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My good friend, Rita Solnet, is is a Florida co-founder of Parent Across America, has given me permission to cross-post a piece she just did.  I strongly recommend you read her story.

Everything below this point is Rita's words.  Please read and pass on to others.   Thanks

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Statistically Speaking, Florida -- I Don't Believe Them

Florida's education statistics were front and center all week.  As I prepare for my son's college graduation, I can't help but wonder how different his future would be had we lived by statistics.  

A '08 graduate of an outstanding public high school in Boca Raton, Jeff attended twelve years of Florida's public schools. He gained admission to some of the finest universities in our nation thanks to a village of supportive teachers, staff, guidance counselors and a host of interesting AP and college courses at his disposal.

Today Florida's education reform decisions are based on failed reforms touted by third parties with vested interests.  Worse still -- those decisions are then supported with illogically skewed or fatally flawed statistics  vs. real-world, in-the-trenches input.

Last week we learned that children could not write any better than martians arriving on planet earth yet later in the week the news trumpeted that Florida's reading scores improved across the state. Both tests crafted and scored from the same company. They can't write but they can read and comprehend very well.  Does that make sense to anyone? Flawed results based on flawed tests, forgotten instructions to schools, and flawed scoring methods were inflicted upon children. But one Conference call and presto, the passing grade drops under a recommendation by Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future which receives funds from Pearson.

The test manufacturer, Pearson,  is a one-stop shop. They own the FCATs,  the pre-tests, the scorers, the cheating detection company, the test prep materials, the remedial materials for when students are told they fail, the FL Virtual Learning modules, even the E-Tutoring company, and, of course, Pearson owns charter schools, too. One must ask how reliable are these scores or these tests?  

Since Pearson has a troubled history of testing errors and scoring scandals, I wouldn't bet the ranch on the validity of their statistics.  Yet Florida bets children's futures on it.  

Florida lives and breathes by these statistics. Low scores inevitably result in justifying another quick fix - another test, more rigor, new untested standards to inflict upon children mid year while schools haven't finished processing the previous reform tossed at them. Miami Superintendent Alberto Carvalho who counted 18 changes to testing standards this year alone found the scores to be incomprehensible.

Children are reduced to statistics in Florida. They are  Levels 1, 2, 3. They are their grades, scores,  predicted categories of scores, etc.  Their scores impact teacher's paychecks and determine their school's grade and their District grade. Their scores determine who advances to the next level, what course they're permitted to take or which school will be on the auction block.

Statistics are all that 'counts' (pun intended) to those have overtaken education with market-driven reforms.  A skewed, cherry-picked statistic is touted by a kingpin charter lobbyist or by a test company lobbyist who testifies during Senate Hearings on the latest ed reform plan.  A plan which is given a euphemistically enticing name, like "Student Success Act," or "Parent Engagement Bill."  

Children should not be pigeon-holed by statistics. A personal perspective why:

A child born with a dislocated left hip years ago had a less than 30% chance of walking normally. The chance of ice-skating or playing sports were less than that. After four years, I walked, I ran, and I danced. I never stopped. You see, my working class parents never believed in statistics. They made a long drive weekly to a Home for Crippled Children until that statistic no longer existed.

When first married, I was given a ten percent chance of conceiving and carrying a child due to previous surgeries and partial organs.  I found a doctor who didn't believe in those statistics.  After five years, some miscarriages, my miracle arrived. He was conceived and delivered naturally. Another statistic bit the dust..

A man's average life expectancy in 1997 was about 76 years old.  Sadly, that statistic proved unreliable when my husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and passed away at a young age. Jeff was 7 years old and just entered the second grade, Jeff didn't do very well on tests that year.

Statistics of boys who've lost their fathers:

--  71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
--  Twice as many students with two parents outperform those who only have one.  
--  Twice as many fatherless boys are likely to end up in jail.

Statistics of college:

  --   In 2008, 7% of 28K applicants would gain admission to Harvard.
  --   The odds of admission dropped lower for public school applicants.
 --  The odds dropped even lower for non-Valedictorian applicants.
 --  Only 41% of college students graduate in four years.

Statistically speaking, my public school-educated, fatherless son should not even be alive. He certainly should not be attending Harvard, nor graduating college in four years time. But he is. I thank God that no one ever pigeon-holed him.

To the Florida Board of Education, Commissioner Robinson, and Mr. Pearson's team of statisticians, I don't believe one standardized test score should measure a child's potential, what courses they can take, nor should they measure a child's worth. That is precisely the system you've established. We must collectively use our intellects, our hearts, and our common sense to provide an enriched, quality education which supports and nurtures children's desire for learning.

My way of giving back for our blessings is to fight to ensure every child has the opportunities my child had in top quality public schools. The over-reliance and intense dependency on standardized tests is harming our children. It must come to an end.

Originally posted to teacherken on Tue May 22, 2012 at 02:33 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives and Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Tue May 22, 2012 at 02:33:50 AM PDT

  •  I know Rita would appreciate feedback (0+ / 0-)

    and I would also be interested should you care to leave a comment

    thanks

    "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

    by teacherken on Tue May 22, 2012 at 03:24:26 AM PDT

    •  The Florida hinterlands have been (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Don midwest, teacherken, FloridaSNMOM

      sending students to Harvard since the late 18 hundreds.
      Our own daughter gained admission to Princeton and was granted graduate degrees by Duke and Yale. However, the conservative disregard for knowledge and science has left her "unemployed" and rearing her children.
      Public education in Florida was dismal thirty years ago. Turning it into a subset of human husbandry likely won't make it better or worse.

      People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

      by hannah on Tue May 22, 2012 at 03:57:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  sorry, been in transit to school (0+ / 0-)

      will now catch up on comments before I have to go and administer a state test for much of the school day

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Tue May 22, 2012 at 04:14:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  apologies, but will now have to leave this (0+ / 0-)

      until sometime midday -  about to administer an on-line highstakes state test   prepared by Pearson (ugh!)

      I will not be able to read anything further until I have completed all my responsibilities for this, which if things go as planned will be around Noon

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Tue May 22, 2012 at 05:11:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  statistics flawed right from the start (6+ / 0-)

    Many have pointed out the flaws of reducing everything to numbers.

    Here is something even more basic.

    Statistic models assume independent variables. But since the real world is interdependent, the use of statistical models does damage to the phenomenon at the first step.

    Here is a contrast from philosophy.

    I usually put these on a page with the left side with the title of Epistemology (theory of knowledge) and the right side with the title of Ontology (being)

    The left side, Epistemology, has been the dominate American approach to philosophy for decades. It identifies with science.

    On the left side I put 4 words

    atomic

    mechanical processing

    disengagement

    monological

    the world can be understood by breaking it down to atoms

    the atoms are connected by mechanical processes

    the stance toward the truth is disengagement. The objective observer like those in the white coats in the movie ET who were less human than ET, the alien from outer space. ET = extra terrestrial.

    monological is a word that says that the primary logic is the logic of the self and if we get along we probably have a wide space of intersecting logic.  For example, the single, young, self possessed manager who things that people actually hear what he/she says. They have not had children who teach us about how much is heard.

    The left side is when the individual is primary over the group.

    Note how it provides a basis for the statistical treatment of everything.

    Back to the right hand side, Ontology (being) There are three words on the left

    engaged agent

    background

    dialogue

    *

    the contrast is immediate. The engaged agent is connected to the inter-dependencies of the world and other people

    everything has a background and it cannot be totally known. On a personal level, this includes all the many helping people, but intellectually it includes the lessons from history which are significant but often fragmentary.

    and, the opposite of monological is dialogue. Being in dialogue with people and nature.

    *
    this is a long comment. It is my way of trying to understand the top dog position of statistics in social science. Because it is a "science" and it has calculations, it must be better than old fashioned areas like ethics and history and the arts.

    *

    a good friend teaches in a state college. He is finding that students no longer are able to reason.

    could it be the influence of a sound bite culture with the support of electronic devices and other factors have dumb ed down our whole society?

    far too many are proud of their ignorance.

  •  Just tell her (4+ / 0-)

    that she must be very strong and have a great kid there!  I am always impressed with single parents who do fantastic things in raising their children.  

    The deal is that really evaluating performance of students is what teachers do. There isn't really any shortcut to getting a successful student out of the schools.  Testing from a statistical company, while it might be useful in some ways, will never replace a good teacher and a challenging and engaging school experience.  I, too, am a product of a public school system and they should be supported and the teachers in them should be supported, not reduced to numbers on a bubble sheet.

  •  Statistical analyses of human behavior and (0+ / 0-)

    projections therefrom are based on the assumption that humans are creatures of habit.  Some are.  The percentage of humans whose behavior is habitual is unknown.  I suspect it is correlated to maternal health and prenatal experience.  Which would account for the instinct-driven making an appearance at all times and in all climes. Jesus of Nazareth identified them as people who "know not what they do." That is, their behavior is mostly reactive to internal or external prompts -- i.e. they don't think before they act and make good soldiers for the culture of obedience. Their primary modes of action are imitation and repetition and, once their habits are fixed by the latter, they are very difficult to dislodge.

    Btw, reading and writing require very different skill sets. Reading is a visual skill; writing is tactile.  Many people do not have the necessary small muscle co-ordination to write successfully.  Computer key-boards and icons activated with the thumbs are a godsend to them.
    "The right tool for the job" is often defined not in terms of the work to be done, but in terms of the physical requirements of the tool user.  Some people, for example, can carve rather expertly with a chain saw, while others do better with a hammer and chisel. Some people have a lower threshold of pain and can't use a hammer for even a half hour.  So, they never become expert.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Tue May 22, 2012 at 03:47:24 AM PDT

    •  Very true hannah, but I think.. (0+ / 0-)

      the author was referring to writing in the academic sense rather than the physical act. I.E. writing as in putting sentences, paragraphs and words together rather than how they get on paper. Composition as opposed to writing would be a better description. Though illegible handwriting may be an issue on these tests as well.

      "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

      by FloridaSNMOM on Tue May 22, 2012 at 05:38:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I might note that I have a grandson (0+ / 0-)

        whose ability to process information is poor.  He simply can't think things through.  However, he is able to memorize and regurgitate information quite acceptably in the sense that he can compose essays in response to questions without actually thinking about or having digested the subject matter. So, his grades on the SAT were surprisingly high.  Taking practice tests which enabled him to get clued into what the desired responses would be obviously helped.
        It isn't just garbage that goes in and out.

        Just look at robotic Willard.  He responds to prompts.  Sometimes the responses are germane, sometimes not. Ditto for Dubya.  He had to be "protected" from unscheduled contacts, lest the "talking points" he'd been given were disrupted. The political campaign industry values candidates who do and say what they are told. The operatives "sell" figureheads, which is what most of the private corporate CEOs are, as well.

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Tue May 22, 2012 at 06:08:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Oh, the horrendous writing tests! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      teacherken, FloridaSNMOM

      I remember seeing the sample questions the year my son's writing instruction was hijacked by the writing test (4th grade, Illinois.) The following year the state ran out of money to administer the test and my son got a more-rounded writing curriculum. Parents and teachers rejoiced. If the continuing recession means Illinois can never again offer the writing test, I will be very happy.

      Anyway, my son, who always scores very high on standardized tests, somehow managed to score in the high 90s percentile for reading while achieving a "below standards" score in writing. This was while he was writing a short novel in his spare time.

      The tests are horrible. They ask ridiculous questions, asking children to read about a situation completely outside of their experience and then "relate it to your own life." (Can we please ban that phrase? Because when you are 8 or 9, it turns a simple writing exercise into a brain-twisting, philosophical puzzle.)

      The tests are looking for a formulaic response. I saw my son's sample responses and the problem with them is that they were thoughtful and gave much more information than the test wanted. The tests want an answer as written by a machine, not as written by a writer.

      Finally, the tests are scored by temps who are paid by the test! What a racket. If I were a less-principled person I'd look into test writing as a business opportunity.

  •  The only thing a test can measure... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken

    is the ability to get a certain score on that certain test at that precise time. Period. Everything else is just supposition and inference.

    Excellent diary, as usual. Thanks for your perspective, Ken.

    •  actually, thank Rita Solnet (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Don midwest

      whose writing this is.  I recognized that it needed to get wider distribution, and got her permission to post it here.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Tue May 22, 2012 at 04:16:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Second hand personal experience (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FloridaSNMOM, puzzled, teacherken

    I had a friend who decided he would "volunteer" as a grader for the FCAT during a brief stay in FLorida. He's an outstanding educator and Ph.D. He was dumbfounded by the low level of expertise of those others in the room who were going to be graders, and in the end decided he didn't want to be part of it.

    Tests (and statistics) are only as good as the testmakers and those who grade. These are low level tests, intended to focus education on low level skills.

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