Notes on a Scandal

by Robert Pondiscio
September 23rd, 2008

Officials in South Carolina are investigating old test results at a poor, inner-city Charleston elementary school that had been hailed as a miraculous success story.  Under principal, MiShawna Moore, standardized test scores went through the roof.  But she departed last spring for a job in North Carolina, and scores from tests taken shortly before she left dropped dramatically, the Associated Press reports.

Officials are now questioning what they call an unusual number of erasure marks on old tests. Law enforcement is investigating, and parents once impressed with the school’s record are second-guessing enrolling their children and worried what the publicity will do to the school.

Paul Tough had an interesting piece on Slate about the potential for cheating on tests the other day.  He noted that “basing teacher compensation in part on test scores gives teachers an incentive not just to ‘teach to the test,’ but to game the test completely. He quoted an email from a young New York City teacher whose students were outraged she wouldn’t help them on the test to illustrate his point. 

Part of my own skepticism about the validity of tests was borne of my experience teaching 5th grade in the South Bronx.  Every year I had students come to my room with very poor math skills, yet they had somehow managed to score at or above grade level on the 4th grade math tests.  How did that happen? Hmmm.

Hardy Perennials

by Robert Pondiscio
September 23rd, 2008

Lots to cheer about if you’re a fan of lower standards and diminshed expectations.

One of Britain’s top grammar schools is slashing homework to no more than 40 minutes a night.  The school’s headmaster more than that becomes “mechanical” and “repetitive.” His deputy adds that too much homework could be “depressing” and put pupils off learning.  “We had boys doing three or four hours a night at the expense of sports, music practice or simply having fun,” he says.

In Toronto, the school board has passed a policy manadating a maximum of one hour of homework for 7th and 8th graders, while another in Barrie, Canada has banned it altogether.  That earned an “atta boy!” from anti-homework scold Alfie Kohn.  “The Toronto policy is a teeny first step,” he tells the Canadian website Parent Central.  For parents who are concerned that homework keeps them in the loop about what their children are learning, Kohn sniffs, “We can solve that problem in five minutes. Teachers can send home annotated guides to the curriculum – here’s what we are teaching and why.”  That will indeed take five minutes. To read.

Finally, what do you call 1+1=3?  In Pittsburgh, it’s called half right.  School officials in the Steel City are the latest to go for the no-grade-lower-than-50-percent strategy as a way to keep struggling students involved.