Archive for September, 2013

More Money = Higher Test Scores

September 30, 2013 Comments off

The SFGate ran an article by Paul Reide from the Syracuse Post Standard comparing the scores on the high stakes tests of public and non-public schools in NYS. The findings were not surprising: public and non-public schools finished in a virtual dead heat for both 2012 and 2013.

In both years, the non-public schools across the state did better on average in ELA than the public schools, but the public schools did better in math. That statewide pattern held true this year in every grade level.

But… as the article dug a little deeper, it came up with another unsurprising finding (at least to readers of this blog):

Those numbers are somewhat deceptive, though, because the regional averages for public schools smooth over the stark differences between high-scoring, relatively wealthy districts like Fayetteville-Manlius and Skaneateles and the low-scoring, poverty-stricken district of Syracuse.

Taking F-M alone, 67 percent of fourth-graders passed the math test. That’s better than all but one of the 21 area non-public schools that took the test. The top scorer was Trinity Catholic School in Oswego County, where 74 percent passed.

In English language arts, F-M’s 55 percent passing rate in fourth-grade would rank it ninth among the local non-publics.

One area where I wish Reide had probed a little deeper:

While all of New York’s public schools are required to take the exams, private and parochial schools are not.

The school district of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse has its students take state tests, including Regents exams, and has embraced the Common Core standards, Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Canfield said.

On average, schools in the seven-county diocese outperformed statewide public school averages.

My questions:

  • Which private schools DIDN’T take the test?
  • Did any for-profit charters take the tests? How Did they do?
  • How about non-Diocesan religiously affiliated schools? What were their scores like?
  • How do the demographics of the diocesan schools compare with those of public schools?
  • If you omitted Syracuse’s scores from the mix how would public schools fare on the tests?
  • It doesn’t take a degree in statistics to determine that non-parochial schools must have scored LOWER than public schools if the parochial schools scored higher but ALL schools nearly matched the public school performance. Why didn’t the headline read “Public Schools Outperform Non-Parochail Private Schools on State Exams”?
  • And last, but not least, how many decades will we give the same kinds of tests and expect to get different results? We’ve proved that money makes a difference: let’s work to fix the poverty problem!


The RIGHT Way To Test

September 29, 2013 Comments off

Diane Ravitch’s recent New Republic article, written in response to Penn Provost Ezekial Emanuel’s assertion that testing is good and more testing is better, probably stunned her critics because in the article she agrees that more testing is needed: more testing by teachers instead of the standardized tests Dr. Emanuel and his fellow “reformers” advocate.

Ravitch’s opponents have done a good job of persuading the mass media that she is anti-testing, but she points out that her issue is not with having teachers test children regularly and systematically. She is a firm advocate of regular testing using tests written by the teacher because those tests provide both parties with fast feedback on how well a lesson was taught and learned. She is opposed to using standardized assessments written by contractors as the primary means of measuring student, teacher, and school performance. She wants the responsibility for testing to rest with the teacher… because the teachers will then “…(know) by the end of the day or over the weekend which students were keeping up and which ones were falling behind. (They) could act on that knowledge immediately to make sure that students understood what (the teacher) thought he had taught and to explain it again to those who did not.” 

This is the RIGHT way to test… with standardized tests used in a limited fashion to measure the learning of large groups of students and school-based administrators and/or department heads periodically reviewing the tests teachers use to see if they are helping them gain insights into student learning.

The Crazy-making Testing of Five Year Olds

September 28, 2013 Comments off

Yesterday I posted an article about the standardized preschool tests that elite private schools use for entry and public schools use to identify so-called gifted and talented  students. Today’s installment reacts the appalling practice of a school district in FLA, where children begin learning how to take tests as part of their Kindergarten experience.

A reader of Diane Ravitch sent a message describing her daughters first experience at test taking in Palm Beach FLA that included this passage:

Each student was separated by a cardboard wall of blinders around them and they were given a five page test on numbers one through five. They had to write the number, the word for the number and draw how many dots represented the number. At a local union meeting, I asked a Kindergarten teacher from another school if she…surround(ed) each student by blinders. She nodded in affirmation, (saying she was) told “They have to be prepared to be tested in first grade.”

This is the meta-message we are sending our children from the time they are born: they need to be prepared to pass a test and they need to work independently to achieve anything.

We like to think we are a country where we don’t sort kids based on test scores. We would be appalled at the notion of adopting some kind of system where one test given at age 12 or 17 determines your lot in life. Instead of designing schools to inculcate a love of learning we are designing utilitarian schooling that prepare students for an endless battery of tests that will follow them through life.

We like to think we are a country that requires teamwork and interdependence yet our schools are increasingly competitive and learning is done in isolation.

If public schools continue down this path of joylessness and uniformity more and more parents who seek creativity and free-spritiedness in education will abandon our schools. Watch… it’s happening already.