Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

Good News For Underachievers (and the Well-Being of Students): Straight A’s Do NOT Translate to Success in Life

December 10, 2018 Leave a comment

In writing this post, I initially thought I would title it “This Just In: Grades Don’t Matter” because I thought that the lack of a correlation between high grades and “success” was as self evident as, say, the correlation between poverty and test scores. But I went with the title above because, as one who was labelled an “underachiever” because I failed to earn straight A’s in middle school I think it better reflects the reality of the mindset of public education when I attended school in the 50s and 60s, a mindset that persists today.

The post was prompted by an article in the Sunday NYTimes by Adam Grant titled “What Straight A Students Get Wrong”, and the “what” is that in the final analysis the grades you earned in high school and college do not matter once you get in the real world. In his op ed, Dr. Grant describes counseling a distraught college junior who had just received her first A-, a blot on her academic record that she was certain would doom her to some kind of second class citizenship in the future. Dr. Grant then revealed what underachiever like me have known for decades and used to comfort ourselves (or rebut our parents):

Getting straight A’s requires conformity.Having an influential career demands originality. In a study of students who graduated at the top of their class, the education researcher Karen Arnold found that although they usually had successful careers, they rarely reached the upper echelons. “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” Dr. Arnold explained. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

Dr. Grant then offers a long list of individualists who did poorly in school but made a name for themselves in their chosen areas of interest: Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He could have provided a much longer list, but those three clearly made the point.

He concludes his essay with advice for universities, employers, and students, suggesting to students that they recognize that “…underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life” and that getting a B might be the best thing for them.

I wholeheartedly agree. As a high school student I never aspired to be valedictorian, perhaps because I did not (and still do not) have the temperament needed and did not (and still do not) see the point in it. As a parent I celebrated the first B my children brought home in high school because I knew that they would no longer be able to become valedictorian and would, therefore, be able to dedicate their time to other pursuits… ones that satisfied their curiosity and not the needs of the schools.

There is a place for evaluation in school. Students need to master fundamental math skills and need to be coached to become good communicators. And once students have these baseline skills in place— and certainly by the time they are in college– there is no need for assigning letter grades or numeric grades. Narrative descriptions of a student’s performance are far more beneficial to the student and compel the teacher to get to know each student in their class deeply.

Alas… binary pass-fail grades on fundamentals and narrative descriptions once a student has progressed to higher levels of education do not yield rankings, and without rankings there can be no “competition” and without that, well, what? I suppose some will posit that without competition our “economic system” will collapse. I prefer to believe that without competition the well-being of children will improve and our political system will improve. Evidently I am not alone in this belief. The renegades who did not conform in school and spent their time working on computers send their children to Waldorf Schools and Montessori programs where doing things and being human is valued more than getting good grades and conforming to a system that measures skills needed in the early 20th Century. Maybe it’s time to re-think grades altogether… in doing so we would necessarily be re-thinking school.


Firing– well make that REPLACING— All the Teachers Didn’t Work… So… Now What?

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Anyone who follows public education closely remembers the Central Falls (RI) school district’s inglorious 15 minutes in the national news in 2010. When their test scores tanked the “reform minded” State Superintendent, local Superintendent, and elected school board had the solution: fire all the teachers. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s summary of the events at that time… and what happened earlier this month:

One of the lowest performing districts in the state is Central Falls, the impoverished district where everyone was fired in 2010 to “reform” the schools (then the firing was withdrawn, but almost every adult in the school was gone within two years, because [as “reformers” insist] low scores are caused by “bad teachers”).

So why no improvement?

Remember Central Falls, the smallest and poorest district in the state?

The harsh treatment of the entire staff of the high school in 2010 received national attention. It was one of the first blows of the corporate reform movement. Those who led the campaign threatened to fire the entire staff—the teachers, lunch room ladies, and everyone else. The leaders were treated as heroes by Arne Duncan and President Obama. Zero tolerance for staff!

Now, eight years later, apparently less than 10% of the students are “meeting or exceeding expectations,” whatever that means.

In 2010 “meeting or exceeding expectations” was based on NECAP scores— despite the fact that NECAPs were not designed to measure such a thing. Now it is based on RICA scores, and those scores are no better now than they were eight years ago. Why? According to an article by Kevin Andrade in the Providence Journal one of the parents who attended a recent meeting shed some light on the reasons:

Maria Cristina Betancur took hold of the microphone as 42 people looked on in the Central Falls High School cafeteria Wednesday night. She spoke passionately in Spanish — often fighting back tears — about the difficulties that many families in the school district face. After a minute, she paused and asked a question of her audience.

“Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, did you understand me?” she queried, looking around the room and into the silence before switching to English. “So, now you know how people feel at homes where they do not understand the language. They do not understand assistance. They need to understand more.”

And the school “reformers” need to understand that “more” is the answer: more bi-lingual teachers who can work with parents (54% of the residents do not speak English as their primary language); more funds to provide more services to children in need (the budget increases have been a paltry 1.9% per annum since the school staff was recommended for dismissal), and, as MS. Betancur noted, more understanding.

As the comments continued, another parent described how the “failing school” is failing children and, in so dong, explained where some of the funds might be found:

When public comment began, Jahaira Rodriguez spared no one’s feelings, listing several incarcerated men who she said attended Central Falls schools.

“Today they are serving terms in prison, and we did that,” she said. “This [education system] is a disservice to our students because they will not be considered hard-working because of where they come from.”

“Funny that we find the money to incarcerate them but not to educate them,” she said.

There is always more money to incarcerate criminals and never enough money to provide the kind of education and support they need to stay out of jail…. and always a way to shift the blame for the struggles of poor children to classroom teachers who work hard in dire conditions but never a way to find funds to help improve those conditions. Welcome to the plutocracy where more money raised by higher tax rates on the most affluent among us is NEVER the solution.

There IS One Way to Dispel Asian Parents’ Anger: Upgrade ALL NYC High Schools

December 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYPost featured an article by Selim Algar describing a meeting NYC DOE officials held in Manhattan and the anger expressed by a group of Asian parents upset over the recent proposal that the SHSAT serve as the sole admissions criteria to elite high schools. Ms. Selim described the essence of the BOE’s proposal presented by Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack as “...a plan that aims to increase black and Latino enrollment at the primarily Asian and white schools by scrapping a single-test-score admission system.” At the gathering attended by 350 people, Mr. Wallack described the current admissions process, which is based on the scores on a single test given early in 8th grade, as “…a needless educational barricade,” saying that the DOE is trying “to find a way that is objective and transparent that gives us more information about a way a student has performed that we believe is better and fairer.”

Many parents, particularly Asian parents, do not find the admissions criteria to be unfair or ineffective. Ms. Selim writes:

Several Asian speakers highlighted the outsized toll the new plan would exact on their community.

Asian kids — including Chinese, Korean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students — make up roughly 60 percent of the population at the city’s eight specialized high schools.

At the most prestigious campuses such as Stuyvesant HS and Bronx Science, their numbers are higher.

“This proposal is nothing about education and all about division,” said objector Wai Wah Chin. “We are going to look at your race and say, ‘Oh, your parents cook the food, deliver it, they wash your clothes, but you can’t get in. Because we don’t like your race or national background.’ ”

For reasons that are complicated and not completely clear, Asian students tend to score better on standardized tests than American students, and students raised in poverty tend to score worse than children raised in affluence. From a cold analytic perspective, this difference would matter less if the tests had any predictive value in terms of a students ability to perform well in class. The SHSAT, like it’s kin the SAT, provides a nebulous “achievement” score that has no ability to determine whether a student scoring in the 95th percentile will succeed in class any more than a student who scores in, say, the 90th percentile. Indeed, on the SAT it is conceivable that missing one question might result in that kind of disparity in results. So, when a single test is the sole basis for admission many children who are arguably qualified to enter an “elite” program are left out.

The answer to this is to either expand the admission criteria to include things like GPA, teacher feedback, and unique student talents or to expand the number of “elite” high schools. As NYC is finding, altering the admissions criteria creates a zero-sum game that divides winners and losers. The second alternative, though, is costly and could result in those seeking to be identified as “elite” feeling that their status is eroded by expanding the number of students who qualify.

It is inevitable that individuals will sort themselves out over time and define themselves  based on comparisons with others. As much as possible, though, that sorting should occur organically and ideally without anyone being identified as a “loser”. The sorting in NYC is analogous to the sorting that happens in high school sports where 50 teams vie for a state championship and all but one team is defined as a loser. No matter how it is presented to an 8th grader, if they took the SHSAT and did not get into an “elite” school, they feel like the runner-up to the State Championship… and they are likely to see themselves as “losers”. The reality is that many of those “losers” will bounce back and be successful despite their relatively low test scores. But if any of those students see their failure to score high on a test as a defining moment, it is a loss to our society. No single test should define winners and losers… and every school system should be designed to offer an opportunity for students to find out where they can shine.

Why Many Younger Educators Don’t Like “Reformers”

December 5, 2018 Leave a comment

I am VERY encouraged by this letter. Like Diane Ravitch I am concerned that the generation of children who only experienced a world of high stakes testing would see that as the only way schools should function. THIS group of aspiring teachers clearly see that there is a better way! Here’s hoping they are the voice of the future!

via Why Many Younger Educators Don’t Like “Reformers”

Don’t Call Them “Reformers”; Call Them Plutocratic Profiteers

December 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch featured two posts yesterday (here and here) that discussed the desire of  “Reformers” to be called something different. Diane Ravitch has a good idea why this is the case:

It seems the term “Reformer” has become toxic. But the money backing “reform” is so huge that it just keeps stumbling forward, certain about what other people should do, loaded with money and power, but without any examples of success.

She’s right about the toxicity of the term “reformer”… in addition to being inaccurate it is toxic in the minds of those who work in school. I would suggest the term “reformer” be replaced with the term “plutocratic profiteer”.

Reform “think tanks”, especially those underwritten by hedge funders, tend to promote ideas based on the premise that the marketplace is pure and anything that interferes with the marketplace is a problem. The market rewards those who can deliver a product cheaply and efficiently… and government regulations stand in the way of that ethos and democracy slows everything down. The algorithm of hedge funders is to strip away any regulations, disempower employees, find a way to tear up “costly” agreements that are in place, and view any adverse community impact as inconsequential collateral damage.

One of the initial problem business-minded reformers faced was measuring the output of education. That problem was solved when NCLB passed and standardized test scores became the metric of choice for politicians, taxpayers, voters, and the media. By setting cut scores based on norm-referenced tests it was no surprise that 50% of the schools were labelled as “failing”, thereby opening the door for the “takeovers”… the language of hedge funders!

Look at the way vulture capitalists work and look at “school reform” models espoused by the GOP and neo-liberals… and tell me if you see a difference. The public’s imagination has been captured by the idea that the business takeover of schools and government will result in the elimination of “waste, fraud and abuse” and an increase in productivity, which in the case of public education means higher test scores…. And if the latter doesn’t happen, it’s OK because taxes are not going through the roof. Welcome to the plutocracy where the system never changes and the results remain the same: the .01% get richer and the rest of us pay rent.

Revisiting Intelligence and Intelligence Testing in an Interdependent World

December 1, 2018 Comments off

I just finished reading Medium blogger Piyush Kamal’s post titled “Revisiting The Yardstick Of Measuring Intelligence” with a subtitle “…And Why There Should Be An Urgency To Redefine It.” 

After recounting the history of intelligence testing, Mr. Kamal notes that our culture has changed dramatically since the tests were conceived and, consequently, their utility has disappeared. Why? Because IQ tests measure an individual’s ability to think discursively an age when teams are more important than individuals and creativity is more important than what we now define as “intellectual ability”. His perspective his summarized in these paragraphs:

We often forget that IQ tests are just an indicative measure of our ability to think logically about straightforward problems. No doubt that it’s an important part of intelligence, however, IQ tests don’t measure creativity, because creativity isn’t straightforward…

The idea that education should increase intellectual independence is a very narrow view of learning.It ignores the fact that knowledge depends on others…

Learning, therefore, isn’t just about developing new knowledge and skills. It’s also about learning to collaborate with others, recognizing what knowledge we have to offer and what gaps we must rely on others to help us fill.

While all of this is seemingly self evident and not at all debatable, many of our public schools continue to use IQ tests as the primary determinant for identifying students as “gifted and talented” thereby simultaneously identifying a larger group of students as UN-gifted and UN-talented. As Mr. Kamal notes in several examples, it is often the so-called UN-gifted students who thrive outside of school and provide the creative spark needed to advance technologically.

Will Mr. Kamal’s notion that teamwork and creativity are important attributes for students to learn in school? Only when policy makers embrace the ideas of Dewey over those of Terman et al… Only when we refuse to use standardized tests as the primary metric for defining individual and school success… and only when those UN-gifted and UN-talented students raise their collective voices to influence policy makers and “thought leaders”.

Students at Wilder High School in Idaho: Learning on iPads is a Hoax!

November 30, 2018 Comments off

Though the Wilder ID students are doing poorly on standardized tests, they are doing VERY well in Democracy 101. And… SURPRISE… the Trump administration did not pay attention to details, like these facts that are included at the end of this post:

the State Department of Education identified Wilder Middle School as one of the lowest-performing schools in Idaho. At Wilder Elementary, where Trump and Cook checked in Tuesday, just 26.7 percent of students scored “proficient” on math Idaho Standards Achievement Test in 2017-18. At Wilder High School, the go-on rate in 2017 was 25 percent, well below the state average of 45 percent, according to Idaho EdTrends.

via Students at Wilder High School in Idaho: Learning on iPads is a Hoax!