(KS) New Carnival of Education is up!

Lots and lots of links over at this week’s Carnival! Go check it out.

(KS) Priorities out of balance

Kids today get such mixed messages about their responsibilities in life. On the one hand, we prepare them for standardized tests while they’re practically still in the delivery room, snipping off the umbilical cord and handing them a Number 2 pencil. On the other hand, we protect them from reality tests in ever-increasing numbers:

Gone are the days when a kindergartner dropped a handful of party invites in the classroom cubbyholes of their closest buddies. Today, if anyone is excluded the invitations can’t be handed out at school. The idea that protecting kids from rejection is crucial to safeguarding their self-esteem has gained momentum in recent years.

Take Valentine’s Day: At some schools, a second-grader can’t offer paper valentines or heart-shaped candies to a short list of pals and secret crushes anymore. They give cards to everyone or no one at all. Or sports: In many towns, scorekeeping no longer happens at soccer or softball games played by kids under 8 or 9. Win or lose, every player in the league gets a trophy at the season’s end.

As with many child-rearing trends, some parents and educators see wisdom where others spot foolishness. Many see a mixture of both.

Can you imagine how confused a child would be if he got the importance of high-stakes tests drilled into him in school all day, then went to his softball game and got a trophy for scoring no runs? High stakes testing pressure may have reached detrimental levels in some schools, but the removal of all stakes in sports and popularities contests could have as far-reaching and negative an effect.

(Cross-posted at The Education Wonks.)

(KS) Lowering the requirements, and the salary too

New York Sun columnist Andrew Wolf notes that the state of NY can’t be too serious about finding a decent psychometrician to solve their testing problems, because they’re offering too little money for too few qualifications:

How do I know that the state isn’t serious about reforming its test programs? The job in question is the director of the Division of Educational Testing for the state, and the advertised salary for the post is $94,543 a year. After some unspecified period of time and “performance advances,” the salary could reach a maximum of $119, 658.

Let’s put this into perspective. This is about the pay scale of an elementary school principal in New York City. Middle and High School principals make more…

The requirements for the post also suggest that the state is not serious in finding a high-powered person. Only a non-specific Masters degree is required, which could be satisfied by an M.S. in animal husbandry, along with just seven years of educational experience , three of which must be in testing and assessment.

This may be a sign of desperation, as opposed to flippancy. Even non-managerial psychometrician positions usually require a Ph.D; a director’s position should include both that degree and substantial (over 10 years) experience. Those folks are few and far between, so moving the job requirement goalposts might be the only way New York sees to open up the applicant pool. Certainly, a person who possesses the doctorate and enough experience to do this job right is going to charge more than $119K and change.

I agree with Wolf that in this case, NY just might get what they pay for – and they might end up paying for it, later.

(Cross-posted at The Education Wonks.)

(KS) Mainstreaming and test scores

A University of Florida research group argues that mainstreaming of special education students has helped improve their academic peformance, in the classroom and on standardized tests:

Students with mental retardation are far more likely to be educated alongside typical students than they were 20 years ago, a University of Florida study has found. However, the trend once known as “mainstreaming”— widely considered the best option for such students – appears to have stalled in some parts of the country, the study’s authors report. And a student’s geographic location, rather than the severity of his disability, often determines how he will spend his school days, the researchers say.

“We’ve known for a long time that students with MR (mental retardation) are better off educationally if they can spend at least part of the day in a typical classroom,” said James McLeskey, chair of special education in UF’s College of Education and an author of the study. “We’ve found that there are still lot of students who could be included in the general classroom but aren’t included”…

Inclusion can also have a beneficial effect for students already in the general classroom. When typical students attend school with classmates who have MR, the researchers say, they learn leadership skills and become more tolerant. They even score higher, as a group, on standardized tests.

“The inclusive classroom environment seems to work better for students who are struggling, academically, but not identified as having MR,” McLeskey said. “That tends to bring up averages on test scores for typical students in the entire class.”

McLeskey also argues that because NCLB requires that schools account for those in special education classes, the incentive to separate (and not test) such students is removed.

(Cross-posted at The Education Wonks.)

(KS) Leave No Stone Unturned

Some schools are definitely thinking outside the box when it comes to minority students and achievement:

Welcome to the Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence, an elementary school in Waterloo with a 92 percent minority enrollment, where 9 of 10 students have family incomes low enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

The school has tried a host of techniques – some controversial, one possibly illegal – to improve achievement and close the gap between black and white students. School officials call it a “recipe for success.” State officials call it an “open-book experiment.”

The illegal part is the single-gender classrooms, which might send the message that “boys and girls cannot learn effectively in gender-integrated environments.” The school has won a temporary reprieve on that front, and some converts to gender-segregated education as well:

Cunningham officials were so pleased with the progress, they expanded the number of single-gender classrooms this year from three to five…

Supporters of single-gender education say it breaks down stereotypes and gives boys and girls more freedom to explore their own interests and abilities. They say girls are more likely to take classes and do better in math and science, while boys are more likely to pursue art, music and drama.

Those who teach single-gender classes at Cunningham are required to take special training. Ferguson said he’s learned, for example, that he must speak much louder with boys – something he’s learned not to do with girls.

“I started talking to them the same way, and I got tears,” he said. “They thought I was yelling at them.”

(Cross-posted at The Education Wonks.)

(KS) New York, New Rules

The testing rules have changed in New York state. Previously, immigrant students had up to three years in New York’s school system before they were required to take the English Language Arts test. Now, it’s one year:

Ordered by the federal government to improve its testing of students who speak limited English, New York State said yesterday that all children enrolled in school in the United States for at least a year would be required to take the state’s regular English Language Arts exam. The test is given annually in the third through eighth grades.

The DOE statement is here. Some folks, not surprisingly, are unhappy about this:

Educators are questioning why they should give a test to children who, by definition, are not ready for it. “It’s like taking an MRI to find out your cholesterol,” said Angela C. Pagano, director of Title I and ESL in Yonkers. Pagano is part of a statewide committee that will discuss how to improve the testing system.

“No one wants to take a test that they don’t understand,” said Estee Lopez, another panel member, who directs English language learning in New Rochelle schools. “I think that raises stress levels, and I’m concerned about that.”

Obligatory quotes (later in the same article) from testing opponents aside, this is a thorny issue. New York is following this route after being criticized for their current testing program, which may have allowed those still learning English to fly under the testing radar. However, the public backlash from this one-size-fits-all approach might poison the debate over this change – even if some students do better under the higher stakes, the media will focus on those who don’t. The Journal-News article also notes:

To help limited-English students next year, the state is considering special allowances like letting them look up translations of words and taking extra time.

These allowances are part of the rules for the current exam, so perhaps they will move from possible accommodations to mandatory ones.

(Cross-posted at The Education Wonks.)