Wednesday, July 16, 2008

State Ed Skullduggery . . .

Leave it to our Board of Regents and State Educrats to screw things up -- and burn a ton of our money while doing it. Per yesterday's Associated Press and Times Union: "Scoring low no bar to passing."
New York's new integrated algebra test administered in June was so hard that a student could get a "raw score" of 30 points out of a possible 87 and still pass.
Wait a minute ... What could be more objective, easier to score, and less subject to "interpretation," than mathematics? If X + 4 = 10, then X=6 . . . Right? Well . . . This is New York, where government jobs are created to substitute for real ones -- where it takes 10 people and 3 politically appointed supervisors to do the work done by one in India (or the NY of 50 years ago).

A student can answer less than half of the questions right and still pass because State Ed uses a "scale score" for the grade, allegedly giving more points for more "difficult" questions.
. . . the Board of Regents says it uses them because it's a more accurate gauge of whether students are meeting standards for understanding a subject...

...Test questions for Regents exams are devised in committee by some of the state's top teachers and are field tested before they make it to a Regents exam...

After the June test, the state also had to issue a directive clarifying how to score one question for partial credit...
And you thought it was simple! This is complicated stuff - - you will get the bill next April.

Look, what is going on here is sorting . . . grading students in relation to each other rather than in relation to what they should or should not know. What is "hard" or "easy" or "appropriate" or "challenging" is pretty much in the eye of the beholder - - unless you are the one making the rules. These words describe performance rather than knowledge. That is why scoring directives must be sent -- why teachers are even given special seminars on how to score exams. And when performance is graded, you may be inadvertently grading things like physical, mental or social maturation, interest, outlook, even political perspective. Take a look at the new standards . . . they are quite vague in so far as what a student is expected to KNOW. Knowledge, on the other hand, is easy to score: you either know the material (and get a point) or you don't (and get zero).

So when you read of the "hard" algebra regents and State Ed using a scaled score, ask yourself:
Is State Ed hiding the fact that the students really don't know the material.


onjeesun said...

Our education system has been in a downward spiral ever sinse they enacted the "no child left behind" policy. They teach to the test, completely eliminating things they taught before because "it's never on the test". Then the schools don't do well based on the criteria they've put in place to test their own effectiveness in teaching. The obvious answer - lower the bar.

The only thing worse than that is the other thing they've done to make the schools look like they're doing well.They have a system that isn't working. Answer - do more of what doesn't work. My kids are up at 5 in the morning, and they are often still doing homework at 11 at night. The schools have become so demanding that they have actually recommended our kids skipping lunch so they can squeeze in another class. They also have extensive graded homework packages to complete over the summer. (This isn't just reading a book and doing a report. One instruction packet was 72 pages long) I've heard the saying that continuing to do the same thing over and over expecting a different result is the definition of crazy. Isn't doing more of the same wrong thing expecting better results even more crazy?

The people that make these rules are out of touch, and there's too much apathy amongst the parents. By the time this affects a whole generation it's too late. WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE ??

Matthew K. Tabor said...

"Is State Ed hiding the fact that the students really don't know the material?"

Not just NYSED - our local school districts, too. They parrot the stats and talking points about local proficiencies while conveniently bypassing the pesky points about what those numbers actually mean.

Mrs. Mecomber said...

I think ya'll are crazy to keep sending your kids to such places, year after year. Everyone seems to expect all the teacher's unions and administrators to suddenly sit upright, say "you're right!" and change things immediately. Sorry, that just isn't going to happen. If you read the agendas and intentions of the school system at large, everything is going just as planned!

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Mecomber,

Your anger is directed to the wrong place. School boards and administrators have to follow the directives of the State Education Department. If they continually defy State Ed year after year the end result is that their school district will be taken over by the state.

I have been saying this for years; if you are unhappy with the content being taught, tests being given or pedagogy being employed by teachers, your redress is with the State not local school boards or administrators. You need to complain to the Board of Regents and start electing senators and assemblymen who will advocate for changes in SED or for greater local independance of school districts. In the end, never doubt that SED is unequivocally the one in charge. To any local school boards who try to defy their wishes I will quote a hallowed science fiction reference - "Resistance is Futile".

Mrs Mecomber said...

Uhhhhh anonymous, that's exactly what I was referring to.. "teacher's unions," "administrators," "agendas and intentions of the school system at large."

But nothing gets their attention like a local boycott.

Strikeslip said...

Anonymous -- I did not see where Mrs. Mecomber directed anger to school boards and administrators, but if she did, she would be correct in doing so.

Education Law and the commissioner's regulations set forth specific subject areas in which instruction must be offered at the elementary and secondary school levels and the minimum units of study required in each of these areas for graduation (Ed Law Arts. 17 & 65; 8NYCRR Part 100)

Education Law, however, also sets forth the powers and duties of local school districts, generally in Education Law §1709 with other sections applicable depending on the type of school district involved. Foremost is §1709(3) which makes it the school board's Duty "To prescribe the course of study by which the pupils of the schools shall be graded and classified, and to regulate the admission of pupils and their transfer from one class or department to another, as their scholarship shall warrant." This empowers school boards to exceed the state minimum requirements, provided the new course requirements are not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, and do not supplant the mandated minimum units of study (Appeal of O'neill 29 Educ Dep Rep 297 (1990) -- See School Law Handbook, 26th Edition, 1996.

In so far as the "resistance is futile" argument goes, that is not established. I am aware of only one school district that has been taken over by NYSED . . . I believe it is the Roosevelt District on Long Island . . .because there was a lot of patent wrongdoing going on there.

Actually, State Ed RESISTS taking over local school districts because State Ed's lack of competency becomes placed on center stage. Have you heard of the brilliant students from the state operated Roosevelt School District . . . I have not.

The problem with local school boards is that they accept without question whatever they are told by their administrators are the requirements of state law. Naturally (and I am sure there are rare exceptions) the administrators choose the least onerous path, going with whatever their peers have concocted as necessary to meet the "minimums" prescribed by the state, or the path that gives them some personal benefit . . . passing off their own embellishments as being "required" by state law when they might not necessarily be so.

There is plenty of room within the current (and in my view, defective) state requirements for a district to offer truly a quality education. But School Boards rarely discuss curriculum . . . Their administrators routinely burn up valuable meeting time with trivial matters or awards presentations.

Mrs. Mecomber is right on the money !

formerTeacher said...

onjeesun, teachers have been teaching to NYS Regents exams long before NCLB was enacted. Granted NCLB has not been what it was hyped to be, but it does have some merit. To criticize it here is not warranted. There was an issue with the NYS scoring rubric for a physics exam about 5 years ago where you had many many students across the state failing the regents exam in physics. We're talking about kids who were graduating in the top 5 and 10% of their classes. Some BoE's even went so far to advise colleges to ignore the exam results. Naturally NYS DoE claimed it was a fair exam and scoring did not change.
The issue has been born out of NYS DoE's directive to make every student graduate w/a Regents diploma. You know, get more kids to hurdle the bar. That's easier said than done, so what's the answer? Lower the freaking bar! That's how NYS does it, lower the bar by coming up with these crazy scoring rubrics (they are nuts, I used to teach high school science). A monkey could pass the bio regents just by multiple guess given the rubric. But the chem and phys exams the rubric makes it easy to achieve passing scores but very difficult to achieve a mastery score. I had a student answer 82% of the questions right yet only get a 78% on the exam. Try explaining that to a teenager. So NYS can say look, we are getting lots of kids to pass, and we've made it harder because fewer are gaining mastery level. Voila, we raised standards, and we got more students passing. Aren't we great, well aren't we.

This is one of many reasons why I left teaching for the private sector. NYS BoE is a nightmare to deal with.

Greens and Beans said...

The fact of the matter is that most foreign college students excel in comparison to American student. I recently stayed at a prominent upstate University’s Inn and Convention Center. I was particularly impressed with the study habits exhibited by the many foreign students that were attending this institution. I was also fortunate to have a brief conversation with a professor. I asked if there was any difference in terms of teaching the foreign student opposed to teaching the American student? The professor told me that all of the instructors under his direction agree that the typical foreign student academically far exceeds the American student.

So why do we (USA) emulate the successful foreign government’s education departments?
How do we get the apathetic parents engaged in partnering with the student’s education?

onjeesun said...

Sorry but I'm living with 4 kids who are growing up in the no child left behind era. We enhance their education at home to make up for the ever narrowing curriculum the schools teach, which matches what is on the test used to grade the SCHOOLS, not the kids. They want to quantify the job the schools are doing so they decide to take a snapshot which does not give an accurate overall picture. For example-

Take a young student who excels at playing the saxophone. Now some bigwig wants to be able to put a value on their ability, so they come up with a test to do that. The test has the kid play four notes instead of a song. The teacher, who's job requires the kids to do well, now concentrates their efforts on those four notes instead of the overall abilities. In the end we have a kid who scores well on a test playing four notes, which makes the school and the teacher look good, but the kids talents and abilities aren't being fostered. THAT is what's happening. It's all about appearances not reality. I can't wait for my kids to get out of school. We teach as much or more at home and they have averages in the high 90's. I contemplate keeping the home on the days the schools do their testing. AGAIN, I'm not talking about the regents but the tests that rate the schools.

While I'm at it, check out a book called the Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. The whole system is broken.

Anonymous said...

Mrs Mecomber,

There is a distinct difference between the State Education Department and local educators and school boards. The Board of Regents (who make all the rules and govern State Ed) as well as the governor and state legislature who appoint them are almost exclusively all lawyers and career politicians.

The Board of regents dictates graduation requirements as well as "high-stakes" exams. A local school board or administrator cannot say that all this teaching to the test is crazy and just do their own thing. Whether they like it or not they are stuck with the state tests that are imposed upon them by the lawyer/politicians in our state government.

The performance of school administrators and the local boards of ed are judged by student performance on these tests, so is it any surprise that they teach directly to the test as opposed to encouraging any other form of learning? In the end, the lawyer/politicians get what they want - a way to say they are improving student performance when they are in fact just lowering the bar to make it seem like they have accomplished something.

Local educators and BoE's are powerless against this and cannot change it. Strike is right when he says that local schools can go above and beyond what the state requires, but they cannot challenge the fundamental orthodoxy of what the lawyer/politicans want schools to focus on.

Strikeslip said...

With all due respect, Anonymous, while State Ed may set the requirements, and school administrators and boards must follow, nothing requires school administrators, teachers, or school boards to sit silently while our education system, our children's future, and, most likely, our way of life gets flushed away.

Remember the fairy tale, The Emperor's New Clothes? Substitute the "Higher Standards" for Clothes and State Ed for the Emperor and you get the picture. A fraud has been perpetrated on the public, and all those who are in the BEST POSITION to criticize and call them on it stand by, complacently nodding their heads "what wonderful new clothes" while the emperor is bare.

The idea that "Local educators and BoE's are powerless against this and cannot change it" is baloney and an excuse. If enough get out there to expose the fraud that is being perpetrated on the public, heads will roll.

They don't because they make their living off the system. A certain amount of blame must be assigned to everyone who is part of the system, watched it be destroyed, and remained silent.

onjeesun said...

I have many a friend who were great teachers but retired as early as possible out of frustration. Their hands are tied not only by the tests they have to teach to and the rules put in place by out of touch politicians, but also by the upper level administrators. There is an environment of fear and intimidation for these good teachers who do speak out. Their lives can and do turn into a nightmare and they are forced to walk in step or suffer the rath of incompetent, dishonest and vengeful administrators.

I have fought for what I think is right and just at board meetings and through appeals to the Commissioner of Education. In the end I receieved anonymous hate mail, had my name dragged through the mud, and even lost friends who didn't understand. They just wanted to go along with all the other lemmings, and compliment the Emperors new clothes.

Anonymous said...

Well Strike,

If enough teachers, administrators and BoE's want to get behind this then yes a change can be made at the State level...but it always begs the question who will be the first to challenge this?

I have another analogy to go along with the Emperor’s new clothes, it has to do with the American Revolution. Men like Adams (Sam and John), Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and others are celebrated as patriots and forged the greatest nation on earth. However had they not rallied enough support from others behind their cause they would have been hanged as traitors from the nearest yardarm.

If you or someone likes you cares to run for a local school board and be the first to "rebel" against the State bureaucracy it might just get the ball rolling and get the lawyer/politicians to change our system for the better...but you'd better be ready to be "hanged" if you fail. I can't blame your average teacher/administrator/board member for not standing up to involves a lot of personal risk.

Strikeslip said...

Anonymous - You are correct, it is unlikely that people will step forward to take on the challenge . . . One or two people cannot do it alone (been there and done that) . . . and the end result is exactly what we have, and deserve -- lousy schools. And the response from those parents who are knowing and have the wherewithall to do it -- like Mrs. Mecomber -- is to take their kids out of the public school system and either homeschool them or send them to private schools.

A few years ago I was affiliated with a local group of "community leaders" -- business people, educators, and politically connected types -- and got on their education subcommittee, supposedly to improve local education to move the region forward. At the first couple meetings there were constant complaints on how college graduates could not be depended upon to do the simplest things such as write grammatically correct paragraphs or do basic math computations. The lack of basic skills was seen as a real problem for employers. But when it came time to do something about it, no one stepped forward. I wrote a lengthy memo to the group, identifying what I saw were the causes for the lack of basic skills, the entities responsible, and a recommended approach to solve the problem. One retired educator stepped forward, all fired up ... but when we tried to get others involved, it fell on deaf ears. The "big accomplishment" of the group ended up being an annual dinner to honor educators.

The reason for this lack of interest in solving the basic skills problem was easy to see. Although everyone complained about the problem, most in the room with the credentials to get the attention of local school boards and community leasers were profiting from the broken system. There is just so much money available for special programs that they become a distraction from ensuring mastery of basic skills.

I do not see the system correcting itself until we go through a Depression and most of the money for education dries up.