I’m Working with Sophomores to Prepare for the PSAT

This week, I started a new tutoring program that helps sophomore high school students prepare for the PSAT. As noted a number of times in the past, I majored in English, and so I help two students improve their verbal PSAT score(they took a pre-PSAT). These students were recommended by their guidance counselors and deemed as those on the college track. Generally speaking, these students are minorities in public schools that are subpar. Generally speaking, they’re relatively shy but encouragingly focused and career oriented. They’re motivated and have an understanding that they can have a beautiful life years from now, if they work hard now.

The issue I found, despite all these glorious traits, is that they didn’t know how to use commas or semicolons. They couldn’t write four concise consecutive sentences. And when asked how they could make their weakly connected sentences better, they had no clue how to.

Time is an issue here. The time I have with them is supposed to be used to teach them how to take the PSAT in twelve hours across twelve weeks. But, I cant jump into how to take the test when they’re not well versed on the basics. I don’t know how to ignore that deficiency, and they deserve more than that. I’ll just spend a few hours on the basics and  then end that chapter of the class with a quiz, one on one assesment and then continous feedback on whether the fundmenatals are becoming a part of their new standard.

One thing I can say about why this project is so exciting is that they were wowed when we worked towards strengthening those weak sentences and after we made these sentences better, they had a look, an expression of now understanding something they didn’t know they didn’t know.

Penn Charter Network Systematically Cheated

After years of accusations and multiple investigations, Chester Community Charter Schools officially received confirmation that it systematically cheated on state exams. The sad part about the following expert is that the cheating coincided with the year the charter network was endanger of facing penalties for three consistent years of not meeting Race to the Top’s adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirement on state exams. The other sad issue is that Chester received more funding than its traditional counterparts, but Chester students performed just as poorly.

The Notebook, a Philadelphia newspaper, reports:

“PDE [Pennsylvania Department of Education] then spelled out strict testing protocols that the school said it would follow, including 24-hour security cameras where the tests are stored and in all classrooms in which students take them. In addition, PDE sent outside monitors to supervise all test administrations.

Through its history, CCCS [Chester Community Charter Schools] struggled to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the test score and performance targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The school made AYP in 2004 but then fell short for four years in a row from 2005 through 2008.

A fifth year of failing to meet targets would have triggered sanctions under NCLB, including a potential change in management.

The scores climbed in 2009, and for three years in a row, through 2011, they were high enough for the school to earn Adequate Yearly Progress status, an indicator that enhanced the school’s credibility in the Chester community. The school’s enrollment saw continued growth.

After the strict test protocols were put in place in 2012, proficiency rates at CCCS plummeted by an average of 30 percentage points in every grade and subject. In letters to parents and the media, the school blamed the drop on budget cuts.

Since then, scores have remained low – similar to scores of some Chester-Upland district schools.

That district has been in dire financial straits for decades, most recently exacerbated by its huge payments to CCCS and two other charters.”

NCLB Potential Amendments Can Destabilize Public Education

The New York Times’ Editorial Board published an opinion on Congress’ coming review of bills that aim to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also know as the No Child Left Behind Act. The article notes a couple of items of interest to me.

First, it acknowledges that NCLB has it’s drawbacks, however, the Act should not be amended altogether, but rather adjusted for its shortcomings. Particularly, the Act, as it is now, arguably mislabels schools, which causes stress on teachers, administration, parents and students:

“This provision failed to adequately distinguish between chronically failing schools and otherwise good schools that missed improvement targets for particular subgroups, like special needs children. As a result, as many as half the schools in some states were listed as needing improvement, seen by the public as “failing,” which mystified educators and parents, and generated a predictable political backlash.”

This part of the Act instills unnecessary insecurity in schools, students, parents and teachers that are more than the labels suggest. It makes students and teachers doubt what they’ve accomplished and undermined actual achievements. I understand why general labels are used to indicate a school’s academic performances. But rather than broadly labeling schools, a system where broad labels and short and specific labels are combined could be a sufficient remedy. Or, perhaps, a two score system where there is a overall grade and a grade that highlights the strongest need of improvement section. I do acknowledge how this can cause confusion, but I also think that it is absolutely necessary to try and provide more context to the present labeling system because education is so complex.

Furthermore, NCLB requires testing children once a year in grades 3-12. The testing has created a frenzy of constant preparation and rote education. Clearly, this environment takes away the creativity of education and allows people to see testing as a value of education, rather than a component.

One bill’s remedy to this, according to the Editorial Board, is to relinquish the state of its mandatory obligation to involve itself it into failing (or otherwise) schools. This takes a way the mandatory yearly testing on both a national and state level. This proposed bill would allow districts and cities the opportunity o make up their own grading and evaluation systems without consideration for what other schools, districts and cities are doing.

The board notes, and I agree, that this free flow of teaching with such a large public school systems, such as New York City, allows for less understanding of how peers across the board are performing and provides parents with an uncentralized basis on how their children are performing.

What I think the Board should have emphasized is the chaos individual district/city grading and evaluations would create. School districts would attempt to create their own systems, one that seemingly fits the district’s needs. I acknowledge the value in this. The current system is too broad and isn’t the best fits for a lot of schools. But I also recognize that practice can be very different from theory and when the two oppose each other, correcting it may be difficult to achieve, primarily because the type of system has either never been done before, doesn’t have an immediate or transparent fix or has nothing to compare it against.

Leaving the state out and removing centralized education also destabilizes the education system and introduces us to a world where educational factors are forever changing and uniformity becomes less of a factor. Comparing apples to oranges, pears to grapes, carrots to brussel spouts will make understanding quality education across the board, even on regional or demographically similar level, much more difficult.

The No Child Left Behind Question: Is There Too Much Testing or Not Enough?

Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, says there should be yearly testing for students in grades 3-8. But, the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union, says testing should not be yearly but done every few years, or, as they call it, in grade spands.

For Yearly Testing:

  • Allow parents to be consistently updated on child’s progress
  • Allows both, state and local governments and educators to work on and analyze where education is working and where it is not working

Kati Haycock, president of the the Education Trust said, “…Kids who are not tested end up not counting.”

For Span Testing:

  • Puts less pressure on kids and teachers, in terms of performance
  • Allows for a more flexible and creative learning environment and curricula

Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association said, “Parents and educators know that the one size fits all annual federal testing structure has not worked.”

While this is a very brief summary of the debate, I have done further reading and still find myself sort of stuck in between the two viewpoints.

One of the main concerns for people in favor of span testing is the emphasis that is taken away from teacher performance based on standardized tests and the treatment that sll students take tests equally. I think these two ideas are very poignant and it seems that span testing could be the solution that addresses these pressures that both students and teachers face.

However, without an annual indicator, like standardized tests, it would seem difficult to find something that  allows parents, teachers and students to follow  students  progress effectively and take measures to ensure that students are getting the help they need on a time schedule that allows them to be college or career ready.

Perhaps, the best solution would be to find a substitute (or two or three) that would provide parents, students ad teachers with some kind of real measurement of progress. It is a little unclear on what those yearly indicators would be, but thinking about them is definitely a start to a more comfortable but effective learning environment.