Category Archives: Standardized Testing

May 100 percent of our students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014

by Ray Guzman

Many profess that a goal as noble as ensuring that all students score proficient at the same time and place is beyond reproach. Well, it is simply reprehensible.

An attributed Chinese proverb is often wished upon one’s enemies by asserting, may you live in interesting times… This understated “curse” levied upon one’s enemies has a restrained Buddhist sensibility even as one wishes ill toward others. Educators today are indeed living in interesting times. Students and parents are certainly living in interesting times as well. However, the curse placed upon us all is not restrained but rather overt.

The curse is well known to educators and asserts the following, may 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014. So then, who has placed this “curse” upon us all? I am certain we can think of obvious enemies. Nonetheless, I am not certain many of us are thinking about the less obvious and thus more lethal enemies. They give politically correct speeches, and radiate a fatherly presence. Their threat resides precisely in the proximity to their victims, us. We often develop a blind spot for such figures and hope that they will protect us from sorcerers and things that go bump in the night. Unfortunately, simple examination of deeds, rather than speech, proves otherwise.

Their “curse” is characterized by dilution and diminution. Teachers, students, administrators and parents are diluted in endless paper chases disguised as tests, assessments and reports. Conversely, the edification of concepts and individual free will are systematically diminished. The combined effects may elicit the maddening image of a hamster running endlessly in a caged wheel. However, a more accurate image of these effects is more akin to desperate victims racing to the top of an inextinguishable inferno.

May 100 % of your students score proficient or above on standardized tests by 2014 is particularly stressful when father figures emphasize the deadline, by 2014. This has been the curse that has dominated the bulk of my teaching career. A curse so powerful it has decimated all attempts to render it inoperative. This “super curse” has brought forward other conjurers, who with wands in hand have temporarily waved away some provisions yet, have not been able or willing to undo this “super curse”. What would motivate someone to place such a curse?  Let’s entertain some thoughts.

Many profess that a goal as noble as ensuring that all students score proficient at the same time and place is beyond reproach. Well, it is simply reprehensible. This cynical goal suffers from a pernicious pathology, which advocates forgive as a delusion for perfection. Shamefully, these apologists hide the correct diagnosis. It is not a delusion of perfection that motivates the jinxers, but rather a pathology of exclusion. We all know the consequences of not scoring proficient and obtaining AYP, -they close your (our) school. However, 2014 can’t seem to arrive soon enough for some hexers. Hence, the rush by officials –this year-, to close as many public schools throughout our country under the convenient excuses of “austerity” and “scores” is well afoot. The unprecedented shuttering of dozens of public schools particularly in largely African American communities, as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. etc. are justified under the rationale of budgetary challenges.

This rationale anchors itself on the operational premise of right sizing. Irrespective of the fact that we are talking about children and their development -this thinking may have legitimate administrative basis in the private sector. However, the current juxtaposition of private sector practices and public sector commitments, such as providing an adequate and free education as stipulated in the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, have dissimilar agendas and unequal strengths. Why then the rush if the “super curse” will effectively close thousands of public schools all across our country within a year? We will surely have the right size and number of schools soon enough. Could it be that the proponents’ zeal for the “super curse” is waning? Hardly.

In fact the “super curse” is going very well. The political party, pardon, -the political parties, both of them, have put away their profound pedagogical partitions to unite in this effort. Likewise, the industrial testing complex continues to redact tests, assessments, practice workbooks, study programs, while hiring consultants, garnering ever greater budget allocations, and accumulating data all aimed to ensure that scores comply with targets of soon to be imposed common core standards. But above all of these machinations, one supersedes them all, the president’s silence on these matters is the best indicator that all is truly going well among the jinxers and hexers. Conversely, hope for a change is sequestered. So again I ask, why the rush? Could it be that the “super curse” itself is waning? Hardly.

In fact, the jinxers are emboldened by their powers and lack of meaningful restraints, -why wait? “Let’s exclude NOW!” they demand. What we have in front of us now is a turn to Kronos, but an inverted Kronos. We have all seen the depictions of Kronos devouring his children. His filicides are motivated out of fear, a fear of competition from his children. Thus, he eats them. In our case, our Kronos is not committing filicide, but rather devouring the children of others. One can imagine a repented titan with a renewed paternal instinct and displaced fear of competition in the presence of other children asking another titan, “How do we devour the potential competitors of our children?” The other titan may respond, “Well, one way is to be proactive. For example, you offer your children greater pedagogical and assertive experiences and opportunities. In addition, you enroll your children in a school that is free of stigma, for example, one that does not administer standardized tests, say a private school or a divinity school. In other words, enroll your child in a school that does not partake in omens or curses.”

Nonetheless, there is still another way, a more reactive way, to devour your children’s potential competitors, -you close their schools and in doing so -eliminate the competition. Once shuttered, you place stigma upon the displaced children and adults. Moreover, you place a scarlet tattoo on both and you never lift the curse. The calculation is the following; the failure of some children will ensure that mine will thrive. This charter is an open collusion devoid of formalities.

I am well aware that we live in highly secular times, which are dominated by facts and figures. But for some of us who recognize the evil that lurk in men’s hearts, we cannot ignore the immutable. Those who conspire against children are devoid of judgment. Consequently, their motivations are drawn from an irredeemable well. They practice technical numerology, model apparitions, and consult conjurers. Some of them believe in curses. Others still are weary of omens. Some even fear children, often their own. I believe in God. Evil may cause great pain and destruction, but evil never prevails. Evil’s harvest never mature and eventually in its rage devours its own seed.

Colleagues, may 100% of your summer be a blessed one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Standardized Testing

Why Students Feel Entitled to Grades they Haven’t Earned

by Christopher Paslay

Social justice is fueling our student’s entitlement mentality.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Students are now going through the ritual of approaching their teachers and asking if there is anything they can do for extra credit to get their grade where they want it to be.  My stock answer to this question is, Yes, and you can start by doing the classwork that is due today.

On a rare occasion, a student who is up to date with all his work and is looking for that extra assignment to give him that extra edge will request additional work, and it is then and only then that I agree to give extra credit.

It’s interesting how today’s youth feel entitled to certain grades, regardless of whether or not they have earned them.  I’ve been privileged over the past 16 years to teach a wonderful and motivated group of students, but I’ve also had the other extreme–the slackers and game players who spend the majority of their time trying to work the system; if they spent half as much time doing their work as they do trying to avoid it, they’d all be on the honor roll.

I often wonder where this entitlement mentality comes from.  How in the world do they think they deserve an “A” or “B” when they haven’t completed a third of the work to earn such a grade.  More puzzling still, where do they get the notion that they can make up a semester’s worth of papers, projects, oral reports, journals, etc. with one lousy extra credit assignment?  (The best is when a student misses a week’s worth of classes–96 minutes a pop–and demands all the make-up work . . . ASAP, if you please . . . as if it’s even possible to make up so much lost class time by taking home a text and copying the information from a classmate).

If I had to speculate, however, I would guess this mentality stems at least in part from a concept known as social justice–or put another way, the liberal orthodoxy that places “fairness” over merit, the idea that in the end, everyone must be equal and that it doesn’t matter how we make it that way (the ends justify the means).

The protest over the admission tests given at eight New York City elite high schools is a case in point.  In September, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a federal complaint attempting to lower the admission standards of these schools claiming the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is too difficult and discriminates against black and Latino students.

Another example took place last August, when the SRC eased The Philadelphia School District’s student code of conduct in an effort to keep teachers and administrators from suspending or expelling too many students.

The Most recent (and troubling) example of “fairness” over merit is the new movement to lower the admission standards of charters and other special admit schools.  Operating under the guise of eliminating “significant barriers to entry,” this movement puts a double whammy on Philadelphia’s high achieving students and their families by attacking the applications of exemplary schools such as Green Woods Charter and Eastern University Academy.

Our city’s motivated, academically advanced children and their families are now being swarmed by marxist social justice advocates at both ends: they can’t get an education in their neighborhood schools because civil rights groups are fighting to keep their wayward and unruly peers in classrooms where they rob them of their right to learn; and they can’t distinguish themselves in charters or special admit schools because liberals are fighting to water-down applications and admission tests so the not-so-motivated and/or academically inclined can take up an equal amount of seats.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to have dawned on such advocates that if a student and his family can’t pass the muster on the application, the chances are they won’t pass the muster on the advanced curriculum; social justice folk operate under the false notion that if you put an average student with average intelligence and motivation into an elite school, he will somehow become elite overnight–presto change-o.

The notion of “justice” under social justice is also interesting.  Social justice for whom, exactly?  The 85 percent of hardworking students who get their educations compromised on a daily basis because the rights of the violent 15 percent are more important?  Is there social justice for the mathematically and linguistically gifted child who gets bumped out of an academically elite school because he wasn’t the right skin color and ruined the quota?  Is it socially just to discount the planning and wherewithal of organized families who have done their homework and research and have completed the rigorous application to the special admit school by accepting someone less qualified via a watered-down application?

But it isn’t the fact that this so called “fairness” is grossly unfair to a whole group of people (ahem . . . educational socialism . . . ahem . . . the ends justify the means), but the most worrisome part is that instead of raising the bar for everyone, instead of calling on the mediocre to raise their expectations, the opposite happens: we set our sites on the lowest common denominator.

Think about.  Lower the admission standards at NYC’s elite schools.  Ease the student code of conduct in Philadelphia public schools.  Water down applications to charter and special admit schools.  Lower, lower, lower; it’s no wonder that showing a photo ID to vote is too daunting a task for people of this mentality.

People who believe in incentivizing success, raising expectations, and living in a society based on merit rather than on grievances and the mantra of victimization (ahem . . . conservatives), would fight to teach these students and their families that with determination, they can overcome any obstacle; what they wouldn’t do is throw in the towel and lower the standards.

It’s the middle of November–report card time.  Time for students to seek out that game changing extra-credit assignment our socialist education system has promised them that they are all entitled to.

13 Comments

Filed under Charter Schools, Standardized Testing

Duncan and Obama Remain, but America is Different

by Christopher Paslay

America, and its public schools, have changed.

Despite my bold November 1st proclamation, Arne Duncan remains the U.S. Secretary of Education, and Barack Obama remains president.  Last Tuesday, nearly half of all voters—some 58 million of them—called for change . . . or put another way, called for a return to the values and traditions America was founded upon.

Curiously, “values and traditions” in the 21st century are now a matter of cultural perspective.  No longer are there universal human truths that transcend time and gender and race, but a kind of orthodoxy revolving around a concept of “fairness” that has become known as social justice.  Some 61 million Americans—made-up to a large extent of minorities, agnostics, the young, the single, and those on various government assistant programs—voted for the status quo . . . or put another way, called for a bigger intrusion of government into all of our lives.

Here’s a closer look at the changing trends of America and as a result, public education.

The Institution of Marriage and Family

For the first time in the history of the United States, there are now more single women than married.  Likewise, there are now more single households than married.  One of the great pillars of America—the institution of marriage and family—is now in the minority; in President Obama’s “The Life of Julia,” the interactive website feature that showcases the benefits of various Obama-backed welfare-state programs, the 31-year-old single Julia “decides” to have a baby all by her lonesome–no husband in the equation.  Does this impact education?  You bet.  It impacts everything.  But when it comes to schools, research shows children from single parent families do far worse academically as well as behaviorally than do children from two parent families.

Curiously, the racial achievement gap is proportional to out-of-wedlock births.  On nearly every standardized test, from the NAEP to the GRE—from 3rd grade to graduate school—Asians score the highest, followed by whites, followed by Hispanics, followed by blacks.  Here is the percentage of out-of-wedlock births to women under the age of 30 by racial/ethnic group from 2003 to 2004: Asian 16%; white 34%; Hispanics 46%; blacks 77%.

Institution of Religion

Today, one-fifth (20%) of Americans consider themselves atheists, agnostic, or unaffiliated with a religion.  In fact, in August of 2012, the Democrats removed the word “God” from their party platform.  In a May 2012 speech at the prestigious Roman Catholic Georgetown University, President Obama not only failed to mention Jesus once in his remarks, but also persuaded the school to cover the name of Jesus–IHS–at Gaston Hall where he made the speech; Obama did the same thing in April of 2009 when he delivered remarks on the economy at Georgetown.

What does religion have to do with the quality of public education?  Morals.  Or, the lack thereof.  Crime and violence in schools is on the rise.  In Philadelphia alone, there were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year.  According to the Inquirer, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.”

Embracing religion doesn’t necessarily mean following a particular deity per se.  It means letting go of ego–the self centered perspective that teaches that man is the end-all-be-all of the universe, that there is no broader consequence for immoral behavior.

 Competition and Individualism

In 2010, for the first time in America, minority births (50.4%) outnumbered whites.  This is significant because the values of the dominant white culture are now viewed as oppressive by progressive education scholars.  According to Vernon G. Zunker, a noted expert on career counseling, “Career choice, for example, may be driven by goals of family as opposed to individual aspirations.  In the individualistic cultures of Europe and North America, great value is placed on individual accomplishment.  In the collectivist cultures of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the individual focuses on the welfare of the group and its collective survival.”

In other words, “individualism” and “competition” are a white thang, and should be discounted in the career and academic world.  Hence, the advent of “group work” as opposed to direct instruction, the notion of “student-centered” lessons as opposed to “teacher-centered” ones, and the great push for schools to lower admission standards to elite schools and AP courses; from this also stems the recent opposition to suspensions and expulsions of public school students–a movement which values the rights of the violent and unruly few over the rights of the hardworking many.

The results of this brand of educational socialism?  Academic mediocrity, and a horrible decline in SAT as well as AP scores.

Thanks to the systematic deconstruction of marriage, religion, and American individualism, Duncan remains, and so does Obama.  It appears Big Government–and a Marxist brand of educational socialism–is on the rise.  But hey, America asked for it.

To quote the classic line from H. L. Mencken: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”

To those who asked for it–I’m sure you’ll get it good and hard.

10 Comments

Filed under Achievement Gap, Arne Duncan, Multiculturalism, School Violence, Standardized Testing

Saying goodbye to Arne Duncan (and shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed.)

by Christopher Paslay

Next week we will be getting a new president, and with him, a new Secretary of Education.    

With a new president comes a new cabinet.  And since October 17, 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Department of Education Organization Act—which brought into existence the overbearing and bureaucratic United States Department of Education—this has included the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s appointment, has fit the job perfectly, which is to say he intruded on public education like the big government politician he is.  Now, before education advocates start belly aching about the importance of federally funded education programs, know this: on average, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to a public school district’s budget (90 percent of funds come from state and local government).

Interestingly, this doesn’t stop the federal government from bullying local school districts into following their laws and policies, like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind or Barack Obama’s recent “National Reform Model” for overhauling failing schools; the U.S. Dept. of Ed. wants all the power, none of the responsibility, and in exchange covers a measly tenth of the cost.

But back to Duncan.  What has marked his tenure?  Duncan has fought to:

  • Increase the use of data and standardized tests to define student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
  • Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
  • End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
  • Turn “failing” schools into charters.
  • Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.

After four years of such policies, the racial achievement gap is as big as ever, test scores remain flat, graduation rates haven’t moved, and hundreds of millions of dollars went down the toilet via President Obama’s education stimulus package; for those in Philadelphia, think of the three year tenure of Arlene Ackerman, and the nearly $10 billion she spent (stole/wasted).  What does Philadelphia have to show for it?  A gigantic budget deficit.

Which is why a new education secretary is going to be a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The question, of course, is who?  Who will Romney’s education secretary be?

Before that question can be addressed, there is one fact that will make his appointee better off than Duncan: Romney has talked of shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed. by combining it with another agency, and this may limit the reach of the education secretary; some speculate that there is still a chance Romney will abolish the Dept. of Ed.—and education secretaries—altogether.

Again, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to the budgets of public school districts (in Philadelphia it is about 15 percent), so the Dept. of Ed.’s power should be reeled in; it should have a say in only 10-15 percent of public education policy.  But that’s not how big government and big bureaucracies operate.  They want control at all costs, and maneuver their way in via handouts (Race to the Top) and by making false promises; better to give federal education funds directly to the states, and let local districts, school boards, parents and teachers make their own decisions.

It’s interesting more public educators aren’t more agitated by the U.S. Dept. of Ed., by its intruding reach into their classrooms, by its regulations and red tape, by its out-of-touch policies and visions for reform.  Perhaps the most intrusive, frustratingly bureaucratic years in the past two decades in the Philadelphia School District were the Ackerman years from 2008-2011, driven by scripted curriculum and suffocating central office visits from the clipboard wielding Ackerman Gestapo.  This period was the direct result of Obama/Duncan’s “National Reform Model,” AKA: gotcha policies and stifling regulation trickling down from the control freaks known as the U.S. Dept. of Ed.

So who will Romney pick as his education secretary?  Here’s a list of possibilities, according to Education Week: Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, Tony Bennett (Indiana’s superintendent of Public Instruction), Tom Luna (the Idaho superintendent of public instruction), Chris Cerf (a registered Democrat who works with GOP governor Chris Christie), Robert Scott (former Texas chief), Paul Pastorek (helped schools in Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina), Bill Green (executive chairman at Accenture, a consulting organization), and Joel Kline (former New York City chancellor), among others.  (To read about their backgrounds on education, click here).

But the best hope, of course, is that Romney won’t pick a new secretary.  That is to say, that the newly elected president will make his first order of business to send the U.S. Dept. of Ed. the way of the blue suede shoe, and allow local school boards, parents, and teachers the true freedom to drive policies and reform.

5 Comments

Filed under Achievement Gap, Arne Duncan, Standardized Testing

America’s Racial Achievement Gap and the Toxic Mantra of ‘Can’t’

by Christopher Paslay

It’s time to stop telling minority students they “can’t,” and start instilling the skills and values of “can.”

The notion that black and Latino students can’t compete with white and Asian students in school is gaining national momentum.  Amazingly, this attitude isn’t coming from crazy right wing conservatives or Tea Party zombies (conservatives and Tea Party members actually lobby for a colorblind society where the divisive politics of race, such as affirmative action, are finally removed once and for all), but from civil rights groups and so called “social justice” advocates who claim to have the best interests of minorities in mind.

The Florida Board of Education is currently holding minority students to lower standards by stating that 74 percent of blacks, 81 percent of Hispanics, 88 percent of whites and 90 percent of Asians should be reading at grade level by 2018.  Last month, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, along with a coalition of other educational and civil rights groups, filed a federal complaint attempting to lower the admission standards of eight elite New York City schools claiming the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is too difficult and discriminates against black and Latino students; the reading portion of SHSAT requires students to write in coherent paragraphs, use logical reasoning to answer questions, and analyze text; and the math portion requires knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry.

The notion that minority students “can’t,” promoted under the guise of social justice, has infiltrated 21st century public education in many ways.  In addition to admissions tests being “discriminatory,” minorities can’t compete with whites and Asians because they are being unfairly diagnosed as emotionally disturbed (there is little documented evidence of actual misdiagnosis); are being unfairly disciplined and suspended (actual cases of racial discrimination by public school officials are practically non existent); are being “pushed-out” of schools (not a single school administrator has ever been prosecuted for forcing a child out); are faced with conscious or unconscious racial discrimination by school teachers (nary a documented case exists); lack money and funds (hundreds of billions of dollars have been pumped into schools in poor and disadvantaged communities since 1965 via Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act); and of course, the trickle-down effects of slavery (which officially ended in America over 149 years ago, on January 1st, 1863).

How much these issues are impacting the educations of minorities is debatable.  But one thing is clear: these ideas are being repeatedly communicated to minority students (and their parents) as to why they can’t compete with their white and Asian peers; these issues also seek extrinsic solutions (which students have no personal control over) rather than focusing on the intrinsic values and behaviors they can control.

In 2010, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), headquartered in Princeton, NJ, issued a policy information a report titled “The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped.”  The report highlighted two periods in the fight to close the racial achievement gap in America: a period of progress from the Civil Rights Movement to the 1980s when the achievement gap between black and white students was cut in half; and a period of stagnation from the late 1980’s to the present when the achievement gap leveled off and in some cases, widened.

The first period, the one marked by significant progress, was most likely the result of desegregating schools and upgrading conditions for minorities.  Suffocating racial discrimination and the bogus notion of “separate but equal” was tackled and for the first time gave many minorities access to equal educational resources, such as books, clean schools, rigorous curriculum, qualified teachers, etc.  For the most part, systematic inequalities were corrected, helping minorities gain valuable ground on their white peers; this progress continued steadily for several decades.

But in the late 1980s, something happened.  The achievement gap in America stopped closing.  This perplexed many education advocates because it was around this time that the multicultural education and social justice movements started to bloom.  The ETS report cites disappearing fathers, the decline of the nuclear family, concentrated deprivation, nutrition, and mobility issues as reasons for the stop in progress.

But there is a larger trend that explains why the gap has stopped closing: social justice advocates and civil rights groups have been placing too big of an emphasis on systematic change and not enough emphasis on individual transformation.  And why not?  For nearly 30 years, fighting for changing the system worked wonders (as noted above).  Tragically, however, it appears that this mode of operation is no longer garnishing the same kind of results.  Advocating for societal change appears to have hit its peak in terms of educational achievement 25 years ago.  That’s not to say it’s time to end the fight to bring equity to the system; the system still has room for improvement.

But there is a very large, relatively unexplored approach for closing the achievement gap, and that is through personal empowerment.  Personal empowerment, as in the mantra “you are the captain of your own ship,” rather than the message that “you are a victim of paralyzing curcumstances.”  It is the idea of keeping high standards through “yes, you can,” rather than employing low expectations through “can’t, can’t, can’t.”

All change is self-change.  Until civil rights groups and social justice advocates embrace this reality, America’s racial achievement gap will remain frozen in time.

4 Comments

Filed under Achievement Gap, Standardized Testing

NAACP Attacks Admission Policies at Eight Elite NYC High Schools

by Christopher Paslay

Instead of working with minority students to improve skills, civil rights advocates want to lower the bar for everyone.

The crusade to make all students equal by infringing upon the rights of high achieving students has made its way to New York City.  According to a September 27, 2012, piece in the New York Times:

A coalition of educational and civil rights groups filed a federal complaint on Thursday saying that black and Hispanic students were disproportionately excluded from New York City’s most selective high schools because of a single-test admittance policy they say is racially discriminatory. . . .

Although 70 percent of the city’s public school students are black and Hispanic, a far smaller percentage have scored high enough to receive offers from one of the schools. According to the complaint, 733 of the 12,525 black and Hispanic students who took the exam were offered seats this year. For whites, 1,253 of the 4,101 test takers were offered seats. Of 7,119 Asian students who took the test, 2,490 were offered seats. At Stuyvesant High School, the most sought-after school, 19 blacks were offered seats in a freshman class of 967.

How is the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) racially discriminatory, exactly?  According to the NYC Department of Education website:

The SHSAT is a timed multiple-choice test with two sections, verbal and math, that must be completed in a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes. In the first section, students demonstrate their verbal reasoning and reading comprehension by ordering sentences to form a coherent paragraph, answering questions of logical reasoning, and analyzing and interpreting texts. In the second section, students demonstrate their math skills by answering computational and word questions that require arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry . . .

In other words, the SHSAT is discriminatory because the reading portion requires students to write in coherent paragraphs, use logical reasoning to answer questions, and analyze text.  What bias!  On the math portion, students must know arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry, or put another way, they must know how to do math.  How racially insensitive!

Damon T. Hewitt, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said of NYC’s elite high schools, “I refuse to believe there are only 19 brilliant African-Americans in the city; it simply cannot be the case.  It is a shameful practice and it must be changed.”

I agree with Hewitt, it is shameful.  It’s shameful that all cultural groups, according to ETS’s report “Parsing the Achievement Gap II,” don’t place a high emphasis on educational achievement; it’s shameful that all cultures, according to ETS, don’t value reading; it’s a shame that all cultures don’t always respect authority; maintain a two-parent nuclear family; actively participate in homework and school; regulate internet and television watching; emphasize nutrition and exercise; and stay mentally active over holidays and summer months.

Asian students, who are a racial minority in NYC but take up the majority of seats in the eight elite high schools, do take their studies seriously.  According to the New York Times:

[Asians] cited their parents’ observance of ancient belief systems like Confucianism, a set of moral principles that emphasizes scholarship and reverence for elders, as well as their rejection of child-rearing philosophies more common in the United States that emphasize confidence and general well-being.

Several students said their parents did not shy away from corporal punishment as a means of motivating them. And they said that rigorous testing was generally an accepted practice in their home countries, with the tests viewed not so much as measures of intelligence, but of industriousness.

Industriousness.  AKA: Hard work.

So how do people like NAACP lawyer Damon T. Hewitt, who claim to have the best interest of minorities in mind, respond to the situation at NYC’s eight elite high schools?  Does he preach having young black and Latino children (and their parents) roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty with the business of making education a number one priority?  Of learning arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, geometry, and trigonometry?  Of answering questions using logic and writing in coherent paragraphs?  Of eating right, and exercising right, and doing homework, and reading books, and staying mentally active over the summer and holidays?

No, Hewitt does none of these things.  He calls the SHSAT’s discriminatory and files a complaint with the US Department of Education.  In Hewitt’s mind (and in the minds of social justice advocates who preach a toxic brand of educational socialism), equal opportunity isn’t good enough; they demand equal achievement.  Performance–and more importantly, preparation–doesn’t matter.  Racial balance is the ultimate goal, even if it’s achieved by infringing upon the rights of high achievers.  Never mind the sacrifice of elite students who’ve paid their dues and earned their admittance through years of hard work.  Forget hard work and results.  Hard work, like being on time, is simply a matter of cultural perspective.

Obsession with race and the misguided ideology of social justice is once again killing academic excellence in America’s public schools.

4 Comments

Filed under Achievement Gap, Standardized Testing

K-12 cuts and consequences

The results of Pennsylvania’s annual standardized tests came out recently, and it seemed everyone was pointing fingers. Math and reading scores are down an average of 1.5 points statewide – 8 points in Philadelphia. Teachers’ unions are blaming cuts in education funding for the slump, and they have a point.

Last school year, Gov. Corbett cut $860 million in funding for K-12 education, or about $410 per student. This hit impoverished school districts the hardest; in Philadelphia, state education funding decreased by about $557 per student. “When resources are pulled from our schools, scores drop,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan.

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “K-12 cuts and consequences.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

Leave a comment

Filed under Inquirer Articles, Standardized Testing

State’s Analysis of Drop in 2012 PSSA Scores is Political

by Christopher Paslay

The drop in PSSA test scores cannot be attributed solely to improved test security.  Cuts in education funding, though not acknowledged by state officials, are also to blame.

The official results of the 2012 PSSA exams are out and it seems everyone is pointing fingers.  Math and reading scores are down 1.5 points statewide, and an average of 8 points in Philadelphia.  Teachers unions are blaming cuts in education funding for the slump in student performance, and it appears they have a legitimate argument.  Last school year Governor Corbett cut $860 million from K-12 education, which translated to about $410 per student.  These cuts hit impoverished school districts the hardest; in Philadelphia, state education funding decreased by about $557 per student.

“When resources are pulled from our schools, scores drop,” Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said.

Education Secretary Ron Tomalis insisted the drop in PSSA scores had nothing to do with recent changes in funding.  “I don’t buy the excuse the numbers went down because of budget cuts,” he said.  According to Tomalis, scores are down because of heightened test security put in place during last spring’s PSSAs.  This conclusion was backed by the state’s Technical Advisory Committee, which studied three possibilities for the drop in scores: funding, changes in the test content, and tighter test security.

The data to support TAC’s findings in the recently released 2012 PSSA Official Report is insufficient, however.  Although TAC states “that the only scientific cause for the drop in scores from 2011 to 2012 was the Department’s investigation of past testing improprieties which has led to heightened test security measures,” no analysis of the effect of changes in funding is given in the 2012 PSSA report.    

How did cutting $860 million from K-12 education impact testing, exactly?  How did losing hundreds of teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors and school police affect test scores?  How did losing art, music, foreign language, sports programs, clubs, and a multitude of other extracurricular activities impede education?  TAC never adequately addresses these issues in the report.          

 Selective interpretation of test data seems to be the Pa. Dept. of Ed.’s modus operandi.  Also missing from the 2012 PSSA report are the forensic audits of the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs, as conducted by the Data Recognition Corporation—the makers of the PSSA.  A neatly arranged, prepackaged analysis of the state’s “Integrity Investigation” into cheating on past exams is contained in the report, but this investigation is by no means an adequate substitute for the original audits of the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs themselves.  Pennsylvania tax payers have a right to review the primary documents and draw their own conclusions about which schools and districts cheated on the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs; my gut feeling is still that the Philadelphia School District, although clearly guilty of widespread cheating, was made the primary scapegoat by the state.

The state has also failed to explain why they waited until shortly before the start of the 2012 PSSA to announce its new security policies regarding the administration of the exam, and why only Philadelphia and a handful of other districts were required to abide by the new security measures.  If cheating was so widespread, why weren’t the security measures mandated statewide?

Tragically, it appears that the state’s obsession with testing and test security is only going to get worse.  While Corbett’s 2012-13 budget keeps school funding generally flat, it increases spending on educational assessments by 43 percent to $52 million.             

The drop in PSSA test scores, especially in large urban districts such as Philadelphia, cannot be attributed solely to improved test security.  The state’s claim otherwise is purely political, and until supported by sufficient data, lacks legitimacy.

1 Comment

Filed under Standardized Testing

Are Chicago 8th Graders Really Less Literate Than Slaves?

by Christopher Paslay

Writer Greg Lewis suggests Chicago 8th graders have reading levels far lower than former American slaves.

According to Greg Lewis, Chicago 8th graders read worse than American slaves.

Who is Greg LewisThe New York Times called him “the most ass-kickin’ writer to come along in a decade.”  Lewis, Ph.D., is also the author of The Politics of Anger and is a regular contributor to the conservative news website American Thinker.  (For the record, I’ve written three articles for American Thinker in the last five months.  Click here to read them).

On September 12th, Lewis published “The Results of Radicalism in Chicago’s Education System” on American Thinker.  I’m not sure if Lewis is attempting to be sensational to gain readership or if he truly believes his own hot air, but I can tell you one thing: he has little understanding of what constitutes literacy and even less of a grasp of standardized test scores.

The idea that Chicago students are less literate than slaves is both offensive and ludicrous.  Lewis suggests that Outcome Based Education, an instructional philosophy adopted by many large urban school districts including Chicago, is producing reading levels in students that are far worse than those of former American slaves.  Although OBE does promote a suffocating brand of educational socialism that is harming education as a whole, especially America’s high achievers, Lewis’s claim that it is producing sub-slavery reading levels is still a bit of a stretch.  Lewis turns to the 2011 NAEP scores of Chicago’s 8th graders to make his point.  According to CSN News:

Nationally, public school 8th graders scored an average of 264 on the NAEP reading test. Statewide in Illinois, the 8th graders did a little better, scoring an average of 266. But in the Chicago Public Schools, 8th graders scored an average of only 253 in reading. That was lower even than the nationwide average of 255 among 8th graders in “large city” public schools.

With these NAEP test results, only 19 percent of Chicago public school 8th graders rated proficient in reading while another 2 percent rated advanced—for a total of 21 percent who rated proficient or better.

The scores of the NAEP allowed Lewis to conclude the following:

One of the headlines accompanying the current Chicago teacher walkout has focused on Chicago students’ inability to read at their grade level.  Chicago’s school system has brought the level of reading proficiency among its 8th-graders down to 21 percent.  There’s only one parallel to the OBE results in Chicago: slavery. . . .

In colonial Boston, for instance, the literacy rate [for slaves] was nearly 100 percent.  Virtually everyone knew how to read, and anyone who didn’t could easily find someone to teach him.  Girls, boys, women, men…everybody could read.  So easy is it to learn to read that it was necessary to forbid teaching slaves.  You can sit down with a book and someone who knows how to read, and that person, even if he or she is not a licensed teacher — or, as is more appropriate today, especially if he or she is not a licensed teacher — can very likely teach you to read.

Ph.D. or no Ph.D., Greg Lewis is a first rate ignoramus.  Scoring proficient on the NAEP reading test does not correlate with being literate, nor does it correlate to being on grade level.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch debunked this myth when she reviewed Davis Guggenheim’s propagandistic documentary “Waiting For Superman” in the New York Review of Books 

NAEP doesn’t report grade levels. It reports achievement levels, and these do not correspond to grade levels. Nor does [Guggenheim] understand the NAEP achievement levels or just how demanding NAEP’s “proficiency” level really is. To score below “proficient” on NAEP does NOT mean “below grade level.”

NAEP has four achievement levels.

The top level is called “advanced,” which represents the very highest level of student performance. Students who are “advanced” probably are at an A+; if they were taking an SAT, they would likely score somewhere akin to 750-800. These are the students who are likely to qualify for admission to our most selective universities.

Then comes “proficient,” which represents solid academic performance, equivalent to an A or a very strong B. Guggenheim assumes that any student who is below “proficient” cannot read at “grade level.” He is wrong.

The third level is “basic.” These are students who have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient. This would be equivalent, I believe, to a grade of C. Many (if not most) states use NAEP’s “basic” as their own definition of “proficient.” This is because they know that it is unrealistic to expect all students to be “A” students.

In other words, failure to score proficient on the NAEP does not mean you are below grade level, and it especially doesn’t mean you are illiterate.  To be “literate” on an 8th grade level means basic reading comprehension, the ability to decode text and understand meaning; the vast majority of Chicago 8th graders can read and comprehend text and are by all means literate.  NAEP tests go way beyond reading comprehension and into the complex analysis of literature, testing students’ knowledge of allegory, symbol, theme, and figurative language; I’d be hard pressed to believe that former American slaves could read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 masterpiece Uncle Tom’s Cabin and analyze the text’s vast literary devices.

Suggesting that Chicago 8th graders read worse than former American slaves is hurtful and in poor taste–and is flat out untrue.  Greg Lewis, Ph.D., should make more of an effort to take the high road and avoid such insulting comparisons, and learn to get his facts straight to boot.

Leave a comment

Filed under Achievement Gap, Standardized Testing

Keystone Exam to Replace PSSA in 2013

by Christopher Paslay

Although the PSSA will remain in elementary and middle schools, the Keystone Exam will replace the PSSA in high schools across the state of Pennsylvania starting in the spring of 2013.  

Updated 7/31/12:

Memo From:  THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA Office of Accountability:

The Pennsylvania Department of Education provided clarification yesterday (July 12, 2012) regarding the Keystone Exams.  The following memo outlines key details about the requirements for participation in these assessments and manner in which student performance on the Keystone Exams will impact determinations about Adequate Yearly Progress.  In addition, we will offer some curricular strategies to assist you and your team in planning support programs to assist 11th grade students in preparing for success on the Algebra I, Literature and Biology Keystone Exams.

Assessment of 11th Grade Students

  • ALL 11th graders will take the Keystone assessments in the following 3 subjects next year:  Algebra 1, Literature, and Biology.
  • The Algebra 1 and Literature scores will be used in the calculation of AYP for the high school.
  • Biology will NOT be used in the AYP calculation. However, the 11th graders are still required to take the Biology Keystone Exam to meet the participation requirement in NCLB that all students complete a science assessment during their high school years.

 Assessment of 9th and 10th Grade Students

  • All students in grades 9 and 10, enrolled in the Algebra 1, Literature (generally, English 2), or Biology courses are required to take the Keystone Exam in these subjects upon completion of the course(s).
  • If a student scores proficient or better in any subject, his/her score/s will be banked and count towards AYP calculations when he/she is in the 11th grade and he/she need not take the examination again in this/these subject(s).
  • If a student does not score proficient, he/she has multiple opportunities to re-take the examination(s). However, his/her Algebra 1 and Literature scores will not count for AYP calculations until the student is in the 11th grade.
  • If a student took the Keystones in Algebra 1 and/or Literature Exam(s) multiple times between grades 9-11, and never scored proficient or better, his/her best score will count towards the AYP calculation when he/she is in the 11th grade.

 Assessment of Students Graduating in 2017 and Beyond (8th graders in 2013)

  • Students MUST score proficient or better in all the three subjects (Algebra1, Literature, and Biology.) in order to graduate from high school.
  • They can do so in multiple attempts.
  • This is a state requirement.
  • After 2 unsuccessful attempts students will have the option of completing a project.

The parameters for this project have not been finalized yet.

Below is a previous post from May 19, 2012 (this information is no longer accurate and has been updated above):

Now that students across the state are starting to master the PSSA test (last school year, 77% of all children in grades K – 12 scored proficient or above in math and 73.5% scored proficient or above in reading), the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is doing what all political bodies do when they want to stay in control and keep one step ahead of the people: they are changing the test.

Starting in 2012 – 13, high school students will no longer be taking the PSSA.  The Keystone Exams, which will consist of tests covering Algebra I, Biology, and Literature, will be given instead.  Although no testing schedule has been finalized, it’s probable that the Philadelphia School District, as well as most districts in the state, will give the Algebra I exam in the spring of freshmen year and the Biology exam in the spring of sophomore year.  Per the state’s “recommendation,” Philadelphia will most likely give the Literature test during sophomore year as well.

This is a significant change from the way the PSSAs were administered at the high school level in the past.  Under the PSSA, math, reading, writing, and science tests were given to all students in their 11th grade year (although only math and reading counted for AYP under the federal No Child Left Behind Law).  Now, because Algebra I is routinely taken in 9th grade and Biology in 10th, the Keystone Exams will likely be given during those years. 

What doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, however, is giving the Literature test in 10th grade instead of 11th.  Although the PDE is only “recommending” that the Literature portion be given at the end of sophomore year, it appears as though Philadelphia School District officials are going to heed this advice.

Although I’ve continued to inquire as to why the state is “recommending” giving the Literature portion in 10th, I’ve been unable to find an adequate answer; none of the administrators I’ve spoken with have been able to get an answer from the state, either.  Unless the PDE is able to offer a meaningful rationale, the Philadelphia School District should seriously consider giving the exam in 11th grade.

Here are three reasons why:

1.  The Literature Exam is based on skills, not content.  In other words, the test isn’t limited to a specific period of literature covered, like World Literature (9th and 10th grade), American Lit (11th grade), or British Lit (12th grade).  Whether or not specific stories or novels (content) are covered doesn’t matter.  The assessment anchors and eligible content on the Keystone Literature Exam are skills based (analyze author’s purpose, make inferences and draw conclusions, identify figurative language, etc.), so the reasoning that applies to Algebra I and Biology doesn’t apply to Literature.  The test can be given in any of the first three years of high school, so why not give it in 11th grade when the students have had another year to learn the skills needed on the test?  

2.  The Literature Exam is vocabulary based.  Giving the exam in 11th grade will give students another year to broaden their vocabularies, and to learn and practice new words.   

3.  Giving the Literature Exam in 11th grade will stagger the exams.  Why not have students take one exam per year from 9th to 11th, rather than taking both the Biology and Literature test in 10th grade?  Staggering the tests will help teachers and schools focus more on curriculum rather than killing instruction for students by forcing 10th graders to double-up on test preparation for two subjects at once.

Perhaps the most concerning part of the Keystone Exam is the new state graduation requirement.  According to the talk coming from the PDE, starting in the year 2017, all public high school students in the state will have to pass all parts of the Keystone Exam in order to graduate.  This would include students with special needs, those who are truant and miss large blocks of instruction, impoverished students with limited home support, and those with other social and emotional ills.  What will happen to the students who fail to pass all portions of the Keystone Exam and as a result fail to graduate?  If they are retained, who is going to pay for the extra seats, materials, and resources?  The city of Philadelphia, with $472 million in delinquent property taxes?  Or the state, which has slashed Philadelphia’s education budget like some Samurai Warrior?    

As with No Child Left Behind, which promised that all children would score proficient or better on state tests in reading and math by 2014, the 2017 Keystone Exam graduation requirement is quite ambitious.  Mostly likely we will see waivers being granted to students and schools starting in 2017 (similar to what is happening now with NCLB), when a backlog of students across the state struggle to meet these . . . unrealistic? . . . standards.        

Of course, it is of the utmost importance to set high expectation for all children, which is why Philadelphia School District officials should seriously consider giving the Keystone Literature Exam in the 11th grade, or at least demand a meaningful explanation from the PDE as to why they are “recommending” it be given in sophomore year.

20 Comments

Filed under Standardized Testing