Sunday, April 22, 2012

Florida standardized science tests are a disaster

Florida students and their teachers are held to account based the scores on the high-stakes FCAT tests. School funding is partially contingent on test performance. Robert Krampf, a Florida science educator, has been reviewing the test-prep materials given to teachers in order to refine his own curriculum and prepare his students.

However, the test-prep materials were very poor. They consist of multiple-choice questions with more than one correct answer. For example: "This sample question offers the following observations, and asks which is scientifically testable: 1 The petals of red roses are softer than the petals of yellow roses; 2 The song of a mockingbird is prettier than the song of a cardinal; 3 Orange blossoms give off a sweeter smell than gardenia flowers; 4 Sunflowers with larger petals attract more bees than sunflowers with smaller petals."

The curriculum guide says that the correct answer is 4, but 1 and 3 are also correct. Krampf asked FLDOE's Test Development Center for clarification, and the Center told him that although the question had three answers, only one was "correct" in the context of the curriculum -- that is, students would only have learned about testing 1, and not about the chemistry needed to test 3, or the observational methodologies to test 4. This is just dumb. It means that the test doesn't distinguish between students who misunderstand the curriculum, students who are making guesses, and students who have progressed beyond the curriculum. In other words, the test can't tell you anything useful about the students' understanding or the teachers' methodology.

The question about isn't an isolated example, apparently. Krampf reports finding many examples like this from all parts of the test, some of which weren't just bad test-design, but factually incorrect; for example, the test defines a "predator" as "An organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms." As Krampf points out, "By that definition, cows are predators because they obtain nutrients from plants. The plants are predators too, since they obtain nutrients from decaying remains of other organisms."
    I wonder how many students got "wrong" answers on the FCAT because their teachers taught them too much. How many "F" schools would have higher grades if those scientifically correct "wrong" answers were counted as correct answers. How many "B" schools would get the extra funding that "A" schools get, if those scientifically correct "wrong" answers were counted as correct answers?

    We may never know the answers to those questions. The Test Item Specifications are the guidelines that are used to write the test questions. If the Science FCAT test is reviewed by the same Content Advisory Committee that reviewed the Test Item Specifications, then it probably has similar errors. But as much as I would LOVE to check the accuracy of the questions from the actual Science FCAT, I can't. Teachers, scientists, and the general public are not allowed to see actual test questions, even after the tests have been graded and the penalties for those grades have been imposed.

Standardized testing is usually a mess. High-stakes standardized testing is usually a bigger mess. But even by those standards, the FCAT science tests are a disaster, and the lack of transparency and accountability in them means that they're doomed to fail Florida's students for a long time to come.


Teacher who starred in porn film fired by school

A southern California school science teacher who once appeared in a porn film has been fired by her school district over concerns the issue could pose a distraction to students, officials said on Thursday.

The five-person Oxnard school board voted unanimously on Wednesday night in favour of the dismissal of Stacie Halas, who had been a teacher at the Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School for almost three years.

Superintendent Jeff Chancer said that, as a result of Halas' role as a porn actress, the district found she had displayed immoral conduct, dishonesty and evident unfitness for service.

"To have Ms Halas back at school would cause continued distraction and disruption, and it would be difficult for the students to concentrate," Chancer said. "I don't know Ms Halas, but I feel badly for her."

Halas, whose school in Oxnard is about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, has been on leave from teaching for nearly two months amid allegations she had performed in pornography.

Chancer said she will have 30 days to appeal the decision.

Video snippets of the porn film in question were shown on the website of Los Angeles news station KTLA. The movie showed a woman welcoming a pizza delivery man into her house. Halas' precise role in the film was not clear.

Chancer said he believed Halas performed in the porn film prior to starting her career teaching in Oxnard, but he added that he could not verify that.

Diane Duke, the executive director of pornography trade group the Free Speech Coalition, defended Halas and complained the school district was discriminating against her.

"Many adult performers work to put themselves through school, especially now when support for education has hit an all-time low," Duke said. "Ms Halas worked in a legal industry in order to supplement her income, allowing her to go to college and better her life."

Halas could not be reached for comment.

In Florida, a teacher was fired last year when it was revealed he was in gay porn films, but a school commission later reinstated him because he technically did not violate any rules.


British private schools 'risk extinction over fees' - former top headmaster warns

Private schools are risking extinction because they are pricing themselves beyond the pockets of ‘normal’ parents,

They are losing the confidence of the public because they are increasingly the preserve of the super-rich, according to Dr Martin Stephen, who was High Master of St Paul’s School.

Parents earning more than £50,000 a year would struggle to afford many day schools, let alone boarding, he said.

In an outspoken critique, Dr Stephen warned that schools were increasingly reliant on the ‘fool’s gold’ of fees from overseas students, while ‘sucking out’ the best pupils from state schools.

It was now unlikely they would win the support of most voters if asked whether they wanted to keep them, he claimed.

‘The result is that the independent sector is becoming socially exclusive in a way not seen since Victorian times,’ he said.

‘Independent schools, like any other species, must evolve or face extinction.’

Parents with children at fee-paying schools have endured annual inflation-busting fee rises.  Average boarding fees for schools in the Independent Schools Council were £25,152, while average day fees were £11,208.  St Paul’s School, in Barnes, West London, charges boarders £29,466 a year and day pupils £19,674.

Dr Stephen stepped down in January 2011.  Writing in the Times Educational Supplement, he said: ‘Of course, the “great” schools will survive.  Apart from anything else, they thrive in a recession through the rush to quality ... But for most independents, it is time for a radical rethink.’

Claims that private schools are thriving because they are turning pupils away are ‘fool’s gold’, he added. ‘The sector has become too dependent on overseas parents and is profiting from a state sector in some turmoil as a result of radical change.’

Dr Stephen said Education Secretary Michael Gove’s reforms would massively improve state education, which would ‘present independents with the same sort of challenge they last faced from grammar schools’.

Dr Stephen, the new director of education at GEMS, an international private schools group which aims to make private education ‘affordable’ for many, went on to criticise Government plans for independents to sponsor state academy schools.

‘Independents have little experience of dealing with children who don’t want to go to school and parents who don’t care if they do,’ he said.

And he criticised schemes to lure top state school students with lucrative bursaries.  ‘Independent schools educate only seven per cent of children in the UK, yet they back too many schemes that “support” state schools by seeking to suck out their best pupils: a brilliant idea for independent schools, but lethal to the health of the state sector,’ he said.


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