Sunday, March 27, 2011

How High Stakes Testing has Divorced Reality

The educational community, such as it is today, is split about the use of high-stress, high-stakes testing. I've met a teacher or two in the past few years, who have helped develop and who have profited from preparing the testing regiments that are in use today. And behind them stand an army of companies whose very existence is owed to the process of standardized tests.

My conversation with them often goes something like this; if public schoolings primary objective is to assimilate children into the culture, to indoctrinate them with the principles of representative democracy, and to provide the children with the opportunity to learn what will be necessary for them to pursue their life's ambitions - why are we insisting on homogenized and, let's face it, arbitrary testing regiments that every child is forced to psychologically and academically pass?

And the answer is often that "we know best", "every child must absolutely without exception know this, that, and the other thing", and defensively, "*WE* have taken all of that into consideration".

But the fact remains that these arguments are both shallow and empty often driven by nostalgia, political agendas, and a hubritic ignorance that is ubiquitous in the teaching community (what we worry?).

The other way of thinking about testing is the way the best teachers have always used tests - as a metric of progress from where someone is to where *they* want to go and should go based on that inertia. For example, the cliche that, "schools need to keep raising expectations" is considered a political truth in this country.

And so schools try to oblige. Children who already have a love of reading are subjected to reading exercises that are mind-numbing. And over the years those who might be lifelong readers avoid the pain.

The expectations for an artist are different than the expectations for an athlete. a child who loves working with their hands have different expectations than those who like to research ancient history. And so all those natural expectations are sacrificed for artificial expectations. And with those artificial expectations come stress.

For the future young artist, they must put aside their love for subjects that they have no aptitude or love for. The same for the athlete, the musicians, dancers, cooks, plumbers, social workers and so on. In fact the standardized tests mostly serve the interests of politicians and bean counters, not the children.

And even in the political realm the pressure of standardized tests on poor, urban schools is nothing less than sadistic.

Which brings us to a couple of incidents this week that demonstrate how far wrong we've gone with the current testing practice.

First, a young girl- Isabella Oleschuk - an honors student runs away from home. The incident is described this way from this Courant article,
One question police did not answer is why Isabella ran away.

Brady, the superintendent for Regional School District No. 5, said he didn't have an answer, either.

"It's very perplexing," he said. "We saw her as a typical seventh-grader, a good student, with a circle of friends." Isabella is an honor roll student, he said.

The middle school's principal, Kathleen Fuller-Cutler, allowed students to respond to their classmate's disappearance in a positive way, Brady said. They decorated her locker, leaving messages of hope there and on her empty desks in her classes, he said.

The article claims the police could not figure out *why* Isabella ran away! In fact article after article are filled with descriptions of how fragile children are, how easily exploited they can be, HOW MUCH WE ALL CARE about children but few answer the obvious question, "Why did she run away?"

This article from the Connecticut Post tells us precisely why;

Beth and Roman Oleschuk are keeping their daughter home from school for now, said John Brady, superintendent of the Amity Regional School District.

"They want some time to regroup as a family. We'll provide tutoring if necessary, and then when Isabella is ready we look forward to welcoming her back to school in a way that is most comfortable for her.''

Brady discounted a statement by the girl's father that his daughter ran away because of pressure from taking the Connecticut Mastery Tests.

"That has us perplexed, because the tests ended on March 16, and this happened four days later," he said. "And we make it as normal as possible; the test is only an hour a day and there is no homework given during the testing period."

But a woman whose daughter is also a seventh-grader at Amity Middle School and is a friend of Isabella's said test pressure might have contributed to the girl's decision to flee.

"Those tests are hell for a typical kid, let alone these who are very bright but can't navigate the lunchroom," she said.

The woman, who asked that she and her daughter not be identified, said that the two girls and a few others like them have found each other in middle school and have formed a clique of their own. The woman said Isabella and her daughter are socially naïve and sometimes struggled with unstructured time during school like recess and time on the bus.

"They are super bright, but they don't handle things the way a typical kid would," she said.

An Amity district source said that Isabella does not receive special education services and has no identified social or behavioral problems. Assistant Chief Edward Koether said Orange police had not been called to the Oleschuk's Derby Avenue home for any reason until the girl was reported missing Sunday morning.

So how could the police not know? Why would all these concerned citizens dismiss the obvious?

You see if it was a bully then the police guns cocked, Miami Vice ready could take Brutus down. The community would be saved. Brutus could be shipped to Afghanistan to ply his stock-in-trade.

But the police aren't equipped to handle the bully they found - high-stress tests. They can't taze it, shoot it, rough it up.

So the only other explanation is that Isabella must have a special need - something MUST BE wrong with *her*. What other explanation could there be? Surely you've all seen the movie where the child is possessed.

And all those concerned citizens draw the line at testing. TESTING AM GOOD! So sayeth the LORDS OF TESTING. Yes, blah-blah-blah - children are fragile.... yada, yada, yada - but jamming standardized tests down their throats cures it all.

In America, the bully is testing and there ain't a damned thing anyone's going to do to bring it down.

The second incident involves a congresswoman from Alabama trying to legislate an easier-to-remember version of the mathematical PI.
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Ala.) is sponsoring HR 205, The Geometric Simplification Act, declaring the Euclidean mathematical constant of pi to be precisely 3. The bill comes in response to data and rankings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, rating the United States' 15 year-olds 25th in the world in mathematics.

OECD is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011, and the Paris-based NGO released its international educational rankings, placing the US in a three-way tie for math, equaling Portugal and Ireland, just beneath No. 24 Luxembourg.

"That long-held empirical value of pi, I am not saying it should be necessarily viewed as wrong, but 3 is a lot better," said Roby, the 34-year old legislator representing Alabama's second congressional district, ushered into office in the historic 2010 Republican mid-term bonanza.

Pi has long been defined as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius, a mathematical constant represented by the Greek letter "π," with a value of approximately 3.14159. HR 205 does not change the root definition, per se. The bill simply, and legally, declares pi to be exactly 3.

Roby, raised in Montgomery, Ala., is on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education.

"It's no panacea, but this legislation will point us in the right direction. Looking at hard data, we know our children are struggling with a heck of a lot of the math, including the geometry incorporating pi," Roby said. "I guarantee you American scores will go up once pi is 3. It will be so much easier."

Laughable as this sounds, it is telling. We no longer care about inquisitive minds, learning, offering children the opportunity to find their own bliss.

Children are pawns to the delusional races, test status rankings, and me-first pathologies that drive this monster.

Yes sir. Children are fragile. Now back to the competition.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Public Accountability Tool

To understand CT's bloated public spending, one needs a tool like this:

http://www.ctsunlight.org/PayrollBranching/tabid/72/Default.aspx.

Connecticut Sunlight org is a very interesting site, enjoy.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Guidance Goes Digital

EO Smith's own Douglas Melody has joined the ranks of bloggers. I couldn't be happier or more proud.

I'm actually a bit late to the grand opening of two blogs. One called Learning Matters and the other called Guidance Matters.

Who said you can't teach veteran educators new tricks?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Responding to Ravitch

Diane Ravitch has a guest blog on Edutopia that once again reinforced my perception of her educational opinions as opportunist pandering. Her thinking is neither original nor thought-provoking but it is annoying.

Here's some of what she asserts:

Myth #2: Achievement Will Soar With Younger, More Enthusiastic Teachers

A second, related narrative asserts that teachers who work in the poorest schools are lazy and burned out; achievement will soar if only we can fire more of the older teachers and replace them with young, enthusiastic ones, especially those from Teach for America, who have only five weeks of training. But this demand runs counter to what we know to be true in every other profession: experience is a plus. Indeed, while the evidence is mixed on some aspects of education policy, it is unmistakably clear on this point: experience is one of the best predictors of teacher quality.

I responded to the whole set of arguments this way;


Ravitch is as much responsible for the way things are as anyone. For over thirty years she's served in positions of authority often double-talking.

Her *truth* is disingenuous. The so-called achievement gap is pure fiction, a statistical artefact of an education industry run amok. It is the coinage of a social-engineered subliminal class-ism. By warehousing the poor in urban encampments, the rest of America doesn't have to deal or interact with them. The real-estate pyramid schemes that have wrecked our economy were the engine that kept this phenomenon rolling profitably.

Educators have known for forty years that children of poverty environments cannot be lifted from that original state of ignorance and desperation by schooling alone. We can talk about this. The fact that Ravitch insists that we can't speaks to the real myth.

Myth #1: Educators are the solution to America's education crisis

They are not. They and their unions have long ago sold out the welfare of children for the negotiated comforts of cozy and disingenuous work rules that eliminate any possibility that schools can be managed for the best interests of everyone involved.

Numerous studies indicate that the insane escalation of spending on education shows flat if not negligible classroom returns. *That* is the real achievement gap and everyone paying the bill knows it.

Politicians who pander to the idea that schools should become homogeneous in achievement ignore the fact that in order for schools to get better we need achievement gaps. If there are no superior schools continuously pushing the educational envelope how can we get better? Since when is being academically "equal" a good thing?

We should be advancing education gaps in every subject and pedagogy, dropping the ineffective and adopting the proven winners. WAIT! That's against union work rules.

Myth #2; The false dichotomy of young vs old teachers. Here Ravitch is simply acting as a special interest lobbyist for preserving a seniority system that is cancerous to educational reform.

She isn't trying to elevate the debate, she's trying to derail intelligent discussion. Ravitch and her followers will insist class size is an important factor in children's education because *magically* teachers will spend more time individualizing classroom learning.

Anecdotally, teachers ALL insist this happens. Study after study disputes this assertion. Studies indicate that *the opportunity for individual attention* increases. Yet only teachers who already practice the art actually practice the art - a rare breed. Furthermore, studies indicate that some teachers are better with small classes and some are awful. Likewise with large classroom sizes.

What does seniority have to do with this? What? Why can't schools be managed to take advantage of teachers strengths and weaknesses? Why?

WAIT! Union rules.

Yes, Diane let's be honest. By all means. But you have a lot of catching up to do .

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):