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Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

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

September 18, 2019 Leave a comment

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.

Self-Directed Learning: A Place Where Libertarianism and Progressivism Intersect

August 2, 2019 Comments off

A series of articles in the libertarian Cato Institute’s July edition of Cato Unbound offers four essays that describe a point where libertarianism and progressivism intersect: the need to move away from our lock-step factory model of education in the direction of self-directed learning. The opening paragraphs introducing the essays describes the basic libertarian argument for questioning the status quo and re-thinking the voucher plans espoused by their iconic economist Milton Friedman:

Libertarians tend to support school choice. But for whom? In the voucher model, parents may choose among various private schooling options for their children and designate their vouchers to the schools they’ve selected.

But what if school itself is a matter of choice? And what does it look like when students and parents choose unstructured learning instead?Is this unconventional choice an option that libertarians should prefer? Perhaps: much about the conventional experience of primary and secondary schooling is the product of bureaucratization and standardization—and much of that comes directly from state involvement in education.

So what is the relationship between libertarian politics and unstructured schooling? How seriously should libertarians take the idea of scrapping school as we know it, and replacing it with child-directed learning?

As one who read and admired the thinking of A.S. Neill, John Holt, and Ivan Illich, there is an appeal to seeing public education as it exists today wither and disappear. Since the passage of NCLB, education policy has been dictated by the desire of politicians and parents to ensure that children graduating from high school meet “high standards”. But setting such standards without increasing funding or changing the age-based grade-level cohort scheme for schooling has proven to be an impossibility. The result is “failing schools” based on standardized test scores and increasingly dis-engaged students as today’s students find the lessons linked to test scores dispiriting and pointless in a world where they can get answers to questions that concern them directly with a Google Search or the use of an app. In the next few days I plan to explore the ideas presented in these Cato Unbound essays and offer some ideas on how we might change to current paradigm for schooling in a way that helps all children have an opportunity to learn more by directing their own learning.

Need More Time on That Standardized Test? If You Have the Money and the Know How, You Can Get It!

August 1, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes reported on a phenomenon we began to observe well over a decade ago in the New Hampshire School District I led: affluent and knowledgeable parents are seeking and securing additional time for their children to take high stakes standardized tests. How? Through the 504 loophole. Writers Dana Goldstein and Jugal Patel describe it thusly in their opening paragraphs:

The boom began about five years ago, said Kathy Pelzer, a longtime high school counselor in an affluent part of Southern California. More students than ever were securing disability diagnoses, many seeking additional time on class work and tests.

A junior taking three or four Advanced Placement classes, who was stressed out and sleepless. A sophomore whose grades were slipping, causing his parents angst. Efforts to transfer the children to less difficult courses, Ms. Pelzer said, were often a nonstarter for their parents, who instead turned to private practitioners to see whether a diagnosis — of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, perhaps, or anxiety or depression — could explain the problem.

Such psychological assessments can cost thousands of dollars, and are often not covered by insurance. For some families, the ultimate goal was extra time — for classroom quizzes, essays, state achievement tests, A.P. exams and ultimately the SAT and ACT.

“You’ll get what you’re looking for if you pay the $10,000,” Ms. Pelzer said, citing the highest-priced evaluations. “It’s a complicated mess.”

The results of this “complicated mess” are predictable: if you have the money, you can buy the time your child needs. If you don’t have the money, you’re stuck. And while word on this was fairly localized over a decade ago, social media have made it possible for the information to be shared far and wide… and the consequences are that the children of affluent parents are having their presumed needs met and the poor have a steeper hill to climb:

From Weston, Conn., to Mercer Island, Wash., word has spread on parenting message boards and in the stands at home games: A federal disability designation known as a 504 plan can help struggling students improve their grades and test scores. But the plans are not doled out equitably across the United States.

In the country’s richest enclaves, where students already have greater access to private tutors and admissions coaches, the share of high school students with the designation is double the national average. In some communities, more than one in 10 students have one — up to seven times the rate nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

Ms. Goldstein and Ms. Patel’s thoroughly researched article describes the genesis of 504 plans and how they became the workaround of choice for parents who could afford to have their child diagnosed by a clinician who specializes in that area. It includes stark data indicating that wealthy districts have twice the percentage of 504 cases as poor districts and blacks are disproportionately lacking in 504 accommodations.

The fix might be easy: eliminate the timing of the tests— or better yet make the stakes of the tests lower. Either way, the playing field will become more level and the importance of test preparation will be diminished… and that would be good for public education.

Will NYS’s Review of Graduation Requirements End Regents Tests? Alas… I Doubt It

July 30, 2019 Comments off

A recent Chalkbeat article by Reema Amin reports that New York State will be launching a blue ribbon commission to look at graduation requirements. The commission, whose members have not been named, will examine four big questions, one of which is this:

How much does passing the state’s vaunted Regents exams improve graduation rates, student achievement, and college readiness?

Over two decades ago, when I was Superintendent in an Upstate New York district, the Board of Regents adopted a new set of graduation standards calling for all students to pass five Regents examinations on the pretext that doing so would signal that the high school graduates were ready for work or ready for higher education. The content supervisors in the district were not alarmed about the consequences for students, assuming that the cut scores for passing the Regents tests would be adjusted to ensure that more students would be able to pass. But several were concerned about the consequences for teachers, many of whom would need to change the content of their courses to focus on passing the test instead of focussing on important but difficult to measure skills like interpersonal communication, creative problem solving, and teamwork.

The committee examining graduation standards will have a tough sell if they choose to abandon the Regents, for there are generations of high school graduates who view the Regents as evidence of excellence even though study after study has shown, in Ms. Amin’s words:

…these assessments don’t better-prepare graduates for life after high school and can harm certain students, such as students of color from low-income families.

The four questions the committee will wrestle with are these:

what should children know and be able to do before they graduate;

how should they be able to demonstrate their knowledge;

to what degree does requiring the passage of Regents exams improve student achievement, graduation rates and college readiness;

and what other measures of achievement can signal high school completion.

Responding to the first question will require consensus building among employers, post-secondary admissions counselors, and high school educators. Reaching consensus will be difficult but attainable. It is the metrics that will challenge the committee… for doing any kind of portfolio review is a laborious, time-intensive, and— therefore– costly process that the committee will likely find too daunting.

I hope I am wrong… but I think the Regents will survive yet another review in the same way that the entrance examinations to elite NYC high schools and SATs hang on despite evidence that they are not valid screening assessments. Like the entrance exams and the SATs, the Regents are a cheap, fast, and seemingly precise measure of “academic knowledge” that are “proven”— especially in the minds of those who succeeded on them in the past, who are those who will be making the decisions for the future.