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NCLB Outrages

Here's the NCLB Report Card Coming to Your School Soon--If You Don't Join the Resistance

Note: This news article, written by someone the Sacramento Bee bills as a "political commentator," reads like a news release from the school administrator who dreamed up the report cards--or, more likely, someone at the Business Roundtable. You can send Weintraub your opinion at:

You can do that. But your time—and your soul—would do better joining the resistance. Children need you to do this.

I don't know when a news article has infuriated me so much--this week. I have emphasized some of Weintraub’s remarks in red. I have inserted my rants throughout--in blue.

Note 2: I hope I can be forgiven an "I told you so." I've been sounding the alarm about "high standards" for close to a decade, most notably in One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards and the Phi Delta Kappan article "Goals 2000: What's in a Name?":

Also, Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum is an account of struggling with 'high standards' while teaching 7th and 8th graders.

Both books can be purchased through this site. Such purchases keep the site going. I'd remind you that if you click on "books" on this site, ALL your purchases, not just my books, earn credit for this site--and you still get your regular discount at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

All that said, if you have a Heinemann rep, order from them.

Here is Weintraub's column: One more piece of evidence that you don't have to know anything about schools to pontificate about education.

New Report Cards Will Put the Focus on Standards
Daniel Weintraub

Sacramento's public schools are dropping the traditional A-F letter grading system in favor of a new, numbered scale that will range from 1 to 5. But this is no flaky fad to save self-esteem for kids who don't score highly. It's a serious reform that promises to make students and teachers more accountable for what goes on in the classroom.

The new grading system, adopted by Sacramento City Unified School District for all its elementary schools this year, is the perfect topper to the state's accountability movement. It completes the loop between California's grade-by-grade academic standards, statewide testing and the classroom. It should help end complaints that these elements were out of sync with each other.

Other districts have adopted numbered grading systems in recent years. But none that I know of have tied their new report cards so tightly to the statewide standards. That's the beauty of Sacramento's new benchmarks.

In math and English, students' grades will be broken down into categories that parallel the standards. In sixth-grade math, for instance, students will get marks in five main areas: number sense; algebra and functions; measurement and geometry; statistics, data analysis and probability; and mathematical reasoning.

For each standard, teachers will give grades between 1 and 5. These numbers in turn correspond to the state's performance standards. Each level is defined on the report card for parent and student to see.

The lowest -- far below basic -- means "your child is not meeting grade-level standards and produces work that demonstrates little knowledge of grade level standards." The highest -- advanced -- means the student "at times exceeds the grade level standards and produces work that demonstrates thorough knowledge of grade level standards." In between are below basic, basic, and proficient.

The detail doesn't stop there. Within each of the main standards are two or three sublevels that reveal exactly what the student has mastered so far. For "number sense," the report card will say whether a student can compare and order positive and negative fractions, decimals and mixed numbers; problems involving fractions, ratios, proportions and percentages; and calculate and solve problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

While all of that might seem a bit overwhelming to the average parent, consider the advantages of this kind of system. Rather than hearing that my child has a "B" in math, perhaps with a few details thrown in, I will now know exactly what he has learned and what he is still struggling to master.
Maybe we should write Weintraub, asking him to provide a list of "exactly what he has learned." But he misspoke: As he indicates elsewhere, the operative term is mastered

Just as important, the new specificity will ensure that every class is covering the material in the standards, which are the same topics on which the kids are tested at the end of the year. This consistency is crucial in an era when so many students move from school to school each year, and even within the year.

So the test decides the curriculum. Bill Clinton's dream of a National Test is here. Training the workers for their proper place in NAFTA. Politicos of both parties and corporate moguls find their point of unity in controlling the schools.

Finally, the report cards have a section in which the teacher must recommend interventions for children scoring below grade level in any standard. This puts the teacher and the student on the spot to discuss what the child must do to bring his work up to snuff.

I remember recommending to parents that they read riddle books every night with their 8-year-old who thought he hated reading and whose work wasn't "up to snuff." Somehow, I don't think that this will be a "recommended intervention" on the approved list.

Having said all that, the new system does have its downsides. One is that the highest grade -- a 5 -- means that the child is exceeding grade-level expectations. So a 4 out of 5, or proficient, might be equivalent to what people now think of as A-level work. That's going to be confusing to kids and parents.

Also, since some standards take all year to master, it's possible that students will get low marks, say a 2 or 3, early in the year even though they have done everything possible flawlessly up to that date. If they haven't covered all the material, the logic goes, they cannot have mastered it.

Hmmm. I'd say some standards take a lifetime. How many people think they've 'mastered' reading--or, for that matter, fractions?

But the biggest problem might be the leap required to accept what in many cases will be the teacher's subjective evaluation of a student's performance. Under the old system, if my kid scored 95 percent on every test and completed all his homework, I'd know he earned an A in the class. If he was in the 80s, he'd get a B. But as yet there's no hard and fast way to measure whether my child is "advanced" or merely "proficient" in pre-algebra.

At my son's school, the principal says the teachers will base this judgment not only on the work completed, which will be saved in "evidence folders" that parents can review, but also on how the child responds during classroom discussions. I can imagine some ticklish situations if a teacher says, "You know, your child aced every test, but when I called on him in class he just didn't seem to have mastered the concepts. So I'm marking him down a level."

"evidence folders": Classroom as forensic lab.

But all of these bugs are things that can be worked out over time, and on balance, the new system's great potential outweighs the concerns. These report cards promise to bring home to students and parents a focus on standards that so far has been mainly the province of education experts, teachers and school administrators.

Ohanian Comment: Don't you love "Within each of the main standards are two or three sublevels that reveal exactly what the student has mastered so far."

So the teacher can record: "At 10:25 a.m. on Feb. 3, 2003, Johnny mastered fractions." Hallelujah. Or maybe it's Hellelujah. For sure, it's a damn lie. A couple of decades ago I taught in a district swamped by criterion reference tests: Test Johnny on apostrophes by giving 4 multiple choice questions--on a required district test. Then enter into his records (or his "evidence file") whether he'd "mastered" apostrophes.

Then when next year's teacher complained that I hadn't taught apostrophes to Johnny, I could say, "Hey, he'd mastered them on April 14. I'm not responsible if he lost them on the 15th." We’re familiar with "how to lie with statistics"; now we have to contend with"how to lie with report cards."

But it's worse than a lie; it's a terrible mistake. A mistake in how children learn, a mistake in how teachers teach. It's the corporate-politico destruction of educating for a democracy.

Overheard in a CA city with report cards similar to the ones described above: I was working out at my gym the other night when I couldn't help overhearing two parents discussing their parent conferences. One of the ladies was sharing her awful experience listening to her daughter's teacher explain how she was measuring up to each standard. She said it went on and on. Finally, she said to the teacher, "But how is my daughter doing in school?" The teacher didn't seem to be able to tell her except to say how she was measuring up to each standard. So she asked again, "But HOW IS SHE DOING?"

Good question.

— Daniel Weintraub
New report cards will put the focus on standards
Sacramento Bee
Nov. 21, 2002


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