Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Southeastern Oklahoma State University Professor Says PK-4 Standards Are Generally Appropriate But Lack Play


Review of Proposed Oklahoma Educational Standards by Barbara McClanahan, Associate Professor of Educational Instruction and Leadership, Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
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I have finished a cursory review of the PK-4 draft standards, and I don't present my thoughts as based on an in-depth review. I find things I like and things I don't like. 

In general, I think the standards for these grades represent an appropriate progression of cognitive skills based on typical child development. I also conferred with a colleague of mine at Southeastern who is more of an early childhood expert than I, and she agrees.

My biggest concern at the PK level, and even K, is a lack of a standard for play. Much recent research suggests strongly that not only is play a critical need for these young students, but pushing the cognitive skills required for early reading may later be found to be detrimental. I think more important than learning letter names or sounds, there should be a standard calling for a substantial portion of the school day to be devoted to both structured and unstructured play. Despite what many people believe, play is a learning strategy and should absolutely have a standard at this level. 

In addition, all of the standards regarding reading skills, even comprehension of texts read aloud, should be applied very flexibly to allow for a wide range of developmental levels in any given PK-2 classroom.

As we move into K, the content regarding phonics and phonemic awareness builds, but these standards, along with vocabulary, again may not be reachable for a large percentage of students simply because of developmental issues. Again, the standards must be applied flexibly.

Standard 8 for K says: "Students will demonstrate interest in books..." That seems to me to be an impossible standard because interest must be built on students' affect over which the teacher has minimal control. You cannot command students to be interested in books. Recognizing this, I think it is important for the standard to read "Students will demonstrate growing interest in books..." That is something a teacher could monitor through observation and, with reflection, adjust the teaching approach to move the child along on a continuum of interest.

In both PK and K, the word "With guidance and support" appear frequently, but beginning in first grade, they disappear almost completely. Especially for Standard 5, Language, I believe they need to be used to support sentence writing. And again I think the language should read something like "The student will show growth in the ability to compose..." As long as we are determined to maintain and age/grad system, many students will continue to need "guidance and support" into second grade.

Fluency seems inadequately addressed across the board in the standards. In Grade 2, for example, I think there should be something here to the effect that regularly spelled and previously decoded words will be increasingly recognized automatically in order to build fluency. This is the essence of mature reading but is not mentioned anywhere.

In the Grade 2 Writing standard there is a phrase that makes no sense to me: "include past tense or irregularly past tense verbs".

In 3rd Grade, several standards require a level of abstraction that may not be obtainable by a significant percentage of third graders. For example, while according to the standards, third graders need guidance and support to determine the theme of a story, they are expected to negotiate figurative language on their own. Hmmm....

Beginning in the first grade standards, the reading comprehension strategies are essentially the same across the grade levels up through 4th. One must assume that the differences lie in the level of depth to which the student is required to implement them and the level of text, but that is not spelled out.  In the standards on Critical Reading and Writing, we see a similar progression of requirements up through the grade levels; I would expect that by 4th grade one of the requirements would be to identify how characters change over the course of the plot, but I did not see it. It could reasonably appear as early as 2nd or 3rd.

One other concern that my colleague had was that there should be a glossary; she fears that not all teachers would understand all the terms being used. Another concern I have is that some of the terms have ambiguous meanings. For example, what does grade-specific or grade-appropriate actually mean?

I actually think this is a pretty good beginning. If I had more time, I would like to compare these with other good standards, such as the "old" Massachusetts ones. Alas, I do not have that kind of time.

I hope this is helpful.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why The ACT?


As many of our readers know, ROPE has not been supportive of state-sponsored ACT use. We believe ACT is a private-market test (no matter how the company would like to sell it) and parents and students should determine when to take it - even if they should take it at all.

Recently, State Superintendent Hofmeister made it possible for all Oklahoma 11th graders to take the ACT should they choose to do so (it is a voluntary action via school district). This was after the state legislature chose not to act on an end of year ACT exam last session.

This has left the question of "Why the ACT?" Why is it SO important to have Oklahoma students take the ACT? We're told it's because, as Mrs. Hofmeister has said numerous times, "Oklahoma is an ACT state", meaning (we infer) that the majority of students take the ACT and the majority of Colleges/Universities here in Oklahoma consider the results of the ACT for admissions.

Unfortunately, it's rarely noted that both OU and OSU start with grade point average and class position as their first necessity for admissions - NOT the ACT. Both OU and OSU take SAT as well as ACT. So if that's not what makes us an "ACT state", what does? Is it the fact that the ACT is sold most often to parents/students here in Oklahoma? What difference is that other than the result of a good marketing strategy?

Recently, the National PTA placed an article on its website called "Ten "Must Know" Facts About Educational Testing". Here, the PTA covers common misconceptions and provides information on various different types of testing. Number 7 was interesting, so I have pasted it below. Please remember, as you read this, that the Oklahoma PTA has been one of the staunch supporters of the ACT.

List of organizations in Oklahoma supporting the use of taxpayer funded ACT
Fact 7:Even though only about 25 percent of a student's success in college is related to the student's score on aptitude tests such as the ACT and SAT, parents should (1) still help their children prepare for those tests, but (2) avoid conveying a negative impression to a child whose test scores are not particularly high. The research evidence on this point is quite conclusive.
There are many factors far more influential than aptitude-test scores in predicting a student's college performance. A student's motivation, study habits, and interpersonal skills play powerful roles in shaping collegiate success. Parents should not think that a child who doesn't earn super scores on a college admissions test is destined for failure—in college or beyond. Numerous students who earn lofty scores on the SAT or ACT take an academic tumble when they get into college. There are many important kinds of intelligence, and the "academic" intelligence measured by most standardized aptitude tests is only one.
Action Implication:
First, if your child doesn't score well on the ACT or SAT, do not conclude that your child is "not bright." And definitely do not convey any such negative impression to your child. Second, because ACT and SAT scores do, in fact, play a significant part in current college admissions decisions, be sure to provide your child with at least some preparation for those tests
Goodness. The national PTA essentially says here that really, the kids who do best on the ACT are the ones that have test prep. Hmmmm. Now that we're providing all 11th graders with the ACT, the state will most certainly need to hire another private non-profit like Kaplan Test Prep or the scores won't be as good as they could be. Not only that, but even if the students don't do well on the test, poor results don't really mean anything in the context of a student's preparation for the world. Even retiring ACT president, John Erikson says,
"...but even if you think your test results don't reflect your grades and courses, your classroom achievements and dedication will overcome a poor test showing."
So why do we need to pay kids to take this test again?

Could it be then, that the reason why ACT is so heavily lobbying for Oklahoma to make ACT a 'state' test - and why the education establishment is kowtowing to this sales job - is because of the fact that everyone involved here will get a big fat chunk of data from every kid who takes the test? Yes, I think so. Data is power. As Arne Duncan so famously said, "Data drives decisions", and of course, the Oklahoma education establishment bought this idea hook, line and sinker. Yes, if we make ACT a 'state' test, the state will get a big fat package of student data and so will ACT.

ACT has its own entire division for data collection. Test takers have a supplemental data form they can fill out at the beginning of the test. ACT analyses this information in order to assist student placement in the best choices for them following graduation (college, trade school, etc.). They also have an entire division devoted to collecting data based upon test responses which then allows them to make 'predictions' about the body of test takers and their preparedness in each of the tested subjects. They also use this data to 'verify' assumptions about the validity of the test.

What in the world could state and federal governments do with these data but go on to create yet more - expensive and invasive - changes to the public education system, including more testing? In other words, education policy arises from data collected from tests that are then used to define education policy! It's a self-inflicted wound - a closed loop system.

Just recently, ACT released the data collected from students who took the ACT last year in their annual report. Though the Common Core panacea was supposed to have been instituted in states in 2010, the headline of the entire multi-page annual report would have to be,
"...based on data from a record 1.9 million ACT-tested students - nearly 60% of the 2015 US graduating class - shows very little change in overall college readiness over the past several years."
Interestingly, the SAT has very similar results to report,

Source: College Board, Created by infogr.am for EdWeek

Apparently, all the new federally subsidized and 'suggested' education fads aren't working. What else could these results underscore other than the COMPLETE AND TOTAL FAILURE OF TODAY'S EDUCATION REFORM POLICIES? Apparently, the constant testing pummeling students today in the name of education accountability isn't helping anyone but the bottom line of the testing companies. It's SURELY and OBVIOUSLY not helping the kids. If parents want students to take college readiness tests, parents should either pay for them out of their own pockets, or apply to ACT for a grant to do so. States should not be using hard-earned tax dollars to pay for a test that - at best gives them an idea of what they do and don't know - they should be using those tax dollars to support great teachers and TRADITIONAL educational methods that have been shown to work for decades.