Test scores

As required by the new federal ďNo Child Left Behind ActĒ schools must report math and language arts scores for every school, broken down into categories based on race, income, and disabilities. New Jersey scores were discussed in todayís Star Ledger in an article by John Mooney.

As expectedóknown actually, but rarely reported beforeóblack and Hispanic students score lower than white and Asian students. The article presents data on the percentage of students passing New Jerseyís proficiency tests. For example, 81.1% of high school students statewide pass the language proficiency test while 68.6% pass the math test. For disabled students, the passing rate is 38% and 26%, respectively. For limited English students, the numbers are in the low 20ís. For other categories, the language scores are: white, 88%; black 63%; Asian, 87%; Hispanaic, 54%; Poor, 59%. The numbers are similar for math scores. The numbers are similar for elementary, middle, and high schools. Is anyone surprised? How long has it been this way? (I submit my guess that itís been this way a long, long time.) Is this the educatorís problem or societyís problem? What will be done about it? Said the incoming superintendent of Bridgewater-Raritan Regional Schools, Walt Mahler, ďI donít think most schools will be surprised by these scores, and theyíll deal with it [sic] head-on. I just hope we are given the time and resources.Ē Yeah. More time, more money. Individual school reports are available at this web site.

DadNews08/29/03 7 comments


Kathleen • 08/29/03 9:31 PM:

80% of Manhattan Beach students are either “proficient” or “advanced” in language arts and math. But 80% are also white. Nope, not surprising. Will it change? Only when more black and hispanic people become teachers. Perhaps they should start in San Diego, where I sure as heck don’t fit in with the student population.

Patrick • 08/30/03 8:56 AM:

What does that mean? Can you correlate the 80% proficiency with the same 80% of students who are white? And what do you mean “Will it change?”? (I don’t like that punctuation, but I can’t think of a better way to put it, even though I consider myself “advanced” in language arts.) Do we want 100% proficiency? OK. And that will only happend when more blacks and hispanics become teachers? Why? Can’t white women teach blacks and hispanics? I don’t get this. I guess almost all of my teachers have been white, but I never thought that mattered.

Kathleen • 08/30/03 12:01 PM:

Okay, mister. I’m saying that it’s not going to change until the blacks and hispanics learn to take the tests well. Or, maybe they’re biased against those groups and so it’ll take someone noticing that and changing the tests to better suit those groups. Jeez. You make me not want to put in any comments. You big bully. I thought black and hispanic teachers would be able to relate better to the students and better inspire them to be good students. I witnessed that at my school last year. And perhaps you didn’t think much about your teachers being white, or the fact that that doesn’t matter, because you, too, white. Sorry you don’t like the punctuation. Whaaaat?

Dad • 08/30/03 2:36 PM:

Go get ‘im Kathleen! That’s the attitude. Don’t let that big bully get to you. Of course, he may be right on some things, and other things he’s just asking questions, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be more gentle about it.

As for the punctuation, I think he was talking about his own use of “?”?”. I don’t like that punctuation either, but hey, what’r ya gonna do?

More to the point, I think Patrick is saying that just because 80% of the students pass the test and 80% are white doesn’t mean it’s the same 80%. It could mean that 100% of the black students pass and 75% of the whites. Also, there may not be a direct connection between numbers of minority teachers and the performance of minority students, although it has to help. You point out that the tests may be biased, but I don’t buy that theory. I think maybe there is less support for the importance of education in minority communities, for whatever reason. If parents don’t emphasize education and learning and completing assignments, then the kids aren’t going to do it by themselves, except in rare cases. I think the right response to these test data is not to complain about the test or the system, but to say (if you’re a parent), “MY kid is going to pass.” If you’re a teacher, the response should be, “MY students are going to get my best effort to give them the knowledge they need, regardless of their ethnic background.”

Patrick • 08/30/03 3:12 PM:

I wasn’t attacking Kathleen. Reread my comment in a calm voice, and you’ll see that it reads correctly. And Dad is right, the punctuation I was wondering about was my own. Anyway, on to the issue, I think that this idea, along with many other “solutions” proposed nowadays, is a smokescreen, an avoidance, a displacement of responsibility, a finger pointing at one factor, usually a minor or terciary one, and riding it like it’s the only horse. Are tests biased toward white kids? OK, fine. Is the whole country biased toward white kids. Yep. If I hear over and over again that it’s not my fault, that I’m a minority and I can’t beat these unfair tests, do I create a victim complex and give up? Yep. Do I even try? Maybe not.

I wasn’t there, but it seems like life a hundred years ago was even tougher on minorities, but the prevailing attitude was of gratitude for opportunities and the prevailing ethic was of hard work and self-discipline. Immigrants left their homelands knowing that they would suffer because of their accents or looks and their lack of connections. But they worked hard and overcame those obstacles because they had faith in themselves and they didn’t complain.

People are still leaving their homelands in search of better lives, and when they get someplace like the United States, many of them can’t believe that anybody’s complaining. Are there inequalities and dire problems for some people? Yes. Should there be? No, although inequality is fundamentally impossible to eradicate. Take an extreme example: no woman has ever played in the NFL. Is that fair? Is that equal? Anyway: the deeper problem is that we’re trained to whine and kick against the pricks. Our forebears gritted their teeth and bore it, and came out stronger, better on the other side. We’re a bunch of spoiled brats. (And, as anyone from Milwaukee will tell you, brats are just not good when they’re spoiled.)

Let teachers, whoever they are, whatever race they are, teach their students as best they can. Let parents support their children as best they can. Let orphanages and foster families support their kids the best they can. Let students put forth their best effort to learn as well as they can. This is the solution, and it’s not a new solution, nor is it easily implemented, because it requires individual accountability and large-scale cooperation, which are two things we’re not very fond of in our pampered, complainy, finger-pointing age.

Dad • 09/02/03 11:52 PM:

I heard a radio interview today with a person knowledgeable in the standardized testing business. No, it wasn’t about the tests being biased or anything subtle like that. It was about the questions being wrong and kids not being allowed to graduate in Minnesota because they missed questions that later proved to be wrongly graded. It is not surprising that mistakes are made. Mistakes are always made. You can only minimize them. However, as the interviewee pointed out, there is an increasing demand for more tests and less money to pay for them. There is also a shortage of specialists in testing (evaluating brain function) called something like psychopederists. So we have an increasing need to evaluate student performance so we can gauge progress in our attempts to avoid “leaving any student behind,” but our methods for doing that are increasingly flawed.

Which gets back to how the heck do you efficiently measure student’s knowledge of the facts and skills needed for good citizenship? (Which is the whole justification for public education.) What are these facts and skills? The proof is in the pudding, they say, so we have to ask if we’re creating good citizens now, or if we’ve ever created good citizens. Apparently we have, but how do we know that? How do we measure that? What percentage of our citizens register to vote, and then what percentage actually bother to bother to vote, and then what percentage make an informed vote? And how do you measure that?

Donít get me wrong. Iím not against testing, although you can tie yourself in knots worrying about how to do it right. You just have to start somewhere and do it, correcting mistakes when you find them, and occasionally checking to see if college football players know how to read. Then you have to find a way to make teachers as accountable as their students, paying them more so you can fire them when they donít do the job. And then maybe we lower our expectations a little. Sometimes kids get left behind. Let Ďem catch the next train.

Dad • 09/03/03 12:28 AM:

I have some other thoughts on this, but they couldn’t all fit in the same comment. They go like this. You notice that some segments of our society arenít participating in the American dream. Maybe itís because they just rioted in Watts or Newark and burned down half the city. Their leaders say itís because they donít have good jobs. The potential employers say itís because they donít have marketable skills, probably because they didnít get a good education. They donít go to college because they donít perform well in high school. They donít perform in high school because the foundation for learning wasnít laid in middle school. The foundation wasnít laid because they didnít develop a good attitude toward learning in grade school. Heck, they were behind by the time they got to nursery school because they didnít get good nutrition. Thatís how project ďhead startĒ got started. Then somebody noticed that prenatal care had a lot to do with later performance, so we got the programs to teach mothers how to eat properly and keep drugs out of their bodies. If these mothers had only gotten a good education when they were little! (Whoops. Have I stumbled on to the cycle of poverty?) And, while weíre on the subject, where the heck is the father? And that extended family thatís supposed to be so helpful? And that just society we all strive for?

Somewhere along the line, I think we may have gone beyond the reasonable call of duty. A just society, after all, is a collection of just individuals (just a collection of individuals?), and you donít get there by legislating from the top down (note the failure of communism). By protecting personal freedom and opportunity, we are on the path to a just society, and have been on that path since our inception as a nation. Protect personal freedom and opportunity, and then get out of the way.

John F. Kennedy once said, ďAsk not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.Ē After Kennedyís death, Lyndon B. Johnson started us along another path, enticing us to go ahead and ask what our country can do for us, and weíve all been getting whatever we can ever since. Because of our unimaginable wealth as a nation (and some would say our willingness to exploit the wealth of the rest of the world) we have thrived in spite of our laziness and greed. Iím amazed the gravy train has lasted this long.

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