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September 01, 2003

Retention-not flunking

Talk of the Nation 's second hour is about retaining students who do not pass a standardized test and phasing out "social promotion." Some are accusing the test of being racist because black students tend to fail them at a higher rate. The audio will be available at 6 PM EDT.

I am having some concerns about this nation-wide craze for standardized tests. I'm not the only one who isn't coming from the bleeding-heart-Left. The above link reports reservations about the Washington Assessment of Standard Skills (WASL). A few years back I was at my parents when my little brother was taking the fourth grade WASL. He spent his days studying for the test, and was supposed to spend the evenings studying for the WASL. Actually, he ended up playing his Playstation 2, it was just a big vacation for him. He did well, and let me be honest and state my siblings are "above average" like all the children in Lake Wobegon, but my sister told me that a lot of kids fail this test. It seems that the No Child Left Behind philosophy is really starting to get out of control. Students at both ends of the bell curve are not really going to benefit from these tests. Some could pass them half-asleep, while some will never be able to grasp the concepts (or memorize the facts) that are being drilled into them.

Godless comments:

A few observations:

1) I prefer the much derided "teaching to the test" than not teaching at all. Sufficiently rigorous tests (e.g. the AP in high school) are quite worthwhile. However, a test must be combined with accountability: if you do not pass, you fail. If standards based assessment was combined with an end to social promotion, we'd be ok.

2) The problem is not standards based assessment per se . The problem is that it is biologically impossible for no child to be left behind. As Dick says in comments:

I am convinced that [the] No Child Left Behind Act is going to rub the US nose in g, heritablity, and racial difference. They have set up a highly g-loaded test, insisted that all children pass it, and established severe penalties for schools that fail to make that happen. Something's got to give. First up, cheating scandals. And after that?

Dick is right, but we will probably not see ideological collapse: the "axiom of equality" will endure. When jobs are on the line, we will see twisted statistics and eventually a recourse to non-g-loaded tests. After all, there are literally thousands of hits devoted to the idea that standardized test scores are "racist". The eventual endpoint will be to build affirmative action into the scoring procedure itself:

It was a false alarm for the SATs, for right now anyway.

The Wall Street Journal reported incorrectly on Aug. 31 that Educational Testing Service was instituting a new program aimed at promoting social equity, called "Strivers," into the SATs. While there is no such program, ETS is currently researching ways to incorporate information on a student's background with the SAT, and The Wall Street Journal's report triggered discussion about the possibility of such a program.

The Wall Street Journal reported that ETS had developed a "statistical equation that will generate an expected SAT score for every student based on 14 different categories. The Strivers score is the difference between the actual SAT score and the expected score. Anyone who scores 200 points higher than the expected score is considered a Striver. "

This particular "innovation" has not yet been adopted, but explicit race-norming cannot be far off. As I've said before, the whole "No Child Left Behind" business is entirely Soviet, and even has five year plans:

If a school fails to make adequate yearly progress for a fifth year, the school district must initiate plans for restructuring the school. This may include reopening the school as a charter school, replacing all or most of the school staff or turning over school operations either to the state or to a private company with a demonstrated record of effectiveness.

There will be no gulags, of course, but the idea that humans are biological blank slates to be blasted clean and remade by federal fiat is the driving ideology here , as it was in the USSR and every communist state. The truth is something like this:

In my view, we can expect most children to learn basic literacy and arithmetic. Beyond that, we start hitting g-correlated barriers. Perhaps we will see a push for vouchers, an end to mandatory property taxes, and a long-overdue privatization of education...but as Sailer has observed, that brings its own problems.

That said, vouchers remain political poison for Republicans, no matter what the free market ideologues say. The reason 97% of these poor parents in Cleveland chose religious, primarily Catholic, schools is because they were the only ones who'd take the vouchers. Secular private schools and exclusive suburbs don't want a flood of impoverished kids wrecking their schools' shiny test scores. Voucher programs that extend beyond inner cities are anathema to suburban homeowners, who don't want their property values driven down by having their precious local schools jammed with slum kids waving vouchers. If the GOP alienates its natural base of suburban homeowners, it's doomed.

I'll be frank, the biggest reason why "bad schools" are bad and "good schools" are good is the quality of the students.

If I was a parent, I would try to send my kid to a magnet school or a private school, or somewhere where math & science education was still revered and where there were no metal detectors in the hallways. The problem with educational assessment is that the left blames society and funding, while the right blames the teachers and the parents. No one identifies the real problem: kids who just aren't that smart.

Posted by razib at 12:29 PM




"Your cattle don't get any fatter when you weigh them". Molly Ivins, bleeding-heart liberal.

My 8-y.o. niece had a thing about dinosaurs. She asked the teacher how to spell "stegosaurus" and the teacher refused to tell her, because it wasn't on the test. My niece tests well ahead of her age and teachers love her because she pulls the average up, but that doesn't mean they'll help her with her own education.

"Teaching to the test" is the rule in Taiwan and I think also in France and many other nations. It has its good and its bad side but by and large I think the American practice (less memorization and more reasoning ability) is better.

Part of the problem is that education is a political football with tons of agendas: not only identity politics but sexual liberation / chastity, union teachers / anti-union, evolution / stupidity, secularity / atavistic superstition, public education / vouchers, "frills" / "basic skills", taxes / no taxes, etc. So everybody gets their licks in.

I really resent the way reformers act as if the worst schools (E. St. Louis, etc.) are typical. Members of my family are getting good educations in three different states right now. But the know-nothings in those states use average national statistics and scare stories from the worst schools to attack the local schools.

Incidentally, when I mention my family's good experiences with schools, the ideologues act as if that were completely, utterly irrelevant to the argument, as if I were changing the subject. The badness of American schools for them is a given and not even worth discussing.

Posted by: zizka at September 1, 2003 01:37 PM


You have to consider the alternative: no exclusions based on tests. This scenario creates problems because that minority of students who would otherwise not get into various classes end up dumbing down the agenda. Further, kids who 'don't get it' tend to be more disruptive since they are more frustrated and bored by everything, creating discipline problems that are a major problem in bad schools.

The important thing to remember is that any test is only germane to one activity. If you don't make it into Med school, the Army, or even college, there are lots of other opportunities. And in a free society that encourages *real* diversity, people will recognize that being unsuccessful in one area means little about other areas.

Too many people see college degrees as necessary and sufficient to acheive success. It is neither.

Posted by: eric f at September 1, 2003 01:51 PM


Too many people see college degrees as necessary and sufficient to acheive success. It is neither.

Amen brother!

Posted by: razib at September 1, 2003 01:58 PM


If teachers can't pass the tests, why expect them to help the students pass them?

If american schools are so great, why do universities have to spend more and more time with remedial ed?

Why do universities have to import so many science, engineering, and computer science students from other countries' educational systems?

Why do US labs and corporations have to import so many foreign professionals and engineers?

Posted by: RB at September 1, 2003 02:27 PM


If american schools are so great, why do universities have to spend more and more time with remedial ed?

because more & more HS graduates are going to college.... (also why the SAT averages dropped for so many years-more students took them, that explains why I noted that Massachuttes had a lower average score than Mississipi back in the mid 90s).

Posted by: razib at September 1, 2003 02:31 PM


RB:

keep it in perspective. American colleges in total are too admissive, but US colleges still produce the best students and do the best research in the world. That's why most of the world comes to the US to get PhD's at the best universities.

I do agree that the average college student in many non-American countries is better, but this is due to greater exclusion, the nub of this discussion.

Posted by: eric f at September 1, 2003 02:35 PM


The US has succeeded in getting quite a bit of the third world to gear their educational systems to the US job market. It's not like those countries just happen to have have thousands of sharp engineers and programmers looking for jobs locally.

Scientists and techies, compared to people in business, finance, and media, aren't paid very well for their effort and ability. A lot of very sharp people end up working for the likes of Geroge W. Bush.

Posted by: zizka at September 1, 2003 02:58 PM


I am convinced that No Child Left Behind Act is going to rub the US nose in g, heritablity, and racial difference. They have set up a highly g-loaded test, insisted that all children pass it, and established severe penalties for schools that fail to make that happen. Something's got to give. First up, cheating scandals. And after that?

Posted by: Dick Thompson at September 1, 2003 05:21 PM


My point about Asian tech workers was just that the US's importing of talent is more a credit to the opportunities we offer than a point against our own schools. Talent migration is a big factor in history and the US has always benefitted from it. Bright US students tend to be lazier than bright Asian students, for a multitude of reasons. (One reason North Dakota schools are pretty good, and the students hard-working, is that people want to get the hell out of North Dakota. Likewise for China).

In other words, if US / multinational jobs weren't there, I don't think that there would be a lot of engineers sitting around Taibei.

I do not deny the possibility of a genetic explanation of anything, but there does seem to be a rush to judgement here on this board and I will continue to quibble now and then. As I said on a different thread, if a couple million destitute Chinese peasants (or Ukrainian peasants) showed up on the US west coast looking for any kind of work at all -- i.e., the country Chinese who are forbidden to move to Beijing -- our stereotypes of Chinese would change quickly (people today still do talk about the Tong wars of a century ago -- that kind of talk would increase). The Asian and C. American immigration patterns are quite different from one another.

Posted by: zizka at September 1, 2003 11:20 PM


The "teaching to the test" objection is BS imo. If a student can pass the test because the teacher taught the material on the test then mission accomplished right? When the teachers "teach to the test" all they are really doing is preparing kids for the look and feel of the test anyway. Suzy can either add, subtract, multiply and divide or not right? They don't have the actual questions. Believe me I've actually seen the material, both the homework and the tests.

I have a child in the system and although knowledge testing isn't perfect its a helluva lot better than what was going on before.

"My 8-y.o. niece had a thing about dinosaurs. She asked the teacher how to spell "stegosaurus" and the teacher refused to tell her, because it wasn't on the test. My niece tests well ahead of her age and teachers love her because she pulls the average up, but that doesn't mean they'll help her with her own education."

I believe it. My daughter had read all of Michael Crichton's books by the end of the 4th grade and was actually reading Homer fgs. They had to do a book report every 3rd week. She wanted to do a report on Crichton's "Jurassic Park", I said OK and she did it. The teacher refused to accept it and made her re-write a report on a book in the school library. It was little more than a 20 page picture book. I was so mad I could have wrung her neck. Her actions were actually DISCOURAGING my child from her educational pursuits. Isn't the point of book reports to teach children to read and comprehend?

The whole point of the testing regime -missed by many- is school accountability. The districts have to send a report to parents that demonstrates how kids scored and where the school stands in relation to other schools and teaching objectives. When mommy gets a report that says Suzy's school sucks mommy starts asking questions. School administrators and teachers DETEST that. That's why they hate the "no child left behind" act, make no mistake. It holds them accountable to at least some degree.

Posted by: Katy at September 2, 2003 05:59 AM


Godless, this is about your post in response to my comment. I agree with a lot of what you say. Surely the education industry and the federal education bureaucrats will try to wiggle out of the box as you argue, but I am not so impressed with the future of PC. I see that atrios, who is the biggest left wing blogger, when he wants to attack the Bell Curve, has to dig back to things written in the seventies. There isn't any new creative PC development going on; they seem to be stuck in a time warp. But that's what happens when you are in denial.

I think PC is becoming old and worn out, as feminism did, and from the bottom up. DNA id of racial perps is accepted by the great unwashed, even if it isn't as solid as the tabloids claim.

The next decade could see a gradual retreat from the tabula rasa and acceptance of g factor realities. Well I can dream any way.

Posted by: Dick Thompson at September 2, 2003 07:01 AM


"Her actions were actually DISCOURAGING my child from her educational pursuits. Isn't the point of book reports to teach children to read and comprehend?"

Black teachers are frequently hostile towards smart white and Asian kids who do book reports on "Jurassic Park" when they cannot convince black students to read "Goodnight Moon". And white teachers often have the same mindset and don't want to see ethnic differences between the smartest kids and the dumbest ones. If I were you, I'd put my kids in a private school if it was financially possible.

"Bright US students tend to be lazier than bright Asian students, for a multitude of reasons."

See above. Bright American students tend to be lazier because American teachers don't make them. If you are given easy schoolwork all through elementary school you won't develop the work habits you'll need to do challenging work in high school and college. Asian countries have more shamelessly elitest educational traditions, and don't let their smartest students go fallow so the dumb ones can feel good about themselves.

Posted by: duende at September 2, 2003 02:44 PM


Just to fill in a gap in what I said above -- one problem with testing here in Imbler was that several days a year were dedicated to the tests themselves, and several more to coaching for the tests (learning test-taking, etc. For budget reasons the school year here was already too short. The politicos behind promoting testing, incidentally, were corporate liberal types.

Posted by: zizka at September 2, 2003 06:03 PM


Duende

"If I were you, I'd put my kids in a private school if it was financially possible."

Its not financially possible, costs about $600-800/month. Plus the only private schools around here are religious schools and without going into detail I'll just say that wouldn't work. However the good news for me personally is that when my child was designated gifted she was moved to a high end magnet type progrem where they works the kids butts off. It has helped a lot, although since my kid is bright she has figured out how to gimp the system there anyway.

Posted by: Katy at September 3, 2003 05:48 AM


In my observation, the single biggest variable leading to successful students is a) a strong family (IE kids obey) and b) strong family support for education. Among my sons friends there were three high-achievers whose parents did not speak English, and the one I knew best was not well-educated in Chinese. "A", "B", "C", "D", "F" is really all the English the parents need to know. (One of the STUDENTS barely spoke English. She was home studying all the time -- she didn't hang out at all. An MD now, I think).

The NYC Jewish successes were based on good families and students, not good schools (well, better than the Mississippi schools, white or black). CCNY produced a tremendous number of Nobelists, but not because it was a good school. It was because a lot of poor Jews could only afford to go there while living at home. (There used to be a book "The Education of Hyman Kaplan" that gave some of the flavor of the NYC public schools).

Posted by: zizka at September 3, 2003 09:01 AM


She wanted to do a report on Crichton's "Jurassic Park"... The teacher refused to accept it and made her re-write a report on a book in the school library... Her actions were actually DISCOURAGING my child from her educational pursuits.
Your anger is perfectly comprehensible to me, but don't make the mistake of assuming that this sort of teacher behavior is new.

In early grade school I was bored witless -- I already knew how to read and write before entering kindergarten. So when I decided one day that I'd write my lessons in the script which was mounted so visibly above the blackboards, the teacher's response was to make me erase it all and print it. The exercise, after all, wasn't to learn so much as it was to do exactly what the teacher said to do. It was the beginning of a very long and frustrating process for me...

This was nearly fifty years ago, by the way. Sounds to me like it hasn't changed much.

Bright American students tend to be lazier because American teachers don't make them. If you are given easy schoolwork all through elementary school you won't develop the work habits you'll need to do challenging work in high school and college.
...and that isn't new, either -- it wasn't until high school that teachers told me that I should be making straight A's (which I promptly did); before that, they were simply content to have me shut up and not be a problem.

Again, I think it's not a new problem.

Posted by: Troy at September 6, 2003 11:31 PM