Friday, August 27, 2010

Some Thoughts about "L. A.'s Leaders in Learning"

As usual, I had a mixed reaction to L.A.'s Leaders in Learning.

I completely agree with this:

"We're measuring who is in schools rather than how effective the schools are," said Helen Ladd, a professor and testing expert at Duke University.

This portrait of a "high-achieving" school could have been written about my own school district:

Topeka Elementary in Northridge serves a community where one in four parents attended graduate school. Over the seven years analyzed, two-thirds of Topeka's students scored above grade level, contributing to its sterling API score of 879.

But the school is intently focused on bringing up those who score below. In part that's because the API, while not primarily concerned with students' progress, is designed to give more credit to gains by low achievers.

"It's where you get the most bang for your buck," said Principal Miko Dixon. "Everything we do is about getting those kids up."

Those low-achieving students made small but steady gains, the Times analysis found. The much larger group of high achievers was essentially flat in English and steadily falling behind in math. When ranked by student growth overall, Topeka was in the bottom 3% of district elementary schools.

The most common way for a child to get high scores on standardized tests is to be born to an educated, middle-class family. These kids will routinely get wonderful test scores even if the school essentially ignores them. I'm glad to see the L.A. Times shining a spotlight on this problem.

If you've got kids with low test scores, one way to bring their scores up is to "teach to the test". If this means ensuring that the kids have their math facts down, I'm OK with it. But if it means drilling the kids on the exact format of the tests, to the extent that they can fail a test on the same subject if the format is different, it's not OK. Take a look at Linda Perlstein's Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade for a scary example of test prep.

And where does that leave us? With a deeply troubled public school system, that's where. We've got bright middle-class kids bored and drifting in schools that benefit from the test scores they post, while ignoring their academic needs. Then we've got children of poverty enduring hours of test prep, which stunts their intellectual growth.


  1. The whole test thing was a scam from the start. It's doing what it was designed to do...ruin public education in this country... the ruination is a feature , not a bug...and a damn effective one. Mr. Kafka is your new social studies teacher

    Can someone tell me who owns the LA Times? That's knowledge that's required before reading imo. Thanks

  2. Anne, great question. I'll see what I can find.

    You know, I used to think that NCLB was designed to ruin public education, but now I think it was designed to make money for the test companies. Ruining public education is just an added bonus.

  3. I looked it up and the L.A. Times is owned by the Tribune company (as in the Chicago Tribune), and the Tribune company is described as "employee-owned" (I'm not entirely sure what that means.) This is all courtesy of wikipedia.

    I will say that this latest L.A. Times article is the first one I've seen that takes on the "high performing" schools and asks what's really going on there. Everybody else seems to think that "public school" means "schools for the poor" and ignores middle-class public schools.

  4. You know, I used to think that NCLB was designed to ruin public education, but now I think it was designed to make money for the test companies. Ruining public education is just an added bonus.

    lol! true ... thanks for looking the ownership up. Well the poor schools are toast, so the next challenge is the wealthier schools up the food chain .

    Wouldn't it be great if our military was run like our schools? ...then all the weapons systems which keep failing their tests would keep losing funding. How is it failed weapons warrant ever more money , but failing schools must do better on less? Let's switch it around for a few years and see how that goes.