Archive for October, 2015

ANOTHER Illustration of the Failed Policy of Zero Tolerance and Good Guys With Guns

October 28, 2015 Comments off

As noted in earlier posts on the topic of school discipline and guns in school, the Columbine incident in 1999 created a siege mentality in schools that has accelerated over the past sixteen years, a mentality that has resulted in parents willingly forfeiting their children’s freedom in schools across the nation and resulted in the kind of brutality in schools that erodes the student, parent, and community respect for law enforcement.

Yesterday, as reported in several media outlets including Common Dreams and the NYTimes student with a cell phone captured a short video of  a policeman in a South Carolina high school “…briefly reproaching the student, who refuses to get up from her desk, before he puts his arm around her neck, flips the desk over backwards, and then throws her to the ground, where he handcuffs her.”

Both writers and most bloggers note that when police are introduced into schools, inevitably they become involved with discipline cases that would typically result in some kind of administrative intervention that most likely would end with both students being suspended from school, either in-school or out of school. Now?

Both students were arrested and charged with “disturbing school;” Kenny (a student who interceded on behalf of the student who was flipped over the desk) was released on $1000 bond.

As I heard on a radio report today, these kinds of offenses often result in fines that a student’s parent must pay and, should they be unable to do so, the student might face imprisonment.

We not only need to re-think the assignment of police in schools, we also need to re-think the surveillance cameras that peer at students, the locked doors that “welcome” parents and community members, and the horrific drills we subject students to in order to prepare them for an invasion by someone with a small arsenal they obtained thanks to our lax gun control. This needs to stop quickly before we graduate more students who are accustomed to 24/7 surveillance and put more and more students into prison for “being a discipline problem” in class.


By Giving SATs for Free, NYC ALMOST Gets it Right

October 27, 2015 Comments off

I read Elizabeth Harris’ article on the NYC school district’s initiative to offer free SATs to Juniors with great interest. As Superintendent in MD in the early 1990s I persuaded our board to spend the money needed to give the PSAT to sophomores. My rationale for that was to give students an opportunity to see the kind of rigorous tests they needed to pass to get into college and have the time needed to upgrade their course selections in the last two years of HS in order to prepare themselves for college. Also, by administering the test to ALL children at the 10th grade level we were able to identify some “diamonds in the rough”: students who possessed the bedrock skills needed to succeed in college but who had not applied themselves in high school to that point. Finally, we wanted to increase the percentage of our students who aspired to college– a challenge given the fact that many parents in our county had no higher education experience and the cost for college seemed daunting.

Free SATs to juniors is a good idea… but I remain convinced that free PSATs for sophomores is the better way to go.

Standardized Tests are a Form of Racial Profiling

October 27, 2015 Comments off

A thought provoking analysis of the effects of standardized testing. Christine Malsbary persuasively asserts that tests reinforce segregation and the notion of white supremacy… and offers compelling evidence to support that assertion. 

Several days before writing this blog post, I visited a 12th grade class that I have been following since the beginning of their 11th grade year. I am a researcher and I study how education policy affects teachers and students in their daily lives. The youth I work with are all immigrants, students of color, and learning English as a second language. I sat next to student I didn’t recognize and asked the teacher who he was.

Source: Standardized Tests are a Form of Racial Profiling

Categories: Uncategorized

A Closer Look At Obama’s Testing Pronouncement: There’s No There There

October 27, 2015 Comments off

After reading several articles on President Obama’s recent pronouncement that we are over testing children and that we should therefore limit testing to 2% of a student’s class time I have come to the conclusion that nothing substantive will change. Unsurprisingly, the Network for Public Education (NPE), Diane Ravitch’s think tank, issued the most insightful response to the President’s announcement. In a Press Release published yesterday, blogger and NPE officer Anthony Cody offered this observation:

“Limiting testing to 2% is a symbolic gesture that will have little impact so long as these tests are used for high stakes purposes.

While the Department of Education remains wed to annual high-stakes tests, it is time for states and districts to call their bluff regarding flexibility. The research coming forward is clear. The overuse of standardized testing is educational malpractice. States should drop the destructive pseudoscience of VAM, empower educators to create their own meaningful assessments of learning, and get off the testing juggernaut.”

Formative testing– periodic tests and/or quizzes to make certain students have grasped the content presented by the teacher– is a bedrock of good instruction and has always been a crucial element of public education. Summative testing– annual or tri-annual standardized examinations designed to compare students to others in their age cohort– have also been used to help schools determine if they are setting sufficiently high curriculum expectations. When summative examinations are used to rank students, teachers, and schools they are destructive and unproductive because they drive the pace and content of instruction limiting the creativity of both the students and the teachers. After 12 years we know that this is true: we’ve seen schools whose students are not performing well on these standardized tests replace arts, science, recess, and related arts courses and units with test preparation courses and units. Students in these schools know how to take tests but don’t know how to think independently. Worse, they never get the opportunity to read for pleasure or read to explore areas of interest to them.

Carol Burris, a retired NYS administrator, NPE officer, and blogger, concludes the press release with this:

“Testing is the rock on which a host of destructive corporate reforms are built.  That era must end.  It is time that we commit to well-funded, vibrant public schools that are democratically governed by the communities they serve”

The last sentence, the one calling for a commitment to “…well-funded, vibrant public schools that are democratically governed by the communities they serve“, is the one we want to hear a Presidential candidate say. Until schools are well-funded and democracy is restored, the percent of time spent testing is immaterial.

Truthdiggers of the Week: 2 Economists Who Challenged an American Myth (from @Truthdig)

October 26, 2015 Comments off

Their shocking report shows that higher education does nothing to dissolve income inequality for blacks and Hispanics.

Stated more optimistically, this report illustrates the reality that it is impossible to make up for the results of accumulated economic disparity in one generation…. but it also illustrate the steep hill blacks and Hispanics must climb to even BEGIN getting even and the racist attitudes that are an implicit obstacle.

Source: Truthdiggers of the Week: 2 Economists Who Challenged an American Myth (from @Truthdig)

Categories: Uncategorized

Need Evidence that Standardized Testing is Misguided? Look At Florida!

October 26, 2015 Comments off

In her NYTimes article appearing two days after President Obama decided to abandoned standardized testing, Lizette Alvarez provides the President with some political cover to reinforce the rationale for his decision by looking at what is going on in Florida where Superintendents, with the support of parents and Board members, are rejecting the politically motivated ranking of schools and teachers based on test results. Why?

In speeches, letters to the editor and appeals to state officials, (the Superintendents) are arguing that the tests were flawed — first, because they were developed for Utah schools and based on the curriculum taught there, and second, because of a string of disruptive technical glitches when they were rolled out here.

In a move typical of political bodies across the country, the Florida legislature acting at the behest of its Governor, implemented a system for grading schools based on standardized test results… without determining what the basis of the tests would be and without determining how the test would be administered. Because of the urgency driven by an unrealistic timeline and antipathy for the Common Core because it was forced on them by Washington, the State Board of Education decided to use a computer-based test designed for Utah, another state that abandoned the Common Core. The predictable result of “fast, cheap, and easy” was a test that failed to match FL standards, encountered countless computer problems, and was statistically flawed.

No matter, though… the State intends to proceed with its grading of schools:

State education officials and Republican lawmakers say that even though this year’s scores on the test, formally called the Florida Standards Assessment, will be used to grade schools, those grades will not be used punitively. The grades, they say, are a crucial component of Florida’s efforts to provide information to parents and make schools accountable, and are required by state law.

State officials bolstered their argument by pointing to a recent study by a test development and research group, Alpine Testing Solutions, that Governor Scott and the Legislature ordered after the test’s chaotic rollout. The study found that the state could use the scores to draw general conclusions about groups, such as schools or teachers.

“I personally believe that it is important that we inform schools, principals, parents and teachers how their school is performing,” said Pam Stewart, Florida’s education commissioner. “Absent a school grade, we lose out on that momentum.”

The Superintendents, after reading the same study, drew a different conclusion:

Although the study supported using the scores to draw some conclusions, it also determined that the testing lacked the “normal rigor and standardization” typically expected. It called the rollout “problematic” and said there were issues with “just about every aspect of the administration.”

The Superintendents now have another arrow to add to their quiver. The President of the United States has questioned the validity of test-based accountability. Oh… that’s right… it’s the rejection of the President’s Common Core initiative that led to all of this debacle.

Somewhere in the country I hope that some Governor will seize the opportunity the abandonment of test-based accountability presents and develop and implement a long-term accountability effort that is developed based on input received from teachers and administrators… one that won’t measure what the fast, cheap, and easy system of Florida measures, which was summarized by one FL Superintendent/legislator:

“Rich schools will get A’s, and poor schools will get F’s,” said State Senator Bill Montford, a Democrat who is the head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Obama Backs Away From Tests… Celebration On Hold As Details Unfold

October 25, 2015 Comments off

In a piece of startlingly good news, Kate Zernike of the NYTimes reports that President Obama has decided to back down on the standardized testing regimen that George Bush launched and his administration reinforced… a regimen that has strangled creativity and the love of learning. The lead paragraphs read:

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

The article cites numerous political issues that helped compel the administration to abandon the testing regimen, but in the end, the primary reason the tests are being abandoned is simple: after 12 years nothing has changed in terms of performance as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress:

….a new survey from the Council of the Great City Schools, which set out to determine exactly how much testing is happening among its members…. found that students in the nation’s big-city schools will take, on average, about 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and high school graduation — eight tests a year. In eighth grade, when tests fall most heavily, they consume an average of 20 to 25 hours, or 2.3 percent of school time. The totals did not include tests like Advanced Placement exams or the ACT.

There was no evidence, the study found, that more time spent on tests improved academic performance, at least as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a longstanding test sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card.

Zernike reports that Obama, Duncan, and Duncan’s successor John King are all on the same page on this change and that Mr. King will be issuing a “testing action plan” in January that will help school districts determine the scope of tests that will be mandated going forward. I, along with thousands of other educators and millions of parents and school children, eagerly await the detailed guidelines… for they will indicate how profound a change is in the offing.

One other piece of good news that might come out of this: education policy might come to the fore in the forthcoming election— and I have to believe the party that embraces the abandonment of the testing regimen will gain the support of a huge bloc of voters…. and the debate that ensues over accountability will set a new course for schooling in the years to come.