Measuring performance by results

Can School Performance Be Measured Fairly? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.

Testing Has Moved Beyond Filling Circles, responds Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation. Objective test scores should be just one part of measuring student success.

When No Child Left Behind was written 11 years ago, standardized tests were the only way to consistently measure student learning on a large scale. But since then, many states have developed sophisticated data systems that can calculate the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college, enlist in the armed services and land steady, well-paying jobs. Instead of using proxy measures for successful preparation (i.e. test scores) we can use measures of the real thing. If high school graduates need to take remedial courses in college, for example, that means their high school didn’t do its job.

School evaluation should include standardized test scores and visits by “highly trained school inspectors” who can  “observe classrooms and interview teachers and students.”

Waivers don’t go far enough in allowing states to use better measures of achievement, adds Fordham’s Mike Petrilli.

States may not, for example, use a race-neutral approach to identifying schools that are leaving disadvantaged students behind, as Florida would have liked. (In the Sunshine State’s own system, schools are docked if their lowest-performing students — whatever their race — don’t make significant gains in the course of the school year.) They can’t evaluate high schools by outcomes — like how many students go on to graduate from college — instead of by test scores. They can’t even use computer-adaptive tests, like those uses for graduate school admissions, because low-performing students would get assessed on content that is “below grade level.” (Of course, that’s the point of computer-adaptive technology — it can pinpoint exactly where students are, even if they are far ahead or behind most children their age.)

Use international benchmarks and real-world results, writes Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas education professor.

We can find out if our teachers and administrators are effective by comparing our students’ performance levels on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which assesses knowledge of mathematics and science gained from a rigorous curriculum, and the Program for International Student Assessment, which assesses daily life skills and minimal academic content.

 

Massachusetts’ 26 regional technical/career high schools have long wait lists and high graduation rates, notes Stotsky, who helped write Massachusetts standards. “Accountability ultimately lies in their employability after high school.”

 

Does college make you smarter?

Does college make you smarter? Not so much, say respondents on the New York Times’ Room for Debate.

First there was the news that students in American universities study a lot less than they used to. Now we hear, in a recent book titled Academically Adrift, that 45 percent of the nation’s undergraduates learn very little in their first two years of college.

After four years of college, 36 percent of students showed no improvement in reasoning or writing skills, according to sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. Students majoring in humanities, social sciences, math and natural sciences learned more than students in pre-professional fields such as education, business and social work. In addition, students who took courses that required significant reading and writing were more likely to show learning gains.

Most college students want “a credential attesting to their employability, accompanied by as much fun as possible,” writes George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.  They didn’t work hard in high school and expect college to be just as easy.

Intellectually vapid courses and programs that will attract customers have proliferated. Professors who would rather devote their time to their own career-advancing research projects often strike an implicit deal with their students: don’t expect much of my time and I’ll keep the course easy and the grades high.

By making it easier for students to borrow money, the federal government is luring “more marginal students into college, further increasing the pressure to lower standards,” Leef adds.

It has been accurately said that college is the new high school; the way we are going, soon it will be the new middle school.

Students aren’t interested in learning, writes Gaye Tuchman, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. Nearly all want to know, “Will I be able to get a job?”

Today’s college students average 14 hours a week of study time compared to 24 hours a week for students in the 1960s, writes Philip Babcock, an economics professor at University of California at Santa Barbara.  Thinking requires more effort than most colleges require.

From college to the trades

They went to college and then what? More college-educated young people are seeking careers in the skilled trades, reports the Washington Post.

They started out studying aerospace engineering, creative writing and urban planning. But somewhere on the path to accumulating academic credentials, they decided that working with their hands sounded more pleasant — and lucrative — than a lot of white-collar work. So bye-bye to term papers and graduate theses, and hello to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters.

Adam) Osielski thought he’d go from Notre Dame, where he earned a theology degree, to law school. But it seemed like drudgery. He was graduated this month from an apprenticeship program run by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “I’m glad to be already working and developing a career.”

Economists and labor scholars say the rocky economy has been a boon for trade schools. But they also point to policymakers, guidance counselors and parents who don’t value the trades and overvalue college as the gateway to success. As a result, American students come to trade apprenticeships relatively late, often after they’ve already tried college. The average age of the beginning apprentice in the United States is 25; in Germany, 18.

High school counselors “want everyone to go to college,” said Dale Belman, a labor economist at Michigan State University. “So now we’re getting more of the college-educated going into the trades.”

Licensed journeymen typically earn $65,000 to $85,000 a year, depending on overtime, the Post reports. Apprenticeship programs are swamped with applicants. The electricians’ union has 2,500 applications for 100 slots.

Most gravitate to commercial construction, where digital equipment has made the ability to decipher technical manuals and complicated building codes crucial. Many aspire to be foremen or own their own business.

Rateeluck Puvapiromquan, 30, the daughter of two teachers who immigrated to Baltimore from Thailand, earned a philosophy of religion degree at St. Mary’s College. After working in coffee shops and hotels, she became an electrician.  “The critical thinking and communication skills I learned in college are absolutely crucial to getting our work done. It’s critical thinking, not just, ‘I lift heavy objects.’ ”

Via Instapundit.

A Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report, Help Wanted, says the demand for college graduates will be high, once we get out of the recession.  Colleges should streamline programs to emphasize employability, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the center, in Inside Higher Ed.

Carnevale acknowledged that such a shift would accept “a dual system” in which a select few receive an “academic” college education and most students receive a college education that is career preparation. “We are all offended by tracking,” he said. But the reality, Carnevale said, is that the current system doesn’t do a good job with the career-oriented track, in part by letting many of the colleges on that track “aspire to be Harvard.” He said that educators have a choice: “to be loyal to the purity of your ideas and refuse to build a selective dual system, or make people better off.”

Average students should go to college with a career plan in mind, Carnevale said.

But few teenagers know what they want to do with their lives, says HechingerEd.