POVERTY AND TESTING
Politicians, policy makers and pundits claim that it’s the schools and teachers who are to blame for low achievement. They do this in order to redirect the blame away from themselves and the inadequate safety nets provided for people living in poverty, the loss of jobs, and the inability of our leaders to deal with the effects of poverty.
The facts that nearly 25% of the nation’s children live in poverty and that approximately 50% of all school children are poor, are ignored when talking about academic achievement even though the correlation is clear.
President Bush II referred to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” when he was pushing for passage of No Child Left Behind. What we have now is the “hard bigotry of neglect and denial” towards our children who live in poverty.
Story after story, blog post after blog post, one op-ed after another cite the importance of an educated workforce in order to maintain or regain our rightful place atop the global economy. Politicians suggest that poverty would be eradicated if only our schools were more like those in Finland. If we don’t fix education — politicians and pundits proclaim — we are in for big trouble. News flash: We’re already in big trouble.
We don’t have an education problem in America. We have a social disease. It is as though we are starving our children to death and trying to fix it by investing in more scales so we can weigh them constantly.
Charter schools, Common Core, voucher programs, online education, Teach for America… None of these initiatives, whether financially-motivated opportunism or sincere effort at reform, will make a dent in our educational malaise, because the assumptions are wrong.
As is often the case in our “blame the victim” culture, it is generally believed that improving education will cure poverty. This invites the inference that poor education created poverty. But it is simply not true. Poverty created poor education…
The testing industry has taken over the curriculum of America’s schools. In order to generate scores states have focused on standardized tests to the detriment of student learning. Testing has replaced learning as the goal of education.
Our educational world has been turned over wholesale to testing, despite ample evidence that test scores are many things (markers of privilege, markers of genetic predispositions, markers of teaching-to-the-test), among the least of which are student achievement and teacher quality.
If we don’t have the political will to de-test our schools, the evidence is clear that the stakes associated with testing must be greatly lessened and that the amount of time spent teaching to the tests and administering the tests must also [be] reduced dramatically.
In a study of nearly 1,400 eighth-graders in the Boston public school system, the researchers found that some schools have successfully raised their students’ scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). However, those schools had almost no effect on students’ performance on tests of fluid intelligence skills, such as working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and ability to solve abstract problems.
Charters are no better than regular public schools at educating children.
Nicole Blalock, who holds a Ph.D. and is a postdoctoral scholar at Arizona State University, compared the performance of charter schools and public schools on NAEP 2013.
She acknowledged the problems inherent in comparing the two sectors. Both are diverse, and demographic controls are not available.
Nonetheless, she identified some states where charter performance is better, and some where public school performance is better.
The result, as you might expect: Mixed.
Bottom line: charters are no panacea.
School-choice advocates argue that children will get a better education if they can leave public schools for charter or private schools, especially in urban areas. The Indiana Growth Model tells a different story.
It suggests public schools, overall, are performing better than charter schools or the private schools — most of them religious schools – that are getting state vouchers.
Indiana’s fourth grade scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) went up. Could this be due to the fact that more students were retained in 3rd grade as punishment for not passing “the test?” Did retention actually help any students or just provide for higher scores on the fourth grade NAEP scores?
CONCLUSION: No. Evidence showing a benefit of retention is virtually non-existent whereas evidence showing no effect or harm is plentiful.
Politicians shouldn’t be the ones who decide whether or not a child is promoted to the next grade. State laws mandating retention when students fail a test are inappropriate. The people who know the child best — the child’s parents and teachers — should work together to make decisions on promotion.
Although some test score gains in Florida are held up as a model, any such gains were achieved by much more than just accountability reforms. Florida also has universal preschool, class-size limits and guaranteed high-quality literacy coaches, among other well-financed innovations…
There is no published research testing the effectiveness of retention in Florida. There is one study finding that retention plus being assigned to a highly effective teacher and receiving 90 minutes of additional literacy instruction per day is more effective than being promoted with no such guaranteed, high-dosage interventions…
Although proponents of retention might take the Florida case in isolation as suggesting that “retention done well” benefits the ost struggling students, the existing evidence suggests instead that “promotion done well” may provide equal or greater benefits in the short-term, and is very likely to be a less harmful strategy in the long run.
During my 35 years as a professional educator (as opposed to now as a volunteer) I taught primary students in the classroom. Following that I diagnosed learning problems and worked as a reading specialist. I attended or ran dozens of meetings about students and the question of retention often came up. In every case the argument for retention was based on one of three “reasons.”
- The child needed more time to grow. Unfortunately, research has shown that retention doesn’t usually provide for that since most retentions place a child back in the same or similar class with few other interventions to address the actual problem.
- The child needed to be punished for not achieving. No one actually spoke those words aloud, of course, but the reason was there. He (and it was usually a “he”) “didn’t do his work” in his current grade and therefore received grades of F.
- We have to do something. When we don’t know what to do we often do things that are inappropriate.
The research on retention is clear. Allowing legislators — most of whom have never set foot in a classroom and don’t know the first thing about teaching children — to dictate terms of retention in grade for 8 and 9 year olds is at best, foolish. At worst it constitutes child abuse.
…retaining students is costly– an average of $10,000 per retention–and the money would be better spent on tutoring. Oddly, in a time when economic efficiency is righteously pursued in public education, this doesn’t seem to be a factor. Lawmakers and commenters seem bent on penalties, but it’s hard to put a finger on who deserves blame when kids aren’t reading fluently by the third grade…
As a middle school teacher who’s attended dozens of retention meetings, this is my observation: most retentions of older children aren’t based on inherent academic weakness. They happen because kids have checked out, stopped trying. Failing a grade is used as both threat and punishment. Although it’s rare, there are cases where retention is the right decision. But that call should be made by teachers and parents, not at the statehouse.
Class size matters most for students who need the most attention. We continue to provide fewer resources to those students who need more.
Students from safe environments who know how to learn, are motivated to learn, and already have background knowledge in the subject at hand are significantly more manageable in class. But even when you have all of those factors working in your favor, an increase in class size still portends a massive increase in work when it comes to parent communication, assessment, and tutoring – all tasks that fall outside of the school day, and therefore often slip the minds of those in this “debate” who don’t work in schools.
For teachers who work in schools that serve unsafe communities with students from less educated families who don’t see education as a vital component for their future, increase in class size carries an even heavier burden. It means that you have to be extraordinarily skilled at classroom management, be willing to devote a tremendous amount of time planning your classes, and have the competencies and social-emotional characteristics that allow underprivileged students to trust you and learn from you.
Studies show that reading aloud, especially to younger children, is crucial in the formation of language acquisition, preparation of pre-emergent reading skills and brain development. Studies also show that reading aloud to older children and teens allows them the application needed to cross between their own world and the world of the book that is being read. It allows them to assimilate and synthesize information. It allows them to strengthen their verbal communication skills when discussing the book with other students and teachers. It allows them the opportunity to think outside the box and share those thoughts with others who may not have seen it that same way. It allows for an increase in newly acquired vocabulary usage, which is crucial to college prep exams and basic college courses.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.