ONTD Political

Virginia to Have Low Expectations for Minority Students :-/

2:43 pm - 08/26/2012
Virginia New Achievement Standards Based On Race And Background

Virginia's new achievement standards have raised eyebrows.

Part of the state's new standards dictate a specific percentage of racial group that should pass school exams, a move that has angered the Virginia Black Caucus. The caucus' chairwoman, Democratic state Sen. Mamie Locke, says the new standards marginalize students by creating different goals for students of various backgrounds.

"Nothing is going to work for me if there is a differentiation being established for different groups of students," Locke told the Daily Press. "Whether that's race, socio-economic status or intellectual ability. If there is a differentiation, I have a problem with it."

Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash disagrees with Virginia Black Caucus' assertions.

"Please be assured that the McDonnell administration does not hold a student of a particular race or income level, or those of any other subgroup, to a different standard," Fornash wrote in a three-page letter explaining the changed standards.

The standards do not pose different pass rates for different groups: regardless of race, each student has to correctly answer the same number of test questions in order to pass. The difference lies in the expectation of passing from groups of different backgrounds. The new rules were designed as part of Virginia's waiver from No Child Left Behind, along with 31 other states and Washington, D.C.

For instance, only 45 percent of black students are required to pass the math state test while 82 percent for Asian Americans, 68 percent for whites and 52 percent for Hispanics are required to pass. In reading, 92 percent of Asian students, 90 percent of white students, 80 percent of hispanic students, 76 percent of black students, and 59 percent of students with disabilities are required to pass the state exam.

The state says these percentages are based on previous pass rates for the various groups, but many school officials aren't satisfied, saying that if the state expects less performance from a particular group of students, they will lose the motivation to perform better.

Educator Carolyn J. Smith told Pilot Online that the focus should be on boosting performance in underperforming racial groups rather than expecting less.

"The ones in the lower grades, if they don't feel like they can do math, they'll give up," Smith told Virginian-Pilot columnist Roger Chelsey, "And some parents say, 'I can't do math, either.'"

This belief then becomes a legacy, according to Smith, a cycle that one has to break as early as the child's first year in school.

The issue of black and Hispanic students underperforming their Asian and white counterparts might have more to do with segregation and expectations than ability.

According to author and presidential professor at the University of California, Los Angeles Jeannie Oakes eliminating traditional tracking methods that measure performance based on race is particularly important to guaranteeing equal success among different races.

“Once we put students in groups, we give them very different opportunities to learn -- with strong patterns of inequality across teachers, experience, and competence," Oakes says. "There was this pervasive view that Latino and African American kids can’t measure up in a way that more affluent or white kids can and we can’t do anything about it.”

If the standards are set this way, students as well as teachers begin believing and fulfilling the prophesy, according to author andfreelance writer Julie Halpert.

"...With little motive to succeed academically, the children didn’t get high grades or score well on standardized tests," Halpert says. "In other words, they performed exactly as the teachers predicted, in response to the climate of low expectations."

Instead, many educators believe "detracking" or "heterogeneous or mixed-ability grouping" ensures success across racial lines. Though the practice of detracking is still contested, some educators believe lowering expectations should simply not be an option.

Mary T. Christian, a career educator and member of the Hampton NAACP's education committee, said she's shocked at the low pass rates for some groups.

"Lower expectations are detrimental to students' growth," said Mary Christian, career educator as well as former state legislator. When you lower expectations, there is no challenge. Students and teachers will do the minimum."

The Source seems to have a video that has been region-blocked, so I didn't watch it.
metatrix 27th-Aug-2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
like, I definitely think that education needs to be standardized, and I'm in favour of yearly standardized testing, but I don't think funding should be contingent on results. And I think there needs to be more input from educators on reform. And a lot more funding for innovative programs for the lowest performing schools.

Cutting funding to schools based on how students perform is stupid and unfair and counter-productive. But I am in favour of teachers needing to pass a test every few years in their subject area to keep their job, because I had some math teachers in public school who legit couldn't do math.
amyura 27th-Aug-2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
FYI, in most states in the US, teachers already have to pass licensing exams in their subject areas, and/or have a bachelor's degree or higher in that subject. In my state, you can't teach more than five years without at least twelve graduate credits in your subject area (that is, not just the fluff education grad courses, but actual content).

Get their license, sure, but KEEP their job, every few years? I got a perfect score on my licensing exam-- pretty ironclad proof I can do math. And I've been teaching calculus for eight years. I don't just stop knowing how to do calculus one day. Frequent retesting would be a huge waste of time and money. About the only subject that'd be appropriate is technology/computer science.
metatrix 27th-Aug-2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
Ah, okay, things are different where I live (Canada). You don't have to have a bachelor's in the subject that you teach. I went to a party once where a bunch of teachers were talking about how they hope they don't get assigned to teach math because they hate math and can't do even do basic algebra. My heart wept for their poor students. :(

It's the same thing with foreign languages. I know teachers who have been assigned to teach french who only know the french that they were taught in high school, and definitely don't even know enough to be able to speak it with their students.

I don't think re-testing needs to be frequent in all subjects, but I do think there should be some kind of continuing education or re-licensing. Obviously the schedule would be different based on the subject. I think in foreign languages it should be more frequent (every year), because people forget languages if they're not practising it. Computer science and biology (and other fields that are rapidly changing) should also be more frequent. English and math could be less frequent (maybe every 5 or 10 years).

Now, I think they should implement such testing on a small scale first (only a few districts) and see if it actually makes a difference. If they see that all the teachers pass with flying colours and it's a huge waste of money, then obviously they should cancel the testing and just forget about it altogether. They should only implement it on a wide scale if they see that a significant number of teachers are actually failing the tests. Or only keep it for certain subjects or grade levels (like foreign languages, for example, or only for high school grade levels). I think all reforms should be tested on a small scale first for validation, and only rolled out on a wider-scale if the evidence says that it makes sense.

But I think teacher licensing/testing is only a tiny, tiny part of the solution to the education mess. The main reforms I would like to see:

- federal curriculum standards
- aggressively recruiting the best teachers to the lowest performing schools through incentives (high salaries and amazing benefits)
- expanding after-school and weekend programs at inner-city schools and eliminating drug-testing and grade requirements to participate
- implementing a program whereby education researchers and teachers can compete for big government grants to move to low performing schools and implement innovative teaching strategies and programs
- awarding kids from disadvantaged neighbourhoods university scholarships for improvements in their standardized testing scores.

One strategy I thought of, but I'm not sure if it would work:
We all know that some kids, even from a very early age, naturally excel at math, while others naturally excel at reading/writing. I thought maybe if we start really early (like grade 1) and separate kids into two groups (math-excellers and verbal-excellers), we could put the math-excellers in a program that gives them extra reading/writing instruction, and put the verbal-excellers in a program that gives them extra math instruction. The hope is that this strategy would, over time, close the gap and make all the students more well-rounded and confident in their abilities. I think starting as early as possible with this strategy is important, because hopefully by the time the kids get to high school, the class will be well-rounded in their abilities.
amyura 27th-Aug-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
This is going to come off as dismissive, and I have to apologize, because you've clearly put a lot of thought into what you believe, but.....

This comment pretty much nails why I have such a problem with non-educators making educational policy. A lot of what you complain that doesn't happen already does, and has for years. Some of it has been proven to work, and has stayed in practice; some of it has been shown to be absolutely abysmal policy (particularly the whole tracking thing in your last paragraph).

I know Canada is different (I went to McGill, and saw firsthand how each province kind of does its own thing), but in the US, while every state is slightly different, there are some commonalities. Teachers have to pass licensing exams-- general tests as well as subject specific. There is no shortage of innovation-- the issue is that nobody (read: policy makers) gives teachers and administrators enough time to figure out which strategies work best for which students and school communities, and that there is a body of "educators" (not teachers, but people who are "in education" and work as consultants and program developers) with a vested interest in promoting the Next Big Innovation, one that a district has to adopt whole-hog in order for it to work.

Schools are a reflection of their larger societies. The US as a culture pays a lot of lip service to wanting good schools, but education isn't valued at all. Teachers are paid crap and constantly told that if we really cared about children, we'd do more work for the same or even less money. All of the reform measures are based on punishing schools, teachers, and administrators for low test scores. Parental involvement and what kids come in already knowing are the big elephants that nobody wants to talk about, unless it's to blame the kids for low test scores.

Another issue is people can't agree on the purpose of education. Is it to produce intellectually curious lifelong learners? Is it to produce literate, numerate citizens who can make informed voting decisions? Is it to train good workers for corporations?

But, seriously, as I said, half the things you would like to see already ARE happening in American schools, and the rest are either impossible to implement nationwide or rely too heavily on standardized test scores, which are a terrible way of measuring actual learning or higher-order thinking.
metatrix 27th-Aug-2012 11:29 pm (UTC)
I get that standardized testing has limitations, but I don't understand how you can get a remotely accurate picture of how students are doing across the country without some form of standardized testing. Standardized testing should NOT be used to penalize teachers or principals or students in any way. But it IS an invaluable tool for tracking trends, recognizing which schools are in trouble, and funnelling extra money and resources to those schools. I don't understand how you can possible evaluate how students are doing on a state or national level without standardized testing. You need standardized testing, even to make comparisons between schools within the same district, or between classes within the same school. It's essential, IMO. And what's more, I think parents absolutely have a right to know how their child's scores compare against a national standard, and the national average.

The problem with NCLB is that they cut funding to schools that do poorly on tests, when they should be doing the opposite -- they should be INCREASING funding to schools that do poorly, so that these schools can hire more teachers, increase teachers' salaries (thereby attracting the best teachers to the schools that most need them), and fund after-school and weekend programs to tackle the multitude of social issues that these kids often face.
amyura 28th-Aug-2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
Okay, point by point:

1) Standardized tests existed prior to NCLB. There were national standardized tests, but they used to take up a few days every 2-3 years in elementary school. In high school, there are the AP and IB programs, and SATs, ACTs, and SAT subject tests in just about every subject. The AP tests take two weeks in May, when students miss three hours of school per test. The other tests are held on Saturdays and don't disrupt the academic schedule at all. I'm not advocating getting rid of any of that. The point is that there's now more than enough standardized testing.

The mandatory testing done under NCLB eats up 5-10 school days per year. In my state, it's an average of six days a year in grades 3-10-- that's 48 days, or over two months of school. Add the time spent explicitly preparing for the tests, and the average kid is losing out on months of education.

You're in Canada. Ontario has the OAC program, which I believe comes with standardized exams. Not sure if the CEGEP program in Québec has similarly standardized courses.

2) Recognizing which schools are in trouble? There are DOZENS of measures that don't rely on standardized testing. Look at the four-year graduation rate. Look at the percentage of students accepted by four-year universities, and the percentage who STAY in university. Look at the percentage of students who enroll in AP or IB classes, and take those exams. Look at the pregnancy, STI, and crime rates.

In lower grades, look at the percentage of students reading at or above grade level. Look at participation in competitions like spelling bees and science fairs. Track how students do as they progress from elementary to middle to high school.

Better yet, look at some of the factors that affect school functionality, like student turnover and communication between the school and home. VERY easy to measure when so much takes place online.

3) NCLB doesn't cut funding-- it increases it, though not nearly enough. It also increases oversight and creates a paperwork nightmare. It's bad across the board; I teach in a high-performing school and the number of reports we have to submit to the government is so high that the district hired a full-time "compliance specialist." It also creates impossible hurdles-- no school, not even the "best," will ever get to 100% if they're committed to teaching every student, because not all students will be ready to meet that hurdle exactly when the test is administered. Some of the highest-performing schools nationwide, schools that do well on all the measures I mentioned above, aren't meeting AYP because they're at 99% one year and then 98.5% the next, which is considered failure.

Schools don't lose funding, they face takeover by the state, and being forced to fire at least 50% of the staff.

4) You keep mentioning "best" teachers. How do we determine who is "best"? How do we do this in a way that doesn't foster competition among teachers? When teachers are competing against each other, the students lose out. If I develop a kickass lesson plan, with interesting activities that make the subject matter meaningful, and I don't want another teacher to steal the title of "best" from me, I'm not going to share it. What HAS been proven to work is collaboration. If "best" is measured by my students' standardized test scores, you're going to see teachers in less-troubled schools rated better, and brought into the troubled schools, where their students' test scores will be lower, and then they'll be replaced themselves with teachers from less-troubled schools. This is already happening in places.

As I said, every single thing you've mentioned has already been tried, or is currently being tried. Schools are a reflection of the overall society. Teachers and administrators need support to do our jobs, on that I think we both agree. But the solutions require long-term commitment, stable school communities (not firing half the staff every year, and certainly not bringing in these "superman" administrators who did their two years in Teach For America and think they know everything), and building connections with the families of the students served.
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