “readiness” for our traditional schooling that batches students by chronological age instead of developmentally. And, in light of our emphasis on convergent thinking in our testing, here’s what’s particularly interesting about the test:

In the test, the infant looks at a series of photographs — first a pair of identical faces, then the same face paired with one the baby hasn’t seen. The researchers measure how long the baby looks at the new face.

“On the surface, it tests novelty preference,” said Douglas K. Detterman, a colleague of Dr. Fagan’s at Case Western.


Technology CAN Be Productive REDUX

April 4, 2014 Leave a comment

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts today discusses how Pearson is encouraging the sales of products that will help schools “swim in the digital ocean” and includes an excerpt from blogger Peter Greene who writs cynically about the overselling of technology, insinuating that it is unnecessary in today’s classroom. Every time I read commentaries that conflate the profiteering going on in technology and testing companies like Pearson, I cringe a little bit because I fear the source of the reaction is based on a fear that technology will displace jobs. Education, like health care, will always require face-to-face conferencing and personal care…. but like health care technology CAN play a role in streamlining the delivery of the service and diminishing the need for time spent recording data and increasing the time analyzing data. What’s maddening in schools is the sense that the introduction of technology is based on a desire for technology companies and software salespersons to make a profit and not on a desire to help teachers do their jobs more effectively. These misgivings led me to go back into my archives and submit the following comment:

Public schools can use technology to good effect without the middleman if they adopted some kind of open source framework. I think we need to find a way to embrace those aspects of technological advancement that will help achieve equity and effectiveness. See this post from a few months ago for examples: