Tuesday, March 20, 2007

March Edition: Ace a Test Win a Prize

The March Edition of The Eclectic Telegraph is Out

Here's what we wrote about:

  • There's Nothing like a Real Life Lesson in Geography
  • My top 10 University choices/my alternatives
  • Alternative Education Opportunities
  • Don't Weigh the Elephant -- Feed the Elephant
  • Happy Pi Day

    GO TO: The Eclectic Telegraph
Also in the March Edition: Ace a Test, Win a Prize
What kind of lessons are we teaching when we reward students for good grades and good standardized test scores? What lessons are we teaching when measure "average" is good?

In this age of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) high stakes accountability tests have become prevalent in the public school system. I can't help but wonder, as we get further away from encouraging actual learning for the pure joy of it, what kind of person is going to be the common US citizen in about 20 years from now? My observation from reading in the recent news and other places, is that schools, more and more are teaching to the test and rewarding kids for performing well. How will they be as citizens?

Students, teachers offered $250 as test bonus
By Jay Mathews
The Washington Post, Saturday, March 10, 2007

WASHINGTON — The Advanced Placement program has long offered college credit to high-school students who show mastery of a subject. Now, a group of educators and business executives is dangling another incentive in front of AP students and teachers in selected schools across the country: $250 for each passing score on science, English and math tests.

The offer, announced Friday by a group with $125 million in funding from the ExxonMobil Foundation, is stoking debate over the wisdom of cash bonuses for achievement..[read on].
Educators debating FCAT incentives
By ANNA SCOTT Herald-Tribune Southwest Florida's Information Leader
Article published Feb 26, 2007

The principal at Port Charlotte Middle School could have used a $2,000 donation from Wal-Mart for school supplies, sports equipment, library books -- any number of things. He opted for hundreds of $5 gift cards to reward students who score well on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the state's tool for measuring student -- and school -- success.

"They need something more than a pat on the back," said Principal Demetrius Revelas. When students take the annual FCAT this month, chances are some will have more in mind than a job well done.

Whether it's a sign of healthy competition, or naked desperation, more schools are offering elaborate prizes for students who ace the FCAT or improve their scores.

In my opinion, the schools are treating these kids sort of like Pavlov's dog (where some of us recognize that the phrase "Pavlov's dog" is often used to describe someone who merely reacts to a situation rather than uses critical thinking).

Now, we even have studies that say if we reward schools, the students will do even better on tests. What's that all about?

Ohio State University research, sponsored by the Spencer Foundation: “We can’t say yet whether rewards or sanctions are directly connected to student learning, but these results suggest rewards are more likely to lead to positive results than are sanctions.”

The even sadder story is the one where even though American students can pass all these great tests we've laid out for them, many are still "just average" and the schools and it seems, many parents think that's just fine, because they let them move on to Universitites where remedial classes are more and more common.

Billing School Districts Charging for Remedial Education
By Daniel Muniz, March 12th 2007

Colleges and employers already know first hand that merely having a high school diploma is really an unknown variable, especially since many schools are far more interested in the quantity of graduating seniors instead of the quality of their education. But here is an effective way to finally hold our school system directly accountable.

Financially penalize school districts when one of their students has to take a remedial class in college.

Right now, high schools are not academically aligned to the expectations of universities and workplaces. As a result, too many college students have to take at least one or more remedial classes in college. That means that the basics that should have already been mastered in high school have to be repeated.

Side Effects of Standardized Testing
by Ann Lahrson Fisher

Few people consider standardized tests to be the powerful teaching instruments they are, nor do parents consider the possible impact of tests on their children. Most homeschoolers who have their children tested find the tests to be merely a source of academic feedback or a simple way to notify the state that the children are being educated according to their standards.

Some Side Effect Lessons

  • Someone else knows what you should know better than you do.
  • Learning is an absolute that can be measured.
  • Your interests are not important.
  • The subject areas being evaluated on the test are the only things that are important to know.
  • Thinking is not valued; getting the 'right' answer is the only goal.
  • The answer (to any question) is readily available, indisputable, and it's one of these four or five answers here; there's no need to look deeper or dwell on the question.
  • Your worth can be summarized by a single mark on a paper.

Average is not OK, unless we as a Nation are done being the "New Romans" and are willing to step down from being a nation of innovators and achievers. If you read any of the foreign press, there are many people outside the United States that see our citizens as iPod toting folks, who are fascinated by Paris, Brittany and American Idol, who are into immediate gratification and not much else. In general, I don't tend to agree with Latin American dictators, but recently there was an article in the New York TImes that portrayed a pretty ugly picture of how a subset of Latin America sees the U.S.

Bush and Chávez Spar at Distance Over Latin Visit
Published: March 10, 2007

....But while President Bush pressed that point, President Chávez led an “anti-imperialist” rally at which he railed against what he called American hypocrisy and greed, and called Mr. Bush a “political cadaver.”...[read on]

Though some may see Chavez as a nut, there are other places in the world where American integrity is also seriously damaged. What is the generation of kids who are currently in our public school systems, who are being subjected to Pavlovian style education going to do to American integrity abroad in the future?

The most chilling news item I have read lately was one where Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates, went before The US Congress and told them he couldn't fill 3,000 technical jobs in the United States because of a shortage of skilled workers.

Gates: Education lapses put U.S. at risk
March 8, 2007

WASHINGTON - Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told Congress on Wednesday that overhauls of the nation's schools and immigration laws are urgently needed to keep jobs from going overseas.

"The U.S. cannot maintain its economic leadership unless our work force consists of people who have the knowledge and skills needed to drive innovation," Gates told the Senate committee that oversees labor and education issues.

There are educators who care, and then there are ones who in my book are nuts.

I found an interesting blog where some educators were discussing the benefits of "incentives" for good test results:

Should schools offer students incentives for academic performance?
By Sara Bernard
A school district in central Ohio is trying a new kind of incentive pay — for students. In return for doing well on annual exams, each student can earn up to $100. And in schools near Miami, students can win pizza parties, tickets to the prom, and even iPods in exchange for passing scores on their new state science exam. Proponents of these kinds of incentives maintain that this is one way among many to encourage academic achievement, particularly when many schools’ livelihoods depend on test scores. Others argue that these are bribes, and don’t encourage meaningful learning. What do you think?

What's the answer?

Who knows.

I think it is homeschooling and eliminating most testing, but that's me. Harvard seems to think so too:

In a class of their own
Harvard Crimson Magazine, Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Once considered an educational taboo found only in the homes of the religious and political pariahs, homeschooling has developed into a popular alternative to traditional education, perhaps because of its educational benefits—recent NHERI studies show that the average homeschooled student outperforms his public school peers by 30 to 37 percentage points across all subjects....[read on]

See you next Month -- OldSage