Saturday, July 10, 2010

Showdown at the Texas corral

Criss Cloudt understandably grew defensive last week as she tried to explain to a group of legislators how a student who got absolutely every question wrong on a TAKS writing test could be scored as passing it.

Cloudt was in the hot seat because she is the Texas Education Agency's associate commissioner in charge of the "accountability system" that administers the TAKS test and ranks schools and school districts on a four-tier scale from "unacceptable" to "exemplary."

She was also in the hot seat because the man presumably most responsible for instituting the controversial new "Texas Projection Measure" that is producing such absurd results, Education Commissioner Robert Scott, failed to show up. But that's another story. Today we look at the ways that Cloudt appeared to try to mislead Houston state Rep. Scott Hochberg and his Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, and how Hochberg repeatedly called her on it.

It began with Hochberg asking what accounted for a huge jump last year in the number of schools and school districts rated as "recognized" and "exemplary." "Performance," said Cloudt.

But Hochberg got her to admit that 73 of the 74 additional "exemplary districts" that took us from 43 in 2008 to 117 in 2009 received that distinction only because the new Texas Projection Measure miraculously allowed nearly half the 1 million TAKS tests that had been failed to count as passing for the purpose of rating schools and districts.

Cloudt said the Texas Projection Measure is a "growth measure." To most of us, that would imply that it looked at how a child did this year compared to last.

Hochberg brought out that it doesn't. It looked only at last year's scores and, based on a formula devised from thousands of prior results, projected that children who pass reading or math were likely to pass other tests in future years.

Deciphering analysis

Cloudt claimed that based on analysis looking backward, the formulas used in the projections are "quite good, actually."

"Really?" said Hochberg. "What would you consider quite good?"

"They're on average in the 90s (percent) in terms of projection accurate," Cloudt said.

I assumed that she was referring to the cases in which failing children were counted as passing.

But Hochberg was on to her. He got her to admit that the predictions that were accurate more than 90 percent of the time included all children — those who did very well on all the TAKS tests (who can safely be predicted to pass) and those who did terribly an all the tests (who can safely be predicted to fail).

Hochberg revealed that TEA's own analysis showed that the accuracy rate for those whose performance was actually upgraded using the "projection measure" was in the range of 50 percent.

Failed projections

Cloudt continued to defend the projections, saying repeatedly that when a failing child was counted as passing it was because "hundreds and hundreds" of other children whose test scores fit the exact same pattern later passed.

But again, Hochberg was ready. He called as a witness an expert from Pearson, the national testing company that devised the Texas Projection Measure.

She explained that the formula used to "project" future success was not made by looking at the records of earlier kids with identical scoring patterns. It was based, again, on aggregate numbers that included the highest and lowest performing students as well as those in the middle.

Hochberg asked Cloudt if that was right. "That's different than what I said before," she admitted. "It's a better explanation."

The question is, was Cloudt deliberately trying to mislead Hochberg and the public throughout the hearing, or did she really not understand the bizarre system that can turn a test score of zero to a passing score? And which would be more disturbing?


Montana School Proposes Controversial Sex Education Program

A proposed plan to teach kindergartners sex education has come under fire in Helena, Montana.

The Helena Public School system is considering a comprehensive plan for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It includes teaching first graders that people can be attracted to the same gender. In second grade students are instructed to avoid gay slurs and by the time students turn 10 years old they are taught about various types of intercourse.

According to the draft proposal obtained by FOX News Radio, fifth graders should “understand that sexual intercourse includes but is not limited to vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.”

Jeff Laszloffy, of the Montana Family Foundation, is among those outraged that educators want to teach sex education to kindergarteners. “It’s absolutely insane,” Laszloffy told FOX News Radio. “This is not education. This has crossed the line and has gone from education to indoctrination and that’s the problem parents have.”


23,000 British university jobs 'threatened by cuts'

The class-size bugaboo again. I've stood in a university auditorium with 1,000 students in front of me and I saw no evidence in their essays that they learned any less well -- JR

British students face the largest university class sizes in the developed world as thousands of lecturers’ jobs are threatened by public sector cuts, ministers have been waned. Almost 23,000 posts could be lost in coming years because of a dramatic reduction in university budgets, it was claimed.

The University and College Union said the job losses would lead to a sharp increase in the size of lectures and tutorial groups, coupled with a loss of “contact time” with academics.

Ministers should reconsider the size of cuts earmarked for universities to prevent British higher education being “left behind” by other countries, said the union.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, warned last month that most Government departments would face average spending cuts of 25 per cent. This included the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for universities. An analysis by the UCU found that a cut of this size would lead to the loss of 22,584 jobs.

The union insisted its figures were “conservative” and the impact of funding cuts could be even worse.

Britain is currently the second most popular destination in the world for foreign students – after the United States – but larger class sizes and less tuition would make it a “far less attractive place to study”, it was claimed.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "The scale of the cuts that we are facing is unprecedented and will have an undeniable impact on the student experience. Student to staff ratios, which are already high, will become some of the highest in the developed world.

"Lecturers who survive the cull will have less time to give individual students as they pick up the workloads of former colleagues and there will be fewer support services for students.

"The Government will effectively be asking students to pay more for less at a time when our international competitors are investing in higher education.

"Do we really want to be left behind and risk being shunned by foreign students who will go to study elsewhere? We have a proud international reputation, but we realistically cannot expect to remain a major force in the global knowledge economy in the face of these cuts."

According to latest figures, there are already almost 18 students to every academic at British universities. This compares with 15 in the United States, 12 in Germany and 11 in Japan. It is feared that class sizes could rise further with the loss of more lecturers’ jobs.

The UCU claim 6,000 positions are already under threat at universities following cuts imposed earlier this year.


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