Sunday, April 27, 2008

Second chance at the Bee

Well. The Sacramento Bee has shown itself at its best and at its least insightful in the same edition.
In the Sunday Bee, reporters Laurel Rosenhall and Phillip Reese write a valuable article, “Second Change to make grade; schools reclassify students, meet U.S. standards.” It is interesting reading. It shows that schools have approached students to renegotiate their ethnicity in order to pass the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The reporters did their job.
They did not, however, explore the closely related issues of how arbitrary cut scores usually lead to this kind of statistical manipulation. That story you will find in the excellent resource: Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s schools, ( 2007. Nichols and Berliner). The problem is called Campbell’s Law , named for well respected social scientist and philosopher Donald Campbell ( no relation).
It argues, “ the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it was intended to monitor.”
Campbell’s law applies. Since NCLB, and state laws require using one time tests to measure school achievement, the testing has corrupted the processes of determining who is Black, who is White, who is an English Language Learner.
Now conservatives, and poorly informed liberal media, will chuckle and assume that they know better. But, the don’t. And, they will focus on the abnormality of shifting a few kids rather than the more important issue of how high stakes testing corrupts the entire education system by controlling curriculum, underfunding schools, and dozens of closely related issues. These are well laid out in the Nichols and Berliner book.
Covering only the reclassification of students, which is important, and not covering how NCLB and high stakes testing produces this and many other corruptions is the media equivalent of Fox news showing the 30 second clips of Rev. Jeremiah Wrights sermons and not showing the 15 minute full sermons. It is out of context and thus distorting.
While the Bee reporters did a positive service with their story- even though it has a limited context- the Bee editorial board wrote an essay High Expectations which uses as a foil the incident at Madison Elementary School Principal Jana Fields. Again, what the Principal was doing was seeking to effect the overly simplistic use of test data- to make decisions. She probably handled it poorly. So, the Bee lectures her as if it was obvious that African American kids should not be talked to separately. That is not thinking. Most educators working in the field know of the effort known as The Village Nation- covered on Oprah no less- where African American kids in California were taken aside and talked to straight up by African American faculty about the poor test scores. Educators, including the Superintendent of Public Instruction, praise this case. The Bee editors, however, assume that they know better.
This kind of test prep is problematic. A case can be made on both sides. Was it better to have the Sacramento Kings Cheerleaders speak to an integrated audience at Kennedy High. I am certain the kids were looking at these cheerleaders as math mentors not rather attractive young women.
In the case of Madison Elementary it probably was a poor idea, in part because very young kids can not sort out the messages. Having one ethnic group, or one gender group meetings and discussions works better with high school students. And it should only be used when there is a proper relationship established for such discussions. But it is not, as opined by the Bee editors, self evident that having a separate meeting to discuss low test scores is always a bad idea.
The editors say, “ Yet research consistently shows that what works is high expectations for all students. Focusing on subgroups does not work. “ I know of no research supporting this statement. Please provide it.
Yes, there is data for high expectations for all. But, for example, you need to focus on English Language learners- that is a subgroup. And, there is no research that I am aware of showing that- for example- having an all girls math class does not work.
I think that the editors have misstated the case.
The editors are correct to state, “ All kids need adults and teachers who believe in their potential.”
Duane Campbell
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