Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

“Opt-In”: NYS School Districts’ Brilliant Workaround to USDOE Testing Mandate

April 7, 2021 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch posted about a brilliant solution several NYS school districts came up with to counter the ill-starred decision by USDOE mandating testing during the 2020-21 school year. Here is is in it’s entirety:

In New York, several school districts announced an “opt in” policy for state testing, led by the Ossining School District. The deal: If parents want their children to take the tests, they must write a letter asking for them to “opt in.”Other districts followed. Now the entire state of New York will allow districts to have an “opt in” policy. If parents want their child tested, it will be done. If they don’t, they don’t have to “opt out” or do anything. Some districts may prefer to stick with the old way of requiring everyone to take the tests.

This is a remarkable turn of events!

The U.S. Department of Education has denied waivers to states that don’t want to administer the tests. This was an incredibly tone-deaf decision that brought an outcry from educators and parents, who know it is unfair to administer standardized tests in the midst of a pandemic. During the campaign, candidate Joe Biden promised to get rid of the annual standardized tests. But his test-happy minions in the Department of Education issued a decision breaking his promise, even before Secretary Cardona was confirmed. He has had to explain and try to justify an very bad decision.

May New York’s Opt-In strategy travel far and wide!

Here’s hoping the State Department of Education doesn’t intervene… which, based on my experience and given the Governor’s antipathy toward public schools, is a possibility.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Reason Article on Elite Fairfax County HS Conflates High Test Scores with “Merit”

April 3, 2021 Leave a comment

Libertarian Reason magazine writer Robby Soave wrote an article yesterday titled “An Elite Public High School Changed Its Admissions Standards To Reduce the Asian-American Student Population“. The problem, as Mr. Soave sees it, is that Thomas Jefferson High School was watering down its admission standards to provide more diversity, a diminishment of standards that is predicated on the notion that “Merit <=> High Test Scores”. Here’s his overview of the issue:

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, is one of the most elite public schools in the country. In 2019, U.S. News and World Report ranked it as America’s best overall high school.

It also educates a substantial racial minority population: 70 percent of TJ’s students are Asian-Americans—many of them children of immigrants.

You might think progressive education officials would celebrate this. Instead, they have decided to jettison the school’s famously tough admissions test in favor of a “holistic” (i.e., subjective and arbitrary) systemthat will permit officials to reject Asian-American students in favor of less-deserving students who belong to other racial categories.

There are at least two problems with Mr. Soave’s definition of the problem. The overriding problem is that a single “famously tough” pencil and paper test is the basis for admission, which presumes that this “famously tough” test separates the meritorious students from those who lack the academic talent to thrive at “one of the most elite public schools in the country”. The second problem, which is inextricably tied to the first, is that Mr. Soave uses the US News and World Report ranking as the basis for defining Thomas Jefferson HS as “one of the most elite public schools in the country”. Why is that a problem? Because the primary metric for sorting schools based on USNews and World Report is— you guessed it— standardized test scores! It stands to reason that a public school that relies on a “famously tough” admissions test would produce students who would do well on future standardized tests. This would be akin to using height as a benchmark for admission to high school and then declaring that the high school is “elite” because it has the tallest mean height in the country.

The balance of Mr. Soave’s article lambaste’s any form of admissions standards that attempt to devise a plan that results in the racial demographics of the “elite school” mirroring the racial demographics of the district as a whole with particular disdain for admitting students from each and every school into the program.

This just in: as long as test scores are the primary metric for determining “merit” those students who do well on tests will always be at an advantage over those students who cannot perform in short, intense bursts under high stress. The sprinters will always beat the cross country runners and claim that their victory in a dash is proof that they are faster and better runners. It isn’t true on the track… and it isn’t true in school.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Here’s a Tough Question for the Biden Administration: Why Not Get Behind the Community Schools Model?

April 1, 2021 Leave a comment

In a recent post I let Joe Biden off the hook for breaking his promise to teachers that he would abandon the use of standardized tests despite the lack of any evidence that they measure anything worthwhile. It struck me that taking up the battle over testing, which seems to have bi-partisan support, was a losing proposition. But here’s a better way forward, instead of staking out a position of being AGAINST tests, why not aggressively stake out a position of being FOR community schools. There are two reasons for doing so: they work and their local community building ethos mirrors the philosophy of local governance that should be the Democratic party’s brand.

As this YES article by Florinda Rodov indicates, community schools are demonstrably effective:

The idea behind community schools is that poverty, housing instability, trauma, and subpar health care impede students’ ability to learn, so schools must mindfully address these challenges. While about 5000 community schools exist nationwide, they’re most prevalent in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the $200 million Community Schools Initiative in 2014 with the goal of creating 100 community schools. Over time, they’ve grown to 267 schools serving 135,000 students in low-income areas. According to a three-year study by the Rand Corporation released in January, they’re working…

Encouragingly, math and English scores are up at P.S. 67, as are attendance rates. Meanwhile, discipline incidents are down. Across the 113 (out of 267) community schools Rand studied over three years, it found improvements in attendance, math scores, and graduation and promotion rates. Among elementary and middle community schools, disciplinary incidents were down compared to non-community schools. Furthermore, behavioral incidents declined among Black students and students with disabilities. But disciplinary incidents among high school students didn’t decline. And while math scores improved, English scores did not. Still, the results are promising enough for Treyger to declare, “Every school should be a community school.”

By integrating services for children in one place it makes it possible to break down the inter-agency silos and address the whole child more effectively. And that whole child approach is what children at risk need the most:

This whole child approach tackles physical, socio-emotional, and academic needs equally. While benefiting individual students, it also addresses systemic concerns. For example, restorative discipline practices such as positive reinforcement, talking circles, and community building instead of zero-tolerance policies including suspensions and expulsions create a supportive school culture, according to Derek Anello, PWC’s VP of Programs. They also mitigate the chance that students will end up in the school-to-prison pipeline, which refers to the punitive discipline that starts in pre-K and pushes kids out of school, onto the street, and into the criminal justice system. Boys of color and those with special needs are disproportionately affected, but girls of color also face biased disciplinary action.

The notion of viewing schools as part of a system makes sense politically for Democrats, who acknowledge that problems like racism, sexism, and “othering” are systemic and not the fault of individuals… and undoing a culture that reinforces racism, sexism and “othering” requires a systemic approach where everyone works together to define inclusivity and harmony.

Of course one problem with community schools is that what they offer to a community eludes measurement that can readily be converted to spreadsheets the way test scores can be used. And because the needle on test scores didn’t move significantly across the board the appetite for expanding the programs in NYC diminished. But test scores are NOT the be all and end all of education nor are they the be all and end all of “success”. If the Biden administration wants to improve schools he could do so by maintaining the standardized tests beloved of the green-eye-share crowd but placing those tests in their proper context: as a fraction of what is important in schools and an even smaller fraction of what schools should be providing in the way of learning.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,