Lots of Kids Left Behind

Yesterday I wrote about the hoax of standards, and the call to throw out state-wide tests. Recently the Georgia Department of Education released preliminary results based on the CRCT tests that were administered state-wide in the spring. You can go the Department of Education, and view the results by grade level. It might make you sick.

In an article written by Jeffrey Whitfield for the Clayton News Daily-Online, he reported that “slightly more than 58 percent of students in sixth grade, 59 percent of seventh graders and just over 40 percent of eighth graders did not meet standards on the science portion of the CRCT. Science was an area that students from many school systems struggled to pass.” The Department of Education explains these dismal results by claiming that they developed “harder” tests, and curriculum. This kind of thinking always amazes me. Here, from the education chief that wanted to ban evolution from the new “harder” curriculum comes this claim. I guess the officials need to take their personal failings (elected officials and business leaders point to them for the sorry state of education) and lay it on the students. The students become pons in high stakes game of educational testing and standards.

Of course the solution to the problem (at least in the immediate 2 month future) is to send the students who failed the test back to school. To learn what? Not much. Just be able to pass the test. So education gets reduced to helping kids practice to take the test.

By reducing education to this annual confession that our kids didn’t do so well and they need more of the same in summer makes you wonder what role teachers play in all of this. Certainly, they are held “accountable” (prisoner) to the test and their students better pass the test. There is little room for innovation and creativity in this approach to education—actually I wouldn’t call it education, I’d call it rehersing for the test.

Lots of students are left behind in the State of Georgia’s educational system. Why? We need an investigation and evaluation of the so called “No Child Left Behind” policy. We should oppose such a policy.

State-Wide Testing, The Hoax of Tough Standards–It’s Time to Stop Testing

I wanted to write about our nations obsession with testing the daylights out of students in our schools, K-12 about a week ago, but got side-tracked by writing about climate change! Go figure. The State of Georgia released the results of its state-wide testing program, and the results showed that more than 25% of Georgia’s school population could be retained in the Fall (06) if they don’t pass the re-test that will be given this summer—of course the state invites the kids to “summer school” to get ready for the test. Isn’t this just great education.

The thing that is amazing is that you can go to the above website, and download a spread sheet of data for grades 1 – 8 and look over the mass of data for every school district in Georgia. What’s even more amazing is that people in the Department of Education believe this stuff. They think they are measuring student learning. And they’ve convinced parents and school officials that the data is the truth about student progress and learning. Sorry—hogwash.

Cathy Cox is the Superintendent of Education for the State of Georgia, and made public statements to the effect that the results showed improvement in some areas, such as science. Now this is the same education chief who wanted to ban “evolution” from the state curriculum. That’s right. She wanted to replace the concept of evolution with “biological changes overtime.” And she has a master’s degree in social studies from Emory University. So anything coming out of the Department of Education is immediatley suspect.

Why do we test to the extent that we do? Primarily to satisfy politician’s (Cox is a politician, not an educator in my view) claim that education standards need to be toughened. Another words, these people feel that “almost anything can be done to students and to schools, no matter how ill-considered, as long as it is done in the name of “raising standards” or ‘accountability.'” As Alfie Kohn suggests, “a plague has been sweeping through American schools, wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers and administrators. Ironically, that plague has been unleashed in the name of improving schools. Invoking such terms as “tougher standards,” “accountability,” and “raising the bar,” people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy-handed, top-down, test-driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country.

When I read about Georgia’s testing results, it was revolting to consider what would be happening to thousands of kids this summer, reporting to school to learn in a rote fashion so that they might pass the test, and make the state testers either satisfied or glum over the performance of Georgia’s students.

Would it make any difference if State wide tests were abolished? That is, would it mean that standards would dip because testing was eliminated? Would teachers teach any differently? Would students learn different things? You see, the implication is that State-wide standards (that’s another word for describing a school syllabus (of course for each subject and grade level). The implication is that you need to test to measure whether the standards are being met or not. That’s hogwash.

Teachers are the best judges of student progress, not a test. And to think that the public has accepted the idiotic concept that a single test (that’s right) is the best measure of how kids do in school. At a time when colleges and universities (some, granted) are moving away from using the SAT as part of its admission policy, states are falling all over one another to develop the “best” testing program to prove that its really improving education. Another hogwash.

For 32 years I was a professor at Georgia State University, and taught courses in science education and geology. When I first arrived I used tests as a way to measure my student’s progress, but soon realized that there were many other ways to determine student progress. After attending a conference among graduate students and geologists in the mountains of Colorado in 1972, I returned to GSU and threw out the curriculum I was using in an introductory geology course, and involved the students in developing a curriculum for them, and how they would progress in the course. In other courses, I abandoned tests, and replaced them with a variety of evaluation tools focused on student choice. I got away with this for the rest of my career at GSU. That’s right, no tests.

Whew. This quite a bit different than writing about climate change!

Dropping Out of High School is the Thing to Do

Or at least, that seems to be the situation in American high schools. According to statistics compiled by The Gates Foundation, and reported on their website Stand Up, one-third of public high school students will not graduate.

You can investigate the statistics for your own state, and even get statistics on any public school in America. I checked Georgia (where I live), and it was reported that the graduation rate is 56%, one of the lowest in the country. Statistics on each school, which is supported by Standard and Poor’s (a division of McGraw Hill), includes Reading and Math Proficiency (%-compared to the state’s results), enrollment, and % of economically disadvantaged enrolled in the school.

The Gates Foundation has funded more than 1900 high schools to help improve the graduation rate, and prepare students for college. You can see a video describing a school in the Bronx, NY, and how students respond to the changes that were made.

I was interested in the approach that is advocated in the Gates funded schools to improve graduation rates, and preparation for college. The Foundation has a very rigorous research and evaluation program to assess this ambitious program. One of the reports focused on the creation of cultures of learning at the high school level. You can download the report (90 pages) by going to the previous link. I found it interesting. One of the emphases in successful schools for African-American and Hispanic students was the focus on relationships among students, and teachers and students, and of course one way to do this is to reduce school size. We’ve known for many years, that smaller schools are more successful with students than with large, campus -type schools. One of the high schools that I taught in many years ago had an enrollment of 3,600 (grades 9-12). To deal with the size, the school was divided into separate “units” of 300 students, with its own faculty, commons area, and lunch area.

In earlier posts, I started a conversation on reform in science education. Improvement in science education must go hand-in-hand with the reform of high schools. Simply pouring money into innovative science curricular without considering the context of the school, will not improve science education, nor will it help the students that need the assistance.

As reported in the Gates studies, size of school is not the real factor. It’s what teachers and students do to change the culture of learning. We’ll talk more about that in another post. In the meantime, travel to the Gates site, and take a look.