New teachers are smarter

The academic caliber of new teachers is rising significantly, according to a University of Washington study published in Education NextThe average SAT score of first-year teachers in 2008 was 8 percentile rank points higher than the average score among new teachers in 2001. New teachers in 2008 averaged higher SAT scores than college graduates entering other professions.

“It is unclear whether this improvement reflects a temporary response to the economic downturn or a more permanent shift,” write the study’s authors, Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch.

Teachers working in 2008 were slightly more likely to hold a master’s degree or higher compared to teachers in 1987.  Sixty-three percent of teachers in 2010 had graduate training compared to 45 percent 20 years earlier.

Some claim that test-based accountability policies have made teaching less attractive to top students. Not so.

. . .  the researchers compare the SAT scores of new teachers entering classrooms that typically face accountability-based test achievement pressures (grade 4–8 reading and math) and classrooms in those grades that do not involve high-stakes testing. They find that new teachers in high-stakes classrooms tend to have higher SAT scores than those in other classrooms, and that the size of this difference increased between 2001 and 2008. This suggests that more academically proficient teachers are not generally shying away from classrooms that face accountability pressures.

High-scoring math and science majors were more likely to become teachers in 2008 than in the past, but teaching still isn’t drawing enough math and science majors, the study found. Only 30 percent of math and science classes in 2008 were led by teachers who majored in math or science in college, the same as in 1993.

Most high school students with aspirations to teach don’t become teachers — or even college graduates, notes an Illinois study. The stronger students are more likely to persist. People who earn teaching credentials have “weaker academic qualifications” than other bachelor’s degree earners, “but those who actually became teachers were quite similar academically to non-teaching college graduates.”

Authors: Testing kills love of reading

Testing kills children’s “love of reading,” according to a bunch of children’s authors and illustrators who signed Fair Test‘s open letter to President Obama. Judy Blume, Maya Angelou and Jules Feiffer are the big names.

. . . requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.

We call on you to support authentic performance assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple-choice exams. We also urge you to reverse the narrowing of curriculum that has resulted from a fixation on high-stakes testing.

Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations.

If children’s love of reading has declined in recent years, blame multimedia, responds Patrick Riccards in Are you there, God. It’s me, Eduflack.

Do we blame the bubble sheet, or do we blame the multitude of options now competing for a young learner’s attention?

Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of testing being blamed for all that is perceived wrong in our country.  . . . We ignore that testing has been a part of our public schools for as long as we’ve had public schools.  We overlook that testing data can play a meaningful role in improving both teaching and learning.  We avoid the true debate, a discussion about ensuring the value of testing and the use and application of high-quality assessments.

You know what really kills the love of reading? Not being able to read very well.

Teacher dies protecting students

A Marine veteran, Michael Landsberry survived two tours in Afghanistan with the Nevada Air National Guard. The Sparks (Nevada) middle school math teacher died trying to disarm a student yesterday. The 12-year-old shooter also wounded two boys, who are in stable condition, before killing himself.

“Mr. Landsberry’s heroic actions, by stepping toward the shooter, allowed time for other students in the playground area to flee,” said Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras.

Before opening fire, the boy said, “Why you people making fun of me, why you laughing at me?,” according to student Michelle Hernandez.

The boy used a Ruger 9 mm semiautomatic handgun that belonged to his parents, police said.

“The relentless, inflexible and unyielding focus on ‘test-taking’ and school rankings and scores” is to blame, writes Debra Feemster, a former Sparks principal, on Diane Ravitch’s blog. “If one teacher, counselor or administrator had had a few extra minutes to look into this student’s eyes and possibly connected with him in a meaningful way, maybe this catastrophe could have been averted.”

“Think of the children whose social and emotional needs are ignored in pursuit of test scores,” Ravitch writes.

Feemster and Ravitch are accusing Sparks Middle School staffers of ignoring students’ “social and emotional needs” and failing to prevent the shooting.

Let’s honor Mr. Landsberry’s courage and decency. Let’s not politicize a tragedy.

Test-based funding linked to ADHD rise

The Not-So-Hidden Cause Behind the A.D.H.D. Epidemic is test-based accountability argues Maggie Koerth-Baker in the New York Times Magazine. Diagnoses are skyrocketing, she writes. “Before the early 1990s, fewer than 5 percent of school-age kids were thought to have A.D.H.D.”  This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 11 percent of children ages 4 to 17 had received the diagnosis.  When test scores count, schools have an incentive to diagnose more children as disabled, she believes.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush, was the first federal effort to link school financing to standardized-test performance. But various states had been slowly rolling out similar policies for the last three decades. North Carolina was one of the first to adopt such a program; California was one of the last. The correlations between the implementation of these laws and the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis matched on a regional scale as well. When (Berkeley Psychology Professor Stephen) Hinshaw compared the rollout of these school policies with incidences of A.D.H.D., he found that when a state passed laws punishing or rewarding schools for their standardized-test scores, A.D.H.D. diagnoses in that state would increase not long afterward. Nationwide, the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after No Child Left Behind was implemented.

To be clear: Those are correlations, not causal links. But A.D.H.D., education policies, disability protections and advertising freedoms all appear to wink suggestively at one another. From parents’ and teachers’ perspectives, the diagnosis is considered a success if the medication improves kids’ ability to perform on tests and calms them down enough so that they’re not a distraction to others. (In some school districts, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also results in that child’s test score being removed from the school’s official average.)

Rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis vary widely from country to country, Koerth-Baker observes. In 2003, nearly 8 percent of U.S. children — but only 2 percent of British kids — had been given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D.

Gove: Stop lying to kids

“Lying to children” is a crime, said Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, at the National Summit for Excellence in Education in Boston. Children are being “told they’re ready for college, a job or the military” when they’re not, he said.

He compared inflated exam grades on Britain’s graduation exams to Soviet tractor production propaganda, notes the Guardian.

“For years, ministers in previous governments looked at the way more and more people were getting GCSEs and they congratulated themselves, like Soviet economics ministers on the growth in statistics,” Gove (said) . . .

Slipping into a mock Russian accent and syntax, Gove said: “Look in Russia, thousands more get GCSEs. Surely now we are education powerhouse?”

Instead, he told the audience in Boston, “the truth is that we were lying to children” by telling them they would be able to go to university or find skilled work.

“Employers said: ‘You have a piece of paper that says it, you’re qualified in English and mathematics. But you can’t write a business letter, you can’t do basic arithmetic required to work in this store or on this shop floor.’

Both Britain and the U.S. are “houses divided by inequality and lack of opportunity,” Gove said. Access to the best universities in schools is “rationed and restricted, increasingly, to those who live in upscale neighbourhoods, have parents who have access to connections, and are supported by stable families.”

Children without those advantages need “a great school with great teachers,” but many won’t have that chance, Gove said. They’ll never reach their full potential.

Born to an unwed mother, Gove could have been “robbed of opportnity,” if he hadn’t been adopted, he said. Instead, he was raised by parents who made sure he attended excellent schools.

In the name of equity, Gove strongly endorsed Common Core standards, high expectations for all students,  testing (“tests are liberating!”) and competition.

The haunted school

Students Last, a humor site, visits The Haunted School.  “A robot-like coed sporting a Teach for America t-shirt and a forced smile . . .  promised to guide us through the house” but mysteriously disappeared.
cuomo

“Michelle Rhee” leapt at our oldest child trying to tape his mouth shut. As my son cowered behind me, she threatened to remove my tenure while menacing me with a copy of the Common Core.

A second TFA guide appeared, but quickly vanished.

In the next room, “Executioner Andrew Cuomo” threatened to execute our school if it failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress.

When the third TFA guide abandoned the group, “we wandered into what we thought was a roomful of zombie children but it turned out they were actual kids just preparing for the specialized high school exam.”

The forgotten history of testing

bookPen-and-paper exams were created to reform schools, writes William J. Reese in Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History.

Today’s reform critics believe standardized testing “forces a dull, routinized and stifling learning culture,” notes Education Gadfly. However, the old system was characterized by “public exhibitions” of “well-rehearsed oratories and parades.”

Reformers Horace Mann (Massachusetts’s first secretary of education) and Samuel Gridley Howe (a member of the state’s School Committee) fought to replace exhibitions with written tests. In 1845, the first written test produced abysmal scores. Howe was voted out of office. The testing wars continue.

‘Listen’ to students who hate testing

Frustrated with test prep, Ankur Singh took time off from college talk to students, teachers and parents about the “dehumanizing” effect of standardized testing. Here’s the trailer for Listen.

California suspends accountability

The shift to Common Core standards has given California’s powerful education unions an opportunity to undo the state’s testing-and-accountability reforms, writes Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee columnist. The unions never liked testing, comparing schools on the basis of test scores (primarily) and, especially, using test scores to evaluate teachers.

A bill backed by the unions, their perpetual ally, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, and Gov. Jerry Brown would suspend almost all academic testing immediately and then, the sponsors say, reinstate it in alignment with Common Core in a couple of years.

. . . everything that stems from testing and that the unions dislike would also be suspended and, it’s widely believed, be quietly killed.

Could California abandon statewide testing for good? Or just kill the Academic Performance Index and teacher evaluation plans?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to cut off tens of billions of dollars in federal aid in a last-ditch attempt to block the bill. ”No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan wrote.

The bill’s backers shrugged off the threat and passed the bill, which Gov. Brown plans to sign.

Failing to measure and inform parents about how well their child is doing in school for an entire academic year is absolutely the wrong approach,” said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat on the Education Committee, in a statement.

Jerry Brown to California’s Children: I Don’t Care About Your Futures is RiShawn Biddle’s headline on Dropout Nation.

It seems inevitable that the switch to new standards and new exams will make test data unreliable and disrupt state accountability systems. Wait to evaluate teachers until there’s enough data from Common Core-aligned tests to do it right, recommends a RAND analyst.

Common Core will limit calculator use

New tests linked to Common Core standards will limit the use of calculators on math tests, according to the Hechinger Report. It’s likely calculators will be banned for tests in grades 3 to 5. At sixth grade and above, calculators could be used in some sections, but not in others.

Those rules “are sure to influence regular classroom use of calculators, from the elementary ban to the ways increasingly sophisticated calculator use is assumed at the secondary level.”

“The old saw is, teach to the test, and that’s the reality,” said W. Gary Martin, a professor of math education at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. “If [students] can’t use a calculator on the test, it’s effectively banished from the classroom.”

On the other hand, Mr. Martin and others praised the PARCC guidelines for high school, which call for the use of an online graphing calculator with comparable functionality to a Texas Instruments TI-84, a popular calculator in high schools.

Students often rely too heavily on calculators, said Brad Findell, the associate director of math-teacher-education programs at Ohio State University. The calculator “on” and “off” sections at grades 6 and above “represents a reasonable middle ground that potentially . . .  can bring us to a better place where students end up being thoughtful,” he added.