Tuesday, March 19, 2013

RI's Diploma Sequestration

The manufactured crisis continues:

The test left numerous participants shaking their heads over the difficulty of the questions, which ranged from geometry to probability, and more than a few suggested abandoning the test as a graduation requirement.

That provoked heated words from state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who called participants’ response to the test “an outrageous act of irresponsibility.”

“It’s deeply irresponsible on the part of the adults, especially those who are highly educated,” she said. “They’re sending a message that it can’t be done or that it doesn’t matter.”

Gist said once she saw the story, she realized how damaging it was.

“I spent a lot of time [this weekend] trying to convince students why it matters,” she said. “We need all of the adults rallying around these students rather than getting caught up in arguments that don’t have any substance.”

Eva-Marie Mancuso, the chairwoman of the new Rhode Island Board of Education, called the mock test a publicity stunt and said it was diverting attention from the real issue: preparing students to be successful in college and in the workplace.

“We don’t just give this test without any preparation,” Mancuso said. “If I was to take the bar exam tomorrow, I have no idea if I’d pass or not.”

An "outrageous act of irresponsibility" to take a short version of our high school graduation test? Or to suggest that perhaps there was a problem with using the NECAP for that purpose? Commissioner Gist is a true believer in the Green Lantern Theory of Education Reform -- if we just have sufficient will, we can do anything. If we all believe hard enough.

I also don't think she appreciates who was in that room on Saturday. It wasn't a bunch of lightweights and hippies; it was politicians and wonks. Not people who are going to be cowed or impressed by having their concerns dismissed as lacking substance.

This is the first time officials in Providence have said anything to Gist's RIDE other than "Thank you sir, may I have another?" and it is the first time middle class families are as directly affected as the urban poor. So... it should be interesting. Maybe it will just be settled by the legislature. You have multiple paths when the state is the size of a large county.

Chairwoman Mancuso seems to be falling into a common trap these days, having trouble holding the concept of an appropriate "minimum high school graduation requirement" in her head. I imagine I would have had trouble (re-)passing my senior calculus final by a few weeks into summer vacation, but what we're supposedly talking about is the minimum score to get a diploma at all. Give me the final for the lowest-level culminating math class to make a kid eligible for graduation, I bet I can pass that, and most college-educated professionals probably can too.


Sean said...

1. "If we all believe hard enough."

Yes, yes. To this: It'd be interesting to rigorously examine the Commissioner's twitter behavior. She wants us to think of it as a kind of "public opinion bath," but it often plays like someone shilling a product. Between the platitudes, martyrdom, and Cory Booker inspirational sayings, what is it she wants us to buy, precisely? The conflation of "high expectations" with "arbitrary cut score serving as a graduation requirement."

2. "This is the first time officials in Providence have said anything to Gist's RIDE other than "Thank you sir, may I have another?" and it is the first time middle class families are as directly affected as the urban poor."

Not so sure. Evidence suggests urban poor won't do well here. From Papay, Murnane, Willett, who looked at the MCAS effect:

"The growing prominence of high-stakes exit examinations has made questions about their effects on student outcomes increasingly important. We take advantage of a natural experiment to evaluate the causal effects of failing a high-stakes test on high school completion for the cohort scheduled to graduate from Massachusetts high schools in 2006. With these exit examinations, states divide a continuous performance measure into dichotomous categories, so students with essentially identical performance may have different outcomes. We find that, for low-income urban students on the margin of passing, failing the 10th grade mathematics examination reduces the probability of on-time graduation by eight percentage points. The large majority (89%) of students who fail the 10th grade mathematics examination retake it. However, although we find that low-income urban students are just as likely to retake the test as apparently equally skilled suburban students, they are much less likely to pass this retest. Furthermore, failing the 8th grade mathematics examination reduces by three percentage points the probability that low-income urban students stay in school through 10th grade. We find no effects for suburban students or wealthier urban students."


Papay is assistant professor at Brown and has looked at this issue quite a bit. I'd love for him to weigh in here.

Tom Hoffman said...

I agree that the affects are not "equal." But compared to say, SIG, it does affect non-urban families a lot more.