NYC: Cheating or sympathy?

“Scores on English Regents exams for high schoolers plummeted” when New York City barred teachers from grading tests given at their own school, reports the New York Daily News. Passing rates dropped at 373 out of 490 schools and the failure rate on English exams rose from 27 percent to 35 percent. That change was “not reflected in the other nine Regents subjects.”

At Harlem Renaissance High School 69% of students passed English in 2012. In 2013, only 37% passed. “Teachers helped us out a little bit. They gave us credit for trying,” said senior Morrell Christian, 19, recalling the good old days. “If you needed extra points they gave them to you. That changed when they couldn’t mark their own tests.

Evaluating essays is subjective, teachers told the Daily News. While “grade inflation was rampant,” it wasn’t cheating, they said.

“Teachers know their students. Sometimes a bad grade means the student giving you hell again next year, or him not getting a scholarship,” said one teacher at a Brooklyn school. “There’s a form of empathy coming out. Like, ‘Oh my God, there has to be another point in there! Let’s find it.’”

Many said teachers were “encouraged to grade the exams generously so more students would graduate.” That helped students, but raising graduation rates also could keep a school from closing and earn the principal a “fat bonus.”

Don’t blame measurements for cheating, writes Matt Yglesias on Vox. He’s responding to tweets by Chris Hayes, who “offers a take on the VA scandal that’s calculated to warm the hearts of America’s teachers unions,” writes Yglesias. Hayes writes:

Current VA story is a classic example how metrics ordered from above often just lead to books being cooked rather than better performance . . . See juking crime stats, Atlanta standardized test cheating scandal, etc…

Yglesias wonders if  “a person who cheats in response to an incentive program the kind of person who’s going to do amazing work in the absence of an incentive program . . . If a data-based framework is imperfect, is going to a data-free one any better?”

Gates: Measure to improve

Measurement matters, writes Bill Gates in the Wall Street Journal. His foundation fights child mortality and polio in desperately poor countries. It also funds education reforms, such as improved teacher evaluations, in the U.S.

You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal in a feedback loop,” writes Gates.

At Eagle Valley High School in Colorado, he observed the 12th-grade English class of Mary Ann Stavney, a master teacher. The Gates Foundation is funding a three-year evaluation and feedback project in Eagle County.

Drawing input from 3,000 classroom teachers, the project highlighted several measures that schools should use to assess teacher performance, including test data, student surveys and assessments by trained evaluators. Over the course of a school year, each of Eagle County’s 470 teachers is evaluated three times and is observed in class at least nine times by master teachers, their principal and peers called mentor teachers.

The Eagle County evaluations are used to give a teacher not only a score but also specific feedback on areas to improve and ways to build on their strengths. In addition to one-on-one coaching, mentors and masters lead weekly group meetings in which teachers collaborate to spread their skills. Teachers are eligible for annual salary increases and bonuses based on the classroom observations and student achievement.

“The most critical change we can make in U.S. K–12 education . . .  is to create teacher-feedback systems that are properly funded, high quality and trusted by teachers,” Gates concludes.

Trust will be a challenge.

This infographic looks at how data mining and can improve education.

Automated essay grading leads to more writing

My standard advice for learning how to write can be boiled down to six words: Read a lot. Write a lot. If brevity is essential, three words are enough: Write a lot. I can even make do with one word: Write.

So I’m sympathetic to the argument that students will write better if they write more, with feedback on their efforts. But teachers don’t have the time to read and respond to every draft of every paper.

Automated essay scoring lets teachers assign more writing and focus their own time on “higher order feedback,” argues Tom Vander Ark on Getting Smart. In response to an attack on scoring engines in the New York Times, Vander Ark summarizes and links to the case for automation.

Measurement is a friend to creativity, he writes in another post.

The online scoring engines use the same rubrics to score essays as human graders.  Any ‘standardization’ of writing is not a function of the method of scoring but the nature of the prompt, i.e., if a state requires every 8th grader to write a five paragraph essay every year it may lead to formulaic teaching—that’s a teaching issue driven by a testing issue, not a scoring issue.

People are sick of standardized tests “because most states are using old psychometric technology to administer inexpensive tests with little real performance assessment.”

. . . we’ve been using these tests for more than they were designed for—to hold schools accountable, to manage student matriculation, to evaluate teachers, and to improve instruction.But remember the state of the sector in the early 90s before state tests were widely used. There was no data, chronic failure was accepted, and the achievement gap was largely unrecognized. Measurement is key to improvement.

Soon, “essay graders will soon be incorporated into word processors and will be used as commonly as spell-check,” Vander Ark predicts. Students will get more assessment to help them improve.

Update: Machines Shouldn’t Grade Student Writing — Yet, writes Dana Goldstein on Slate.

Homework for parents

Parents are tasked with teaching measurement to their third graders by TERC’s Investigations, complains Katherine Beals of Out in Left Field. In high-scoring Singapore, she points out, third graders’ parents don’t get homework to do.

[click to enlarge]:

In the comments, FedUpMom writes:

Oh man, if there’s one phrase I never want to hear again, it’s “parent involvement.” Involve me out!

Notice the confident assertion that “kids find these activities fun.”  Not my kids.

Cranberry objects to Everyday Math’s family activities, which tell parents to “spend chunks of valuable time on poorly planned make work.”