Different DC middle schools gave their students totally different PARCC math tests

Digest that: some DC middle schools gave a general math PARCC test to their students. Others administered an Algebra 1 PARCC test. Others gave a PARCC geometry test.

And not even Superintendent Hanseul Kang seems to know which schools administered what test.

This all comes from Valerie Jablow’s blog.

But all schools will be held ‘accountable’ to the same standard.

Right.

 

Remedial College Courses and Real Problems

From a recent discussion on the Concerned4DCPS list about a recent NYT article on the numbers of students taking remedial courses at the college level. I have taken the opportunity to revise and extend my remarks. If you want to read these in chronological order, start at the bottom.

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(From me:)

Judge in NY State Throws Out ‘Value-Added Model’ Ratings

I am pleased that in an important, precedent-setting case, a judge in New York State has ruled that using Value-Added measurements to judge the effectiveness of teachers is ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’.

The case involved teacher Sheri Lederman, and was argued by her husband.

“New York Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough said in his decision that he could not rule beyond the individual case of fourth-grade teacher Sheri G. Lederman because regulations around the evaluation system have been changed, but he said she had proved that the controversial method that King developed and administered in New York had provided her with an unfair evaluation. It is thought to be the first time a judge has made such a decision in a teacher evaluation case.”

In case you were unaware of it, VAM is a statistical black box used to predict how a hypothetical student is supposed to score on a Big Standardized Test one year based on the scores of every other student that year and in previous years. Any deviation (up or down) of that score is attributed to the teacher.

Gary Rubinstein and I have looked into how stable those VAM scores are in New York City, where we had actual scores to work with (leaked by the NYTimes and other newspapers). We found that they were inconsistent and unstable in the extreme! When you graph one year’s score versus next year’s score, we found that there was essentially no correlation at all, meaning that a teacher who is assigned the exact same grade level, in the same school, with very similar  students, can score high one year, low the next, and middling the third, or any combination of those. Very, very few teachers got scores that were consistent from year to year. Even teachers who taught two or more grade levels of the same subject (say, 7th and 8th grade math) had no consistency from one subject to the next. See my blog  (not all on NY City) herehere, here,  here, herehere, here, here,  herehere, and here. See Gary R’s six part series on his blog here, here, here, here, here, and here. As well as a less technical explanation here.

Mercedes Schneider has done similar research on teachers’ VAM scores in Louisiana and came up with the same sorts of results that Rubinstein and I did.

Which led all three of us to conclude that the entire VAM machinery was invalid.

And which is why the case of Ms. Lederman is so important. Similar cases have been filed in numerous states, but this is apparently the first one where a judgement has been reached.

(Also read this. and this.)

Advanced Math Among American Students

An article in the Atlantic discusses the growing phenomenon of American students studying and succeeding in a wide variety of advanced mathematics courses and competitions. This includes organizations like MathCounts (which I coached at the JHS level for many years) as well as special summer math programs like MathPath, as well as math circles and AP calculus and statistics courses.

However, as the author notes:

National achievement data reflect this access gap in math instruction [between US poor kids and US rich kids – gfb]  all too clearly. The ratio of rich math whizzes to poor ones is 3 to 1 in South Korea and 3.7 to 1 in Canada, to take two representative developed countries. In the U.S., it is 8 to 1. And while the proportion of American students scoring at advanced levels in math is rising, those gains are almost entirely limited to the children of the highly educated, and largely exclude the children of the poor. By the end of high school, the percentage of low-income advanced-math learners rounds to zero.

Published in: on February 10, 2016 at 4:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Concise Primer on Privatization from Marion Brady

This is a concise primer, written by Marion Brady, on how the 1/100 of 1% have been privatizing our schools and getting away with it. -GFB

Advice column for pundits and politicians

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/01/07/a-primer-on-the-damaging-movement-to-privatize-public-schools/

Privatizing public schools: A primer for pundits and politicians

 

When, about thirty years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.

 

The pitch

 

Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.

 

Tactics

 

Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, I-pads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)

 

Weapon

 

If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

It’s hard to rank unlike things so it’s necessary to standardize. That’s what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do. To get the job done quickly, Bill Gates picked up the tab, got the CCSS “legitimized” by getting important politicians to sign off on them, then handed them to teachers as a done deal.

The Standards make testing and ranking a cinch. They also make making billions a cinch. Manufacturers can use the same questions for every state that has adopted the Standards or facsimiles thereof.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, The New Economics, Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”

 

Operating the weapon

 

What’s turned standardized testing into a privatizing juggernaut are pass-fail “cut scores” set by politicians. Saying kids need to be challenged, they set the cut score high enough to fail many (sometimes most) kids. When the scores are published, they point to the high failure rate to “prove” public schools can’t do the job and should be closed or privatized. Clever, huh?

The privatizing machinery is in place. Left alone, it’ll gradually privatize most, but not all, public schools. Those that serve the poorest, the sickest, the handicapped, the most troubled, the most expensive to educate—those will stay in what’s left of the public schools.

 

Weapon malfunction

 

Look at standardized tests from kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized testslook like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.

 

Before you write…

 

If you want to avoid cranking out the usual amateurish drivel about standardized testing that appears in the op-eds, editorials, and syndicated columns of the mainstream media, ask yourself a few questions about the testing craze: (a) Should life-altering decisions hinge on the scores of commercially produced tests not open to public inspection? (b) How wise is it to only teach what machines can measure? (c) How fair is it to base any part of teacher pay on scores from tests that can’t evaluate complex thought? (d) Are tests that have no “success in life” predictive power worth the damage they’re doing?

Here’s a longer list of problems you should think about before you write.

 

Perspective

America’s schools have always struggled—an inevitable consequence, first, of a decision in 1893 to narrow and standardize the high school curriculum and emphasize college prep; second, from a powerful strain of individualism in our national character that eats away support for public institutions; third, from a really sorry system of institutional organization. Politicians, not educators, make education policy, basing it on the simplistic conventional wisdom that educating means “delivering information.”

In fact, educating is the most complex and difficult of all professions. Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real, escape the bonds of ethnocentrism, explore the wonders and potential of humanness, and become skilled at using thought processes that make it possible to realize those aims.

Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were “loose.” Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.

Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.

A salvage operation is still (barely) possible, but not if politicians, prodded by pundits, continue to do what they’ve thus far steadfastly refused to do—listen to people who’ve actually worked with real students in real classrooms, and did so long enough and thoughtfully enough to know something about teaching.

 

Note: I invite response, especially from those in positions of influence or authority who disagree with me.

Marion Brady mbrady2222@gmail.com

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Even the Chancellor Calls the Results ‘Sobering’

The Washington City Paper has an article on the PARCC results with way more graphs and charts than I do, and they quote even Chancellor Kaya Henderson as saying the results were ‘sobering’.

Please remind me why she still has a job?

She and several other speakers said that the PARCC results were more ‘honest’ than the old DC-CAS results, probably because the new ‘passing’ scores are lower than the old ones. I guess that means that it’s more ‘honest’ to say that students are doing worse than we were previously led to believe, under the current regime of all-testing-all-the-time and turn-half-the-students-over-to-unregulated charters?

 

PARCC Results Released in DC

I just got back from watching the public release of the results of the PARCC test that students in Washington DC took about 7 months ago.

(Let that sink in: it took the testing company, and their consultants, and the city’s consultants, over HALF A YEAR to massage the data into a releasable form. So much for having these tests be able to be used to ‘inform instruction’ or help teachers figure out what kind of help their students need. It’s now the last day of November, and the students have been in school since August. What kind of help is that to teachers or parents? And tho I haven’t looked at the released school scores or samples of what the teachers will see, I’m not optimistic. If the past is any guide, the scores themselves will be essentially useless as well…)

(It won’t take so long next time, we were assured…)

I got to see Mayor Bowser, Councilman Grosso, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, [powerless] Superintendent Hanseul Kang, and Deputy Mayor for Education Jenny Niles, and charter honcho Scott Pearson perform and answer some mostly-lame questions from some members of the media.

What we saw were that advanced students in DC (largely white ones) do exceedingly well on this PARCC battery of tests, and that others (blacks; hispanics; SPEDs; students on free or reduced lunch; ELLs; or Students At Risk) do much worse. Which of course is  the very same result we’ve seen on the NAEP for a couple of decades.

In fact, of all the cities and states measured on the NAEP, Washington DC has the very widest gaps in test scores between the Upper Caucasia Haves and the Have-Nots everywhere else, and those gaps are if anything getting wider.

It was interesting to hear Henderson’s defenses of the results, which still showed very low percentages of most students “passing” the PARCC. She said, among other things, that

(1) since students at the lower grades generally scored higher than those at the upper grades, that show’s we are on the right path [seems to me it shows the exact opposite; the longer that students have been exposed to “Reform”, the worse they do… and

(2) It takes a long time, you can’t just expect to turn a switch and have everything be wonderful overnight, we need lots of wrap-around services and a longer school day and school year and support for teachers.

Regarding the latter excuse: isn’t that exactly what teachers were condemned for saying under Chancellor Rhee, whose understudy was none other than Kaya Henderson? Didn’t Rhee imply that the only reason that poor students did poorly in school was that their greedy, lazy teachers, empowered by their evil union, refused to teach them anything? And that anybody who said that it’s a lot harder to teach impoverished students of color with chaotic families (if any) than it is to teach middle-class children with educated parents – why those people were just making excuses for poverty?

 

Mental Math, Traditional Math, and Best Methods

James Tanton is one of the most insightful teachers of teachers of math I’ve come across in a long time.

In this video and this essay, he explains how some parents feel mystified by some of the newer style of math problems that children are bringing to their parents for help. Clearly, some of the problems (like the 32-12 one which fills up an entire page in a child’s workbook) are being done in a tortured, time-wasting method. However, if you take a more difficult problem, such as 103 – 87, you can do this completely in your head by adding small increments (MENTALLY) to the 87 until you get to 103.

This is a reasonable thing to do, much like people count out (or used to count out) change into a customer’s hand.

In this case, from 87 to 90 (which is a much ‘nicer’ number than 87) we need to go up by 3.

Then from 90 to 100 (which is getting closer to our goal), we go up by 10. So we’ve gone up by 13 all together.

Then from 100 to 103 is three more, so we’ve gone up by 16, which means that 103 – 87 is 16.

I would be crazy to write all those steps out! – which is unfortunately what the poor child was asked to do.

But doing it quickly in your head makes a lot of sense.

As Tanton says, let’s get rid of laborious, tortured, time-wasting algorithms and examples, but let’s keep the thinking and understanding.

Click on the picture for a larger view; it’s a slightly-modified still from his video.

james tanton on thinking

Published in: on October 25, 2015 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  
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Fourier Analysis – Done By A Machine With Gears and Levers

Fourier analysis allows your cell phone or MP3 player to transmit your voice and play music without needing huge reel-to-reel tape recorders to store all the sounds and without using enormous amounts of bandwidth. It’s now done electronically, by clever mathematical algorithms that are encoded on the tiny microchips inside your computer or cellphone or iPod or whatever.

The general idea is you take a complex wave-front and you turn it into an infinite series of sine or cosine waves. Believe it or not, it actually makes the data much simpler!

A very simple example. This weird shape

2 COSINES SUMMED

is merely the sum of two cosine waves:

cosines

And all of the music you hear (eg a clarinet, which might look like this on an oscilloscope)

clarinet

can be deconstructed into a whole lot of sines or cosines

 

About 40 years ago, I did some Fourier transforms by hand in a calculus class. It was time-consuming, but very, very cool.

A full century ago, Albert Michelson had to do a whole bunch of Fourier transforms for some astronomy task. It was too time-consuming to do by hand, so he built a machine with gears, levers and so on to do it for him.

It’s a super-cool analog (as opposed to digital) computer — and there is a fellow who shows you exactly how it works!

His presentation is in four parts. Start with this one, the introduction.

Published in: on November 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My Predictions for the 2014 DC-CAS Scores

Sometime this month, the Mayor of DC and the Chancellor of the DC Public Schools will make some sort of announcement on how DC public and charter school students did on the DC-CAS (Comprehensive Assessment System) – the test required by Federal law to be given to every single kid in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 10.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I haven’t developed any sources willing to risk their jobs by leaking the results to me in advance, but I can make a few predictions:

1. If the results look bad, they will be released right before a holiday or a weekend (a basic public-relations tactic that all public officials learn).

2. If the scores as a whole look good, or if there is some part of the trends that look good, that will be highlighted heavily.

3. There won’t be much of a correlation between the trends on the DC-CAS scores and the National Assessment of Ednucational Progress, which has been measuring student achievement in grades 4 and 8 in reading and math since the 1970s by giving a carefully-selected sample of students in DC and across the nation a variety of different test items in math, reading, and a number of other areas.

4. Even though the DC-CAS results won’t be released to the public for a couple more weeks, clearly DCPS officials and Mathematica staff already have them; they have been firing teachers and principals and “adjusting” – with the benefit of hindsight – the rest of their evaluations to fit the DC-CAS scores and the magic secret formula called “Value Added Magic Measurement”.

You may ask, how can GFBrandenburg predict not much of a match between the DC-CAS and the NAEP?

By looking at the track record, which I will share with you.

I present the average scores of all DC students on both the DC-CAS and on the NAEP over the past quarter-century. The NAEP scores for the District of Columbia have either been pretty steady or have been rising slightly.

As far as I can tell, the statisticians at the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) who design, administer, and score the NAEP do a fine job of

A. making sure that there is no cheating by either students or adults,

B.  making up good questions that measure important topics, and

C. gathering, collating, and reporting the data in an honest manner.

On the DC -CAS, however, we have had many documented cases of cheating (see point A), I have shown that many of the questions are ridiculous and don’t measure what we teachers were supposed to be teaching (see point B), and I hope to show you that whatever they are doing with the scores does not seem to be trustworthy.

Exhibit number one is a graph where I plot the average scale scores of the students in Washington DC on both the NAEP and on the DC-CAS for fourth grade math:

naep + dccas 4th grade math comparison

Allow me to explain.

The bottom blue curve is what DC’s fourth-graders average scale scores were on the NAEP starting in 1992 and going on through 2013. As you can see, since 1996, there has been what appears like more-or-less steady improvement.

(It is very hard, in fact, to see much of a difference in trends before mayoral control over the DC schools and after that time. I drew a vertical black line to separate the ‘Pre-Rhee” era from the “Post-Rhee” era, since Michelle Rhee was the very first Chancellor installed in the DC schools, after the annual tests were given in 2007.)

(As noted,  the NAEP scale scores go from 0 to 500, but the DC-CAS scores go from 0 to 100. I decided that the easiest way to have them both fit on the same graph would simply be to divide the NAEP scores by 5. The actual reported NAEP scores are in the little table, if you want to examine them for yourself. You can double-check my numbers by looking around at the NAEP and DC OSSE websites — which are unfortunately not easy to navigate, so good luck, and be persistent! You will also find that some years have two different scores reported, which is why I put those double asterisks at a couple of places on those curves.)

But here’s what’s really suspicious: the DC-CAS scores, shown in red, seem to jump around wildly and appear to show tremendous progress overall but also utterly un-heralded drops.

Which is it?

Slow, steady progress since 1996, or an amazing jump as soon as Wonder Woman Rhee comes on the scene?

In my opinion, I’d much rather trust the feds on this. We know that there has been all sorts of hanky-panky with the DC-CAS, as repeatedly documented in many places. I know for a fact that we math teachers have been changing the ways that we teach, to be more in line with the 1989 NCTM standards and the ways that math is tested on the NAEP. It’s also the case that there has been significant gentrification in DC, with the proportion of white kids with highly educated parents rising fairly steadily.

Slow improvement in math scores, going back a quarter of a century, makes sense.

Wild jumps don’t seem reasonable to me at all.

On the contrary, besides the known mass cheating episodes, it almost seems like DC education officials get together with McGraw-Hill CTB, which manufactures the DC-CAS, and decide how they want to get the scores to come out. THEN they decide which questions to count and which ones NOT to count, and what the cut-off scores will be for ‘advanced’, ‘proficient’ and so on.

Next time: 8th grade math; and 4th and 8th grade reading.

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Links to my other articles on this:

Part One  (fourth grade math)— this one right here

Part Two (8th grade math)

Part Three (all reading)

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