kitchen table math, the sequel: school boards

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

school boards

With the contemporary focus on college and workforce readiness, many may be surprised that 14.1 percent of board members rank preparing students for college as sixth in importance out of six education goals, and 16.4 percent give the same ranking to preparing students for the workforce. When asked what they consider the most important objectives for schooling, the most popular board member responses are to “prepare students for a satisfying and productive life” and to “help students fulfill their potential.”

School Boards in the Age of Accountability
Frederick M. Hess
Olivia Meeks
Here in Irvington, a number of us have been asking the administration to hold itself accountable for student achievement. One parent has been pressing the case for well over a decade.

At this point, two of five board members are also asking the administration to measure the effectiveness of its programs and teaching philosophy.

At last week's board meeting, the interim director of curriculum put up a slide listing 20 "Indicators of Success," and said, "[This] is a new one for us. What indicators do we use to determine if we are being successful?"

18 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

I find it remarkable that a central administrator can flatly state to a school board and community: "This is a new one for us" and not be taken to task for it.

The superintendent is in her 7th year, and now her deputy tells us that not once in 7 years has the "administrative team" asked itself what indicators can tell them whether what they're doing is working.

Crimson Wife said...

Well, I happen to think that helping each student reach his/her potential is more important than raising the percentage of graduates who go on to attend college.

I grew up in a Boston suburb not quite as tony as Irvington or Scarsdale but getting there. My alma mater took great pride in its statistic of a 96% college attendance rate among its graduates. But that meant even the kid who had cerebral palsy and resulting major cognitive was encouraged to attempt community college. Nice guy but he wasn't even doing high school level work. He lasted less than a month at the community college before dropping out. He did wind up enrolling in a vocational training program for disabled folks, which is what he should've done in the first place.

FedUpMom said...

I think it's ridiculous for a high school to count SAT scores as a measurement for how they're doing. In a wealthy district, a large portion of the kids are getting extra SAT tutoring. The resulting high scores should not be credited to the school, which usually did very little to produce them.

Linda said...

In many wealthy districts, large number of kids are being tutored all through school, not just for SATs. In such districts, some is to get kids ahead, but some is to remedy school weaknesses. Reading (phonics), grammar, composition and math are likely to (1) be ignored or (2) have weak or flawed curricula, in even the the "best" schools. A relative was just told that over half of the first-graders in Scarsdale are being (professionally) tutored; many more have parents doing it. The fact that such schools have many kids performing well on SATs and APs may be in spite of the school, not because of it. Kids who haven't had proper grounding in ES don't get onto the honors track in MS and the honors/AP track in HS.

SteveH said...

"...two of five board members are also asking the administration to measure the effectiveness of its programs and teaching philosophy..."

Why don't they have something where they ask parents what they have done at home or with tutors over the years. Schools need to define exactly what they expect parents to do at home in terms of checking homework and modeling an interest in education. Then, a function needs to be defined that subtracts the excess that parents provide from the scores they are using as indicators of success. You could base it on the number of extra hours spent teaching at home or with tutors. I would, however, give the teaching time at home a higher weighting factor. I know that the times I spent with my son were much more concentrated learning times than the hands-on group learning he got at school.

Catherine Johnson said...

My district doesn't count SAT/ACT scores as an indicator -- sorry, I should have said that.

The high school principal just sent out a long "Letter from the Principal" saying that "much research" shows that the SATs measure only "test-taking strategies" and that SAT scores are unrelated to school quality.

The curriculum director, when she put up this slide, said that the administrators don't think SAT/ACT scores are related to school quality but school board members & parents & homeowners care about them.

The superintendent once told the board that she never reads the Westchester Magazine feature comparing the schools' SAT scores because it's about "selling houses."

Our administrators are so blase about SAT/ACT scores that they elected **not** to offer the Naviance online SAT prep in order to save money.

Total cost would have been $895 for free online tutoring for every student in the high school -- out of a $50 million dollar budget.

Catherine Johnson said...

LINDA IS RIGHT

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, after the h.s. principal put out his anti-SAT letter, I had to spend time going through the research (had to!) ---- the various meta-analyses continue not to show much gain from tutoring.

Students get about 30 points on average (across reading/math), with 8 points of that going to reading & the rest to math.

I don't think anyone has ever looked at the high-end tutors (there are families in NYC spending $25K to $40K for a year of SAT prep for one child).

Now that I'm in the thick of SAT prep, I believe the meta-analyses.

I don't see how anyone can coach the reading section, which is fantastically sophisticated, much beyond the 8-point average gain researchers find.

And 20 points on math sounds right to me, too, though we're trying for more.

Catherine Johnson said...

Also....The William Bowen study (Crossing the Finish Line) did find a distinction amongst schools in terms of SATs.

Holding everything equal, there was a difference in scores.

(I don't think the difference was huge, but I haven't delved into the book.)

Catherine Johnson said...

A relative was just told that over half of the first-graders in Scarsdale are being (professionally) tutored; many more have parents doing it.

I was told the same thing.

I believe it.

**I've** tutored in Scarsdale!

kcab said...

I've been thinking a bit about the reading section of the SATs lately. I've started to wonder if the way to high scores on that is just reading a lot, regardless of the quality of what is read. At least, that's where I end up when I think of my reading habits (especially as a teen) and those of my 8th grader, who did very well on that section.

For us, the key must be just quantity of words read. Unless it's all the Xanth novels.

cranberry said...

SAT prep: turn off the t.v. Offer a wide variety of books. Visit the library frequently. Talk about adult affairs at the dinner table.

It can take years.

Lisa said...

Catherine says..." the various meta-analyses continue not to show much gain from tutoring.

Students get about 30 points on average (across reading/math), with 8 points of that going to reading & the rest to math...."

This gives all of us in Nowhereville hope.

MichelleM said...

cranberry said...

SAT prep: turn off the t.v. Offer a wide variety of books. Visit the library frequently. Talk about adult affairs at the dinner table.

It can take years.


So true. This is why I love KTM. Thank you.

--Mom of a 6 year old

Catherine Johnson said...

I've started to wonder if the way to high scores on that is just reading a lot, regardless of the quality of what is read.

That's not what Fischgrund found when he interviewed 800 scoring students.

What made the difference was the amount of **assigned** reading they were doing -- which is consistent with the study linking the decline in verbal SAT scores with the decline in difficulty of textbook prose.

There is also a very large body of research on "reading a lot," which shows that 'reading a lot' does not raise reading scores.

Reading is like everything else: you need 'deliberate practice,' which means that you systematically increase the difficulty of the texts you read.

In any skill, most people plateau; you have to push yourself to improve, and pushing yourself isn't fun. 'Deliberate practice' isn't pleasurable.

At least, that's my reading of the research....

Catherine Johnson said...

This gives all of us in Nowhereville hope.

Absolutely.

I'd like to know what kind of score gains students are getting when their parents pay $25 to 40k a year ----

Supposedly, it's 100 points per test.

I believe it for math --- but for reading?

Seems like a stretch.

I semi-believe it for the writing section.

Debbie Stier said...

Given that my new project is about trying to get the "Perfect Score" on the SATs (as someone who went to Bennington because they were one of the few schools that didn't require the scores back in the 1980s when I applied), I'm still optimistic that vast improvement is doable.

This is what I think so far, based on nothing but my gut: the reading is absolutely improvable through studying vocabulary and practicing the SAT reading sections. Any reading helps a little, but practicing SAT passages helps dramatically more.

I read a TON and when I first started working on the SATs last Summer I consistently did terribly on the critical reading because I wasn't used to that type of reading, and would often just answer because I was mentally fatigued. I used to get about 1/3 wrong -- often it was down to two choices and I always choose wrong. Now, having practiced about 1-2 hours per week for a month I am getting almost all of them right.

It's like working out your brain for a marathon. You build up strength.

The Writing section seems like you just need to learn the grammar rules and then it's pretty easy to improve. Not addressing the essay yet though.

And math, well, I have so much improvement to make on the math that it better be doable! I did a little better yesterday when I scored my test. I got a 540, and last month when I took the SAT officially I got a 510.

(Improvement credit goes to Catherine who has taught me everything I know!)

Cranberry said...

Catherine, I googled Fischgrund, and found a review of his study. I found these traits correlated with my formula:

2. They are intellectually curious and excited about learning new and different things. PS students’ parents helped their children develop creativity by providing creative outlets and being role models for creativity. They cultivated curiosity by encouraging children to question assumptions and take sensible risks. Most PS students said their parents provided them with resources throughout their lives, taking them to the library weekly, reading to them regularly, getting educational materials if schoolwork was not challenging enough, and exposing them to culture. 3. They read quickly and voraciously, following their interests wherever they lead. PS students spent an average of 14 hours a week reading, while average students spent only 8 hours doing so. PS parents looked for early signs that their children were ready to read regardless of age, and worked with them. Parents also spent time with their child figuring out what the child wanted to read about, they read to their preschoolers aloud, and they listened as their older children read to them. These parents refused to dumb down conversation and vocabulary for their children. PS students also spent less time watching TV than average students. 4. They develop a core group of passions, pursue them eagerly and excel within them. PS parents allowed their children to develop their passions naturally, but supported that passion through conversation and a commitment of time, such as shuttling them to sports practices or dance classes.

http://www.nymetroparents.com/newarticle.cfm?colid=7061

PS = Perfect Scorer

I think schools should not dumb down reading material for students. They also should allow students the freedom to choose their reading materials. If a boy wants to read about rockets, don't make him read a sentimental story about a family going through tough times. Let him read about rockets.