Ask not, "for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2008 at 4:31 pm

Monday, July 21, 2008
The Star-Ledger

A testing standard that says getting 33 percent of the questions right is a passing grade teaches all the wrong lessons to the kids — and to those who are supposed to be educating them.

Yet New Jersey has been setting the mark as low as that for the tests that are used to judge student proficiency and school performance under the federal No Child Left Behind program.

Fortunately, that is about to change.

Last week, the state Department of Education took a step toward setting the bar higher. We hope the move sends a signal that the focus of educational testing is not about the rank of a school or a district or the state.

The focus must be on finding all the students who need help, not “dumbing down” the tests in order to hide the numbers who are floundering. Mississippi and some other states have been accused of doing that. Who knew New Jersey was in that company?

For students in grades 5 through 8, getting 33 to 46 percent of the questions right has been enough to earn the label “proficient” in math or language arts in New Jersey.

Now students must get 50 to 56 percent right — which is still not much to ask. The state plans to gradually enact higher standards for all grades. Why should any be lower than 50 percent?

The change may cost some schools their bragging rights about student performance, because the overall pass rates are expected to go down. Currently 76 percent of kids statewide pass the sixth-grade language arts examination. That is expected to drop to 54 percent. That will be a shocker.

The standards were approved last week, but will be used to grade tests that were taken in the spring. There will be howls from schools that say the retroactive application is unfair. In fact it is the best way to get an objective comparison of the old and the new.

The state Department of Education must to do a good job of explaining its changes and reinforcing the idea that true learning, not hollow test scores, is the only acceptable goal. If parents are not well prepared, they will be angry and confused as their children slide out of what was assumed to be the educational safety zone, even if the grading system made it a false assumption. Educators will be angry and frustrated, particularly those who have confused keeping up appearances with the obligation to teach children what they need to know.

Could this change put more schools in line for No Child Left Behind sanctions, from mandatory tutoring to a forced reorganization of some schools? That is a possibility, although expectations of harsh sanctions have so far proven more myth than reality.

If the ultimate goal is learning, as it must be, test scores should be used as a tool to help the students by identifying individual strengths and weaknesses and addressing them before those students enter the harsh reality of the world beyond 12th grade.

Schools should fear failing that mission more than they fear test scores or No Child Left Behind.

©2008 Star Ledger
© 2008 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.

  1. “The focus must be on finding all the students who need help”

    This is exactly what Regina Botsford has been saying! Particularly when it comes to math, we need to understand the ways that all children, and let children discover important principles and constructs for themselves.

    Way to go, Regina — this Op Ed piece proves that you were right all along!

  2. One can already hear the wails from critics calling this “unfair” and biased against minority students (read, children trapped in crappy schools by their local Democrat politicians beholding to the NJEA).

    Here in Ridgewood, it shall be interesting to see how Regina (is she still here)Botsford and company spin our falling test scores.

    I can’t wait to hear the excuses.

  3. 11:53 – You’re about to learn that it’s not “politically correct” around here to say something positive about the RPS administration.

  4. Regina will do whatever Willa and Company tells her to do, good or bad. She is a leading cheerleader for State standards which we now see to be one half step above nothing. Is that what she was hired to do? Is that what we want the person in that pivotal position doing? WWFD (what would Fishbein do)?

  5. 11:53,

    Quoted the op-ed to heap praise on Regina, “The focus must be on finding all the students who need help…”

    What the poster fails to admit is the second half of the quotes sentence, “…not “dumbing down” the tests in order to hide the numbers who are floundering.”

    TERC is not called dumb, dumb math for nothing. It is math for dummies and as such does a huge disservice to ALL children when used.

  6. The vested interest I see in TERC is that it allows administrators and some parents to feel good about their children’s performance in math. If we had real math instead those feelings would have to take a tumble. No one likes to fall down.

  7. Get over it people… TERC is going to be OUT (so the BOE can claim that they “responded” to the parents) and will be replaced district wide by the marginally better Everyday Math. This way the BOE can say that it is flexible and responsive and anyone who complains NOW (after they remove TERC) is just a troublemaker and should be ignored and marginalized… and the BOE still gets to implement constructivist “non-math”. Everyone wins (according to the BOE) but in reality no one wins (except the BOE…and in the long run, they lose too.)

    They like keeping TERC around so that you folks will be distracted by this ball of yarn, giving them time to advance their agenda.

    You are letting the BOE set the conversation… it should not be over TERC… it should be about implementing strong mathematics programs and removing ALL constructivist math programs, (not JUST a specific constructivist math program like TERC).

  8. 958 have you been paying any attention the last two years ? ALL constructivist math programs have been defrocked on this blog over and over next your going to start telling people they should go to BOE meeting hhehehehehehehehehehhe!

    Perhaps you should stop voting for the party hacks intown that run the BOE and opt for some change …for most of us its way two late time already looking and focusing alternatives

  9. 10:06 AM –

    Two points –

    1) I didn’t vote for the current BOE.

    2) Apparently the current tactics (defrocking constructivist math on this blog, going to BOE meetings, (attempting to) vote in “real math” proponents to the BOE, etc.) were not successful enough to change the direction of math education in Ridgewood.

    So, what to do?

    Your options are :

    1) Quit.

    Leave the town; leave the school system (go private), etc.
    This is not a bad option and sometimes it is wise to withdraw from a specific battle as a “loser” in order to achieve your greater goals (getting your child a strong math education). It would be “stupid” to spend the next 10 years fighting to remove constructivist math from the school system and ultimately “winning” by seeing it replaced by a strong mathematics program, but having your child go through the system with a constructivist math program and getting a poor math education.
    That would be a win for future pupils, the town, the state, the country and the world, but a personal loss for your child. However, if you think you can affect change in a shorter time period and can compensate for any deficiencies in your child’s education and/or you have other reasons to remain in Ridgewood and keep your child in the Ridgewood Public school system, then you should carry on the fight.

    2) Assess and modify Strategy and Tactics.

    Assess and modify overall strategy. Is replacing BOE members the best approach? Should you focus on future real estate values? Are financial considerations (tax increases for parents and future earning capabilities for children) a winning approach? Do you use a 2 point focused approach or a shotgun many point approach? Etc…

    Assess which tactics were successful and which were not.
    (Continue to build on the successful tactics and drop the unsuccessful ones.)

    If the BOE strategy is the way to go, what failed? Was it the get-out-the-vote process? Was it the information dissemination (blog, personal visits, print ads, phone calls, coffee clutches, etc.)? Would a popular endorsement have helped? Were the candidates the right ones? Etc.. If a different strategy is used, what tactics were successful from the current strategy that can be built upon and which tactics should be dropped, etc…?

    3) Keep doing the same thing and expect different results

    The last thing that you want to do is continue with the same strategy and tactics since they are not achieving your goals and objectives. The worst possible thing to do is to focus energy on tactics that are bearing no fruit. It frustrates your allies and squanders your resources. Worse, it occupies your attention while the constructivists advance their agenda.

    So in conclusion, YES, I have been paying attention…have you?

    – Anon 9:58 AM

    Oh, and by the way, statements like “Perhaps you should stop voting for the party hacks intown that run the BOE and opt for some change” really don’t advance your cause. It doesn’t change the mind of those who have not voted for your candidates and it annoys those who did.

  10. 455 are new to ridgewood ever heard of marty brooks ? You seem to have been away the last couple of years party is over the school system is a big white elephant the internet revolution and home school make the alternatives easy

  11. yes i agree 455 its over the public has spken they like the dumb dumb math i dont my kids need to get jobs when they grow up so i have made other arrangements

  12. 455 you even have a phony flog that was set up by BOE backers with help from the ridgewood snooze to attack PJ and defend the BOE its pathetic i have lost all respect for the school system it used to be so impressive and yes proerty values will suffer if they arnt all ready

  13. 455 why dont you run for the board ?

  14. Hello again (I’m 4:55).

    Let’s take them one at a time.

    7:25 –
    I’ve been here for a while and I am dissatisfied with the current state of the Ridgewood school system. I am especially dissatisfied with the BOE in both their arrogance and implementation of constructivist math (non-math) and agenda driven social programs. However, that does not mean that I can discount all of the good components of the Ridgewood school system. I am also not yet willing to pay big taxes for Ridgewood schools AND pay for private schooling. I am also not yet willing to give up and move out. Vouchers would go a long way to solving this problem in the absence of a change in the school curriculum. Changing the BOE seemed to be the best strategy to implement change (and it may still be) but clearly it has failed in the past election.

    7:30 –
    What can I say… the tiny percentage of eligible voters that turned out to vote on the BOE election voted for dumb-dumb math. This is either a true representation of the majority of voters who elected to sit this past BOE election out or just an indication of a better run campaign by the winners. And I agree with you… regardless of the current state of the Ridgewood school system, it is OUR responsibility (and pleasure) to ensure that our children get the education that WE want for them in mathematics, social perspectives and all subjects. The issue is one of using my tax dollars to implement a sub-standard education (and the best way to correct this situation).

    7:32 –
    With all due respect, I don’t believe that you have accurately read my 4:55 comment.
    I am not attacking PJ. I DO NOT agree with the BOE. I am NOT defending the BOE. I DID NOT vote for the current board members in the last election (and I DID vote). In fact, I am critical of the BOE and unhappy with the school system (as detailed above).
    But I am practical and analytical. Clearly we tried to change the situation via the last BOE election and were unsuccessful. So all I am doing is trying to get focus on what to do next to try to remedy the situation or decide that the game is over and it is time to move (either physically – out of district or practically – enroll in private school).
    I do not know the answer to this just yet.

    7:33 –
    I have actually considered this, but my current situation does not really allow this possibility. Besides, I am not really a “front man”. I’m more effective working behind the scenes.

  15. One move that might catch the leadership of the Ridgewood Pro-District Party and its supporters napping would be to increase the size of the BOE from five to seven trustees in advance of election day next year.

    That way we can vote out Hutton and simultaneously vote in three reform-minded trustees. Each one of the latter would start with a minimum of 1,000 votes. It would be up to each of them to attract the votes of 800-900 further residents that would be necessary to comfortably eclipse the number of votes obtained this year by the weakened, but not-yet-spent, leader of the RPDP, Ms. Brogan.

  16. 955 when greg may ran a couple of years ago he pushed the larger BOE idea ,its a no go in ridgewood ,like i said people want stupid math and thus the fall of school district

  17. the district and the parents just dont have the standards they used too ,now the BOE brags how we still beat newark …yikes one word for you my friend INTERNET forget public education its obsolete for 20 years all ready

  18. There is some wack job (10:04) who keeps touting the internet as the replacement for public education. I am wondering if he/she wants to park his/her kid(s) (if they are indeed a parent!) in front of a computer and just sit back and let them surf the web to educate themselves??? This makes no sense at all, if that is indeed their plan, but it’s hard to tell since he/she never elaborates.
    Do me a favor, 10:04, clam up about the internet making public education obsolete already! Unless you are ready to outline your fabulous plan, I think we’ve all had enough.

  19. “Do me a favor, 10:04, clam up about the internet making public education obsolete already! Unless you are ready to outline your fabulous plan, I think we’ve all had enough”

    No BOE hack is going to tell be to be quite,public education is obsolete ! deal with it ,colleges and business have useed the internet to teach and train for 20 years already only an A-HOLEs in public education would not know that. FYI the STATE of CT already ready uses the internet dumb dumb ! And its dosent cost 80 million bucks either ! BTW if you cant learn with the internet why are the schools installing it? dumb dumb! Oh I know so the teachers dont have to work !

    8:29 AM

  20. Hey 6:04,

    I think Al Gore (10:04) knows what he is talking about regarding the internet replacing public schools.

    After all, he did CREATE the internet.

    He also won a Nobel Prize for “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change” and calls for all Americans to reduce electricity usage, while he resides in a house that consumes more than 20 times the electricity EACH MONTH (221,000 kWh per month) than the average household in America uses in A YEAR (10,656 kWh per year).

    So, I think you should not call him a wack-job since clearly, he knows what he is talking about and we should follow him without question.

  21. Geeze, Louise… Grade school kids can get one-third of the answers right on a mathematics test and be declared “proficient?” Absurd. Back in ancient history times, 19th C. and early 20th C., you had to get 90% correct to get an “A,” 80% right to get a “B” and so on. Anything below 60% would constitute a failing grade.

    Of course, I was only in Ridgewood Public Schools in Kindergarten, First and half of Second grade, some fifty years ago. And I went on to study physics and engineering…

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