April 07, 2008

Back in the saddle

Howdy, folks! Starting on April 6, 2008, I will be putting up a "testing roundup" post every weekend at Joanne Jacob's site. Swing on by and put in your two cents!

The first post is here.

UPDATE: And by the way, I have to point out this article in the NYTimes about psychometricians, which many of you probably saw two years ago. I just love that it came out on - yes - the day before my wedding day. Which is why I missed it at the time.

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May 12, 2006

Meet the Mrs.

The deed is done! And we had absolutely fabulous weather to boot.

Dave_Kimberly_.JPG

Now, maybe I can get back to some blogging over at the Education Wonk's site. Once I pick all the rice out of my hair and unpack my suitcase, that is. I'll post more photos later when I have them.

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April 17, 2006

A new direction, a new location

Greetings and salutations, Devoted Readers.

As you've probably noticed, my posting on Number 2 Pencil has been sporadic as of late. Actually, "sporadic" is pretty generous; "non-existent" seems more accurate. I've been given the opportunity to follow an ambitious career path, and thanks to that (and other desirable life-altering opportunities, such as deciding how much of a Bridezilla to be this time around), I've had very little time to blog.

When I began N2P, my life was very, very different; in fact, I think the only constants in my life since that time are this blog and Alice the cat. In the four years and change since then, life has become much fuller and much more complicated (Alice has even had to learn to deal with a silly baby brother). I'm certainly not complaining - the changes have been almost all good. However, each new step seems to make it that much more difficult to create what I consider to be the minimal amount of blogging that is due my readers. N2P was intended to be a place where readers could come to peruse, at a leisurely pace but a reasonable depth, discussions of the basics of psychometrics and statistics, the myths and realities of testing, and the media's attitude towards testing at the K-12 and college level. I always believed that N2P should be a combination of a "linking" and a "thinking" blog; it never felt quite right to put up lots of quick links to education stories, but it also didn't feel that I was moving at quite the right tempo if I only managed, as has been the case lately, one day of blogging a week, or only one link with commentary every few days.

You can probably guess where I'm headed with all this, and you'd be right. After much thought, I've decided to cease production on Number 2 Pencil. I'm keeping the domain, the site, and the archives active, so that my posts are still out there for the reader's enjoyment, but I don't intend for there to be any future posts in this location. As much as I would like to keep this blog active, I don't feel it's the right thing to do, given the limitations of my time.

However, I do still have some time to lend my expertise and opinions to the lively discussions in the edublogging world, and I would like to stay involved as much as my life and time permit. Thus, I’ve decided to join the staff of The Education Wonks as a guest blogger. I feel very honored that they've agreed to have me in a guest spot on their site, which I consider to be one of the brighter new stars in the edublogging world. My psychometric knowledge and my general opinions will, I hope, add something meaningful to the discussion there.

Thank you to all my Devoted Readers for making N2P the lively place that is has been for the last four years. This blog has benefitted mightily from your input and would never have been anything close to a success were it not for those of you who emailed me, who started engaging debates in the comments section, and who just generally made this a more interesting place for everyone involved.

Special thanks go to Joanne, for inspiring me and giving endless good advice, and to Dean, for helping me migrate N2P to its current format, to John and Chett for displaying endless hospitality to a fellow blogger, and to those who just had to comment on everything I said (and sometimes catch me in error). Meep, Reginleif, Brian, Michael, Quincy, Walter, Chris, Triticale, DrLiz, LibraryGryffon, Mike, Stephanie, Tracy, Dr Weevil - I hope to see you all over at the Wonks blog.

(I'm going to leave comments active for a short while, so that if anyone wants to leave any general thoughts on this post, be it "N2P will be missed," or, "Don't let the door hit you on the ass," you can do so. After a while, I'll be completely deactiviting the comment/trackback functions for the blog; the existing comments will remain for future generations to enjoy. Also, I'll keep the kimberly at kimberly swygert dot com email address active for a while, but I'll be publishing my address on the Education Wonks website as swygert at gmail dot com.)

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April 08, 2006

San Francisco, here I am

I'm currently at the annual meeting of the National Council for Measurement in Education in San Francisco. I have my laptop with me but I also have a full schedule of presentations to attend (and one to give), so bloggage probably won't resume for the next couple of days.

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April 01, 2006

"Help me (with this algebra problem), Obi-wan Kenobi..."

The Matrix meets the classroom:

Scientists have developed technology to "teleport" holographs of teachers into the classroom.

Equipment which can beam the interactive image of a teacher into schools, where it can hold conversations and make eye contact with pupils, is to go on display at the BETT education technology exhibition next month.

Its creators at the Digital World Centre in Manchester believe it could be used to educate children living in remote areas, or to teach specialist lessons in minority subjets, which would otherwise be uneconomic.

Nifty, but it makes me wonder - given all the disciplinary problems I've read about, and unruly students who ignore real teachers, how on earth is a classroom going to stay under control with a holographic teacher? Or, perhaps, this is a great idea, because the schools can hire bouncers from clubs, or off-duty cops, to make the kids shut up and sit down, while the teacher can beam in from a safe distance away.

Interestingly, this article is actually 6 years old. Given that we don't have holographic teachers yet, does this mean the technology still isn't there? Or did the NEA rise up as one and block this development, seeing as how one good teacher could be beamed into many classrooms at once?

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March 31, 2006

Can you hear me now? Good! The answer to item 1 is "d".

Caveon has a new Cheating in the News newsletter out. One of the big articles linked this week is Newsweek International's "The Perfect Score," which focuses on the prevalence of cheating in student communities outside the US. A must-read.

Closer to home, there's the cheating episode in Texas that shows why schools should confiscate cell phones before handing out test booklets. I'm actually a bit surprised to discover that some states are only now developing policies regarding the use of devices such as cell phones during exams.

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March 30, 2006

Blinding Indiana with science

Is this good news or bad news for Indiana? You be the judge:

More than half of Indiana's seventh-graders passed the state's mandatory science exam, administered to that age group en masse for the first time last fall. Fifty-two percent of the state's 80,863 seventh-grade students passed the science assessment, a new section in the annual Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus exam. That left 47 percent below the benchmark, said Mary Tiede Wilhelmus, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education; 1 percent of the results were unscoreable.

"We certainly know we need to do better, but this is a starting point," said Tiede Wilhelmus. Two areas that gave kids trouble, she said, were sections on the nature of science and technology -- which included scientific investigation -- and one focusing on the physical universe.

Indianapolis schools fared much worse, with only 18% passing the exam. A sample exam is here. It's pretty open-ended. I had to guess on the first one - I remembered the orbits as being circular rather than elliptical, and that is one of the correct answers.

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Who's to blame for cheating?

Scott of the Daily Ablution has thoughts on a recent Guardian article that advances a novel theory about "the culture of cheating" in the UK.

From the article:

...Tragically this culture of cheating afflicts children from a very early age. Children as young as seven or eight arrive at school showing off polished projects that have benefited from more than a little help from parents.

But parents are not entirely to blame. From day one in primary school they are told that the performance of their children is intimately linked to how much support they get at home. In a desperate attempt to improve standards of education, parents' concern for their children is manipulated to draw them in as unpaid teachers. The outsourcing of education by schools encourages a dynamic where many parents become far too directly involved in producing their children's homework.

Scott notes that the researcher who advances this theory, Prof. Furedi, is "correct that the internet is not a sufficient moral force to create a society of cheats." However, is it correct to assume that parental overinvolvement is a sufficient enough force? Scott says no:

...I think the answer is no - something deep, systemic and much more unfortunate has happened to the society at large, with ramifications that go beyond those of cheating in universities...

What has brought about the moral change in question is precisely this attitude: that immoral actions are no longer the responsibility of the individual concerned, who is perceived as an innocent let down by the system's deficiencies - deficiencies which can be corrected by social expenditure of resources.

This philosophical position, a mainstay of the academic left, is also prevalent among left-leaners in general; working together, such groups and individuals have largely succeeded in the creation of a society based on the principle of individual blamelessness.

A society, in other words, in which media coverage of cheating teachers always include quotes from "experts" explaining that this is the fault of our "testing culture;" the poor teachers just can't help themselves.

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Welcome to school, here's your yellow star

One Florida middle school springs the Holocaust on its students:

Local 6 News reported that eighth-graders with last names beginning with L through Z at Apopka Memorial Middle School were given yellow five-pointed stars for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Other students were privileged, the report said.

Father John Tinnelly said his son was forced to stand in the back of the classroom and not allowed to sit because he was wearing the yellow star. "He was forced to go to the back of the lunch line four times by an administrator," Tinnelly said. Tinnelly said the experiment upset his child. "He was crying," Tinnelly said. "I said, 'What are you crying about?' He said, 'Daddy, I was a Jew today.'"

Other parents and children shared similar stories, Tinnelly said...

"Teachers felt that it would have defeated the purpose to tell the students ahead of time because that would have prepared them," Principal Douglas Guthrie said. "Students came in and all they got was a star."

Well, if the object was to teach children what it feels like to be persecuted, I'd say it was a success. Did the reporter talk to any of the privileged kids? How are they feeling today? If any of them were happy with the way things were, now there's a spot to introduce a lesson.

However, I've always found it odd that some educators believe children have to go through this sort of role-playing in order to truly understand a historical event. Do they really think that the horrors of the Holocaust can't be understood without these sorts of theatrics? Have the qualities of empathy disappeared so fully from today's students that the horrors of anti-Semitism escape them entirely? Whatever happened to teaching students about an event, letting them read texts related to it, and encouraging them to think critically about what happened, and why?

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Sneaking a peek at the test items

A "sneak peek" sounds like an innocuous thing - but not when it comes to the Maryland State Assessment:

Two fourth-grade teachers have been removed from their classrooms after Carroll County school officials found that the pair had given copies of questions from a state achievement test to other teachers and pupils before the exam.

A teacher at Linton Springs Elementary School in Sykesville acknowledged that she had taken notes from the fourth-grade Maryland State Assessment reading exam last year while working at another school, Carroll schools Superintendent Charles Ecker said Monday. The teacher used the notes to create worksheets for her pupils for this year's tests, Ecker said. The tests were administered from March 13-22.

Interesting that the names are being withheld from the press. And it's interesting, but not the least bit surprising, that the quoted experts rush to blame the current culture of testing for this mess, rather than a lack of ethics on the part of the teachers involved. And this despite the fact that the teachers would have not been penalized had their students not done well. I don't think our "culture of testing" forces teachers and students to cheat. I think our culture of cheating is aided by all the testing criticism in the media today. Everything said by the "experts" quoted by this article would absolve a teacher of personal responsibility if they succumbed to the urge to leak test items to students.

Oh, and why was copying last year's exam such a helpful cheating tool?

After they noticed similarities between the worksheets and this year's test, the Mount Airy teachers alerted the principal.

Emphasis mine. If we really think teachers are so helpless against the temptation to cheat, it might be better to, you know, not use the same test form twice in two years.

(via the Education Wonks)

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The unfunny world of "situation comedies"

NBC has a new show called Teachers, and if you were hoping it would be a laugh riot, well, you'd be wrong:

We just finished viewing the episode. The only joke that I found amusing was when the stereotypically clueless principal told the buxom newly-hired teacher to "Draw the curtain on the burlesque show," as a way of saying "cover-up your cleavage." As for the rest, I offer-up this prayer to one of the Dark Lords Of Network Television:

O'Dark Prince Of The Peacock Network, Please preserve us from this dumb, cliché-filled, poorly-written, poorly-acted, and unfunny program masquerading-as-comedic-entertainment. If it be your will, make the Nielson Families both blind and apathetic to such idiocy, so that the ratings stay low and result in its swift and just cancellation.

Amen.

The Education Wonks link to quite a few other negative reviews. Even the positive reviews don't sound all that encouraging - who needs a "Boston Public with a laugh track"? It's my impression that to really capture the absurdity of the classroom/school experience, you need black humor and surreality (a la Election, Heathers, or Ferris Beuller), not laugh tracks.

Writing about your kids

Cathy Seipp of the National Review is taking some odd flack for writing about her daughter's journey in the college admissions process:

A couple of days ago, the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by me about Maia’s rejection-letter dejection before she was accepted at UC San Diego as a Russian/Soviet Studies major. This inspired one Times reader to e-mail... he added, “regardless of whether you had her consent (which as a minor she cannot give without your consent — which would be conflicted), your disclosure of your daughter’s personal information was a shocking and unjustifiable invasion of her privacy. I hope it was worth it for you"...

For the record, of course I had Maia's consent to write about her grades and test scores in the Times, so no privacy was invaded.

Other web discussion suggests that Maia's right to privacy wasn't really the issue:

But after Maia sent me a link to a lengthy discussion of my piece on the frighteningly addictive College Confidential, I discovered that many parents disapproved of far more than her graduating early. Some thought she was uppity for expecting to get into any UC except maybe Riverside or Merced — although, as one of the reasonable commenters noted, since Maia was indeed accepted to UC San Diego her hopes couldn't have been that unrealistic. Others accused me of being naive, or "gaming" the system — presumably by raising a daughter who unfairly impressed admissions officers with all those after-school college Russian classes.

Why am I not surprised that a student who works hard and shoot for the best possible college risks being called "uppity", or that parents who push their children are accused of "gaming the system"? No wonder some conservative parents are unwilling to document their experiences with the educational system. Joanne Jacobs on the other hand, writes about her daughter all the time, although she notes that her daughter is just too hopelessly well-adjusted to be a useful subject for a book.

Protesting America at American schools

Quite a few bloggers have been following the protests in California related to the enforcement of immigration laws and border security. Euphoric Reality has a much-updated thread on the Los Angeles high school students who have been walking out of the classroom to fly the flag of Mexico high - above the US flag, in fact, which has apparently been flown upside-down in more than one school. Right On can't figure out why schools can't seem to stop students from leaving in protest nor figure out ways to discipline them. And Captain Ed minces no words:

...by flying American flags upside-down under the Mexican flag, [these students are] showing a loyalty to Mexico that overrides their loyalty to the US. And then they have the temerity to demand that we allow them to live here without following our laws governing entry into the US as well as continue to provide government services to them.

Deep breathing for the PSSA

One suburban Philly teacher leads tai chi classes to help prepare kids for the state standardized exams:

A Centennial teacher is utilizing the ancient martial art of Tai Chi Chuan to help his students get ready for the state's standardized mathematics and reading tests.

“I want you to concentrate. Think about what you are doing. Breathe in and breathe out,” Joseph Pisacano, a fifth-grade teacher at Everett A. McDonald Elementary School in Warminster, said Thursday morning as he and the students made smooth, circular motions with their arms and hands.

The class went through the Tai Chi relaxation exercises as calm, soothing music played quietly in the background.

“Think about how wonderful you are going to do on the test and how easy it's going to be. Think about all that you have learned this year. Take all of that, and use it,” the teacher said as the class wrapped up the exercise session by sitting in a meditative position on the floor.

As long as he's making sure to actually teach the material along with some relaxation exercises, I'm all for it. This approach is worlds better than the chicken-little squawks you see from some educators who are so stressed out about testing that they end up stressing out students as well.

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Butterflies for the bee

Geography whiz-kids head to the Central Michigan U campus for some healthy competition - and a shot at a $25,000 college scholarship

Steven Townsend will be nervous tomorrow. As he steps onto the campus of Central Michigan University, stomach butterflies will multiply into bats while he psychs himself up for the 2006 Michigan Geographic Bee. "I will be trying to hope I do well," Townsend said.

As he waits for his name to be called, then steps before the microphone, Townsend will wish hard for a state geography question. That is his specialty. His dad will cheer him on. Townsend, a Meads Mill Middle School seventh grader, said he doesn't really have a particular weakness.

Don't believe him? Take a look at his credentials.

Anyone who reads atlases for fun is a cool kid in my book.