Gray expectations

College success requires academic preparation — and understanding academic expectations.

In Teaching across the cultural divide, a foreign-born student with poor writing skills threatens to give the adjunct a bad online rating unless she gets an A.

Good teachers, low value-added scores

At a very high-achieving Brooklyn elementary school, the fifth-grade teachers posted low value-added scores, writes Michael Winerip in the New York Times. They’re a talented, hard-working group, says the principal. So what happened?

Though 89 percent of P.S. 146 fifth graders were rated proficient in math in 2009, the year before, as fourth graders, 97 percent were rated as proficient. This resulted in the worst thing that can happen to a teacher in America today: negative value was added.

The difference between 89 percent and 97 percent proficiency at P.S. 146 is the result of three children scoring a 2 out of 4 instead of a 3 out of 4.

. . . In New York City, fourth-grade test results can determine where a child will go to middle school. Fifth-grade scores have never mattered much, so teachers have been free to focus on project-based learning.

If Winerip’s theory is correct, all of New York City’s fifth-grade teachers should have low value-added scores. Or perhaps there’d be an effect only in schools with students who care about getting into a good middle school.

Update: Winerip provides an example of creative teaching:

Using the new curriculum, children work in groups to solve real-life problems. On Friday, each group spent an hour developing a system to calculate who ate more — eight students sharing seven submarine sandwiches; five students sharing four; or four sharing three. Each child developed his own solution, and the group decided which way was best.

. . . This week, students will advance from dividing sandwiches to comparing fractions with different denominators, to calculating least common denominators.

In another fifth-grade class, students have spent weeks writing research papers on the Mayans. Students might score higher, Winerip suggests, if they drilled on writing essays for tests: Write a topic sentence, three sentences that support the thesis with examples from literature, current events and personal experience and a concluding sentence.

I spent my entire high school career writing topic sentences supported by subtopic sentences supported by three “concrete and specific” details. And I wrote a report on the Mayans in sixth grade. Writing research papers and learning to support a thesis with examples are not incompatible.

If Winerip is correct about the numbers — if it’s possible for 89 percent of students to score proficient and the teachers to look like losers — then the value-added system is not reliable.