kitchen table math, the sequel: more fun in Iowa

## Wednesday, February 21, 2007

### more fun in Iowa

The fantastically good news from Christopher's ITBS test is that he scores in the top 5th percentile of the country on reading comprehension and vocabulary.

Knowing what I do now about the importance of reading comprehension to every single thing you ever do or attempt to do in life, that was incredibly good news.

I was deeply relieved. Relieved to the point of being euphoric, in fact.

That should give you a fair idea of the number our middle school manages to run on (some) parents' heads.

I am a distinctly non-panicking sort of person. I am a farmer, for god's sake. Until I hit this school I barely even registered the fact that my kid was taking standardized tests. I don't know what C's early test scores were. Also, I have no idea where I put the reports. This tells you just how much time and energy I've spent worrying about my child's comparative standing on norm-referenced achievement tests in the past.

My point being: for (some) parents, our middle school is the exact opposite of a happy, confidence-inspiring place.

It is an unhappy, panic-inspiring place.

After C's ELA score on the state test declined from a 4 to a 3, and his teacher told us that C. had scored average for his class, I was in a panic, especially given the the Darwinian gatekeeping that goes on around here.

Average doesn't cut it in Irvington.

Speaking of average, if average reading comprehension for C's class is the 95th percentile on the ITBS, I have no problem with C. being average for his class. Apart from the Darwinian gatekeeping thing, that is.*

Actually, that's not quite correct.

The fact is, we know that at the end of 5th grade C. was not average for his class. He was in the top 10% of his class, which we know because approximately 10% of his class scored a 4 on the ELA test in the TONYSS and he was among them.

If after 5 months at the middle school he had suddenly become average for his class, that would be a problem no matter how high the average reading comprehension scores.

core principle:

The other problem with "average" is: what does average mean to the middle school?

Does it mean enforcing the bell curve?

We've been there for a year and a half now, and the core message re: student achievement seems to be:

not the little genius you thought he was, eh?

Thanks to the ITBS, we're done with all that.

We have an objective measurement of C's standing vis a vis his peers in the United States.

His standing is high.

So we're done with "your child is the only one having a problem."

If a child scoring in the 95th percentile of the country in reading comprehension is having a problems -- a problem in any class, including math -- then A) he's not the only one, B) the school needs to fix it, and C) "fix it" does not mean moving him to an easier class.

update 2-22-2007: Or, if child's parents are ready to throw in the towel on this year's "accelerated" math class, it means school makes noises like, "We've looked at your child's scores and achievement; it would be doing him a disservice to drop him down to an easier course. What can we do to support his learning in the class he's in?"

It does not send an email saying, and I quote, "It looks like it is possible to put Christopher in Mr. P’s class this year. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee he will be placed in Math A next year unless Mr. P makes that recommendation."

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* I'm remembering the time Ms. U, then chair of the math department, told the Parent Uprising meeting that you could give her the best math students in the whole school and she could still eke out a bell curve. She said this with a striking air of authority and enthusiasm. Then, catching herself, she added, "Well, hopefully not the bottom part of the curve."