Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

What Trump is Teaching Our Children… and What Schools Are Teaching Our Children

July 18, 2019 Leave a comment

What Trump is Teaching Our Children“, Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes, decries the lessons our children are learning from our current President’s conduct. It describes the lessons parents try to instill in their children and contrasts those lessons with the lesson President Trump is teaching:

…He is everything we teach our children not to be. In Trump’s world of immorality, the lessons being taught undo all the principles parents struggle to instill.

He is teaching our children that there is no absolute truth, there is “alternative fact.” It’s not what you say, but how you say it and how vociferously you can defend it.

He is teaching little boys that women’s bodies exist as playgrounds for privileged men, and that there is no price to be paid if you are popular enough or rich enough.

He is teaching little girls that if they are ever victims of sexual assault by a popular, wealthy boy and deign to reveal it, they will likely to come under withering verbal assault.

He is teaching our children that the color of one’s skin does indeed supersede the content of one’s character. He is teaching them that there is a skin-color hierarchy in which whiteness is perched on top.

He is teaching the black and brown children that their citizenship and connection to this country is tenuous and fractional, not like white children.

He is teaching them that it is a perfectly normal to separate some children from their parents, put them in cages, and argue that they don’t need soap, or toothbrushes or have the lights turned off so that they can go to sleep.

He is teaching them to never acknowledge an error, that apologies are for suckers, that what’s right is whatever you say it is.

And, here’s the thing: The children growing up in enormous portions of American households accept, defend and even applaud Trump’s behavior. What lessons are those children absorbing? What behaviors will be modeled on Trump’s example?

In an ideal world public schools would be reinforcing the behaviors parents want to emphasize, things Charles Blow describes in his opening paragraphs:

We try to teach them to always tell the truth, to be kind and generous, to be brave enough to do the right thing even if others aren’t as brave.

We try to teach them empathy and compassion, that caring about the less fortunate betters society and is also self-edifying.

We teach them to have self-respect and to respect others. We teach them that everyone is equally worthy and valuable, no matter who they are, what they look like, how much or little they have or to which God they pray, if they pray at all.

We teach them to be gracious and thankful and not to brag or bully. Also, don’t lie, cheat or steal.

And public schools DO reinforce these behaviors in their conduct codes and in the expectations they have for student decorum. But the way we “measure” student and school performance makes the lessons more difficult. If a school or student is deemed “failing” and students are categorized based on their “ability” it sorts students and schools into pecking orders whereby groups are “superior” to others. We can never create a world where everyone is equal… but we can create a world where everyone has the same set of opportunities over time to master skills and learn about themselves. The best way public schools can teach children that “…everyone is equally worthy and valuable, no matter who they are, what they look like, how much or little they have ” is to set up a system based on that premise… and not a system where the children raised in affluence attend “high performing” schools and children raised in poverty attend “failing” schools.


What the SAT REALLY Measures

July 13, 2019 Leave a comment

This Vox video gives an excellent overview of the history of the SAT and concludes that the ultimate consequence is to serve as a sorting mechanism to reinforce the status quo in terms of economic inequality. It’s well worth the 8 minutes it takes to watch it!

Dealing with Test Anxiety vs Dealing with “Evaluative Situations”

July 3, 2019 Comments off

A few days ago, as NY students entered the Regents gauntlet, the NYTimes health section featured an article by Dr. Perri Klass titled “Helping Students with Test Anxiety”. The article offered several insights on the phenomenon, ultimately suggesting that the best way to help students avoid test anxiety is to help them develop self-awareness:

Programs in schools that increase students’ understanding of emotions can be very valuable, she (Daniela Raccanello, a developmental and educational psychologist in the department of human sciences at the University of Verona, Italy) said, and can help promote positive emotions and decrease negative ones. Through one such project, she said, Italian students learn to understand their emotions; though the project focuses on traumatic events such as earthquakes, it offers children coping strategies that may help in other stressful situations.

The article also noted that test anxiety is related to our culture that overemphasizes the importance of tests. Quoting Shannon Brady, an assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, Dr. Klass writes:

“It’s important for us as a culture to stop framing tests as inherently negative,” Dr. Brady said. Parents need to help their children get away from what she called “contingent self-esteem,” the sense that they won’t be loved or valued if they don’t do well.

We tend to celebrate children for good grades and test scores, but it’s important to reinforce that “you are valued for a number of things and even if you have a bad day in one of those domains, you are still a person of worth,” Dr. Brady said.

Easy for Dr. Klass to write, but as she notes near the end of the article, the practical reality today is that teachers as well as students feel intense pressure as a result of the over-emphasis on standardized test scores. Quoting Nathaniel von der Embse, an assistant professor of school psychology at the University of South Florida, who was the first author on a 30-year review of test anxiety published in 2018, Dr. Klass writes:

Dr. von der Embse said that he had seen a resurgence of interest in the question of anxiety around high-stakes testing over the past 12 years, particularly around the No Child Left Behind legislation. “We really can’t talk about test anxiety without talking about environment and particularly teacher stress,” Dr. von der Embse said. Many schools use student test scores to evaluate teachers, he said, and this can create a high stress environment in which the teachers’ stress is communicated to the students. “You might be able to equip your child with individual strategies for handling stress, but if the school is not coordinating their messaging around testing and supporting their teachers, it’s going to be a stressful environment.”

But while Dr. von der Erbse sees the test regimen driven by NCLB as exacerbating test anxiety, he see the opt out movement as wrong headed. Why?

But Dr. von der Embse does not believe in parents opting out of the tests. “We face evaluative situations throughout our entire lives, it’s best to learn how to handle them,” he said.

I agree that it is impractical and wrong to shield children from “evaluative situations”, because they will be faced throughout their lives. But in my life, apart from tests related to academics, the “evaluative situations” have to do with face-to-face interactions with other people, workplace performance, and work ethic in general. If it is important to help students learn “how to handle evaluative situations”, it strikes me that standardized tests are not the best means of accomplishing that end.


Billionaires, Alumni, Asian Parents Prevail… and Admissions Tests Continue in NYC

June 30, 2019 Comments off

Over the past several weeks, I’ve written posts on NYC’s decision to push to change the admissions process to the city’s elite high schools, which is based solely on one test score. The result of using this test is a disproportionate number of Asian students in the elite schools and a substantial under-representation of African-American and Latina students in those schools. To remedy this imbalance, the Mayor de Blasio and his education commissioner Richard Carranza proposed that Instead of using test scores as the exclusive means of admitting students the “elite” schools would admit the top three students from each middle school in the city IF those students scored above a certain level on the test. But, as NYTimes writers Eliza Shapiro and Vivian Wang reported earlier this week, the result of doing this would be the displacement of students who scored higher than those top students on the existing test, students who presumably “deserved” their placement because the test is a better predictor of student success than the grades the students earned in their Middle School.

As recently as a few weeks ago it seemed that the NYS legislators, who need to approve this change for reasons that are convoluted and intertwined with NYS politics, would endorse the Mayor’s proposal… but a coalition of billionaire donors, esteemed alumni of the “elite” high schools, and Asian parents joined forces to get the Mayor’s idea shelved. The Times writers described the backlash, which included “...a well-funded opposition effort led by a billionaire graduate of one of the specialized schools sent African-American parents to lawmakers’ doors, urging them to reject the bill.” But no billionaires or parents showed up to support the bill:

There were no rallies in support of the mayor’s plan on the Capitol’s grand staircase and almost no lobbyists pushed it — except Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Carranza and their staff members. During a visit to the Capitol last week, Mr. Carranza said he had not spoken with the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblyman Charles Barron of Brooklyn, about whether the bill might be brought to the floor.

Absent any groundswell of support for the bill, and given the extreme pushback from parents whose children were admitted and alumni who felt compelled to ensure the “elite” status of their alma maters, the bill to change admissions became so “radioactive” it was never even considered.

The Times noted that a “victory” would not change the demographics of the “elite schools”.

Even under the mayor’s plan to expand a program aimed at enrolling more low-income students in the specialized schools, offers to black and Hispanic students will increase to only 16 percent from 10 percent. Black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of the school system as a whole.

But that statistical reality notwithstanding, the Mayor sees the abandonment of tests as an important step the city needs to take if it hopes to increase the educational opportunities for ALL students in the schools:

“Cities all over the nation have turned away from completely unfiltered, high-stakes testing and our state remains stuck in the past,” Mr. de Blasio said Friday. “Session may have ended, but our quest to provide our kids with the best opportunity possible has not.”

The article noted that the Mayor’s run for the Presidency drew some energy away from this fight… but maybe if a Democrat wins the election they might consider replacing Betsy DeVos with Bill de Blasio… and he might be able to take his opposition to standardized tests to the next level.


Teacher Shortage is Real and Relentless and Requires Respect, Resources and TRUE Reform

June 25, 2019 Comments off

This report from NBC draws from the EPI report cited in an earlier post… and it underscores the Importance of transforming teaching from a robotic presentation of material that can only be measured by standardized testing, a demeaning assignment that does not warrant the status of a professional, to a role of a caring and informed mentor— an assignment that is increasingly needed in this day and age… an assignment that requires talents that defy ready measurement and warrant much higher compensation.

Virginia Teacher’s Embeds an Explanation of the Root Cause of Our Teacher Shortage… Our Obsession with Tests

June 23, 2019 Comments off

A recent Economic Policy Institute blog post by Fredericksburg VA Middle School teacher Joy Kirk provides a spot on explanation for the persistent teacher shortage we face today. The opening section of the post describes how her state’s decision to mandate that education degrees be offered only at the graduate level resulted in increased debt for students, a predictable obstacle given the low salaries many teachers in her state encounter when they apply for jobs. But the mid-section of the post gets into the real problem: teaching is no longer the profession it once was:

Many teachers who enter the field quickly leave. The number of teachers leaving the field with less than five years of experience keeps growing. Why? Everyone has their own reasons but some of the reasons cut across schools, school divisions, states, and our nation. Teachers do not feel supported and the role and responsibilities of teachers just keep increasing. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s my teachers taught us, supported us, disciplined us, attended a few meetings and our testing was a nationally normed standardized test that was given a few times throughout my K-12 education.

Today, teachers teach, discipline, support, remediate, attend countless trainings, prepare students for dozens of evaluations at the local and state level and are told to do more with less. This mantra grew louder during the recession and continues today. During the recession our responsibilities and accountability grew while our support and financial assistance shrunk. It is time that those making laws and regulations that impact educators and students start having conversations with those teachers and students.

Ms. Kirk’s post focused on compensation and professionalism, but the root cause of the de-professionalization of teaching and the centerpiece of policy-makers discussions about compensation is testing. The contrast between the testing protocols of the 70s and 80s and those in place since NCLB is stark. The impact of the testing protocols, though, is subtle, persistent, and demoralizing. Increasingly, teachers in “failing schools” are subjected to “countless trainings” on how to prepare students for tests. Test preparation strategies have replaced curriculum development workshops and teachers who have unique ideas and specialized interests are pushed to the sidelines as school districts adopt highly focussed packages developed to prepare children for tests. Ms. Kirk closes her post with this lament about staff development:

…We need to find a way to show educators that they make a difference and acknowledge their skills and trainings.

Our school divisions need to get creative. Some… are making professional development more meaningful by letting individual teachers determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective. Some are making mentoring programs more effective so our young teachers feel supported and stay in the field of teaching. Still others provide work from home days instead of requiring teachers to make an appearance on a teacher work day. There is still more that could be done.

There IS still more to be done… but the first step in showing educators they make a difference and acknowledging their skills and trainings is to abandon the notion that standardized tests are the ultimate measure of learning. Truly creative and innovative individuals will never be drawn to a job that requires them to act as humanoid robots, following a prescribed curriculum designed to ensure that more children pass a one-size-fits-all test. A truly creative and innovative teachers wants some degree of autonomy and the chance to “...determine what skills or knowledge they need to be effective”… and they DON’T want effectiveness to be defined by their students’ test scores.

Einstein’s Definition of Insanity Applied in NYC: An Expansion of Test-based G+T Programs Will Increase Minority Enrollments in Test-based Elite HSs

June 20, 2019 Comments off

As noted in many previous posts, the NYC school district is facing a serious problem with it’s current method of determining entry to the small number of “elite” high schools in the city. The problem is described in a recent New Century Foundation blog post written by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka:

This year, just 10.5 percent of the students admitted to New York City’s eight specialized high schools (SHS)—which use a single test to determine admission—were black or Latinx. This statistic—which hasn’t changed much at all over the past five years—stands in stark contrast with the overall demographics of NYC’s public schools, in which 66 percent of students are black or Latinx.

Mayor de Blasio has come up with an elegant solution, one that mirrors that used in several states to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds gain entry to State colleges: ensure that several seats at each school are reserved for the students with the highest grades at each of the city’s Middle School who also scored relatively high on the standardized test used to admit students.

But many legislators, parents, and policy makers who conflate “merit” with “high standardized test scores” are now advocating that the best way to increase minority enrollments in elite schools is to expand the G+T (Gifted and Talented) programs in Middle and Elementary Schools. While this sounds like a rational and fair method for expanding minority enrollments, it flies in the face of reason. Why? Because admission to G + T programs is based on a standardized test! Here’s Mss. Roda and Kafka’s take on this idea:

Not only will expansion of G&T programs fail to address the racial and ethnic segregation that exists in the specialized high schools, but also it will serve to increase segregation at the primary school level, further limiting educational opportunities for black and Latinx students.

And Ms. Roda and Kafka note that G + T programs track students, and that such tracking has it’s roots in anti-desegregation… not the direction minority parents are seeking:

Historically, G&T programs and other “advanced” curricular offerings grew during the desegregation era as a way for more-affluent white families to secure additional resources and maintain segregation. Like Advanced Placement or Honors courses, housing separate G&T programs within schools that also contain general education programs is a form of tracking,because students are fully separated for instruction. In most suburban districts, elementary school G&T programs are “pull-out” programs in which G&T students are given access to a special curriculum outside the regular classroom for a set number of hours per week; the remainder of the time, these students are educated alongside their general education peers. But in New York City, G&T programs are full-time, school-within-school models in which students are taught separately from their general education peers.

Worse, the entry to these programs is a standardized test given at an even younger age, which means that the impact of schooling on the test results is even more limited.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”… and many NYC parents and policy makers who conflate “merit” with “high standardized test scores” are offering a solution that does not address one fundamental reality: “merit” and “high standardized test scores” are NOT the same thing. And to add fuel to the insanity argument, there’s this tidbit offered by Mss. Roda and Kafka:

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein already tried the approach of expanding G&T to promote equity back in 2008, and their measure failed miserably.After the city switched from an admissions system based on multiple measures to one based on a single test score, and tried to expand the number of G&T programs, the percentage of black and Latinx student in G&T programs fell by half, from 46 percent of program entrants to just 22 percent.

In short, there is NO evidence that expanding the G + T programs in middle school and elementary school will help expand opportunities for minority children AND lots of evidence it will hurt them. So what IS the way forward?

New York City should phase out G&T programs and replace them with equitable and integrated schools. This shift should include creating support for schools to use the schoolwide enrichment model, an approach to gifted education based on the philosophy that all children have unique gifts and talents—not just the students who score well on standardized tests and in classroom settings—and equipping schools to implement a culturally responsive and sustaining curriculum, in line with the framework set forth by New York State.

THIS is a FAR superior approach to expanding opportunities for all children, especially if it is coupled with the second recommendation advanced by Mss. Roda and Kafka:

…we also strongly recommend that the city eliminate test-based enrollment screens at the elementary, middle, and high schools across the city and replace them with a more holistic approach that includes diversity targets.

There are many “gifted and talented” students whose gifts and talents elude identification from pencil and paper standardized tests… It’s well past time to try something different!