Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

SAT Adds “Adversity Score” to Mitigate Demographic Reality, Sidestep College Decisions to Abandon Tests as Metric

May 24, 2019 Leave a comment

The College Board announced last week that it was introducing an “Adversity Score” in an effort to mitigate the demographic reality that children raised in poverty and minorities generally score lower on their tests than their affluent and white counterparts and to sidestep the reality that more and more colleges are abandoning the use of the test in their acceptance decisions. The bottom line in both cases is that the survival of ETS depends on its acceptance as a proxy for “merit”, and that case is increasingly difficult to make given the fact that there is no correlation between SAT scores and college success and sufficient evidence that individuals with relatively middling-to-low SAT scores fare well in post-secondary education.

Of late there has been wide coverage given to millionaires who spend thousands to help their children prepare for these tests and, in rare instances, pay to have someone take the tests in place of their children. This is happening because so-called “elite colleges” require high SAT scores for admission and entry into those colleges is viewed as an essential first step toward success. But increasingly the “elite colleges” are finding applicant pools full of high scoring students whose SATs cannot be used in any statistical sense to identify the most worthy candidates— especially when the “elite” schools want to offer a wide array of arts, music, and athletic programs that require students whose SAT scores might not otherwise qualify them for entry. Given the mass of students whose SAT scores exceed 1500, the “elite” schools are relying less on the scores and more on other factors. The SAT decision to offer an “adversity Index”, then, would not make a difference in most cases of admission to an “elite” school except to offer a fig-leaf’s protection when a college accepts a low scoring athlete or musician.

From my perspective, the sooner we abandon the SAT as a proxy for “merit” the better. It might be possible that if “elite” colleges abandoned the SAT altogether that US News and World Report would no longer focus on it and MAYBE the whole notion that a single test is the proxy for success would disappear. If that is the case, schools might be able to go about the business of educating students based on something more holistic than a pencil-and-paper test.

 

Advertisements

According to Politicians and Pundits, the Road to Riches is the Road to Fulfillment

May 23, 2019 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an Upshot article by Kevin Carey titled “Can Data Ward Off College Debt? New Strategy Focuses on Results”. Unsurprisingly given the avariciousness of the current POTUS, the pro-privatization tilt of his Secretary of State, the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the unfailing faith in Capitalism on the part of many voters, the EARNINGS are the “results” the “new strategy” intends to measure. Need evidence of this assertion? Here are two paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s essay, describing the “new accountability system” proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander:

Mr. Alexander proposed a “new accountability system” based on loan repayment rates for individual programs within colleges. This, said Mr. Alexander, “should provide colleges with an incentive to lower tuition and help their students finish their degrees and find jobs so they can repay their loans.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Alexander, despite their strong criticism of President Obama on education, are following in the footsteps of his regulatory crackdown on for-profit colleges and short-term certificate programs. Rather than evaluate sprawling educational conglomerates based on the average results of hundreds of programs, the Obama rules disqualified specific programs whose graduates didn’t earn enough money to pay back their loans.

In earlier blog posts I railed against President Obama’s metrics because, like those of Mr. Alexander and the POTUS, they assumed that the purpose of college was to land a job that pays enough to allow the student to pay back loans for college. In effect, college exists to make certain banks collect enough interest to remain profitable.

Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos know the facts about debt… and presumably Mr. Carey does as well. While only 6% of college students in NYS attended for-profit schools, 41% of those who defaulted came from those schools. Discussions that link earnings to majors sidestep this issue. The founder of Trump University, his Secretary of Education, and the many legislators who receive donations from profiteers who want less regulation are banding together to divert our collective attention away from the real problem and, at the same time, reinforcing the idea that college is about getting a high paying job and not “guiding people toward more enlightened, fulfilling lives.”

And here’s the bottom line: the policies promulgated by our legislators and pundits, assume our lives can only be fulfilled if we make a lot of money… and the more we earn the more we will be fulfilled.

Another Assault on Free Speech: Banning Books on Injustice in Prisons

May 22, 2019 Leave a comment

AP writer Terry Tang recently reported that the ACLU is appealing a decision by the AZ Department of Corrections to ban the book “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.” Written by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, Ms. Tang describes the book as one that “…examines law enforcement and mass incarceration through its treatment of African American men.” And she indicates that the author is at a loss to understand why his book is being banned:

Butler, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said his publisher was notified by email in March that his book had “unauthorized content.” The notice did not specify what led to the decision but warned that some aspect of the 2017 book was “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility.”

Butler said he is mystified as to what raised alarm bells. He uses the title, which is a maneuver police have used to restrain a suspect by the neck, throughout the book as a metaphor for how society and law subjugate black men. Nowhere does Butler advocate violent or retaliatory behavior.

“I disavow violence because first, I think it’s immoral, and second, because it wouldn’t work,” Butler said. “I’ve received letters from several inmates who have read ‘Chokehold’ while they are serving time. No one has indicated that reading ‘Chokehold’ has caused any problems in prison.”

I find it hard to believe that a book that the author states does not advocate “violent or retaliatory behavior” could be “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility.” But I DO understand how a book dealing with the treatment of African American men might provoke some unsettling questions in prisons that currently house them in disproportionate numbers.

It strikes me that one of the major purposes of schooling is to raise unsettling questions and promote open-minded dialogue. In prison, though, I have the sense that compliance and conformity in behavior and thinking are more important. I would like to believe that outside of prison things are different… but as long as students are being trained to pass examinations with one-right-answer I might be deluded.

Billionaires Invest in Advertising Campaign to Save High Stakes Testing in NYC

May 7, 2019 Comments off

As noted in several posts in this blog, New York City’s insistence on equating high scores on a single test with “merit” is foolish and counterproductive and contributes to the current admissions dis-equilibrium dilemma whereby black and Hispanic students are underrepresented and Asian and white students are over-represented. Fortunately NYC’s current mayor, Bill DeBlasio, sees the absurdity in using a single test as the determinant to enter the “elite” schools in the city and is proposing a fairer method for selecting students, one that might result in a student population at the “elite” schools that mirrors that in the city as a whole.

But some in the city favor the retention of the current test: the parents of those children who test well, the parents who can afford to spend thousands for “test prep” courses, and now billionaires who sincerely believe that “merit” and “high scores on a single test” are equivalent. As reported in a NYTimes article late last month by Eliza Shapiro, two billionaires, Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, and Richard D. Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup, are spending millions on a PR campaign to save the tests used to screen students for “elite” high schools. Why? From what I can tell both men are invested in maintaining the political status quo that is reflected in the status quo of public education:

They (Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons) are championing a range of educational ideas that include more gifted and talented programs, more test preparation, better middle schools and more elite high schools. Mr. de Blasio’s administration, on the other hand, is skeptical of high-stakes testing and academic tracking in the school system.

Mr. de Blasio is seeking to replace the test for the eight so-called specialized schools with an approach where top performers from each middle school would be offered spots.

Ms. Shapiro’s article indicates that this is yet another battle between the proponents of Terman and those of Dewey. In the early 20th century a there was a battle between two schools of thought regarding tests. One one side were those like Edward Thorndyke and Lewis Terman who believed tests measured an absolute “intelligence” that was largely unchangeable. On the other side were those like John Dewey who saw the social environment on the activity of mind and behavior as more crucial than innate intelligence. Indeed, Mr. Dewey and his acolytes were dismissive of public education as a means of sorting and selecting and transmitting a fixed set of facts, which was implicit in the views of Thorndyke, Terman, et al. Rather, Mr. Dewey saw the purpose of education as “…the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good.”

In NYC, it appears that Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons are supporting Thorndyke and Terman while Mr. deBlasio is supporting Dewey. At the macro level, Thorndyke and Terman prevailed and their legacy is the reliance on testing as the main means of sorting and selecting children, teachers, and now, thanks to NCLB and it’s successors, schools. Mr. deBlasio is countering that movement. Here’s hoping he succeeds.

The Emerson Collective’s Re-Boot of High School Sounds Eerily Familiar… and Impossible to Scale Without a Change in Metrics

April 12, 2019 Comments off

Rebooting High School“, a recent Axios article by Kaveh Waddell, describes the efforts of XQ Schools, an affiliate of the Emerson Collective to devise a plan for high schools that teaches “future proof” skills. I completely agree with the direction XQ schools are heading as described by Ms. Waddell:

High schoolers are often being taught skills that will soon be handed over to machines, and they’re missing out on more valuable ones.

  • “The current system was created to develop a large body of people who can perform repetitive tasks in a strict hierarchy,” says Scott Looney, head of Hawken School in Ohio.
  • “We’re preparing young people for jobs that won’t exist,” says Russlynn Ali, CEO of the education nonprofit XQ Institute and a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education.

Education research has largely overlooked high school, Ali tells Axios — but that’s started to change. Among a new spate of efforts:

  • A new teaching method at Summit Shasta, a charter school just outside San Francisco, where students choose the skills they want to focus on — pegged to their college and career aspirations. (Read about my visit to Summit Shasta.)
  • A curriculum revamp at Lakeside School in Seattle, in which faculty and students are developing a list of future-proof skills they want to teach.
  • A “mastery transcript under development by a group of top high schools — Hawken’s Looney is the project’s founder — that measures a student’s skills, habits and knowledge as an alternative to the typical list of letter grades.

Some experts liken the potential upheaval from automation to the economic changes that sparked an education revolution more than a century ago, which made high school the norm for American students.

  • The High School Movement, which gathered steam in the 1910s, was the result of two big developments, according to Harvard scholars Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz.
  • The first change was an increased financial return to additional years of education; the second was increased demand for more specialized skills.
  • Those factors may soon be back in play, as companies begin demanding “soft skills” like creativity, adaptability, and oral communication.

As one who entered public education in 1970, I find the descriptions of the 18 schools eerily familiar. They sound like the kind of high schools envisioned by true education reformers like Philadelphia Public Schools Superintendent Mark Shedd, the kinds of schooling advocated by Ivan Illich and A.S. Neill, and the kinds of high schools my classmates in the Ford Foundation program at the University of Pennsylvania dreamed of creating.

Now, nearly fifty years after beginning my career in public education and dreaming of Schools Without Walls or De-schooling Society or schools that meet the unique needs of each child, I am reading the profiles of 18 such schools underwritten by a Foundation funded by the estate of Apple’s billionaire founder whose corporation dodged $40,000,000,000 in taxes.

If businesses and politicians wanted to transform high schools, the first step would be to create and aggressively promote a new set of metrics to assess students, schools and colleges. As described below, our current methods of measurement reinforce the current system that was designed to “develop a large body of people who can perform repetitive tasks in a strict hierarchy”. These metrics compel schools to focus on preparing students to pass tests, a skill that might get them into college but will not prepare them for a future of fast-changing jobs that rely increasingly on interpersonal skills and creativity and less on the accumulation of knowledge that can readily be accessed by machines. Here’s how our current system of metrics undercuts the development of “future proof” skills by focussing relentlessly on test scores:

  • Because K-12 students are assigned numeric or letter grades based on how well they absorb content in a fixed time frame they are not assessed on their skills or habits or the “future proof” soft skills.
  • Because the metrics used to measure K-12 public are based primarily on standardized test scores, public school teachers focus their attention on boosting those test scores at the expense of helping students develop soft skills like creativity, adaptability, and oral communication.
  • Because colleges and universities have effectively adopted the US News and World Report’s metrics they place an increased emphasis on the SAT scores, GPAs, and class ranks of the applicants and especially the entering class. This, in turn, puts pressure on students to focus on improving their test scores and GPAs reinforcing a vicious circle that in no way addresses the “future proof” soft skills the experimental high schools emphasize.

My thought: if the Emerson Collective wanted to REALLY make a difference in ALL high schools across the country, they could take the $40,000,000,000 saved by dodging taxes and invest it in purchasing ETS and the US News and World Report and, after the acquisition, change the metrics used to measure schools and colleges and universities. As the aphorism says: “What Gets Measured Gets Done”… and right now what is getting measured is not what is important for students to know in the future.

 

Standardized Tests, “Failing Schools” and the Emerging Un-Enlightenment

April 11, 2019 Comments off

I read “Trump’s Most Worrisome Legacy” by economist Joseph Stiglitz’s in yesterday’s Common Dreams and got the chills he hoped to elicit as a result. The legacy that created a knot in Stiglitz’s (and my) stomach is this: President Donald Trump is not interested in seeking the truth.

One section in Mr. Stiglitz’s essay, an overview of impact of the Scottish Enlightenment, was especially thought provoking:

Adam Smith tried to (explain the basis for America’s wealth) in his classic 1776 book The Wealth of Nations. For centuries, Smith noted, standards of living had been stagnant; then, toward the end of the eighteenth century, incomes start to soar. Why?

Smith himself was a leading light of the great intellectual movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment. The questioning of established authority that followed the earlier Reformation in Europe forced society to ask: How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?

From the search for answers to these questions arose a new epistemology, based on the empiricism and skepticism of science, which came to prevail over the forces of religion, tradition, and superstition.Over time, universities and other research institutions were established to help us judge truth and discover the nature of our world. Much of what we take for granted today – from electricity, transistors, and computers to lasers, modern medicine, and smartphones – is the result of this new disposition, undergirded by basic scientific research (most of it financed by government).

The absence of royal or ecclesiastical authority to dictate how society should be organized to ensure that things worked out well, or as well as they could, meant that society had to figure it out for itself. But devising the institutions that would ensure society’s wellbeing was a more complicated matter than discovering the truths of nature.In general, one couldn’t conduct controlled experiments.

Mr. Stiglitz then describes how our country devised institutions that ensured things would work out as well as they could… and described how Mr. Trump has undermined those same institutions by emphasizing the accumulation of wealth over the search for truth. He writes:

But what concerns me most is Trump’s disruption of the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of society. Trump’s “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) agenda is, of course, not about restoring the moral leadership of the United States. It embodies and celebrates unbridled selfishness and self-absorption. MAGA is about economics.

But I have news for Mr. Stiglitz: MAGA’s embrace of “unbridled selfishness and self-absorption” and roots in “economics” reflects of our culture’s perspective on schooling. The purpose of getting an education in America is not to find the answer to questions like “How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?” The purpose of getting an education in America is about scoring well on standardized tests that value convergent thinking; about promoting oneself over others in order to gain entry into a prestigious college; and, ultimately, about earning a lot of money. These are the values we are inculcating in students and have inculcated in them for at least two decades of test-based “reform” that is the basis for NCLB, RTTT, and now ESSA. And while Mr. Trump’s MAGA movement “celebrates unbridled selfishness and self-absorption” and places the accumulation of wealth on a higher pedestal, I believe the MAGA movement has its roots in the message we’ve given to students for decades that the primary purpose of schooling is to earn a lot of money.

It is revealing that several reports indicate that the tech billionaires do not enroll their children in elite private schools or affluent public schools: they enroll them in Waldorf Schools whose goal is “…to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.” Standardized tests are not given in Waldorf Schools… and their “success” is not measured by their enrollment in a prestigious college or their lifelong earnings. They are more interested in the questions posed by Adam Smith: “How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?

 

 

What Makes a Fair College Admissions Policy? JStor Invites Three Writers to Respond… And Their Responses Show What is UN-Fair

March 29, 2019 Comments off

I receive a weekly newsletter from JStor, a website that provides scholarly research on a host of timely topics. This past week’s edition included a reaction from three researchers on the question “What Makes a Fair College Admissions Policy?” In reading the responses, I found that all three writers concur on one issue: as long as their are gross inequities in the funding of public K-12 schools there will never be an admissions policy that could be deemed “fair”.

After recounting all of the potential “objective” means of determining qualifications, Julie Park’s essay on race-neutral admissions policies offers this insight:

Let’s remember what’s even more unfair: That low-income students and so many students of color are denied access to high-quality public schools. That many affluent, White, and East Asian American students experience tremendous advantage in college preparation. And of course, that there exist policies and practices that overtly favor the wealthy, from donor preferences to the incredible admissions scandal of recent months. These things are much, much more unfair than someone with a perfect SAT score—one of thousands of similar applicants in the pool—getting turned down by Harvard and then being able to attend some other fantastic college.

Christine Yano also laments efforts to objectify student assessment in an effort to be “fair”. She rather views the development of a cohort as an art based on the intuition of an admissions officer as opposed to a science based on cold hard data. She writes:

Fairness…requires admissions officers to look beyond numbers and conduct the screening process not as science, but as art. This is the art of human assessment, predicting the future from the past. Adding up test scores does not necessarily guarantee success within this ideal of a vibrant, richly diverse educational institution. Nor is GPA a pure predictor, if the successful life of a campus is also measured by unquantifiable elements such as leadership and creativity, both broadly conceived.

Nadirah Farah Foley advocates a move away from meritocracy asserting that “A truly fair system would reject meritocratic logics and instead operate on the principle that high-quality education is not a reward for the few, but a right of the many“. After reading the first two analyses, both of which implicitly accept the world as it is, I found myself nodding with complete agreement at Ms. Foley’s call for a total and complete overhaul of the current system:

I think we need to go a step further than asking what constitutes a fairadmissions process, and instead ask what constitutes a fair society. We should recognize that our college admissions process is merely holding a mirror up to our society, reflecting how competitive, individualistic, unequal, and unfair the United States is. A truly radical solution would require the reorganization of our entire class structure and the redistribution of resources,thus obviating the need for such a high-stakes college application process.

It seems that we cling to meritocracy as a way of clinging to some hope of a better life in an increasingly unequal world.But rather than investing our hope in a fairer admissions system, I think we should dream bigger, and invest our hope in a more just society—one in which we live in community rather than competition.That might look like taking up Harvard professor Lani Guinier’s call to emphasize “democratic merit,” or it might look like dispensing with merit—and its attendant acceptance of deserved inequality—entirely.

Everyone deserves access to education. A fair admissions system would have that as a core premise and reject ostensibly just, “meritocratic” inequalities.

How do we get from where we are now to where we want to be? We need to start by acknowledging that the opportunities offered to children raised in poverty are in no way comparable to those available to affluent children and that any pretense of “fairness” requires us to either spend more on K-12 education or open the doors to all higher education institutions to all students. While neither of these options is likely to occur in my lifetime, they could happen with a generation if we face the unfairness that exists today.