Girls outscore boys on engineering test

Eighth-grade girls outperformed boys on the first national test of technological literacy, reports Education Week. The Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) exam, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), was designed to measure problem-solving skills rather than knowledge.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls' Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls’ Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Overall, 43 percent of students tested as proficient or advanced.

The largest gaps were the familiar ones: Black, Latino, low-income and urban students did significantly worse.

Students were given “a series of virtual scenarios aimed at testing their problem-solving abilities and their ability to use information about technology and engineering to develop solutions,” writes Jackie Zubrzycki.

There was no evidence that the gap in scores was due to girls’ reading ability, said Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

As they take the test, students work through multistep scenarios that range from creating a historically accurate museum exhibit about a drought to developing safe bike lanes in a city. Students are provided with background knowledge about the topics before they are asked to answer questions about them: One of the scenarios included a background video about iguanas before students were asked to design an ideal iguana habitat.

. . . on a task related to designing a bike lane, 76 percent of students successfully identified components of a safe bike lane, the first step; 64 percent were able to identify potential adjustments to a sample set of bike lanes to make them safer by, for instance, expanding the lanes; 45 percent were able to successfully redesign the route using an interactive tool. But a smaller portion, 11 percent, could explain the rationale behind the route that they chose.

NAEP plans similar scenario-based tasks on other exams, starting with social studies or history.

Nearly two-thirds of test-takers said they’d learned about solving problems and fixing things at home rather than at school.

When I grew up, girls weren’t supposed to fix things and my father believed that Jews couldn’t fix things, so I didn’t learn much about how things work. Other than magic! I do have good problem-solving skills — if background knowledge is not required.

Take a look at the TEL task video and see if you think this is a useful way to measure technical and engineering skills.

Teachers may raise scores, but not happiness

Teachers who raise students’ test scores may lower their spirits, concludes a new working paper.

Harvard and Brown researchers looked at upper-elementary teachers’ “influence on math test scores and students’ self-reported behavior, self-efficacy, and happiness in math class,” reports Teacher Quality Bulletin.

More than a quarter of the most effective teachers (based on test scores) were among the least effective when evaluated using student non-tested outcomes.

To further complicate matters, the non-academic outcomes don’t always correlate. For example, teacher scores on classroom organization had a positive correlation with student behavior but a negative correlation with happiness in class.

Do we prefer teachers with happy, low-scoring students to teachers with high-scoring but unhappy students?

Jane Sanders: Testing is a ‘disaster’

If Bernie Sanders is elected president, he’ll take education policy “in the exact opposite direction,” said his wife Jane in a Nation interview.

“We don’t really believe in standardized testing,” said the former college president. “I think the standardized tests that they say: do you know fourth-grade English or fourth-grade history? I think is a disaster and absolutely would not support that.”

Bernie and Jane Sanders campaign together.

Bernie and Jane Sanders campaign together.

“Schooling is meant to help people be creative, to have their curiosity stimulated, and have them be actively thinking whatever they’re thinking about — whether it’s the stars, the universe, climate change, anything,” she said. “Having them be able to feel they can explore anything, learn anything.”

A former social worker and political consultant, Jane Sanders earned a doctorate in leadership studies and became interim president of Goddard College and then president of tiny Burlington College, an alternative school with a 25 percent six-year graduation rate. (She left the latter school in deep financial trouble.)

She’s a big fan of progressive education, which she defined as “just having the students have more of a say in what it is they want to learn.”

You might be studying philosophy, math, or English, but you’re learning about what your passion is. Instead of having there be a prescribed set of study — that has a person conveying that knowledge to you — the teacher, the professor is a facilitator to try to meet your needs and to get you thinking critically and writing clearly and communicating effectively.

What if thinking and writing aren’t the student’s passion? He can’t study philosophy or literature because he never learned “fourth-grade English.”

75% of seniors aren’t ready for college math

Only 25 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college math and 37 for college reading, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Math scores fell over the last two years, while reading scores have been flat since 2009.

Remember that the weakest students have dropped out by 12th grade.

Low performers are doing worse while high achievers are improving, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week. The percentage of students scoring at the “below basic” level was higher in both reading and math, compared to 2013.

That may be a side-effect of the rising graduation rate, which hit 82 percent in 2014.

Racial/ethnic gaps are huge: 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics score as below basic in math; only 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics score as proficient or better. By contrast, a third of whites and nearly half of Asian-Americans are proficient or better.

Here’s more on the knowledge and skills required to score “basic” or “proficient” on NAEP’s 12th-grade math exam.

In reading, 49 percent of Asians, 46 percent of whites, 25 percent of blacks and 17 percent of black 12th graders are proficient or better.

“College for all” remains the mantra. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates will enroll in college immediately: 55 percent will complete a degree within six years.

Why my Catholic schools are opting in to testing

As superintendent of Partnership Schools, a network of six urban Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx, Kathleen Porter-Magee is opting in to state testing.  Results are used to “benchmark . . .  our students’ academic growth, and to ensure we are keeping expectations high,” she writes on The 74.

At St. Mark the Evangelist in Harlem, students take New York state tests, but don't do test prep.

At St. Mark the Evangelist in Harlem, a Partnership school, students take New York state tests, but don’t do test prep.

Union-backed organizations are trying to persuade parents to reject testing, she writes. One letter claims that “excessive standardized testing is consuming a child’s academic year” and that it “forces [teachers] to ‘teach to test’ and takes the joy out of learning”

New York state’s English and math tests take up less than one percent of the school year, writes Porter-Magee.

The test doesn’t “force” anything, she adds. “Decisions to scrap core content instruction in favor of test prep are leadership decisions, not policy decisions.”

“Independent measures” are needed to “ensure all students are being held to the same bar regardless of race or socioeconomic status,” writes Porter-Magee.

Recently, a Johns Hopkins University study found that “when evaluating a black student, white teachers expect significantly less academic success than black teachers,” and that “this is especially true for black boys.”

Moreover, “for black students, particularly black boys, having a non-black teacher in a 10th grade subject made them much less likely to pursue that subject by enrolling in similar classes. This suggests biased expectations by teachers have long-term effects on student outcomes.”

Relying only on “teacher-created tests and teacher-conferred grades” risks “systematizing the kind of unconscious bias that holds our most vulnerable children back,” she concludes. Standardized testing is “the best tool we have to expose” inequality.

Clinton abandons ed reform

Hillary Clinton is abandoning education reform, writes Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

In New York’s affluent suburban districts, test-hating parents “have joined forces with teachers unions, who see standardized tests as a tool that subjects them to unwanted accountability,” he writes.

Facing Bernie Sanders in the state’s presidential primary, Clinton is courting the “opt-out” vote.

Giving a national test once a year makes no sense, said Bill Clinton last week. Instead, he called for  “investing the same amount of money in helping the teachers to be better teachers.”

How would we know whether teachers are getting better?

“Testing is an important tool to measure racial and economic equality,” writes Chait.

A report this year by Ulrich Boser and Catherine Brown at the Center for American Progress found that states that use standards-based reform have produced better outcomes for low-income children. . . .  Not surprisingly, civil-rights organizations representing African-Americans and Latinos have argued to keep in place annual national testing.

. . . Bill Clinton framed his wife’s position in remarkable terms: “She thinks [the tests] are just too much, that it’s national overreach,” he said, “and the most it could ever do is to help people at the very bottom levels of achievement.”

Is “helping people at the bottom . . .  so insignificant that it’s not worth doing?” asks Chait. “What a thing for a Democrat to say!”

“You can’t solve problems you don’t have information about,” says Derrell Bradford,  executive director at the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, in an Ed Week story on testing flip-flops. “Saying you don’t need test data to make decisions about how to improve schools is like saying we can solve wealth inequality without income data and job reports. It’s just not real.”

African-American parents are the strongest supporters of school testing, reports Education Post. Most think tests are “fair and necessary” and “should be used to help parents identify areas where their child needs extra help.”

SAT, ACT become high school tests

While some colleges are going “test optional” more high schools are requiring the SAT or ACT, reports the New York Times. The rival college-admissions exams are being used to assess high school performance, as required by federal education law. State are dumping the two federally funded Common Core tests, Smarter Balanced and Parcc.

In January, Delaware decided to use the SAT, instead of Smarter, Balanced, “to meet the federal requirement to test high school students,” reports the Times.  A month later, the University of Delaware “announced that it would no longer require in-state students to submit SAT scores, citing research that high school grades better predict college success.”

Montana will use the ACT instead of Smarter Balanced, and Colorado will use the SAT instead of Parcc. At least seven other states plan to replace Common Core-aligned tests with the SAT or ACT, according to the Times.

Some states see requiring a college-admissions test for all students, including those without college plans, as a way to raise aspirations.

For high school students already planning to take the SAT or ACT, the move means one less exam — with no fee. But these tests are supposed to judge college readiness, not high school performance.

Going “test optional” allows colleges to raise the number of applicants, while hiding their drop in standards, writes Gerald Bradshaw, a college-admissions consultant, in the Chicago Tribune.

Students who opt to report their scores tend to have higher scores. “Test optional colleges can admit lower scoring students while at the same time maintaining artificially higher test averages in the US News and World Report rankings.”

Don’t grade schools on grit

Don’t grade schools on grit, writes Penn psychologist Angela Duckworth, who practically invented grit, in the New York Times.images

Character traits such as self-control affect students’ success, she writes. Schools can help students develop these traits.

But character measures aren’t accurate enough to be used for accountability.

Encouraged by ESSA, the new federal education law, nine California districts are experimenting with using measures of “soft skills” to evaluate school effectiveness.

Duckworth’s research has identified three clusters of character strengths.

One includes strengths like grit, self-control and optimism. They help you achieve your goals. The second includes social intelligence and gratitude; these strengths help you relate to, and help, other people. The third includes curiosity, open-mindedness and zest for learning, which enable independent thinking.

Educators and researchers are looking for ways to assess these traits, raise students’ awareness of their shortcomings and provide “strategies for what to do differently,” she writes. Turning that research into a high-stakes assessment would be a mistake.

Non-cognitive measures aren’t reliable and may never be good enough to use for accountability writes Jay Greene. For a new study, his team tested students with different measures of “non-cognitive” skills. They wanted “to see if we get consistent results. We didn’t.”

W need “hard thinking on soft skills,” writes Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst. These skills are “far too important to suffer the fad-like fate” of other education reforms.

Core testing moms plan ‘Opt Out, Shop Out’ 

Opponents of Common Core testing will stage an “Opt Out, Shop Out” event at a chic Long Island mall today, reports Newsday.

Participants wearing “Opt Out” T-shirts will urge parents to boycott state tests being given in April to students in grades three through eight.
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“The Stuart Weitzman boutique is having a sale on their popular “Mummy in Suede”sandals — only $465!,” notes Laura Waters on Head in the Sand, Education Post’s new blog.

Teachers’ union leaders are backing the “shop out.”

Opt-outers, please don’t mistake arrogance for awareness,” writes Tracy Dell’Angela, also on Head in the Sand. (The idea is that we need to get our heads out of the sand.)

 You don’t know what’s best for my biracial daughters. You don’t know what’s best for the families who are the real victims of the anti-accountability movement—black and brown students, disabled kids and students learning English, students from low-income families, all those students ill-served by our nation’s worst schools and some of our best schools too.

Opting out of testing is “a luxury, afforded to parents who are blessed with well-funded schools, stable teaching staffs, and some assurance that their privilege will pave the way for their child’s success,” she writes.

Testing for joy and grit? 


Jade Cooney leads “good-behavior games” with her fifth-grade class at Visitacion Valley Elementary School in San Francisco. Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman, New York Times

Schools are trying to measure students’ “social and emotional skills,” reports Kate Zernike in the New York Times. But how do you measure “joy” and “grit?” Nobody really knows.

SAN FRANCISCO — The fifth graders in Jade Cooney’s classroom compete against a kitchen timer during lessons to see how long they can sustain good behavior — raising hands, disagreeing respectfully and looking one another in the eye — without losing time to insults or side conversations.

As reward for minutes without misconduct, they win prizes like 20 seconds to kick their feet up on their desks or to play rock-paper-scissors.

And starting this year, their school and schools in eight other California districts will test students on how well they have learned the kind of skills like self-control and conscientiousness that the games aim to cultivate — ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age.

The newly revised federal education law “requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance,” notes Zernike.  But advocates of teaching social-emotional skills “warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.”

“I do not think we should be doing this; it is a bad idea,” said Angela Duckworth, the Stanford psychologist who popularized the “growth mindset.” Her new book, out in May, is titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

. . . Last spring, after attending a White House meeting on measuring social-emotional skills, she and a colleague wrote a paper warning that there were no reliable ways to do so. “Our working title was all measures suck, and they all suck in their own way,” she said.

A 2011 analysis of 213 school-based social-emotional skills programs found that they improved academic achievement, writes Zernike. The next year, Paul Tough extolled schools that teach “grit” in How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character

Next year, the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress will include questions about students’ social-emotional skills.

Parents don’t want Uncle Sam to become Uncle Shrink, writes Robert Holland in Townhall.