Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Choice Quotes on the NYS ELA Exam

Many thanks to Lucy Calkins for having someone throw up a site to gather comments about the recent Common Core-aligned ELA exams in New York state. It is a bit of a mess, but kind of charming that in 2013 they chose to hack something together from scratch in PHP instead of just giving Google all the data directly.

Here are some quotes I plucked -- sorry they aren't attributed or individually linked. I spent way too much time reading the giant list of comments in the first place and couldn't get too fussy.

For example, two of the questions asked students, "Which of the following is the best summary of the article." For each of these questions, there were four lengthy summaries (a,b,c, or d). Students could easily narrow the four summaries down to two possible choices, but the differences between the two possible choices were so subtle that you're no longer measuring that student's ability to summarize! You're measuring if they can pick up on matters of inclusion and exclusion. It's more trickery than actually measuring the mastery of a particular skill, especially in this multiple-choice format.

The correct answers for those questions included a piece of information that the other possible summaries neglected to include, but at that point it was subtle enough not to even matter -- and it wouldn't in the "real" world in the context of how we use summary in our own writing. Summaries aren't meant to be nuanced!

State Ed. will argue that it comes down to "close reading," but in no way is this representative of close reading as its used in real world reading and writing! For 7th graders, it's a trap and not a true measurement of their skills. Questions like this set students up for failure, not success.

If I had a student read that same passage in class and then provide me with a summary of that passage's main points, they would easily master the skill. The multiple-choice format ruins this -- the format distorts the actual skill being tested.

I would argue, though, that the English Regents exam in 11th grade contains appropriate examples of multiple choice questions.

The current Common Core ELA State Test is so convoluted and sizeable that teachers will be forced to teach to the test – to teach isolated skills, drill those skills, and assess the acquisition of those skills all year long. This only deflates learning and teaching.

A multiple-choice test is not a good measure of the highest possible learning our students are capable of, and when the questions and responses are purposely written in a manner that’s convoluted, confusing, and imprecise, the format of the questions and responses is actually a form of trickery, a trap. Such questions trivialize the reading passages; such questions manufacture the illusion of right and wrong. They’re not measuring how well a student can closely read a full text, and they surely do not match up with how we think, read, and write in the adult world.

The State was able to undo an entire year of teaching kids to closely read in two ninety minute sessions. After the students used the reading strategy on the first reading selection, they realized there was insufficient time to continue close reading on the other passages and thus abandoned the stategy.
Thank you

On the Day 1 portion of the assessment, I looked over the passages and realized that some of the questions were not testing reading comprehension, but rather, were assessing our students' working memory. As I looked over a fifth grade test, I tried to find the answer to one of the questions. It required me to flip back and forth between pages to read several paragraphs to determine the theme of the passage. By the time I reread the passages, I completely forgot what the question was asking. With all the flipping back and forth and booklets falling off the desks, I can't imagine how my students will perform on this section.

However for 41/2 hours over the last 3 days days it broke my heart to watch some of our most gifted 5th graders trying so hard. They read and read and read....they wrote and wrote and wrote....the entire 90 minutes. I watched them shake out their hands and wiggle their little fingers to reduce their hands from cramping. They were checking and double checking their answers, underlining and circling text, everything they have been guided to do in their lessons leading up to this week. No break for 90 minutes, except to hear me give them them the 10 minute warning. On Tuesday I had 4 of my top kids not get past 30 out of the 42 questions. Wednesday, 7 of my Top kids never completed the final essay, one asked me which was worth more because he wanted to tackle that one to get more points. However, today was the hardest for me to swallow... in the final minutes I watched a child that attends young scholars be reduced to tears from the fact that he could not finish for the third time.

In my classroom, I also witnessed the opposite situation. I had another young scholar student who is bright beyond his years complete Test 1 which includes 4 reading passages and a poem as well as 42 multiple choice questions. He had "completed" his test in 35 minutes. The rest of the time he put his head down and slept. On day 2, he completed both books in less than 40 minutes. As I collected the tests he verbally expressed to his 8 peers that had not completed the test, "don't worry because these tests were only going to be used to grade the teachers." I did have a long talk with him, as well as calling his guardian to help guide them with the facts so that they understood that this test WILL effect him in some way.

At the end of the day today, the parent of a high anxiety child came into the building with the sole purpose of giving me a hug just because she knew what her child had been reduced to and we had tag teamed to keep her going, me in school - mom at home!!....I had no way of holding back my tears at this point.

I was shocked by how much the test measured inductive and abductive reasoning with overwhelming cognitive complexity, and how little it measured the standards appropriate to grade 3. The answers did not follow with certainty from the questions, and about half of the questions themselves appeared intentionally vague, syntactically and semantically complex, and/or challenging with regard to eye-hand-coordination. Children had to cognitively fill in the questions with what did not exist, or sometimes even ask themselves what the test makers REALLY wanted to ask because it was not readily apparent. Even adults often arrived at an "if, then" but "if, then" range of responses that then required internal argument to choose. Surveying the premises required to answer the questions made me and my colleagues exhausted by about a third of the way through Day 1, and we are not eight or nine. Early on children I observed became confused and exhausted. They persevered with their best intentions and innocence, lacking the experience to say to themselves, "This is $#@*" I thought the second piece was about a level R/S becasue of embedded metaphor, central to both questions and meaning.

Residual fatigue factored into children's performances on subsequent days. I never witnessed so few children writing "their best game." With all of Pearson's test creation experience and generous funding with our tax dollars, they made a test that is completely developmentally, cognitively, and syntactically inappropriate to the population.

If I stay in teaching, I will be writing my own improvement plan any second to propose to district leaders. It will say things like:

1. Get children to practice flipping back and forth between stapled pages while holding a question in their mind for at least 10-15 lessons if you want them to pass the ELA. This is a demanding and complex task that requires direct instruction for success.

2. Have children read questions intended for linguistic and intellectual screenings over and over, about two years above their current grade placement for 20ish lessons. They may or may not be able to learn how to understand these questions, but at least they will be familiar with increasingly complex questions.

3. Teach children not to become agitated, upset or apathetic after 10-20ish questions that they cannot easily respond to. Breathing and meditation for at least 20-30 lessons.

4. Stop accepting into the reading program: children with below "above average" IQs, ELLS, the emotionally challenged, and ADD children, because really, they don't have a chance.

The only recommendation for my teacher/ teacher-trainer improvement plan that has anything to do with the CCSS is:

5. Get more teachers to teach children to look at word choice, synthesized with tone, mood, and author's purpose in regard to setting.

I sat at a table with grads from Cornell, Columbia and a Brown U. attendee who argued tenaciously about answers.

Is Cuomo's agenda to make most teachers fail? So he can look better when the test gets easier next year? It certainly was not Pearson's purpose to test the CCSS. That I know for sure.

Although kids were asked to read nonfiction passages, they were not expected to read them in order to learn about the topic. Instead, the goal was to analyze the structural and language decisions, to label the craft moves that authors made. That would have been fine if it had been 10% of the test, of 20%....but it was closer to 70%. Tests end up being the tail that wags the dog, and they shape curriculum.

Nobody Could Have Predicted

Lucy Calkins:

I am in New Orleans, doing a speaking-duet with Michael Fullan on the implementation of the CCSS. Talking with Michael and thinking about all we know from decades of research on school reform, I find myself worrying that the CCSS is going to implode. If it does, the problem will not be with the ideals of the Common Core, but with the fact that people driving policy do not seem to understand about how people and organizations grow.

So many teachers and parents have been eager to embrace the challenge of the CCSS, and ready to work with heart and soul to lift expectations and achievement. But we were behind the CCSS because the standards themselves represent a robust and exciting and compelling image of what it means to be a reader and a writer. More and more, we find that the people driving the CCSS want to specify and limit what the Common Core means, turning it into a call for a very particular sort of reading and writing instruction--one that asks eight and nine year olds to see reading as rereading, as analytically deconstructing a text so as to discuss the author's purpose for sentence 9 versus sentence 11, and to see writing as merely as forum to display that sort of literacy-criticism.

If policy makers are going to interpret the CCSS as valuing only that sort of reading, if there will be no place in schools for kids to read to learn, to read for curiosity, for reading to imagine oneself walking in another's shoes....then the Common Core will fail. It will fail because people who know children--parents, teachers, administrators and teacher educators--will say no. Ultimately, the only way to improve teaching and learning is to rally teachers and parents and principals to take up the cause, to see the standards as not just a mandate but a mission. Fullan has said it well: "As any innovation unfolds, leaders must pay close attention to whether they are generating passion, purpose and energy--intrinsic motivation--failure to do so is a sure fire indicator that the innovation will fail." I have been a great advocate of the Common Core, and have tried to turn the standards from a mandate to a mission. But the ELA is making me wonder about this.

The test that kids have just taken utterly changes what the standards mean, and the narrow definition that the test has given to the CCSS (one that matches the Revised Publisher's Criterion but not the Common Core itself) is pretty limiting. Do we want reading and writing instruction in third and fourth grade to be all about rereading a passage multiple times to mine it for every literary device, for every structural decision? Is there no place for reading a passage to learn about a subject of interest?

My message to parents and teachers and principals is to go back to the text. go back to the Common Core. I think you will find that reading standards 7,8,9 are not well represented in this test, and that only writing standard 9 was well represented. You can assess a youngster's ability to write when all the writing is utterly based on reading a challenging text--that is an assessment of reading. I think we should ask for tests that reflect the full Common Core, and for recognition that the Common Core itself suggests that to achieve standards level at any one grade, that youngster needed to stand on the shoulders of years of prior learning.

If the CCSS (ELA/Literacy) implode, it will be because they are lousy standards, and the only reason they were accepted in the first place was that when the experts were given the choice of projecting their own ideals upon the standards or not having a "seat at the (Gates-funded) table," they chose to admire the billg's new clothes.

This was true from day one:

More and more, we find that the people driving the CCSS want to specify and limit what the Common Core means, turning it into a call for a very particular sort of reading and writing instruction--one that asks eight and nine year olds to see reading as rereading, as analytically deconstructing a text so as to discuss the author's purpose for sentence 9 versus sentence 11, and to see writing as merely as forum to display that sort of literacy-criticism.

The CCSS was driven by testing companies from the beginning, and anything indicating otherwise is public relations and bandwagon-jumping.

Is there no place for reading a passage to learn about a subject of interest?

Actually, there isn't, which is what I've been saying all along. That's what you'll find if you go back to the text of the CCSS.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Part of 1880's Base Ball We Have Trouble Re-Creating

John Thorn:

Although other players sported better stats and better dispositions, Latham came to the ballpark to beat you. He was a speedster (in 1888 he totaled 129 steals), but he stole most of his bases through daring and disregard for his body, belly-flopping for the bag and reaching out a hand, or barreling into the base, kicking up a dust storm and kicking over the baseman. He was also something of a clown and thus a fan favorite. In a game in 1882 he scored the winning run by turning a somersault over the catcher and landing on the plate. He was famous for profanely badgering the opposition and hectoring his own players, thus earning him the enmity of both and the nickname “The Freshest Man on Earth.” His private life was as tumultuous as that on the field: his first wife attempted suicide, and his second wife divorced him, charging “perversion, assault, desertion, and infidelity.” Perhaps there was more in the complaint.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sorry Kid, But the Plan for Your Next Eight Years is Ever Harder Versions of the Same Questions

Liz Phillips:

Although the passages were reasonable,both in terms of reading and interest level, the multiple choice questions on day one and two were very problematic and did not really test higher level reading comprehension. There was a huge emphasis on details from specific paragraphs. Although it seems legitimate to have some such questions, there were too many. One of the impacts of this is that even excellent readers (myself included) had to reread many times to answer all the questions. For children that meant that many (particularly in fifth grade) were not able to finish or had to rush at the end. In too many cases, there were at least two answers (or in one case none) that appeared to be correct. There were also too many questions (both short response and multiple choice) about structure rather then about meaning of the passage. There is something wrong with a test when a highly literate adult reader can carefully read a passage and not answer a single question without rereading. I think think there are huge negative implications for this for schools who teach to the test. We need our students to "get" the big idea of what they read, as well as to focus on details, but this test suggests that teaching should just be about focusing on details.

This is exactly what a close reading of the standards -- but not all the surrounding commentary -- would have predicted.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In the End, It is All About Jobs, and Power

Josh Eidelson:

And while politicians from both parties tout training and education as a ladder to opportunity, “higher-skilled” jobs’ labor standards are actually on the same downward trajectory as others’. In a 2012 report, the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that from 1979 to 2010, while the number of U.S. workers with advanced degrees nearly doubled, the percentage of workers whose jobs provide decent wages, health insurance, and retirement benefits declined. That was true for workers with college degrees as well as for those without them. The cause, argued authors John Schmitt and Janelle Jones, wasn’t “workers’ skills,” but rather “the loss of bargaining power” at work.

In other words – like the garment sweatshops of a century ago — what makes McDonald’s or Wal-Mart jobs bad isn’t that employees lack degrees. It’s that they lack leverage. The same problem faces workers doing comparatively glamorous work – from fashion models faced with wage theft, to Apple store specialists without health insurance.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Invisible Damage

Sheila Resseger:

Before the current era of standardized testing, the RI School for the Deaf was fortunate to have on staff two exceptional educational linguists who were knowledgeable about the developmental needs of deaf students in regard to the mastery of English grammatical structures and English literacy. These two highly knowledgeable and articulate linguists developed, through a rigorous process, assessments of receptive and expressive English competence. They further developed and suggested valid reading evaluations for our students. Due to my background in English, language development, and linguistics, I was fortunate to be trained by them to administer these assessments. These assessments are given one-on-one and provide teachers and families with a thorough understanding of the student's mastery (or lack thereof) of English structures such as embedded relative clauses and passive voice, structures that are essential for understanding complex English text (a stated goal of the Common Core boosters). Such assessments are time- and labor-intensive and generate a narrative report of many pages.

As pressure on the school increased, the meticulously developed diagnostic assessments--thorough, meaningful, and informative for designing lessons to meet students' individual learning needs--went by the wayside. The school hit on a better idea--the (now infamous) NWEA MAP testing to measure growth! Administered on a computer, results available almost instantaneously! Never mind that the Language Usage and Math portions (not the Reading, obviously) are allowed to be interpreted into sign language for students, a laborious process. Picture this: even though classes are small, one teacher or test administer has to sit with each student (granted small groups of 4 - 6) and be available to interpret every item and answer choice. Once the answer is clicked, there's no going back. How can this process possibly give any insights into why the student chose the answer, whether or not the answer was correct? But the graphs are beautiful (not to mention expensive). This is like trying to do brain surgery with a hammer and chisel.

How many stories like this are there in Rhode Island? I'd think hundreds, 'cause I can easily come up with a dozen or so, and I don't get out much, but nobody knows.

It is always Year Zero for school reform.

An Accidental Milestone

Stefan Fatsis:

But every Jackie Robinson Day, I think of William Edward White, who was in all likelihood actually the first African-American major leaguer. White attended Brown University. On June 21, 1879, he filled in for the big-league Providence Grays of the National League. White got a hit, scored a run, fielded 12 plays flawlessly at first base—and never played in the majors again.

Monday, April 22, 2013

You've Got Content in My Skill!

Chris Cerrone:

7th grade (test for NY state CC) ELA had “irony” as a theme, but that topic is listed as an 8th grade CCSS standard.

First off, this is probably just for vertical alignment -- if this 7th grader has experienced more than a year a growth, you won't know if you don't ask some 8th grade questions. And since I can't see the test, I don't really know what is going on, but I did puzzle over it for a while.

Let's consider if the Common Core ELA standards were really content focused, and, say, seventh grade was 19th century lit and 8th grade was 20th century lit. Throwing 20th century lit questions into the seventh grade test to see if the 7th grade teacher was especially high performing would be absurd to all but the most kool-aid addled reformers.

If you puzzle through the reading standards, you see how carefully they're constructed to avoid this problem, particularly by omitting the disciplinary content of English Language Arts.

The exact standard relating to "irony" in 8th grade reads:

Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

The writing here is particularly tortured, but why? It isn't like there aren't plenty of examples in Achieve's archives of clear standards asking for kids to understand and identify "irony" and other tropes. It is worded this way because you aren't supposed to read it primarily as an ELA disciplinary content standard. It is supposed to just be a higher level of the underlying skill of:

Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Ideally, you wouldn't need to know the word "irony" at all to be able to answer the question. You should be able to get by with your general assessing point of view skills, so a seventh grader might be able to do it without a lesson on "dramatic irony." Overall, these standards work very hard to omit the language of ELA. It isn't easy to do!

That's my honest interpretation of how these standards are supposed to work. I think it is horseshit, but I think it is the underlying theory.

NY State Tests and the Technical Limits of Paper

Reading feedback on NY state's first application of their new Common Core aligned tests, what jumps out most is the reports of many kids running out of time on certain days. As predicted.

Here's a typical sample:

What I didn't prepare them for, I guess, was the fact that so many of them would run out of time. Students who read The Kite Runner and Freakonomics for fun are going to get scores that indicate they are not reading on grade level simply because they did not have time to finish reading and answering questions. I was willing to give the new assessments a chance, but all they are measuring is whether you can work at a pace that is, quite simply, wildly inappropriate for deep readers and thinkers.

This seemed like an incredible unforced error by Pearson and NYSED. Of all the technical problems that a test could have, simply not allowing enough time -- particularly when all your rhetoric leading up to the test has been about careful, close reading, deep analysis and writing thorough arguments -- is one of the few that just about everyone can understand. Start talking about the rigor, and nobody really knows if you're whining. Nobody understands the intricacies of standards alignment. But if many good students don't have time to write the essay, everyone knows that's clearly a problem.

Setting aside incompetence and hubris, both of which are clearly in play given the track records of both Pearson and NYSED, why did this happen?

A few thoughts:

  • Since we've established that an increasing number of NY parents will opt out of separate tests to pilot new questions (I'm entirely sympathetic, btw), all the research on new items has to be embedded in the real tests.
  • They've pretty much maxed out the reasonable length of one round of tests.
  • "...passages in some of the forms given some children at multiple grade levels most likely disadvantaged those 3rd or 4th graders who had to struggle with inappropriately difficult material..." This is presumably so the tests can be vertically aligned, which is particularly important if you want at least a hypothetically accurate growth number, especially if you need to show more than 1 year's worth of growth. But it means more questions.
  • The ELA standards are not actually compact, and to the extent they are shorter than their predecessors, it may be in their omission of standards that weren't tested anyhow (e.g., participating in a literate community, having a habit of reading, etc.). Completely repeating all the reading standards for different text types is not going to make for short tests.

Adaptive computer-based tests should help with the vertical alignment issue. That way at least you can avoid, say, giving seventh graders reading on a sixth grade level an eighth grade level reading passage. Of course, the real "solution" is to just continually blur the distinction between high stakes testing and everyday work, with everything done online and going into one big database.

Beware of Cut Scores

Jared Bernstein:

So, what’s the answer? The media gatekeepers themselves have to be highly vigilant, especially when the results they’re publishing are not transparent. (Reinhart-Rogoff)’s work, for example, involving many different countries over many years, with results put into seemingly arbitrary bins (debt/GDP<30%, 30%-60%, etc.) might be a flag that would lead a non-technical reporter to ask a lot of their sources what they thought before running with it.

An infatuation with cut scores and "arbitrary bins" should raise red flags, and it is a hallmark of the creative mathematics used by school reformers.

Or, as Stephen Downes puts it:

There's a whole industry based on evaluating teachers - and yet, it seems to me the statistics it relies upon would be dismissed outright if used to evaluate professional baseball players or other athletes.

A Leading Economic Indicator

Elissa Nadworny:

In the midst of Chicago’s school closings, Las Vegas plans to send recruiters to claim some of Chicago’s best teachers.

Chicago’s closing of 54 schools will put approximately 1,000 teachers out of work, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. But half way across the country, in Clark County School District, the fifth largest school system that encompasses Las Vegas, they are set to hire 2,000 new teachers for the 2013-2014 school year – many positions they hope to fill with Chicago teachers.

“We see what’s happening in Chicago and we think, there is a pool of great teachers who will be out of work,” said Clark County School District spokeswoman Melinda Malone.

If employment ever recovers in general, there will suddenly be a lot of stories like this.

How the Common Core Ends With a Whimper

Checker Finn:

I expect that PARCC and Smarter Balanced (the two federally subsidized consortia of states that are developing new assessments meant to be aligned with Common Core standards) will fade away, eclipsed and supplanted by long-established yet fleet-footed testing firms that already possess the infrastructure, relationships, and durability that give them huge advantages in the competition for state and district business.

In particular, I predict (as does Andy Smarick) that the new ACT-Aspire assessment system, which is supposed to be ready for use in 2014 (a full year earlier than either of the consortium products) and which some states are considering as their new assessment vehicle, will be joined by kindred products to be developed and marketed by the College Board. And the two of them will dominate the market for new Common Core assessments.

One straw in the wind: Alabama’s announcement last week that it is foreswearing both consortia and will use the ACT assessment system. And, of course, both Kentucky and New York have already concocted and deployed their own versions of Common Core assessments—possibly but not necessarily interim models.

Although the College Board and ACT have traditionally focused on the high-school-to-college transition, both also have experience earlier in the K–12 sequence. ACT Explore is aimed at eighth and ninth graders, ACT Engage goes down to sixth grade, and ACT “WorkKeys” is a significant player in determining career-readiness. The College Board’s Pre-SAT test is typically taken in tenth grade. Its “Readiness Pathway” assessment program reaches down to eighth grade, and its “Springboard” program to sixth—with “alignment” guides already prepared for Common Core standards in both English language arts and math for grades six through twelve.

This strikes me as extremely likely, and once you have three, four, five, six competing tests -- and curricula optimized for specific tests -- won't the consensus be that the Common Core has failed?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The average morally bankrupt economist would do pretty much anything for an extra buck.

Bruce Baker:

Let’s assume behavioral economic principles really hold steadfast and can be grossly simplified to an anything for an extra buck, or not to lose one, position. I would argue that it is perhaps economists themselves that are most stereotypical in this regard. In fact, I would argue that many, born out of a culture that self-selects into economic professions, are simply going out of their way to project their own thinking on others.

Further, many of these economists operate in a world where they can influence/control public policy and they too have an incentive in how they behave in this system. They are not impartial observers by any stretch of the imagination. Their goal is to use their behavioral economic research to shape public policy to their own advantage.

Put simply, just because the average morally bankrupt economist would do pretty much anything for an extra buck or a billion, doesn't mean the average teacher, doctor, nurse, fireman or police officer would!

It is important to remember that one of the most important underpinnings of this reform movement is the idea that the reformers understand human motivation -- particularly teachers' motivations -- better than anyone else, particularly teachers, administrators with an education background, or elected officials.

If they're wrong about this (and I think they are), most of the rest of the edifice falls apart. You don't have to go to the other extreme -- believing teachers act completely altruistically -- to think they're wrong about the particular dynamics (e.g., undervaluing risk-aversion among teachers, or overvaluing the utility of pay increases).

Friday, April 19, 2013

Let Them Eat Rigor

David Coleman:

When the alternative is shallower passages and shallower questions, what are we debating here?

Get Used to It, Kids

Javier Hernandez and Al Baker:

Students said they struggled with questions that asked them to discuss how a writer constructed a story rather than about the content of the passage itself. One question, for instance, asked students to analyze how an author built suspense in describing a girl whose rope snapped while in a cave.

This is one of those topics which will jump out a lot more on the actual tests than in reading the standards.

Grade 8, reading literature standard 6:

Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

It is very specific, so you pretty much have to try to directly prep for it. It is... peculiar enough though that you'd better just trust Pearson's interpretation of what it means, since what really matters is how it will be implemented on the tests.

Education Publishers Have a 21st Century Business Plan

Diane Ravitch:

A teacher in upstate New York wrote me to say that the state English language arts test for 8th grade (written by Pearson) contained a passage that his students had read a week earlier—in a Pearson 8th grade textbook! The story is “Why Leaves Turn Color in Fall,” by Diane Ackerman. The story appears on page 540 of the Pearson textbook.

Moral of the story: if you want your students to succeed on the state tests written by Pearson, be sure to buy the Pearson textbooks.

Also, if you want to know how Pearson's test-scoring computer will score your essays, you'd better use Pearson's digital curriculum (eventually).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Long Walk Indeed

Brian G. Fay:

I'm looking at the New York State Common Core ELA Curriculum, Grade 7, Module 1: Overview. For now I'll set aside that this is the first step to a state-wide (and then national) curriculum. Instead, I want to examine one thing about this module and propose a radical idea.

The module concentrates, for eight weeks, on the reading of the novel A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. It is 128 pages long, based on a true story, written by an award-winning author, and looks fascinating, but one thing that bothers me:

It's 128 pages long and we are supposed to be reading it for eight weeks. 

Eight weeks means about forty ELA class periods. 128 pages over 40 days is 3.2 pages a day. That's a tad slow.

There are other things going on over eight weeks. Dozens of activities, writing, chart completion, and other things to enrich the reading experience.

How did we end up here, seriously? Is this unit what anyone had in mind at the beginning of this process?

Not that I think it is terrible after a quick skim, but just about any teacher would have the same reaction as Brian -- it's a bit of a slog, and going slow is risky.

A few other thoughts:

  • This grade level curriculum is written by Expeditionary Learning; K-2 is by Core Knowledge. How well are those going to mesh?
  • The unit plan starts with a listing of background reading organized by Lexile score for text complexity. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I thought the whole point of CC ELA was that everyone should be doing reading at grade level not "leveled texts." Or is that only for elementary school? Is CC ELA going to cause secondary teachers to be much more concerned about "objective" measures of text complexity and differentiating based on it? Probably.
  • The unit seems to eventually go much deeper into the historical background in the Sudan than would be necessary to understand the text. Gotta maintain that literature/informational balance!
  • I'm afraid we're going to look back at moving a bunch of history into English class and a bunch of Literacy into Social Studies as a classic "rearranging the deck chairs" reform.
  • These "gathering and using textual evidence" questions are going to get old after, say, the first thousand of them.

Seriously, why didn't they just make a few tweaks to Massachusetts' standards and save everyone all this chaos?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

No Wonder They Say the Scores Will Go Down

Fred Smith:

As a testing specialist, my analysis leads me to a different kind of skepticism. The amount of time children have been given to complete test items this year is significantly less than last. This is a matter of test design, and the pressure caused by shorter time limits is sharply inconsistent with the grandiose claims about what the standards are supposed to mean for students.

For the English Language Arts (ELA) exams, there is an overall 7% decrease in time per item. It is fairly uniform from grade 3 through 8. For math, the average time allocation drops by 13%, ranging up to a 26% decrease in grade 3!

Last year, third graders had three hours over two days to complete 58 math items. Next week they will have two hours and twenty minutes to answer 61 items—that somehow will be the vital first stage in projecting whether they will be ready for college and employment ten years from now.

Alice in Wonderland logic is leading the way. Down is up. Items will be more difficult and we’ll give children less time to read more complex material and solve more challenging math problems using, in testing jargon, “speeded” tests. Things will be harder this year, kids will struggle, results will decline, but that’s a sure sign that we’re on the path tor improvement.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Slackware for Math Class: Perhaps Not the Disruption NSVF was Looking For

Dan Meyer:

If the deluge of interesting problem-based material on the Internet overwhelms you, as it does Jonathan Claydon, Geoff Krall's curriculum maps are a great place to start. He's taken the Common Core's scope and sequence documents and combed the Internet for items that fit. He's included a few of my own items, some items from the Shell Centre, along with a lot of great lesson ideas I'd completely forgotten. Bookmark it. Throw him some love in the comments.

I don't know if This Is It, but it seems to me we're all waiting around for someone who can somehow grok what the best stuff floating around and assemble a "distribution" in a disarmingly simple way that captures teachers' attention. Basically, the right curator has to turn up at the right time and in a community with sufficient reach.

This sort of thing:

Volkerding had no intentions to provide his modified SLS version for the public, assuming that "SLS would be putting out a new version that included these things soon enough". However, seeing that this was not the case and that many SLS users were asking on the Internet for a new SLS release, he made a post titled "Anyone want an SLS-like 0.99pl11A system?", to which he received a lot of responses. As also his friends at MSUM urged him to put his SLS modifications onto an FTP server, he made them publicly available on one of the university's anonymous FTP servers. This first Slackware release, version 1.00, was distributed on July 17, 1993 at 00:16:36 (UTC), being supplied as 24 3½" floppy disk images.

The most important thing is timing.

Just keep in mind that a project that takes a hundred million dollars in seed money to get off the ground -- I'm looking at inBloom -- is not the disruptor, and it may well be the disruptee.

I Look Forward to Commissioner Gist's Testimony in Michelle Rhee's Trial for Racketeering

John Merrow:

The erasures stayed buried for years. The official who had spotted the problem and urged Rhee to investigate has kept her mouth shut. Five months after she had informed Rhee of the widespread erasures, Deborah Gist resigned to become State Superintendent in Rhode Island. Rhee now publicly praises her efforts there. Sandy Sanford, who earned roughly $9,000 for his work on the memo, has been paid at least $220,000 by DCPS for various services.

When erasures continued in Rhee’s second and third years at slightly diminished rates, she and Henderson contracted for three severely limited investigations, none of which allowed for erasure analysis or an examination of the original answer sheets.

Up to this point, Merrow has been charitable, to say the least, in his analysis of the current wave of school reformers. He gave them the benefit of the doubt well past the point at which they deserved it.

Which makes his new, authoritative, comprehensive and devastating takedown of Michelle Rhee's legacy in DC a blow that cannot be easily shaken off. Especially in the wake of the indictments in the Atlanta cheating scandal.

Merrow's new information just makes it seem even more likely to me that Gist's role was that she's enough of a team player to not step out of turn and go on a whistle-blowing crusade, but she's enough of a ambitious true believer that it would be clear to everyone that she wouldn't sit there in an otherwise powerless job and destroy her own career to cover for Michelle Rhee. So a timely opening in Rhode Island worked out for everyone (except maybe us, although tbh, it could have been even worse), and Gist has probably collected a few favors (how many phone calls does it take to get someone in the Time 100?) from relieved patrons.

All the Weird Tics of Recent "Character Education" Journalism in Three Paragraphs

Andrew Reiner:

The boot-camp expectations, the behavioral charts, the pinnies, all point to a calculated attempt to teach students self-discipline, focus, accountability — ultimately, self-control. Schools across the country are responding to a growing body of research that suggests a definitive and disturbing link between low levels of self-control in childhood and serious problems later in life.

It’s hard to believe, but letting kids throw punches or text-message their days away or blow off academics can lead to a slew of mental and physical health woes in adulthood. Terrie Moffitt, a preeminent researcher in self-control, observed in a groundbreaking study that the need for self-control in 21st-century America is “not just for well-being but for survival.”

As it turns out, our emotional lives matter as much, sometimes more, as our intellect in the path to success. And schools are exploring ways — from character-based education to mindfulness meditation to social emotional learning — to teach the challenging, essential ABCs of self-control.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thatcher was a Model School Reformer

Russell Brand:

There were sporadic resurrections. She would appear in public to drape a hankie over a model BA plane tailfin because she disliked the unpatriotic logo with which they'd replaced the union flag (maybe don't privatise BA then), or to shuffle about some country pile arm in arm with a doddery Pinochet and tell us all what a fine fellow he was. It always irks when rightwing folk demonstrate in a familial or exclusive setting the values that they deny in a broader social context. They're happy to share big windfall bonuses with their cronies, they'll stick up for deposed dictator chums when they're down on their luck, they'll find opportunities in business for people they care about. I hope I'm not being reductive but it seems Thatcher's time in power was solely spent diminishing the resources of those who had least for the advancement of those who had most. I know from my own indulgence in selfish behaviour that it's much easier to get what you want if you remove from consideration the effect your actions will have on others.

Is that what made her so formidable, her ability to ignore the suffering of others? Given the nature of her legacy "survival of the fittest" – a phrase that Darwin himself only used twice in On the Origin of Species, compared to hundreds of references to altruism, love and cooperation, it isn't surprising that there are parties tonight in Liverpool, Glasgow and Brixton – from where are they to have learned compassion and forgiveness?

The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there's no such thing as society, in the end there isn't. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn't sad for anyone else. There are pangs of nostalgia, yes, because for me she's all tied up with Hi-De-Hi and Speak and Spell and Blockbusters and "follow the bear". What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neo-liberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people's pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn ceremonial funeral, are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate.

If We Could Literally "Trap" Kids in Bad Schools, It Would Be a Lot Easier to Improve Them

High transience and absenteeism are difficult to deal with.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Whether or Not There is a Unified "Reform Movement," They've Benefited from the Impression There Is

A couple points on the "Is There A 'Corporate Education Reform Movement?" question.

  • Reformers writ large may not be homogeneous, but they have tried to create and benefited from the perception that they are a social movement addressing the "civil rights issue of our era." They meet and plan in private, keep their policy disputes mostly out of public view, and maintain good message discipline. They operate under a formidable umbrella of public relations and elite opinion making.
  • On the other hand, it is a big enough tent that any part can be disclaimed by the whole or any other part at any point. Talk to someone from a KIPP school and whenever they want they can just say "I've never seen that at a KIPP school I worked at, and they're all different, so I don't know," and that's the end of that thread. Or "We're not the ones closing your neighborhood school, we just happen to be opening a new school in the same building the following year!"
  • The real mess comes out when you pile onto that the internal contradictions within individuals and interest groups. Standardization or innovation? Both! Collaboration or competition? Both! De-regulation or re-regulation? Both! Is it the "joy factor" or "no excuses?" Choice? As long as it is all the same. Can we use "multiple measures?" Yes, as long as they all give the same result as the tests! Is RIMA in favor of cross-district desegregation or bussing the suburban poor into the city? Actually, both! Does RIDE even like the mayoral academy concept? Yes and no! We agree the current tests stink but the ones that don't exist yet will be awesome. If the Commissioner misses all her targets for state NECAP scores, should she be held accountable when her contract is up? Heck no!

Up to this point, power, money and public relations has allowed all this to work to the "movement's" advantage. The cracks are appearing, however, and the drawbacks of the above are becoming more apparent.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Creating the Netflix for Educational Resources May Not Be Enough

Here's what I've been getting from Netflix (DVD) for a while:

  • Jennifer and I watch many of the standard critically acclaimed cable series, or at least try them all out.
  • I'm slowly going through their back catalog of skate DVD's.
  • Documentaries or historical fiction for Jennifer's classes.
  • We'll occasionally break that up with a new release.

We have, of course, gotten a wide range of other things in the past, but the algorithm is pretty simple and consistent at this point.

On the front page of Netflix I now have:

  • Golden Globe Award-winning Dark TV Dramas
  • Dramas
  • Horror
  • Heartfelt Documentaries
  • Critically-acclaimed Military Movies

I already know the TV series I want to watch because we're just watching stuff after it has had time to get some good press or at least a shout out from Dan Meyer. It would be nice if it would tell me when new seasons of shows I've watched in the past have come out, but it doesn't for some reason.

It is actually rather difficult to dig out the skateboarding videos out of the catalog. Probably bad metadata. It is always the damn metadata. Otherwise, it should be about the simplest possible case. Based on your watching a bunch of skateboard videos from 10 years ago we thought you might like these other old skateboarding videos.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Ambitious People Aren't Going to Settle for Performance Pay

OK, it is probably tedious at this point to point out the TFA'ers often leave the classroom pretty quickly -- especially considering I didn't hang in there any longer myself. However, I can still find it funny that Gary Rubinstein's new ex-TFA correspondent, Matt Barnum, left for law school as soon as possible despite his enthusiasm for his host district's performance-pay system:

I spent the last two school years teaching in Harrison Two Schools, a high-poverty district in southern Colorado Springs that has put in place one of the most progressive, far-reaching teacher evaluation systems in the country. At Harrison, teachers are no longer paid based on seniority or given automatic pay bumps for earning master's degrees. They are compensated based on performance, judged through test scores and principal evaluations. It's a system that might just represent the future of public schools across the country.

It may be the future of public schools, but it will not be the future of Matt Barnum. He's got bigger fish to fry.

The Three Facets of Writing

Catherine Gewertz:

Scoring, both human and artificial, will focus on three aspects of students' writing, Willhoft explained: 1) overall organization and style (things like how well it's written, whether the sentences are complete and coherent, and the voice and style appropriate) 2) conventions of the language, and 3) students' use of evidence (whether the essay refers appropriately to the reading materials on which it is based). Based on what is known about computer scoring, he said, Smarter Balanced officials are more confident that it will succeed with conventions, organization, and style than with use of evidence.

I'm pretty confident that they'll get the use of evidence down -- it is still a very constrained task, by design.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Soupy Update

We got the band back together and pulled down a few sample sausages on Friday.

They don't seem raw at all, but they're still a little soft in the middle, so I think we're going to leave them hanging for a few more weeks and see if we can get a bit more uniform dryness throughout. This is "traditional," non-climate controlled curing, so it isn't going to be perfect.

They all taste pretty good, not surprisingly the retired chef has the best flavor balance in his spicing.

Friday, April 05, 2013

You're My Only Friend; You Don't Even Like Me


It is looking increasingly likely that we're going to be moving the family to Scotland for a year, August 2013 - August 2014, so Jennifer can get a master's degree in environmental history from the University of Stirling. Jennifer is taking a leave from the PPSD (she just missed being eligible for a sabbatical), I can work from anywhere, and the girls have no major entanglements. Stirling just re-did its skatepark, so I should be all set.

This won't necessarily change my blogging at all, since I'm not exactly running on shoe-leather reporting now.

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it

Roger Ebert:

O’Rourke’s had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:

I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.

That does a pretty good job of summing it up. “Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

inBloom Gets Wobbly on Open Source


2) What is the delay on open sourcing the infrastructure?

inBloom is committed to making its technology open, and code for a number of applications is already available to developers. inBloom is planning to deliver full source code in the third quarter of 2013. There are two areas of work that are taking longer than we expected. The first is the restructuring of our internal development teams and processes to support and accept code contribution from the community. We want to get there as quickly as possible, and we are adding resources to the team to be able to move faster. The second is developing the business relationships and ensuring interoperability of any resulting new instances of services that result from our code. Our core mission is about interoperability, so while code will be available, we need business structures with potential partners to ensure we can deliver on that goal. As an aside, it’s important to note that the open sourcing of code does not in any way impact the security of student data stored in the inBloom service. The management of the open source code-base and the operation of the production service are completely separate.

I wouldn't trust these people with my phone number.

Minnesota Waives Away It's Own Manufactured Math Crisis

Christopher Magan:

Thousands of freshly minted Minnesota high school graduates wouldn't have gotten a diploma this year without a waiver from the state because they repeatedly failed Minnesota's math requirement.

In some districts, as many as one-third of seniors wouldn't have graduated because they didn't pass the mathematics graduation test.

The waivers, which the state implemented in 2009, only require these students to attempt the test two more times and then receive remedial help. ...

About 57 percent of students pass the test on the first try, but no one knows how many of those who fail are successful when they retake it.

Losing the waivers would devastate graduation rates across the state. Minnesota education officials are scrambling to come up with an alternative before the provision allowing the waivers sunsets during the 2014-15 school year.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius has convened a task force to assess the graduation test and has indicated that she favors scrapping it.

"When you have about half the kids not passing, you know you have to do something," Cassellius said. "You cannot just deny diplomas. There needs to be a Plan B solution."

The overall difficulty of the MCA-II is similar to the NECAP:

Although it is a lot easier to get the highest score in Minnesota. The actual graduation requirement is a subset of the entire MCA-II.

All this indicates that Minnesota has serious problems in math education, right?


Minnesota is #2 in 8th grade math NAEP. They did very well in 8th grade math when ranked internationally in the 2011 TIMSS. They're #2 on the SERI rankings of how well states are "preparing their students for science and engineering careers."

What's happening is we're observing that setting higher standards does not have a direct effect on student achievement. The Green Lantern Theory doesn't work.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

What a Low Test Score Means

Will from Jersey:

So what does it say that I only got 9 out of 20 right on the elementary algebra section?

What is good about the ACCUPLACER (based on a cursory examination by an English teacher) is that Will's performance on the Elementary Algebra test should map straightforwardly to which Elementary Algebra topics he does and does not recall. A decent teacher, or even a good tutor or computer program should be able to bring him back up to speed quickly. College-Level Mathematics might take a lot longer, but what it is measuring is still fairly straightforward.

One does not get that feeling from the 11th grade NECAP math. Just as one example, if you miss a problem that requires you apply both probability and understanding of prime numbers, it isn't clear if you have a problem with probability, prime numbers, combining multiple math topics to solve one problem, etc. Especially if your problem is fluent application of multiple math skills in an authentic context, that's not something you can quickly brush up on.

Figuring out why a student got a low score in the NECAP would probably require a second diagnostic test, but I doubt such a test exists. As Tom Sgouros has been pointing out, the design of the NECAP is to rank students, not create a detailed profile of what they do an do not know.

A lot of this gets back to the fundamental question of what the purpose of a required math graduation test that's independent of from any specific course is. I would argue if that if you must do it, it should be a well-understood, transparent and specifically defined final check. The NECAP is just too idiosyncratic.

Selectivity of the Teaching Profession

Given that selectivity of teacher education programs, or the lack thereof, is coming up more and more, I'd just like to remind everyone that the number of people with teaching certifications does not affect the number of teaching jobs. Everyone with a teaching certificate isn't guaranteed a job.

My understanding is that in Finland, which comes up often in this context, the government pays to train more or less the number of teachers they expect to hire.

Both systems are equally selective insofar as either way, you still need X teachers and you're going to hire the ones that seem most promising.

I'd be in favor of a Finland-like system where fewer teachers got free training via a more selective teacher education system, but I find it very difficult to believe that our current system with more stringent entry requirements would help -- unless you believe that school administrators systematically make the wrong choices in an incredibly stubborn way.

A Highly Entertaining Comments Section

Kathleen Porter-Magee & Sol Stern:

Common Core offers American students the opportunity for a far more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K–12 education than most of them have had. Conservatives used to be in favor of holding students to high standards and an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic. Aren’t they still?

e.g., toonybrain:

'The DOE report exposes the big lie that Common Core is about raising academic standards. The report instead reveals Common Core’s progressive designs to measure and track children’s “competencies” in “recognizing bias in sources,” “flexibility,” “cultural awareness and competence,” “appreciation for diversity,” “empathy,” “perspective taking, trust, [and] service orientation.”'

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Do I Think PPSD High Schools Cheated On the NECAP?


A few years ago, Feinstein High School and some of the small high schools at Hope High shot up 40 or even 50 points in reading proficiency on the NECAP in the space of two years. This is pretty much unheard of.

In case you're wondering (given the news from Atlanta), I don't think this was due to cheating, for a few reasons:

  • In both cases, the schools had been undergoing comprehensive reform processes for a while, and it was clear that the reading scores were lagging overall improvement. In both cases, there was a lot more attention given to preparing the test in the years the scores went up.
  • Only the reading scores went up, not math.
  • In both cases there were relatively strong writing scores, including preceding the reading score gains. There is no reason to cheat on the writing test, as it is ignored for accountability purposes. I suspect it would be difficult, too, since you'd have to hand write student responses.
  • Feinstein student scores were still good a year after the school closed and the students dispersed.
  • E-Cubed, the remaining school with a similar design to Feinstein and Hope Arts, continues to have strong scores.
  • No PPSD high school pursuing a different turnaround strategy -- even when many of the same teachers or administrators are involved -- has posted similar gains. That is, we were actually doing the right thing for a while, before it was stopped.

On the other hand, I did occasionally hear about various little irregularities, like students mysteriously repeating 10th grade and then skipping 11th, but there never seemed to be anything systematic going on.

ACCUPLACER: What You'd Think a Graduation Test Would Look Like

So I spent a little time yesterday with the College Board's ACCUPLACER iPhone study app ($1.99). It has three math sections: Arithmetic, Elementary Algebra, and College Level Math.

You can check out some sample questions here.

In lieu of a longer post, let's just say these sections are all straightforward -- much moreso than the NECAP -- and map more closely to math as exercised in math class. Each section looks pretty much as you'd expect.

If this can be used as an alternate assessment in the RI graduation requirement, I'd recommend looking into it more closely, particularly the exact score required. But it is probably a better choice for getting over the hump, especially since there are more prep resources available.

Hate to Say I Told Ya So...


By the end of that meeting, though, she’d given up. She had also gotten into a heady confrontation with the site supervisor and revealed a lot of what she really thought about the school, its staff, and why the kids were so far behind. She was careful never to say it, and in fact said a lot of self-deprecating things instead, but I could tell that in her opinion, there was one simple problem: the school, and the rest of the after school staff, were not as hard-working as her, not as smart as her, and had low expectations for behavior. I don’t even think she knew that’s what was coming through in what she was saying.

So I went from identifying with her in an empathetic, “ohhh honey” way to identifying with her in an “oh crap was I just like her?” way. And on some bad days, I think the answer would have been yes.

Monday, April 01, 2013

To Hell with Superman, I'm Just Waiting for Someone Who Isn't a Crook

Charlie Pierce:

We really should all agree now that the American corporate class essentially is made up these days, high and low, entirely of grifting pieces of dickweed who don't have the moral sense possessed by spirochete, and that anything they touch will inevitably become in some way a thieves paradise, and that any education "reform" proposed, developed, and/or modeled for the nation by the members of its corporate class invariably will take on the ethical norms, not of the old American classroom, but of the new American boardroom. Those norms will infect everything. People are going to cheat. People are going to steal. The situation in Atlanta is only the most recent example.

The Validity Question

Tom Sgouros:

What does (Peter Merenda, who literally wrote the book on Educational Measurement) think of my critique of using the NECAP test as a graduation requirement? My suggestion was that the test is created with the expectation that lots of students will flunk, for perfectly valid statistical goals. I am deeply chagrined to say that he chided me… for not going nearly far enough. He said my critique was correct as far as it goes, but there is a far worse problem: validation. Those markups on the paper above say things like, “RIDE as user of NECAP is in violation of National Testing Standards“, and “the test scores have not even been validated for any purpose.”

Validating a test means to ask in a serious and disciplined way, what does the test actually measure? It usually means stepping outside the framework of the test itself to see how good the correlation is between test results and whatever it is you want to be measuring. For an employment test, you might try to compare job performance with test results (before making your hiring dependent on those test results, that is). For an intelligence test, you might compare test results with some other intelligence test. And for a graduation test, you might want to examine the test-takers and see, in some independent way, whether the students who pass deserve to graduate and whether the students who flunk do not.

In a related vein, Politifact:

CCRI uses a placement test called Accuplacer, developed by the same group responsible for the Scholastic Assessment Test for college-bound high school students, to identify students who need remedial work.

Among those 2,250 recent high school graduates, just over 75 percent needed some type of remedial course, whether it was math, English or writing, LeBlanc said. "That's the highest we've had in awhile." The rate usually ranges from 70-75 percent. He said that's not unusual for a community college.

The biggest need was usually for remedial math -- 65.7 didn't pass the math requirement. They had to take Fundamentals of Math -- which deals with basic arithmetic, percentages and working with fractions -- or high school algebra.

If that's the issue, maybe we should be giving high school students the Accuplacer. I bet it is easier than the NECAP.

And... the College Board will be happy to help you prepare for ACCUPLACER and apparently students will be able to use ACCUPLACER as a NECAP replacement in the graduation requirements.

When English Teachers Look at Math Problems

Last week I wondered about why students scoring poorly on the NECAP math did especially poorly on this question:

A real-estate agent received a 3.5% commission on the sale of a house that costs $200,000. What is the amount, in dollars, of the commission? [commission = sale price x rate]

I very obliquely followed that up with a suggestion that maybe it is really a vocabulary/general knowledge problem a la E.D. Hirsch. If you aren't really sure what a commission or real estate agent is, or what the "rate" refers to in the question, you're going to have problems. And that is probably the case for some kids (especially recent immigrants, etc.).

The problem with this interpretation is that the reading scores have proven both higher in general and much easier to improve than the math scores, so it seems unlikely that the difficulty of the math NECAP is due to reading issues.

I was also wondering if for some kids the answer -- a real estate agent would get $7,000 for selling a house -- would not seem plausible, since $7,000 could easily be two or three months income for the student's family (or more) for what might seem like a day or two of work by the agent. How long does it take to sell a house and how many does an agent sell a year? Do you even know?

Regardless, actual math teacher Jonathan jd2718 commented:

Percents. Percents are killers. Ratios are worse. Stick to the algebra, you'll get better results, at least in this country.

OK, I can certainly buy that explanation too. It does illustrate that math is less orderly and sequential than we like to think of it.