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Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

A Fly in the Ointment for Choice Advocates Who Want to Promote Marketplace Panacea for Inequitable Public Schools

November 17, 2019 Leave a comment

For more than a decade the mainstream press and politicians have adopted the stance that if schools competed for students the same way as grocery store compete for customers the inequities that have plagued schools for decades would disappear completely. There is one city in America where this notion has been put the test… and that is New York City where over a decade ago Mayor Bloomberg launched a program to offer choice to all secondary schools in the city. Why White Parents Were at the Front of the Line for the School Tour, a recent NYTimes article by Liza Shapiro, describes one phenomenon that illustrates why the free-market-choice paradigm is no solution for the inequities among schools in the city. Having a grandson who just went through the grind of applying for high school, I observed that he had some decided benefits compared to some of this classmates.

First and foremost, my grandson had two fully engaged parents who were capable of grasping the byzantine application process, willing and able to do the research necessary to identify the schools that were the best match for him, and worked for employers whose work schedules made it possible for one or both of them to accompany him on the school tours that are a critical factor in determining whether or not he might get into the school of his choice.

Secondly, he is the kind of student who is not intimidated by standardized tests. I know from my experience as a building level administrator that many highly capable students do not perform well on standardized tests and, consequently, their scores do not accurately capture their capabilities in the classroom. In New York City the primary means of screening students for gifted and talented programs and “competitive” high schools is a single standardized test. According to the test, he wasn’t quite gifted and talented when he entered elementary school but his scores were sufficiently high to enable him to enter one of the “competitive” schools. Readers of this blog know that I do not believe that the use of a single test to make these determinations is highly objectionable and without merit… but advocates view them as an objective means of determining qualifications.

Third, he lived at the same address throughout his school career. In an article that appeared in October 2018, Elizabeth Shapiro reported that 1 in 10 students in New York City lived in temporary housing during the previous school year. The article noted that in 144 of the schools in the city, 1/3 or more of the students are homeless! My grandson was never homeless and his parents never moved during his years in public school.

Finally, as the information above implies, my grandson had no Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) growing up. According to research by Childtrends, at the national level 45% of his classmates have experienced at least one such experience and 10% of his classmates have experienced three or more. Child trends defines “Adverse Childhood Experiences” as: psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as exposure in the home to substance abuse, mental illness and suicide, incarceration, violence, physical and emotional neglect, parental separation and divorce, exposure to violence outside of the home, living in unsafe neighborhoods, homelessness, bullying, discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and experience of income insecurity. A child who has experienced ACES did not choose to have those experiences and the adversity he or she faced as a consequence of those ACES is not going to be offset by being able to choose a school to attend.

In short, had my grandson been raised in a different environment, one where he had an absent or disengaged parents, one where he was homeless or moved from year-to-year to different neighborhoods, or one where he had one or more ACEs, it is unlikely that his parents would not have been in line at the Beacon school. And if he was the kind of student who froze when he took a timed standardized test his parents might not have bothered to stand in line realizing his chances of getting into the school were slim. In short, the “choice solution” is no solution at all.

 

Is the SAT About to be Abandoned? If So, Will Standardized Tests Follow?

October 15, 2019 Comments off

A recent PBS New Hour segment reported that many colleges are giving serious consideration to abandoning the use of the SAT as a primary metric for admissions. Why? Here’s one reason:

Critics of the tests have long argued that they reflect income more than ability, a chorus that is growing louder. And this year’s notorious Varsity Blues admission scandal — in which parents, through an intermediary, bribed test administrators to change test scores or let students cheat — reinforced the idea that the tests can be gamed, legally or illegally, by families with enough money.

My hunch is that there is another reason: the SAT score, viewed as a proxy for “academic excellence”, is the basis for lawsuits contending that colleges who use the test as the basis for entry are screening out many Asian-American students who attain higher scores on the tests than either African-American or legacy students.

The so-called “competitive colleges” have many high scoring students to choose from and, in some cases, more than ten times as many applicants as they need in order to sustain themselves. These schools have the luxury of picking and choosing who they want and, consequently, they select based on “diversity”. In many cases “diversity” provides a means for the colleges to avoid affirmative action challenges from African-Americans by accepting students-of-color with SAT scores that are below those of rejected Asian Americans. But “diversity” also provides a means of appeasing graduates who are large donors and whose children SAT scores are middling, a means of fleshing out orchestras, athletic teams, and a means of “creating” geographic and economic diversity in each class.

As the PBS report indicates, when “competitive colleges” ignore SAT scores it does not dilute the academic strength of the school. It DOES, however, undercut any argument that these schools are denying access to “less qualified” students at the expense of one group who consistently scores high on those tests. For Asian-Americans this abandonment of tests is, arguably, bad news. But for those who are born into poverty, who attend public high schools outside the affluent suburbs or college towns the abandonment of the SAT as a basis for entry is good news… for it forces college admissions officers to look at their applications and determine if they have what it takes to succeed in higher education.

From where I sit, the faster SATs are abandoned the better… and with any luck at all those who measure the “quality” of public schools based on standardized test scores will follow suit. If that happens, instead of defining individual “excellence” based on a single test 8th grade students seeking entry to NYC’s “competitive” public schools will be examined in a more wholistic fashion. If that happens, instead of schools receiving a “grade” based in any way on a standardized test they will be carefully assessed using a wholistic accreditation process, one that involves a self-assessment as well as an external one. Would such a system cost more money? Yes— but it would be fairer, more focussed on each student’s individual needs, and would greatly expand the opportunity for students to engage in creative activities. Here’s hoping it happens soon!

Another Article on Gifted and Talented Programs in NYC… Another Case of Acid Indigestion

October 11, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading another article lamenting the proposal to end Gifted and Talented programs in NYC public schools. In today’s NYTimes Eliza Shapiro describes a highly successful program for elementary aged children in East Harlem, one that has “only” 64% of its students drawn from Asian and white students. The problem with this success story is that 31% of the total school population is Asian or white. I was immediately skeptical of the so-called “racial balance” of the “model school” since it did not reflect the city at large. I was even more skeptical when I read that standardized tests remained as the primary “gate” for determining who was “gifted”.

Too many gifted and talented advocates and parents seek acceleration instead of breadth. They want to teach three year olds how to read and third graders algebra and trigonometry. This acceleration on a narrow path limits “giftedness” to those skills and “work products” that can be readily measured and omits skills that defy easy measurement and divergent thinking. Whenever a single test is used, Campbell’s law will kick in and parents seeking to have their children identified as “gifted” will spend precious time and money for test prep programs. The result is that many 4 year olds are missing art, music, athletics, nature… and day dreaming.

The net result is what Neil Postman called “The Disappearance of Childhood” several decades ago when parents began to interpose themselves more and more into the lives of their children. When kids lose the opportunity to explore information on their own, explore their environment on their own, and play games they invent with their friends they learn much more about life than when they are coached to take tests and only engage in sports that are overseen by adults.

The solution for NYC might be to adopt Joseph Renzulli’s enrichment model that broadens that curriculum for all children instead of accelerating a narrower curriculum for those who can learn quickly. Renzulli’s ideas about giftedness are broader than those of Terman— the father of standardized testing. He believes that many children are gifted in ways that cannot be readily measured by a pencil-and-paper test and that it is pointless for children to move quickly through a narrow curriculum that is based on skills and work products that are readily quantifiable. But in our “meritocratic” system where standardized tests have displaced teacher recommendations when it comes to identifying “gifted” students and where statistical artifacts like “reading at the ninth grade level” are viewed as important by parents there is no room for “slow learners” with creative skills.

 

Schools are “Totally Predictable.” We Good With That? I’m Not!

September 18, 2019 Comments off

On his website Modern Learners, Will Richardson often offers thought provoking posts that force readers to examine the way our schools are structured and the way they operate. Schools are “Totally Predictable.” We Good With That? is one such post. In it he asserts that the predictability of the way schools function and the way teachers present lessons undercuts what employers and students want most: the ability to deal with changes that are occurring at an astonishing rate.

As I have often bemoaned, our accountability metrics reinforce the Factory School status quo and, in so doing, reinforce the notion that there is a discrete and finite knowledge that must be learned by students and their own curiosity and interests are not at all important. In compelling students to adhere to a predictable schedule and preordained curriculum imposed by well-intentioned adults schools are unwittingly undercutting their ability to explore information and learn independently… and in so doing are not preparing them for what exists now and will exist in the future.

Gifted and Talented Programs Fail on Two Accounts: They Segregate Based on Race and Economics AND They Tell 90% of Students They are UN-gifted and UN-talented

August 29, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYDaily News op ed article by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka describes one of the major pitfalls of NYC’s current arrangement that separates “Gifted and Talented” students into programs designed to meet their needs: it ends up segregating white and Asian children from the economically disadvantaged African-American and Latina students:

The just-unveiled proposal to eliminate New York City’s Gifted and Talented programs, while also doing away with selective admissions for most middle schools, has predictably alarmed critics who fear that restructuring a system that sorts young children into academic “winners” and “losers” will hurt those who currently benefit from it.

Yet the city’s G&T programs do not serve a highly specialized population of children with exceptional academic needs. Instead, they help to maintain racial and socio-economic segregation by creating exclusive educational spaces. Middle schools that base admissions on students’ test scores, grades and attendance records serve a similar function: They promote segregation while framing high quality education as a scarce resource.

Instead of having gifted and talented programs that sort and select students based on test scores, grades and attendance— and implicitly on parents’ ability to navigate a systems complex as application to college— Mss. Roda and Kafka are seeking de-tracking and “…eliminating exclusive programs”. So if these programs vanish, what will take their place? Based on a Chlakbeat article by Ms. Roda, it would be school-wide enrichment, which she describes as follows:

(School-Wide enrichment) is an approach that tasks school staffers with identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives for older students centered on those topics.

Schoolwide enrichment “is really flipping the whole idea on its head,” said Allison Roda, a professor at Molloy College who has studied the city’s gifted programs. “Instead of sorting students based on perceived ability and whether they can pass a test when they’re 4 years old, the school’s job is to find out what those gifts and talents are and to develop them.”

For younger children, that could mean setting up small groups of students who are pulled out of their classrooms to learn the basics of photography. In middle and high school, staff can give students questionnaires about their interests and use that information to set up electives that could include topics ranging from robotics to journalism.

The idea, experts said, is to create additional learning opportunities that foster curiosity for all students in a school instead of walling off opportunities for students labeled “gifted.”

In sum… school-wide enrichment, which was popularized in the late 20th century by University of Connecticut teacher Joseph Renzulli– is based on the constructivist theories rooted in John Dewey’s philosophy and Jean Piaget’s psychology— the student-centered approach that reinforces the “notion that he learner has prior knowledge and experiences, which is often determined by their social and cultural environment. Learning is therefore done by students’ “constructing” knowledge out of their experiences.” This paradigm is the opposite of the behaviorist approaches used to break learning into its component parts and then have teachers pour the information into students… an approach that also assumes that a student’s capacity for learning can be measured by standardized intelligence tests and assume their “performance” can be measured by standardized achievement tests.

Based on my experience as an administrator for over three decades, it is clear to me that the adoption of this “new paradigm” will be an uphill battle… for virtually everyone in public schools has been exposed only to the behaviorist paradigm and it’s basis in “efficiency” seems to fit the Western perspective on teaching and learning and the Western perspective that education is “hard work”.

I hope that Ms. Roda’s advocacy for this approach results in an embrace of school-wide enrichment… for when it IS put in place every child in the school benefits. But it will only happen if those at the top are willing to persist on promoting it, for the parents of those children who have been identified as “gifted and talented” when they are four years old are already in the  pipeline and are benefitting from the special treatment their “special programs” provide them and they will not go quietly.

This Just In: Recess Helps… A LOT! It Allows Children to Be Children and Not Data Points

August 16, 2019 Comments off

In yet another study that proves the sun will rise every day, researchers gathered data that proves the value of recess. “Becky” who writes for Your Modern Family reports:

…research is actually showing how schools with more recess have happier, smarter, and more focused students.   In fact, recess even helps students to be more friendly and social.

“Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” says Murry, former chairman of the AAP’s Council on School Health.

And why was recess ever considered unworthy? If you guessed that it ate into time needed to prepare for standardized tests you’ve been a careful and diligent reader of this blog for the past eight years. And guess what country assures recess at all costs AND consistently outscores the US in international tests? FINLAND!

Strong research in Finland shows that children who engage in more physical activity and play do better academically than children who are sedentary.  From kindergarten through eighth grade, students in Finland spend 15 minutes of every hour in recess, enjoying unstructured outdoor play. During that time, they love to make up games, expanding their imaginations and creativity.”

15 minutes per HOUR… as opposed to our country that often tacks 15 minutes of recess onto the end of lunch period. For those who scoff that it would never work in our country, Becky has some news for you. A program called the LiiNK Project provided more recess for students and, voila, test scores went up!

A school in Texas took part in the LiiNK Project, where students in K-1 had four 15-minute recess breaks a day.   “Adopting LiiNK requires eliminating one hour of instructional time each day. That is a high risk for educators who believe more instruction leads to higher test scores. But research shows vast benefits to providing kids recess.”

“In districts that have adopted LiiNK, the teachers, administrators, and parents raved about its effects on students. The additional recess, they said, helped their kids focus better, misbehave less, and even lose weight. There were benefits for teachers, too. Sandra Hill, a third-grade teacher at Chavez with 18 years experience, said better-behaved kids improved her morale. She described the difference between teaching LiiNK kids and the kids at her previous schools as “night and day.”   “This year was hands down, the easiest year I’ve had with behavior.”

Cindy Griggs, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary, a LiiNK school in Fort Worth, described a similar change. Recalling her students’ behavior before LiiNK was implemented four years ago, she said, “They were always antsy, messing with the name tags on their desks, poking each other, rolling around on the floor.”

But now with the extra recess: “They’re able to get all that energy out. Coming in, they’ll just be sitting on the carpet zoned in and engaged for 45 minutes.”

A Texas college professor and elementary school Principal were given the last words on this topic, which included lots of links to lots of reports substantiating the value of recess and unstructured play:

Professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, Debbie Rhea, launched the recess initiative, reminding her of her childhood.   “We have forgotten what childhood should be.   And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

“Test scores don’t tell you everything you need to know about a child,” she said. “I hope people can understand that. In this age of accountability and testing, I think we’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with these little kids with their little hearts,and they need to be nurtured too.” – Principal Elizabeth Miller, Chavez Elementary School.

And here’s what is saddening to this retired veteran school superintendent: anyone who entered the teaching profession after NCLB has NEVER known of a time when “children were allowed to be children”.We now have a generation of teachers who know of nothing except accountability based on standardized testing… teachers who themselves were subjected to passing fill-in-the-bubble tests to prove they had the ability to deal with little kids with their little hearts. The sooner we move away from this “meritocracy” based on tests the better!

Where Democrats Land on Charter Schools is Less Important Than Where They Land on Testing

August 14, 2019 Comments off

I was heartened to read an American Prospect article last month by Rachel Cohen indicating that virtually all of the Democrats running for President have taken a position in opposition to for profit charters. The positions range from Bernie Sanders, who echoes the NAACP language verbatim, to Beto O’Rourke, who issued a squishy statement saying that “there is a place for public nonprofit charter schools, but private charter schools and voucher programs—not a single dime in my administration will go to them.” Even Cory Booker, the man who brought for profit schools to Newark, is equivocating on his pro-charter stance. Here’s a twitter post he issued:

Sen. Cory Booker speaks in Newton, IA: “I’m a guy who believes in public education and, in fact, I look at some of the charter laws that are written about this country and states like this and I find them really offensive.”

This is all good news… but in the end it dodges the real problem with public education, which is the accountability model that is based predominantly on standardized test results. As long as schools are sorted into “success” and “failure” bins based on their test scores the teachers in public schools will be compelled to teach to the test and the students in most schools in this nation will be subject to curricula and instruction based on passing a test or facing some kind of political consequence that will reinforce two faulty premises: that students can get better test scores if they and the teachers apply themselves; and, if students attain higher test scores they will be successful later in life. Neither of premises have any basis in reality… yet both of them are ingrained in the voters minds.

It would be especially heartening if one of the candidates for President emphasized this point… but I sense that because doing so would require them to question the whole basis for school accountability they will avoid the issue altogether and testing— and sorting— will continued unabated.