When Should AP Tests Count At College?

AP tests have been around for quite some time, so you’d think there might be some consistency by now about how they’re used to allow students to validate college classes.  In Illinois the concerns about consistency are both academic and financial:

A proposed change to state law that has advanced in Springfield could expand high school students’ access to college credit through AP testing — but could also have a financial impact on state colleges and universities in Illinois, which could lose out on tuition revenue.

The AP testing program awards students whose knowledge has surpassed the high school level, and can save them time and money in college because they don’t have to pay to take the equivalent courses.

But college standards for granting credit for AP tests vary widely. The tests are scored on a 5-point scale, but while some colleges and universities will award credit for scores as low as 2, others require the top score of 5 in certain subjects, according to the College Board, which administers the program. At some schools, the standards vary by subject, while the University of Illinois has different thresholds for different campuses.

To standardize the criteria, lawmakers are considering passing a law to require public universities and colleges in Illinois to give course credit for scores of 3 or better…

Last year in Illinois, nearly 116,000 AP tests were awarded scores of 3 or better, according to a coalition backing the legislation that includes state education groups and the College Board. At an average cost of $426 per credit hour, that would add up to $148 million in savings overall, proponents say.

AP credit could cost colleges and universities lost tuition from those students who can skip over classes, but officials say many AP students simply take other classes instead, to add depth or breadth to their education. Or they can use the lightened course load to improve their chances of graduating on time.

And They Say There’s No Inflation

70%, 20%, 10%–add that up and it’s a pretty big increase.  I’d say that’s some inflation:

The bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System enacted last year requires a 70 percent increase in pension contributions from school districts, a 20 percent increase from the state general fund and a 10 percent increase in teacher contributions. When the phased-in increases are complete in 2020-21, CalSTRS will get about $5 billion more a year than it now does, putting it on much firmer ground.

But even at a time when school funding has reached an all-time high, districts are apprehensive at having to spend so much more on pensions. This month, their strategy has become clear: establish separate, specific state funding for districts to cover their increased contributions.

If districts have to spend more on pensions there will be less available for raises.

[T]he education establishment expects to use the flexibility and extra dollars provided by the Local Control Funding Formula to pay for the higher pension costs. But that’s not what the change in how schools are funded was supposed to be about, according to its champion, Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor’s website contains a 800-word account of the signing of the LCFF law on July 1, 2013. It depicts the funding change as being solely about getting more help to struggling English-learners, the state’s “neediest students.”

Money doesn’t grow on trees.  If you had to bet who would get extra money,  students who don’t vote or teachers backed by powerful unions, on whom would you bet?

The “Coming Out Of The Closet” Jokes Just Write Themselves, Sorta

How can any thinking adult be a party to this?

The mother of an eighth-grade student called a news station on Quinton Wright, a math teacher and coach, when she saw text messages between the two. What was the problem with the messages?

According to WSB-TV, they were setting up a sexual encounter for her son with a female student in Mr. Wright’s classroom closet. They included talk of condoms for the 14-year-old boy.

Words fail me.

When Knowing How Isn’t Enough

Barry Garelick and Katharine Beals discuss why knowing how to do math problems just isn’t good enough under Common Core:

At a middle school in California, the state testing in math was underway via the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam. A girl pointed to the problem on the computer screen and asked “What do I do?” The proctor read the instructions for the problem and told the student: “You need to explain how you got your answer.”

The girl threw her arms up in frustration and said, “Why can’t I just do the problem, enter the answer and be done with it?”

The answer to her question comes down to what the education establishment believes “understanding” to be, and how to measure it. K-12 mathematics instruction involves equal parts procedural skills and understanding. What “understanding” in mathematics means, however, has long been a topic of debate. One distinction popular with today’s math reform advocates is between “knowing” and “doing.” A student, reformers argue, might be able to “do” a problem (i.e., solve it mathematically), without understanding the concepts behind the problem solving procedure. Perhaps he has simply memorized the method without understanding it.

I hear this silliness about “explaining” often.  I assert that a student who can solve a multi-step algebraic problem and get the correct answer shouldn’t then have to explain each step–their comprehension is demonstrated already by the systematic steps taken!  If someone still disagrees with me, I give them this challenge:  “Divide 100 by 6 using long division, and explain to me why that algorithm works.”  99% of people can’t explain why the algorithm works, but does that really matter if they know the algorithm and can execute it flawlessly?  And why does it matter why the algorithm works?  After all, no one does division for its own sake but rather to solve a problem; the division itself is only a tool, not a goal in and of itself.  Yes, it would be nice if someone could explain it, but are they at all mathematically handicapped if they cannot?  Is someone handicapped at driving a car because they cannot explain the 4 strokes of a “4 stroke engine”?

But lets get back to Beals and Garelick:

Despite the goal of solving a problem and explaining it in one fell swoop, in many cases observed at the middle school, students solved the problem first and then added the explanation in the required format and rubric.  It was not evident that the process of explanation enhanced problem solving ability. In fact, in talking with students at the school, many found the process tedious and said they would rather just “do the math” without having to write about it.

In general, there is no more evidence of “understanding” in the explained solution, even with pictures, than there would be in mathematical solutions presented in a clear and organized way. How do we know, for example, that a student isn’t simply repeating an explanation provided by the teacher or the textbook, thus exhibiting mere “rote learning” rather than “true understanding” of a problem-solving procedure?

This is intuitively obvious.  And Garelick and Beals point out the greatest flaw in the “explain your answer” pedagogy:  requiring the types of explanations identified as good by Common Core undermines, and in fact is counter to, the conciseness of mathematics.

The idea that students who do not demonstrate their strategies in words and pictures must not understand the underlying concepts assumes away a significant subpopulation of students whose verbal skills lag far behind their mathematical skills, such as non-native English speakers or students with specific language delays or language disorders. These groups include children who can easily do math in their heads and solve complex problems, but often will be unable to explain – whether orally or in written words – how they arrived at their answers.
Don’t intentionally misunderstand what I’m saying.  I’m not saying that students shouldn’t be able to justify their work or shouldn’t have to explain anything.  I’m saying that what’s put forth as “Common Core” is excessive, it’s geared towards the more verbal and less mathematical among us, and is not good math.
The closing of the linked article says it all:

As Alfred North Whitehead famously put it about a century before the Common Core standards took hold:

It is a profoundly erroneous truism … that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

Abusive Fees

If this story were about college students’ not having the maturity or responsibility necessary to keep from racking up heavy credit card debt, my take would be “too bad, so sad” along with some commentary about the real world.  I don’t fault companies when individuals make bad decisions.  I do fault companies, however, when their practices are abusive, and in this case it’s probably good that the federal government is stepping in:

The Obama administration is taking on banks and other financial firms with new rules that would ban certain fees they can charge college students as well as restrictions on how they market products on campuses.

The U.S. Department of Education on Friday unveiled draft regulations on debit cards and other financial products offered on campuses. Consumer advocates have long sought the rules, which have drawn the ire of the financial services industry.

The draft regulations target two categories of financial products. First, the department is seeking to place the most stringent restrictions on debit cards and prepaid cards that colleges use to directly disburse federal grants and loans to students. For those accounts, the department would prohibit point-of-service fees, overdraft or insufficient funds charges, and ATM withdrawal fees.

A second category includes checking accounts or other financial products that are offered on campus or marketed to students under an agreement with the college. For example, some banks offer debit cards that are co-branded with the logo or mascot of a college. Those types of products would be prohibited from charging account access fees or in-network ATM withdrawal fees.

What is the point of having an account if you have to pay to access it?

Of course, as with so much else it does, the federal government regulations go too far–why shouldn’t someone be penalized with overdraft charges?–but other than that these regulations seem both reasonable and overdue.

 

California’s “Mediocre” Graduation Rate

I’m not convinced that Common Core is going to bring us to the Promised Land of all students graduating, or even that all racial and ethnic groups will graduate in statistically-equal proportions:

California’s high school graduation rate has improved in recent years but is still mediocre compared to other states, a new national study reveals.

The study, entitled “Building a Grad Nation,” was done for America’s Promise Alliance, a consortium of civic and business groups headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. Its goal is to raise the national graduation rate, 81.4 percent in 2013, to 90 percent by 2020.

While citing progress in raising graduation rates, Powell says in an open letter accompanying the report that “we are running out of time to close large and lingering gaps in graduation rates among different student populations.”

California’s 2013 graduation rate, 80.4 percent, is a full point below average, although the state was cited in the report for adding 4.4 percentage points to its rate in two years. California’s superintendent of schools, Tom Torlakson, reported last month that the state graduation rate rose again to 80.8 percent last year.

Twenty-eight states had graduation rates higher than California’s in 2013, the study found, with Iowa, at 89.7 percent, Nebraska (88.5 percent), and Texas and Wisconsin (88 percent) coming closest to the 90 percent goal. Oregon had, by far, the lowest rate, 68.7 percent.

I’ll admit that I’m surprised that Oregon’s rate is so low.  Are all these percentages calculated the same way?  If so, what is the explanation for Oregon, and for Texas?

Gallup: Schools Not Doing So Well

From Gallup:

Ninety-six percent of Americans say it is “somewhat” or “very” important for adults in the country to have a degree or certificate beyond high school. Clearly, the perceived importance of postsecondary education remains very high, especially considering the majority of American adults do not have a degree. But something very troubling lurks beneath the surface of this finding in the recently released fourth annual Gallup-Lumina Foundation poll.

Only 13% of Americans strongly agree college graduates in this country are well-prepared for success in the workplace. That’s down from 14% two years ago and 19% three years ago. This is effectively a “no confidence” vote in college graduates’ work readiness, and if we don’t work to fix it, there will be catastrophic effects for the American education system and economy.

The no confidence vote gets worse: Americans with college degrees are much less likely to strongly agree college grads are ready for the workforce than Americans without college degrees — 6% vs. 18%, respectively.

Where is the disconnect?

Requirements For State Testing

California’s new standardized testing regime requires a computerized test given over the internet.  Schools and districts have to come up with the computers–with proper capabilities, of course–to give these tests.

What if the school doesn’t have a good internet connection?

Nestled between mountains 60 miles from the nearest city, students at Cuyama Valley High School use Internet connections about one-tenth the minimum speed recommended for the modern U.S. classroom.

So when it came time to administer the new Common Core-aligned tests online, the district of 240 students in a valley of California oil fields and sugar beet farms faced a challenge.

New Cuyama has no access to fiber optic cables. Some residents live entirely off the grid, relying on solar power and generators. The local telephone company provided a few extra lines, but that only bumped speeds a few megabits.

“We tripled our capacity but it’s still woefully inadequate,” said Paul Chounet, superintendent of the Cuyama Joint Unified School District.

Across the country, school districts in rural areas like New Cuyama and other pockets with low bandwidth are confronting a difficult task: Administering the new standardized tests to students online, laying bare a tech divide in the nation’s classrooms…

The Common Core standards adopted in 43 states and the District of Columbia provide uniform benchmarks for what students should know in each grade in reading and math. To aid their adoption, two groups of states received grants from the U.S. Department of Education to develop new assessments required to be computer based.

I myself was not happy with the practice test I took last year.

A Rolling Stone Gathers A Lawsuit

Last November, Rolling Stone magazine published an article about a brutal rape on the campus of the University of Virginia.  One fraternity and seven male students in particular were identified, the entire Greek system at UVa was penalized, and a pernicious myth of so-called rape culture on our university campuses was given new life.

As you can see at the link, Rolling Stone has since retracted the story as there was absolutely no corroborating evidence that the attack described took place.  The author, Sabrina Erdely, had actually published similar stories in the past, also without corroboration:

It should be noted here that Erdely had done at least two rape stories prior to “Jackie’s”—one concerning the US Navy and the other a Catholic parish in Philadelphia. No one at Rolling Stone apparently found it curious that Erdely stumbled upon festering rape scandals at the three institutions that together comprise the trifecta of left-wing hate objects—organized religion, the US military, and that bastion of male privilege, fraternities.

The “you raped someone” genie, already out of the bottle, cannot be put back in.  The reputations of the accused men cannot be repaired near as easily as they were trashed, and with the assistance of UVa President Teresa Sullivan to boot!

Is anyone but me seeing shades of the Duke Lacrosse Story here?

The Columbia Graduate School of Journalism conducted an investigation and, according to The New York Times, they weren’t kind to Rolling Stone:

Rolling Stone magazine retracted its article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity after the release of a report on Sunday that concluded the widely discredited piece was the result of failures at every stage of the process.

The report, published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and commissioned by Rolling Stone, said the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the ordeal that the magazine’s source, identified only as Jackie, described to the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

One would think that the fraternity brothers would sue Rolling Stone, Sabrina Erdely, and perhaps even Teresa Sullivan, but the first lawsuit against Rolling Stone is by an assistant dean:

Nicole P. Eramo, an associate dean of students at the University of Virginia who handles reports of sexual assault for the school, is suing Rolling Stone magazine over the way she was depicted in a now discredited story.

Eramo has filed suit against Rolling Stone LLC, parent company Wenner Media LLC, and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article called “A Rape on Campus,” which painted a harrowing picture of a rape and its coverup at U.Va. The complaint was filed in the Charlottesville, Va., circuit court. Eramo is seeking a total of $7.85 million.

In her complaint, Eramo says, “Defendants’ purpose in publishing the article was to weave a narrative that depicted the University of Virginia (‘UVA’) as an institution that is indifferent to rape on campus, and more concerned with protecting its reputation than with assisting victims of sexual assault.”

One wonders why Associate Dean Eramo didn’t include her own university’s president in her lawsuit.

One wonders why any young men would want to apply to such a school in the future.

What can the world learn from Finland?

fl_coverMarc Tucker looks at two very different takes on Finland’s education system.

Finland has aced PISA exams by trusting first-class teachers to teach well, not by hold them accountable for test scores, argues Pasi Sahlberg in Finnish Lessons: What can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

In Real Finnish Lessons, Gabriel Heller Sahlgren argues that long-standing policies and practices caused Finland’s 2000 rise.

Teachers are respected in Finnish culture, which is more conservative than other Nordic countries, Sahlgren writes. Finland was a poor country until recently.

. . . as in most Asian countries, (Finnish) children were taught to defer to and obey their elders; obedience in this very hierarchical society was a cardinal virtue. . . . well after many other countries had adopted more progressive methods, Finnish teachers lectured and their students wrote down what they said in notebooks and learned it. Period. None of this currently fashionable student-as-constructor-of-knowledge and teacher-as-guide stuff. The increasing autonomy granted Finnish teachers under the new regime was used, he says, by many, if not most teachers to persist in their old ways.

Finns used to be known for their determination to succeed in the face of adversity, Sahlgren writes. Prosperity has eroded that grit. “Finnish students, who used to do what they were told, however boring and difficult it might have been, are now much harder for Finnish teachers to control. Finnish teachers may have no choice but to adopt more progressive attitudes and teaching methods.”

And Finland’s PISA scores are slipping somewhat.  On a new international ranking, which uses PISA, TIMSS and Terce scores, the top five countries for math and science achievement for 15-year-olds are Asian, followed by Finland and Estonia.

Tucker has some doubts about the thesis.

As it happens, I’m on my way to Finland, though not to check up on their schools. We’re visiting Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn (Estonia).

Darren Miller of Right on the Left Coast has graciously agreed to guest blog while I’m away.