Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 18, 2009


Washington Post - When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the continued growth of standardized test scores for District students, he hailed it as "powerful evidence of the incredible work being done by teachers, principals and most importantly our students."

What Fenty did not say was that the two-year improvement in District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System results -- including an average of nearly 15 percentage points in the pass rates on elementary reading and math tests -- was also the product of a strategy that relied on improved statistical housekeeping.

These include intensive test preparation targeted to a narrow group of students on the cusp of proficient, or passing, scores, and "cleaning the rosters" of students ineligible to take the tests -- and also likely to pull the numbers down.

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee described some of these approaches as the pursuit of "low-hanging fruit.". . .

Some teachers and parents wonder whether the effort and attention devoted to lifting scores helped the children who need the most attention: those years behind grade level in reading and math skills.

One of Rhee's most widely discussed initiatives was "Saturday Scholars," a 13-week program for about 5,000 invited students whose academic records suggested that they were close to scoring at proficiency levels.

Critics call Saturday Scholars and programs like it "educational triage" that focuses disproportionate attention on students who require the least help.

Kerry Sylvia, a social studies teacher at Cardozo High School, said Saturday Scholars was less about serving children and more about making the adults who run the school system look good.

"There are students in my classes who are struggling with basics, and yet we're pouring all of this money into a program not just focused on tests, but on tests for a few students so the scores will look good," said Sylvia, who is a member of Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform, a group that opposes some of Rhee's initiatives. . .

Other score-leavening methods included redefining a failing test. During the first two years that the District used the Comprehensive Assessment System exams (before that, it used the Stanford-9), any student who did not take the test counted as having failed. Starting in 2008, students who did not take the test did not count as either a pass or a fail.

Some changes, mandated by the federal government, worked against the goal of higher scores, Rhee said. More than 2,000 students in D.C. public and public charter schools with reading difficulties, who used to have the questions and passages in the English language arts section of the test read aloud to them, must now take the regular written exam.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of the country's 66 largest urban systems, said Rhee's approach has been "right and strategically smart."

Casserly said Rhee met with him shortly after she became chancellor in 2007 and wanted ideas on how to raise scores quickly. . .

Finally, Fenty and Rhee have harvested the "fruits" of students and teachers who have simply grown accustomed to the test. The District's CAS, patterned after a similar test used in Massachusetts, was introduced in 2006 by Rhee's predecessor, Clifford Janey. Often, educators find that scores are low in the first year of a test and then rise significantly in the next couple of years. So it was in the District, where the first round of scores was extremely low, with only about a third of all students demonstrating proficiency in reading or math.


Anonymous spit nails at them said...

These creepy imposters who pretend to be administering education are all fraudulent, sickening, amoral devotees of social hierarchy and cheap-labor predation. They are predators plain and simple, lacking all moral compass and devoid of sense, and they're unashamed of eating our children alive and getting big pay for doing so.

July 18, 2009 7:05 AM  
Anonymous Alfie Kohn is a great living treasure said...

Every parent in Amercia needs to read NO CONTEST by Alfie Kohn! And in a HURRY!

Hell...read ALL his books: it'll change your life and your kids' lives for the far, far better - like nothing else will!

July 18, 2009 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When people put the education of their children in other peoples hands, they must accept and support whatever awfulness the institution will deliver. Schools care about the money they get, not the kids.

Some individuals inside schools may really be trying to give kids a quality education, but the system will mediocre any efforts of such individuals.

If you want quality education for your kids, and you want them to learn to think for themselves, homeschool.

July 18, 2009 10:53 AM  
Anonymous get real said...

"When people put the education of their children in other peoples hands, they must accept and support whatever awfulness the institution will deliver."

What complete rubbish. What shallow thinking.

July 18, 2009 1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:48, You get real.

To dismiss something that many parents of school children find to be true as "rubbish" shows your own shallow gullible thinking.

Here is a test for you. Why don't you tell your kids school that you don't think your kids benefit from home work or testing, and you don't require they do it, and see how the school responds. They will insist you comply, or tell you to take your kid to a charter school.

Schools do not like it when parents refuse anything they set out for the kids. Schools only want parents to tow the line and be good quiet blindly supportive volunteers doing what ever the school wants.

As a homeschooler, I meet a great number of people with kids, some homeschooled, but many in public school. When I meet parents of school children, I hear the same complaints repeatedly on how the school is unresponsive to the needs of kids, families, and the community. When someone tries to do something about it, the school system will ignore, or drive away anyone who would improve matters. Schools consider anyone with good thinking skills to be a problem, especially kids who can think.

Don't believe me, read Alfie Kohn, John Holt, or John Taylor Gatto.

Here is a link to a book by John Taylor Gatto free and online to get you started.

The Underground History of American Education.


July 21, 2009 11:56 AM  

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