AP Loves Me, AP Loves Me Not

I lapsed in judgement, yet again. I accepted  an AP (Advanced Placement) student  for tutoring after February. Once again I fell for the line, “I just need a bit of help with test taking skills.”

I had to be the person to explain in May, ten days before the exam, how the student lacked the depth of familiarity with the content (Biology) and their writing did not meet the minimum a reader would seek for a college level survey class.  I had to do this so the student and parents could set realistic expectations: (1) Student will get credit for high school science. (2) Student could suddenly have a burst of understanding regarding photosynthesis (light/dark reactions), Krebs Cycle and other known subject areas of the test AND construct short essay answers which would demonstrate understanding, interpreting, prediction and application, if not synthesis of information – although this was highly unlikely.

Based on two tutoring sessions a week apart (after the first one I was pretty sure the student lacked the depth of knowledge), and wishing to give the student the benefit of the doubt, I met for the second session. The first session could have been nerve-wracking by expecting the student to get through at least two to three of the ‘six short free response questions’ pulled from a series of release questions on the College Board website…. At our first meeting, I had to provide the student with sticky tabs to label sections of the book. By the second session, the student could not locate the section of the book with the pancreas, insulin (hormone) and the feedback process. I knew I had to be honest.

Section 1 lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes and contains 63 multiple choice questions and 6 grid-in questions.

Section 2 lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes (plus a 10 minute reading period), and contains 8 questions consisting of 2 long free response questions and 6 short free response questions.

I am not sure who was more sad or relieved. The student and parents clearly had no clear understanding of what an AP class was about or they would have done things much differently during the school year. I was able to ask a few questions and prove this out easily.

The AP exam, for any subject, is not an easy class. AP classes allot a student college credit for the basic  level 101 English, U.S. History, Biology, Psychology, etc.  upon the student demonstrating by exam they have college freshman level skills in the subject. This means the high school course is a ‘survey’ course of content the student should have already had one exposure to and/or it is a subject area they are passionate about (example: student interested in med school will LOVE the content in Biology and/or Chemistry and eat, sleep, dream about these subject areas so the AP course will be pure joy).

AP does not mean intelligence or smarts. The most common misnomer by parents is the one which is something along the lines of, “College prep coursework in high school must be the lowest track. Honors is for smart students. My child is brilliant and going to college so they must take AP courses to demonstrate. beyond a doubt, they are brilliant”.

For whatever reason, no one bothers to ask and read about http://www.totalregistration.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=494&Itemid=118  or https://www.collegeboard.org/releases/2014/class-2013-advanced-placement-results-announced which has the numbers of students who register for the test and the percent of students who pass with a 3, 4 or 5 score (1 and 2 ratings are not applicable for college credit).  No high school counselor managed to have a meeting with families to explain the actual rigors and expectations of an AP course and what the actual outcomes look like, in numeric form.

The reality is, upon reading past the College Board marketing, approximately 50-80% of students PASS the AP exams each year in any given subject area (achieving a 3 or higher). This indicates not all students pass with college credit, even though all students are allowed to register for the class.  20 -50% of students who apply for the exam (Not all students in the class apply for the exam!), take the AP course for the year and show up for the exam(s) do not pass….This is truth in numbers. It depends as much on subject content as study habits as persistence. The numbers tell a story no one pays much attention to regarding what types of classes students should be taking in high school.

Sometimes the student has not had a previous in-depth exposure to the subject area and is surprised by the sheer volume of information involved in a college level course. Sometimes the AP course teacher is not an experienced teacher and neglects to get students WRITING (for the courses which require this portion of the exam) in October so students have time to practice and/or determine if they want to put in the effort necessary to pass the AP exam.  Sometimes peer and parental pressure make the student persist.  Sometimes students actually believe they can handle two or three AP courses and sports and some other activities and work themselves to a frenzy where the spring season is hell in the form of not feeling well, not being rested and definitely not successful at something as something has to ‘give’ in a manner of speaking.

The genuine issues students and parents should think about have more to do with outcome than the numbers demonstrating an ‘increase in students taking the AP exams’. Is your child best suited for the level of rigor required to be successful in an AP class AND can you accept not passing the exam while getting high school credit for the class.

Students who have the ability to pass the AP exams have four significant and important skill sets.

  1. In depth exposure to the content area at least once prior to the AP class. This can mean reading _________ for Dummies in August preceding the AP class and/or a general love of the content area.
  2. An understanding of study skills  including flashcards, Cornell notes, multiple sources of media, study groups and practice.
  3. Obtaining a tutor early on so they can adequately review content and practice writing over a long horizon line.
  4. Specifically deciding the one or two things they can commit to for eight months AND will not flip out if one of these items does not work out exactly as planned.

I have given up trying to think through why parents would expect something from their children so extreme as AP coursework. I believe in some ways it is parental narcissism, in the same way it is important to have a child who applies and is accepted to only Ivy League Universities or similar.  Based on the numbers, my experience with tutoring and talking with a wide variety of parents from all socioeconomic classes across America, AP exams are not for everyone AND they do not save anyone money if you have to hire a tutor/coach (doctor, psychologist, etc.) to help your student through the death march of May.  A good tutor can equal the cost of  a 100 level course at a community college. If saving money is your goal, think again. If proving your child is successful, think about what success means and how it is fulfilled. Personally, I would love to have a student who actually understands the pancreas and insulin as we live in the age of diabetes. The student who understands enough biology to be concerned about their own health, the health of their family and care about the environment is far more practical than passing an AP exam.

Keen, Lament, Moan, Plaint and Hand Wringing

The lamentations have begun. I am having a growing personal concern around the way in  which class levels/subject structures and difficulty  are explained to students and their parents – most especially in middle and high school. It seems as though tracking is alive and well – it merely has a new name.  Not only is tracking in existence, it is the way it plays out which is alarming.

In middle school students have certain course work which is essential to high school success. While there is debate over when exactly Algebra needs to be completed the first time, there is no disagreement on the need for multiple exposures. This means a student should have middle school Algebra, high school Algebra and later, college level Algebra. They are NOT different courses. The re-exposure helps students develop the process and reasoning skills inherent in this stage of mathematics.  I have at various times used college level Algebra book problems with middle school students as the students understood the concepts and needed math grinding practice. The kids thought they were ‘cool’ years later, when I ran into some home on college break….well, they realized they had been duped and laughed about it!

Students need to be able to read and summarize, construct a five paragraph essay  (preferably longer and more concise) and know when and how to use a variety of charts, including the Venn Diagram by middle school. At high school, students need to be further applying these skills and developing more in depth study skills.  High school should not be in the business of providing ‘training wheels’.  Rigorous study skills should begin to be developed in Grades 7 and 8, alas, too many parents believe their child is remarkably special and can skate by.

Todays Honors English is remarkably the same as my high school English class years ago. Honors English is one step up from College Prep, which is the baseline to get INTO college and generally speaking, community colleges or state colleges.  College Prep gives students training wheels to get through Honors English.  College Prep is normal, regular English writing, reading, literary analysis, etc. In effect, College Prep is a level up re-do of what should have happened in middle school and did not occur or the student would not be taking it in high school. In other words, College Prep is ‘tracking’ and Honors is for students on their game.

AP English is COLLEGE Level English. It requires a student to  think and perform as a college student. It is imperative students know how to study – which is different in scope and depth from doing assigned homework. AP English is a foundation for getting through the undergrad years. It is not indicative of a smarter student (as the class tends to be sold to students and parents), it is indicative of a student who knows how to study, has high level persistence and is willing to put in the time and energy for the rewards of learning at a higher level and college credit.

Whether it is AP Engish or AP Biology, the underlying premise is the same – know how to study as the training wheels are off and no one is going to give you  more than an outline. A student needs to be able to take control of their learning. This is not the memorizing of facts and reading a chapter from a text book.

Instead of high schools being honest with the product they are trying to sell (remember, schools with both a variety and abundance of AP classes look better), they just keep marketing the product. Not all students have the essential ability to study at a college level by time they are in high school; Most high school students can and should be able to handle the rigors of so called Honors English.

To each and every parent who is led to believe only AP classes are appropriate for their child, I ask them to reframe the question. Do you and your child actually understand what AP means and what is expected for AP credit?  Have you had a frank discussion with your child about what may have to be given up in order to get through an AP class and are they willing to make the sacrifice at this juncture in time? As in college, college level courses require something ‘more’ and giving up an hour of TV may not be the only thing which must go.  Is the cost benefit analysis worthwhile to save on tuition of three units at a university?

Lamenting the need to give up a team practice or some other activity should not be a big deal to survive an AP class as scholar-athletes manage this routine in college for their scholarship. I know many, many high school coaches who would rather a student take an extra afternoon to study and miss a practice than to settle for C grades to ‘make it on the team’.  Notice the grade of C is low enough to get enough people on the team.

Part and parcel of taking an AP class is the fact it is not easy, there are sacrifices and the student has the maturity to deal with this issue. There is nothing wrong with taking Honors English and calling it a day.

There is something terribly wrong with parents who need to hire tutors to teach their child how to write an essay and study at a collegiate level, most especially after 3 months into the school year when the student has a C grade and needs to get it together.  A little thoughtfulness regarding when a student is ready for AP coursework will go a long way in benefitting a child in actually getting something from the  Honors or AP experience besides frustration and anger.

Where are my social dividends?


http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/16/education/a-city-borrows-so-its-schools-open-on-time.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=US_ACB_20130816&_r=0


http://aspirepublicschools.org/media/filer_public/2013/07/15/130625_edsource-_more_charters_outperforming.pdf

http://credo.stanford.edu/documents/NCSS%202013%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

http://news.yahoo.com/papa-johns-doesnt-want-know-food-194013379.html

http://www.humanmedia.org/catalog/program.php?products_id=356&osCsid=783e24f278ad1342e452600333d01d05

http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Not-vacation-Summer-learning-programs-crucial-4724906.php

http://www.sfchronicle.com/local/bayarea/item/Even-Odds-Part-1-22785.php

http://www.sfgate.com/news/politics/article/ACT-Only-quarter-of-grads-ready-for-all-subjects-4748283.php

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/demographics-divide-schools_n_3779523.html

Forewarning: I do not have a strong statistical background so I am always skeptical when I read something as I need to think about and evaluate the information a bit longer than others to make sure I understand. If I miss a detail, please be kind enough to send a correction.

Charter schools are a business entity. They are considered non-profit due to how they re-apply their ‘earnings’ instead of giving the earnings to shareholders. In what one might call a twist up of words, non-profits are supposed to be for the benefit of the community which is why they have certain tax advantages, etc. This means instead of being an individual shareholder obtaining dividends, you in effect become a stakeholder in your community and should receive the type of social dividends which benefit your community and make it better.

 With this in mind, I find it important for charter schools to be accurate in reporting their statistics in the same manner a for profit corporation on the NYSE reports. There are GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) rules and any accountant should be able to read and interpret the information in the same way if the books are not cooked and the aim of the company is not to mislead the shareholders. Unfortunately, charter schools are by and large allowed manipulate the books in a variety of ways (this includes grant reporting and ADA monies) and they do. This then allows them to also manipulate and actually distort the data as there are even less people willing to spend the time on non-financial information evaluations.  Charter schools follow ‘data’ on how to appeal to specific groups of people as indicated by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey  which was conducted June 21 through July 22, 2013. This data demonstrates how different categories of parents think, hence, it is easier to market targeted materials.

 The issue at hand is how charter schools report out students who go to college, graduate college and indeed produce a social dividend for a community.  This is how all great non-profits should be evaluated. Unfortunately, charter schools have never been called to prove the social dividend. I had to question this issue as I worked for a charter school and later continued questioning the morality and ethics of charter schools based on what I now know about the background story.  The story of self promotion to those who wish to promote charter schools rarely matches the reality, thus, there must be a marketing department to distort and mis-convey the facts.

Here is another look at data from a different view.

According to Jill Tucker over at The San Francisco Chronicle, I should note there is a difference  between college ready, expecting to get a high school diploma or taking the GED.  I believe this is called journalist clarity.

In 2009, about 600 African American males started high school in the Oakland school district with Thomas and Olajuwon. Of those, an estimated 80 to 100 graduated college-ready. Another 200 were expected to get their diplomas, but not with UC or CSU admission requirements. Others took the GED, or would continue in adult school. Still others spent time in jail.

During those same four years, 31 Oakland public school students ages 11 to 19 were killed across the city. Most of them were shot and most were African American males.

I note this as college ready does not mean the same thing as going to college, completing college, obtaining a degree and providing social dividend.  For charter schools to actually do something different from any other public school, they need to produce the same amount or greater of students who actually attend college and graduate as every other public school in America is charged with getting students college ready – the goal of public education.  This being said, it should be easy peasy for Aspire Public Schools (the largest in California) and KIPP to produce statistics which demonstrate this trend.  This, to my knowledge has not occurred. In fact, what has occurred is the actual removal from Aspire Public Schools of the map showing where their graduates go to college and no evidence can be found on the website for how many students (after 20 years in business) have graduated college, producing a societal dividend substantially different from other public schools.

Out on 21 August 2013 is data from ACT showing:

“The readiness of students leaves a lot to be desired,” said Jon Erickson, president of the Iowa-based company’s education division.

The ACT reported that 31 percent of all high school graduates tested were not ready for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills. The other 69 percent of test takers met at least one of the four subject-area standards.

Just a quarter of this year’s high school graduates cleared the bar in all four subjects, demonstrating the skills they’ll need for college or a career, according to company data. The numbers are even worse for black high school graduates: Only 5 percent were deemed fully ready for life after high school.

The report’s findings suggest that many students will struggle when they arrive on campus or they’ll be forced to take remedial courses — often without earning credits — to catch their peers.

The data reveal a downturn in overall student scores since 2009. Company officials attribute the slide to updated standards and more students taking the exams — including many with no intention of attending two- or four-year colleges.

Under ACT’s definition, a young adult is ready to start college or trade school if he or she has the knowledge to succeed without taking remedial courses. Success is defined as the student’s having a 75 percent chance of earning a C grade and a 50 percent chance of earning a B, based on results on each of the four ACT subject areas, which are measured on a scale from 1 to 36 points.

My sense would be every charter school in the U.S. would wish to report out their great ACT and SAT scores for the reason it resonates to some extent the READINESS for any college coursework requiring English, science, math or reading skills.  Any charter school should be tooting their horn regarding the average scores of their students.

I do not have the documentation (hopefully as you read this, you will be able to supply it to me if you know the piece I am referring to), however, I did hear a piece on KQED which regarded how getting a student to college is not enough. In fact, not all colleges are the same and getting children of color to college if the college is not top tier, does not improve rocking the boat and changing the social dividends – in stead it perpetuates it as status quo.

Aspire Public Schools has managed to use data from CREDO (The Center for Research on Education Outcomes – Stanford University) in an odd context. When I read the full report, noted in the URL above, there is a distortion of how one would perceive what is in the full report vs. the carefully selected portions Aspire pulled out to use.

CREDO uses data to show the minute detail of how charter schools have developed their students over time in comparison to other similar schools.  In looking at the data over a 20 year time period, there is an improvement although I would be negligent in stating this improvement is earth shattering or worth of great praise. I will let the data speak for itself.

The national study shows the following for reading and math: Although there is study improvement, 56% of charter school students have no significant difference in reading scores as measured by CREDO than regular public school students. 25% have shown a significant improved difference and 19% show a significantly worse difference.   There is no specific data from Aspire as they are lumped into the national study. In either way, they neither benefit from or substantially detract from the rather sad statistics.

If I break this down, it means only 25% of students in charter schools have shown gains while 75% of students in charter schools were comparable or worse……..Is the effect of changing 25% of students enough social dividend in reading? Should the amount of students positively effected be greater as Aspire has been around for 20 years. Aspire touts how they have the best teachers, systems and data….the statistics are not demonstrating, in my mind, substantial social dividends which I could not have gotten with just improving the public schools over all.

For math, the data is even worse. 40% of charter school students showed no significant difference in gains for math, 31% of students in charter schools fared significantly worse and 29% of students fared better. This means 29% of students in charter schools nationally had improvement while 71% fared the same or worse. Again, this is not sufficient data to show any charter school has leveraged a better system overall.

When more students show no benefit or worse benefit, there is something wrong with your program. It should be the other way around.  If this were a business having to report to shareholders instead of stakeholders, this company would fold.

As a social investment, I am not seeing where charter schools are delivering the goods.

Careful where you set your aim. The charter sector is getting better on average, but not because existing schools are getting dramatically better; it is mainly driven by opening higher- performing schools and by closing those that underperform. Our analysis suggests that the standards of performance are set too low, as evidenced by the large number of underperforming charter schools that persist. The point here is that, as with students, setting and holding high expectations is an important feature of school policies and practices. More focus is required of authorizers and charter school governing boards to set high performance and accountability standards and hold charter schools to them. – CREDO

This is where the Papa John’s piece on Yahoo comes in.  You can call your ‘ingredients’ whatever you wish. You should also be willing to let outsiders examine the ingredients and most of all, you should be proud enough to add in your own data as comparison. In this instance, Aspire Public Schools has failed. I am guessing this is the same for other charter schools as there have been no interesting news flashes in any of the usual educational journals which would love to pounce on this great news.

Another aspect of this issue is how Aspire is spreading to Tennessee.  Aspire needed to do this as financially they could not make it on the same budget as other public schools in California. They were ‘drowning’ and in fact have not merited the same amount of donations year over year as they had hoped for.  The CFO has been cautious in how he couches this scenario, however, the original goal of Aspire was to EXCEED the other schools in the region on the same budget. This has not happened or at least not in a statistically relevant manner.  This relates to the piece from The New York Times on how Philadelphia is borrowing money to open the schools and people are questioning if the schools are even worth opening, which leads back to the quote two paragraphs up from CREDO.

While charter schools continue to advertise their wares, I continue to be skeptical.  I need to see the following and wish CREDO could produce the data:

Just how many students of charter schools have gone to college, how many have graduated in 4, 5, 6 years?

After 20 years, I would think Aspire Public Schools has to have some of this substantially important data.

This would tell me if the taxes I pay which pays the ADA of charter schools is yielding social dividends in my community.

Throw on some kevlar as you get ready to teach to the common core.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents/index.html

A close personal friend gave me this article under a truly hilarious pretense – she went back to look at the author after reading as she was pretty sure I wrote the article for  CNN.  Alas, I did not. I don’t know Ron Clark, don’t know of Ron Clark or his new book and in fact, generally do not read education pieces on CNN.  I felt complimented my friend thought I wrote this piece and at the same time, I am positive I ‘did’. It is the collective consciousness of any good teacher for the last 25-30 years.  It is the same thing we all say and the reasons indeed are why we leave/left education.

In no small part, a huge thank you should go out to anyone who was involved with bringing NCLB to life and Michelle Rhee as well as most charter school companies.  These people/groups helped those of us who ‘knew better’ to put on our walking shoes and leave. Those who remained, well, I often hear their complaints about the same issues, they are just to scared to leave the profession after so much effort and cost to get a credential. Ron Clark sounds like a wonderful man and surely his intentions are great. I can only hope he has staying power as there are many students who will benefit from him.

If anyone thought the past 20 years were challenging, Fall 2013 is going to make it all look easy peasy!  Taking parents from  M/C and T/F test scores to the actual task of  having their child write something compelling AND marshal evidence AND  think/reflect……well, get the kevlar ready teachers. I don’t think I envy a one of you.  Without parents on board, administrators are going to once again do what they always do when backed into a corner – blame it on teachers, take it out on teachers (ask them to ‘revise’ their grades as it were) and essentially kiss up to every parent they see.  Administrators, even those who once were teachers, do little to support teachers.

Teachers are in fact left in their classrooms, told what to do and how to execute it and most of all told to suck it up when the crazy (pretty much all) parents come to solve something for their children.  Teachers are expected to be everyone’s whipping boy/girl to make public education work. If it were not for unions, even limited unions, public education would not exist as anything more than a thought experiment.

Currently I do tutoring and work in ed tech doing a variety of things from soup to nuts, sponge to hose, etc. If a parent contacts me for tutoring and I find our personalities and world views do not mesh, I get to say, “I don’t think I would be the BEST tutor for your child” and walk away from the situation. It does not happen often, yet it does happen. Most of what I find as a tutor is a student who could benefit from some basic things – structure, note taking skills, proper math syntax, organized thinking or graphic organizers, better resources.  Usually after a few weeks to  a couple of months, the training wheels are off and the kid is soaring. I could not be happier if I tried.  Sometimes I find a new or very ‘experienced’ teacher who is intractable and the student suffers. I do everything I can to educate the parent, give them strength to ask for what should be done (and is really reasonable) at school and advocate.  I write notes, send copies of things.  Of the times I meet the teachers, I inevitably find the people mentioned by Ron Clark. The ones who will be walking out of the profession or those who should have and are now so bitter they do not teach well.

I attend IEP meetings and help parents get more than the minimum written on the IEP – the more specific and defined you can be, the more likely the chance of IEP being followed and incremental success. I educate parents on having another set of books at home,  how to parent conference, how to check in with teachers, what should be going on in a SPED classroom vs. a mainstream classroom and what mainstreaming looks like, feels like and how it ‘goes’.  I help parents in the vernacular of ‘teacher’ for the benefit of their child. Again, if parents do not demonstrate they are on board, I can leave. There is only so much I can do in this lifetime and parents need to work on ‘change’ as opposed to thinking all teachers need to change for their child.

There are students who need help with SAT/ACT studies, AP course work, etc. Not only have I worked with these students, I have found the number of students really able to do AP course work were students who got their game on before Grade 4 and mom and dad were not excuse makers.  Students who do not do well are those who are shocked by the amount of reading and work necessary for AP.  Students and their parents,  prepping for SAT/ACT end up learning  the sad facts regarding inference and analogy, grammar and algebraic reasoning are not something you can be taught in a cram course – it comes from reading, writing, discussing, thinking since forever. All I can offer them are strategies for how to take the test and think about it.  The time when parents would have done far more to help their child by enforcing SSR (silent sustained reading) at home, encouraged studying atop assigned homework, etc. was wasted and I can not come in and splash that information on their child – nor can Princeton or Kaplan Review. SAT/ACT prep works for students who made learning their priority, not blaming their teacher(s) when they did not succeed every time.

Change is incredibly difficult for parents as they believe they ‘know’ it all. They would never question a dentist, doctor, lawyer (even court appointed), Apple Technician at Apple Store…….yet questioning and blaming a teacher for any ‘less then perfect’ grades, etc. on behalf of their child MUST be the teachers fault as parents have been taught and shown how to scapegoat teachers (Michelle Rhee actually brought this to an art form). Teachers do more ‘change’ in a day then anyone other than flight traffic controllers and ER doctors.  Unfortunately, with all the change teachers do, parents are the ones who need to redouble their efforts the most.

I think next school year will be interesting. If nothing else, people such as Ron Clark will become ever more popular and revered for what they are saying – whether or not parents come to terms with reality. Thank goodness there are Ron Clark’s and hopefully I will be thankful there are parents who will read this and do those things necessary to change for their child’s benefit. It is a long road filled with cliffs, channels, hikes, bike rides, hang gliding, zip lining and all the rest of out doors metaphors.

In other words, test scores are misleading regarding competency of content.

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Test-Most-students-not-proficient-in-writing-3865546.php

My original thought(s) on the above article was to point out a ,”Houston, we have a problem” moment since so few students across the U.S. seem to NOT have quality writing skills.  Of course, it goes without saying this has been true for years and no one group/organization focused on this issue as test scores have been all the rage.

Students who have access to computers at home and regularly use them for assignments are more likely to be strong writers, a national exam suggests. But it also says just a quarter of America’s eighth- and 12th-grade students have solid writing skills. (sic – this is quoted from article)

And then I took on a very part-time position reviewing test questions for a company which sub-contracts to some other company and I began to realize  (yet again) other reasons why our students have poor writing skills.  Not only is it the dilemma of dumbing things down so students need only answer multiple choice and T/F questions, the questions have become significantly more about ‘test taking strategies’ than the higher levels of knowledge – application, synthesis, etc.  Test questions are not open-ended. There is an answer embedded (1/4 = 25% and 1/5 = 20% guess rate while T/F is 50/50 crap shoot!) and students just need to learn better test taking skills which is the older legacy the SAT, ACT and GRE  provided without a writing component.  These tests demonstrated the ability to think through questions.

I realize the SAT and ACT now have a writing component, which is obviously important if only 25% of students in the U.S. can write a five paragraph essay in Grade 12 and college clearly should expect more of a student.  Unfortunately, the five paragraph essay has become so pro forma just about anyone can learn the routine and write something, whether or not it is quality, the writing can meet the proficiency standard.

Great writers come about through reading and vice versa – they go hand in hand. When the brain has to spend time thinking ‘how’ to answer a question rather than the content of the question, it is already dumbed down.  Reading and interpreting a M/C, T/F test question does not lead to good writing skills, it leads to memorization skills and ‘trick’ techniques for understanding how test questions are written.  Having a computer is great – if it is used to read material – not play games and do other tasks with are multiple choice and T/F, yet easy to grade.

This issue has become most evident to me in working with foreigners who are writing test questions  abroad and want them ‘Americanized’ via grammar, etc. yet refuse to understand the quality of the questions are still poor, even when the grammar is corrected. This is based on the fact the questions do not rely on anything more than parsed out common information  and how well some student was able to memorize bits and pieces and think through testing logic.   The tests have little to do with the skills we would expect in a college classroom, workplace or even of students wishing to learn.

I have done this ‘job’ a few different times for different organizations. Each time the scenario is similar – questions are produced by foreigners and my job is to ‘grammatize’ the commodity so the business (American)  will think there is a new and better set of test questions in the question bank. Each and every time, the problems are the same, when you ask a question, making it ‘tricky’ does not make it better.  It proves the questions in the question bank are not promising.  It is the algorithms of how questions are selected and used which would make a good testing program for PRACTICE.

This is an example of what was returned to me when I could not understand what a particular question was asking, both grammatically and by material as it was asked in a convoluted manner:         “……but it’s a false question”.   My response would be (should have been), why a false question (assuming double negative) when it is testing test taking ability and logic, not content knowledge.   I was ‘dinged’ for my response by the question writers as I corrected the grammar since I made it ‘easy’.  All the process did was make me laugh about who might have the larger ego.

Obviously when we read and interpret test scores (the nefarious spring testing ritual), we are also determining how well our students can think through test logic, as opposed  to when there is/are written components.  Why is it then the spring test scores give a different visualization of what NAEP produces? It is not just the idea there are two different types of tests.

As schools (public, private and charter) have jumped further into the cesspool of test scores based on M/C and T/F, writing has diminished. We do not expect students to reason through and logic out a science experiment, do error analysis on math problems, write a fictional critical analysis or well researched scientific piece (all of which is appropriate writing across multiple genres) – we just need them to pick/choose an answer.

Even worse, there are people who would like to see teachers castigated for not teaching well unless test scores go up. How about we start rewarding teachers where writing improves – in all genres and content areas.   Just imagine if test scores remained the same or a bit higher each year AND students could write  compelling essays, papers and ideas by 8th and 12th Grade.

There are many organizations and businesses which would be better served offering services such that student work could be read and graded on a rubric for teachers (eliminating the favoritism and other issues of teacher grading in the classroom) rather than continuing to jump on the test bank bandwagon.  Until we choose to change how we ‘do business’ in the arena of testing, we are getting just what we pay for. Questions written by students abroad, which are then anglicized and made okay for the U.S. We are not changing the ‘known world’.

When and how did The 4th of July becomes ‘ordinary’ and routine….

http://m.sfgate.com/sfchron/db_/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=PPoeX5mN&full=true#display

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqrBCJQcBwI&feature=youtube_gdata_player

http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=3&islist=true&id=2&d=07-04-2012

http://blog.sfgate.com/morford/2012/07/03/welcome-to-obamacare/

When I awoke this morning, I saw a bright sunny day. I was able to prepare a nutritious but simple breakfast – quinoa, fruit, almonds.  There was coffee. My shower with soap was possible as there was enough water to wash the soap off (there are many places in the world where this is NOT the norm).

The birds were tweeting as I dressed and I heard a cat meow – it was that quiet!   A very nice start to my 4th of July – a day for me to REFLECT, as opposed to celebrate. I am filled with pride at American History – I am also a realist. Not all of what we do at the end of the day in this country is perfect, it is just better than any other coutnry. We are still the country which provides the dream to people all over world the possibility  of becoming a citizen.

I wanted to meditate and  thank those who made my life possible.  Except for planes from an airport or news/police helicopters, I don’t hear much sound in the sky. While I have witnessed visually (and in my lungs) layers of smog, it is not all encompassing.  There have been many droughts in my life time and yet there has been potable water I did not need to run through a filter and/or heat unless camping.  I could go on and on, but suffice it to say I live a life few outside of the western world have access to. This life was ‘given’ to me by the sweat, tears and blood of others.  These others are who I honor.

I wanted to think about the British prisoners who were first shipped here when Britain outgrew them ( No, Virginia, the Pilgrims did not settle America – it was already settled by Native Americans!).  I forced myself to think of all the wars fought against the British, against the Native Americans,  and  the wars we fought against one another over beliefs (we still fight these wars today, just not on the same mass scale as the Civil War).  I thought about the wars we have fought, right or wrongly in the hopes of providing a greater good to others.  Next, I thought about the men and women abroad on this day – far from home, far from comfort, far from their family and doing that which many of us either fear or seem to loathe and will not participate.

“Clearly, young people would prefer to be doing other things,” said Beth Asch, a senior economist at RAND Corporation who specializes in defense manpower issues.

I thought about my father who had served in the U.S. Army during the last great draft.

My life is privileged beyond what most can ever hope to attain in this lifetime.  I have a well stocked library within one mile of home, there is fresh food.  There is infrastructure and electricity. I have a cell phone.  My neighbors say good morning.  I am allowed to worship my interpretation of God and listen to the music of my choice. Just about everything in my life is attainable with some elbow grease.

Every successful business person in America “has enjoyed that success because of the sacrifice of someone else’s sons and daughters” in uniform, Garland said. The argument echoes a concern repeated often over the decade: War efforts have fallen on the shoulders of the few, while the lives of the many went largely unencumbered. Or as some troops have been fond of saying: “We went to war, America went to the mall.”

The only way I can ever say THANK YOU to all the people who made the quality of my life possible, I need to show respect, honor and demonstrate a level of deportment in line with showing deference.

What I realized as I sat on the side of the street as the local parade went by was many people see 4th of July as some sort of annual party. It is ordinary and routine. You go out and buy stuff to decorate your house.  In and of itself, it is not bad to have a party and invite friends over.

There was none of the honorable pomp for our military.  There was no dignity, save for the soldiers themselves – Army, Coast Guard, National Guard, ROTC….it was as if others thought they were merely providing entertainment for us, the parade goers.  I did not see people standing nor anyone even putting their hand over their heart. I was one of the very FEW clapping and saying ‘Thank You’.

While I know this scene and public behavior would be different in various parts of the U.S., it surprised me how insulated we were here in my immediate community. I don’t know how waylaid – we used to be a Navy town. We have Coast Guard Island and yet the tone of the parade was off – by the observers, the very ones who are supposed to be ‘celebrating’ our freedom.

Part of me wonders if it is our lack of teaching history (until a few years ago it was not ‘tested’ so of little value).  Another part of me wonders if we have become so comfortable in our little perceived world we forget what we are even about anymore.  The 4th of July is neither ordinary or routine.  It is a celebration worthy of our full attention – including different behavior.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the dumbest parent of all?

http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_17943011?nclick_check=1    Opinion: Gen X ‘snowplow’ parents need to be partners in children’s education  26 April 2011

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/jtaylor/index   How To Raise A Spoiled Brat  21 February 2011

I believe the two pieces above are  really what Natalie Munroe meant to say, however, since she is ‘merely’ a teacher, parents did not want to hear it.  Read what this psychologist (he put his blog up after I wrote mine) and teacher ( teacher wrote after my blog went up) have to say before reading my blog  and you will get a better perspective on where I wanted to take you in my blog below.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article/article?f=/n/a/2011/02/15/state/n044416S53.DTL

I had to laugh out loud upon reading this article and recalling a moment earlier today.  Along with a colleague, we went to administer the NAEP test to Grade 8 students at a school today.  After administering the test we fill out a debriefing form and one of the questions is about ‘unusual circumstances’. Our answer today would have been, ‘ students followed directions.’  We did not write this as we would have lost our jobs….needless to say, it was the truth – it was incredibly unusual.

Many of you may be guessing the location of the school, whether it was public or private, etc.  All the variables you are thinking about are irrelevant – what is relevant is that for whatever reason, this group of kids appears to have parents who are involved, engaged and on top of their children and their behavior.  The students at this school were polite, respectful and courteous…….amazingly unlike anything I have witnessed at a school, in well forever.  Yes, I have run across polite students and nice students, but they were individual students and their classmates were hacks when it came to social graces.  This school seemed to have an abundance of nice, polite, thoughtful students.

The contrast of today is not to be underestimated as something somewhat opposite occurred last week occurred.  At a school with Grade 8 students being tested, the principal thanked me for keeping a record of the students who were (1) disruptive (2) rude/impolite during testing.   I found out that these same students apparently have been called on their behavior by other teachers and the principal yet the parents do nothing – I just happened to be an outsider and caught the problems without knowing who/what was in the background.  Imagine a principal requiring an outside source to validate teacher and principal observations to parents…….It tells me a great deal about parents and their perceptions on parenting.

Clearly these two sets of students could not have been more strikingly different in behavior, yet they were the same grade, ethnic/racial composition, ratio of male and female and, I am guessing but not positive, the same or reasonably similar socio-economic status. 

Having seen this repititious pattern over and over in a variety of scenarios (as a teacher, out in public, as a tutor, visiting a school on behalf of work I do relating to IEP’s/504’s), it leads me to believe parents are actually afraid of looking at themselves in the mirror and seeking out the help they need to be better parents.   I can honestly say it does not seem to have so much to do with socioeconomic status as I have seen wealthy students behave imprudently as often, if not more so than lower socioeconomic students.  Money and location seem to create a social acceptance of awful behavior and people are better able to look away.

When Natalie Munroe put it down in writing, I am guessing it was more than venting frustration.  While I do agree the use of language would have been better selected from a thesaurus, the sentiment is the same….the verbiage is just different than what I explained above.  No amount of correct grammar and better selection of words changes the facts – students are lazy and dispassionate and unaccountable.

“She could have been any person, any teacher in America writing about their lives,” he said, pointing out that Munroe blogged about 85 times and that only about 15 to 20 of the posts involved her being a teacher. “It’s honest and raw and a little edgy depending on your taste. … She has a deep frustration for the educational system in America.” – Steven Rovner

In light of other events of the day (a student who wanted to kill a teacher for embarrassing him), I find Ms. Munroe to be benign and pointing out the obvious.  The fact Ms. Munroe has made people think and react is commendable for the part of making change occur is when people admit there is a problem – and there is one.  All Ms. Munroe did was take the ‘tales out of school’ and make them public.  Of course parents are feeling a bit embarrassed since they do have to look themselves in the mirror (and so do administrators who support parents being lazy) and so their first call outwards is the language used and forget about freedom of speech (which, by the way, has to work for all of us, not just the people who agree with your opinion).  When you get past the language/freedom of speech and look at the issue at hand, no synonyms actually have the power to change the meaning of the situation. 

I hope many parents read Ms. Munroe’s blog, and mine and they have rabid reparte’ about all of it.   Stirring the pot is good when you want the cream to rise and  cruddy bits to sink.

Oh, and this just in:   http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/03/02/state/n052445S40.DTL&tsp=1    Really makes you wonder who is running the asylum.