by Guest Blogger
November 18th, 2008
by Diane Ravitch
In his post, “Getting Value-Added Right,” Robert raises excellent questions, and his restaurant metaphor is apt. The value-added growth model, as Dan Willingham notes in the comments section and his post on the Britannica Blog, is not ready for prime time. There are too many intervening variables to hold teachers solely accountable for the test-score growth of every student. Given high rates of mobility, there is a large fluctuation in the student population in schools. As Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Staiger point out in one of their papers, their inherent volatility make test scores a poor basis for an accountability system.
The imprecision of test score measures arises from two sources. The first is sampling variation, which is a particularly striking problem in elementary schools. With the average elementary school containing only sixty-eight students per grade level, the amount of variation stemming from the idiosyncrasies of the particular sample of students being tested is often large relative to the total amount of variation observed between schools. The second arises from one-time factors that are not sensitive to the size of the sample; for example, a dog barking in the playground on the day of the test, a severe flu season, a disruptive student in a class, or favorable chemistry between a group of students and their teacher. Both small samples and other one-time factors can add considerable volatility to test score measures.
There are many, many reasons why one-year changes in scores are not reliable. There are many reasons why it is hard to give credit or blame for students’ test score gains and losses from year to year. Until we have better tests and have ironed out many of the confounding variables, it is unfair to make credible inferences about teacher performance from test scores, let alone use such data to dispense rewards and punishments.
There is another reason to worry about value-added growth models that determine a teacher’s fate and compensation. If we turn teaching into an activity whose sole purpose is to produce gains on tests that we know are mainly low-level and dumbed-down, we will not make education better. We may succeed in destroying it altogether. We better find ways to emphasize the quality of curriculum (think Core Knowledge) and to de-emphasize the number of times that kids are asked to check off a box on standardized tests in the course of a month. Or our education system will be far worse than ever.
Diane blogs on education at Bridging Differences — ed.
by Robert Pondiscio
November 18th, 2008
One of President-elect Barack Obama’s education ideas is to “improve the assessments used to track student progress.” But improving the tests may be tougher than he appreciates ”and the problem may be rooted in the state standards themselves,” says UVA cognitive scientist Dan Willingham. ”Most people underestimate how hard it is to write good test items that are based on state standards.” Writing at Britannica Blog, Willingham notes:
If you want to assess what students know and can do, it is only reasonable to list your expectations. Make the expectations too broad and they do not help students, teachers, and parents understand what is expected. Make them too narrow and you invite teachers to teach the list of expectations at the expense of everything else.
“I don’t see how these problems can be avoided unless you make the expectations more comprehensive,” concludes Willingham. “That is, instead of writing a list of standards, specify the expectations for contents and skills in more detail—in short, base tests on a curriculum. A curriculum would differ from a list of standards because it would include both the broad conceptual ideas and the specific content, and it would describe how the abstract concepts relate to the specific content.”
E.D. Hirsch, Jr. sounded a similar call early this year in a cover story in the American Educator, which argued that reading tests should contain passages about specific topics taught not just in literature, but in all other subjects taught in that grade. It makes all the sense in the world, for the reasons Dan Willingham describes.
by Robert Pondiscio
November 18th, 2008
Show of hands please. Do the students at your school still recite the Pledge of Allegiance? The Pledge went by the board at my school once the principal decided that all morning announcements — not just the Pledge — were a distraction that took away from learning time. On the other hand, she once questioned the 5th grade teachers’ decision to have students sing the Star Spangled Banner at an assembly because, as she put it, “It’s a war song.”
Woodbury, Vermont, popuation 800, is in the midst of a controversy over the Pledge.
The brouhaha in the Vermont school began in September, when parent Ted Tedesco began circulating petitions calling for the return of pledge recitation as a daily practice in the 19th-century schoolhouse, which has 55 children in kindergarten through sixth grade. School officials agreed to resume it as a daily exercise, but not in the classroom.
Starting last week, a sixth grade student was assigned to go around to the four classrooms before classes started, gathering anyone who wanted to say it and then walking them up creaky wooden steps to a second-floor gymnasium, where he led them in the pledge, the Burlington Free Press reports.
Tedesco, a retired Marine Corps major, and others aren’t happy about that solution, calling it disruptive and inappropriate because it put young children in the position of having to decide between pre-class play time and leaving the classroom to say the pledge.
“Saying the pledge in the classroom is legal, convenient and traditional,” Tedesco said. “Asking kindergarten through sixth-graders who want to say the pledge to leave their classrooms to do so is neither convenient nor traditional.” School board members defend the practice saying it restored the pledge to the school as requested, while preserving the rights of students who — for political or religious reasons — didn’t want to participate.