Tuesday, August 18, 2009

PA State Board of Education Approves High School Graduation Exit Exams with 14-2 Vote

Pennsylvania's Board of Education voted 14:2 to approve the Keystone Exams, high school graduation competency exit exams, despite the recent resistance by school boards, organizations, and politicians across the state since its proposal a couple of years ago.

The Board of Education's approval should not come as a surprise. The year-long moratorium was lifted in June. Senate Education Committee voted 10:1 to adopt a resolution in support of the most recent version of the Keystone Exam Plan on July 28; the House Education Committee nearly voted unanimously in favor of the high school graduation competency testing process that Governor Edward Rendell and State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak believe will ensure that the state's high school students graduate with a meaningful diploma. The recent shift in support of these measures is due to the fact that the plan looks quite different from its original draft.

So, if the No Child Left Behind law hasn't managed to close the achievement gap in seven years, will the Keystone Exams raise or frustrate academic success state-wide?

Three of the ten tests will be administered to high school students during the 2010-11 school year, the others will phase in through 2016. Test scores will count for one-third of the students' final grade. The Keystone Exams come at a production cost of nearly $200 million by an out-of-state company.

Before the Attorney General makes the Keystone Exams "state law" the House and Senate Education Committees along with the Independent Regulatory Commission will have to put their final approval on the proposal.

One has to wonder what role in the voting process did Pennsylvania's 3.2 billion dollar deficit play in the decision process of our "leaders." Did anyone consider the level of success the No Child Left Behind law has had over the past seven years, or lack thereof. Ready or not, it looks like high school graduation competency exams are coming to your school district soon.

Betcha the "politics" of the Keystone Exams makes for good readin'!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

AFRICAN AMERICAN TEENAGER WINS CASE AGAINST LOWER MERION SCHOOLS: She is to be compensated for the loss of years of meaningful education

After listening to testimony over eight days, an administrative hearing officer ruled that the Lower Merion School District denied its 17-year old African American high school student, C.H., a free and appropriate public education, June 2009. C.H. is a student with learning disabilities in mathematics, reading and writing. She aspires to attend college. Her compensation includes, but is not limited to, intensive instruction from Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes in Bryn Mawr.

The hearing officer’s opinion outlines a litany of basic failures on the part of the district to understand C.H.’s current level of educational attainment or to set measurable goals to improve. As a result, the remedial courses offered to C.H. were not tied to her actual needs. For example, while the district knew about C.H.’s learning disability in math, it failed to ascertain what skills she had attained or provide any goals for her improvement. According to the hearing officer, the district official’s explanation for this omission of math goals was “not logical”; there is a basic need, the hearing officer observed, for a baseline evaluation and then goals to measure progress from that baseline. The hearing officer similarly characterized as “sparse” the goals for reading and writing, observing that none of them was measurable. “Had the [Individualized Education Plans] been more precisely focused through reading, mathematics and written expression goals that were sufficiently broken down, and crafted with specific baselines and outcomes that were measurable, the actual remedial teaching might have occurred in such a way as to demonstrate meaningful progress. Unfortunately, this was not the case and C.H. was therefore denied [an education.]”

ACADEMIC TRACKING: Segregated access to knowledge…hurts!

Academic tracking is not just a canker sore in our schools; it’s an educational system of segregation that’s like a “curable” cancer that if left unchecked leads to the demise of vulnerable citizens—our children.

The 21st century public education system’s challenges include closing the academic achievement gaps that persist between the races and classes. School administrators, educators, and policy makers are scrambling all over the nation in an effort to fix the gap problem and raise achievement as federally mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Academic tracking is an institutionalized practice in U.S. public schools that is at least a century old; dividing students into categories of “more able” or “less able” is used by schools to segregate students into ability groups, instructional levels, and classes. Segregated tracking undermines school reform, yet is often ignored as a primary component of academic achievement—for lack thereof---as the nation focuses on other perceived problems such as teaching to the standardized tests, funding No Child Left Behind, and making Adequate Yearly Progress.

Tracking allocates the most valuable school experiences -- including challenging and meaningful curriculum, engaging instruction, and high teacher expectations -- to students who already have the greatest academic, economic, and social advantages, while students who face the greatest struggles in school and in life receive a more impoverished curriculum based on lower expectation placed on them by school staff.
Anne Wheelock, Children’s Advocate

It’s an important reform matter because the 21st century post-industrialist “white-collar” economy does not need the larger “blue-collar--factory” labor pool of its predecessors. Today’s is a global world requiring highly skilled workers. Tracking disqualifies a huge segment of the population from becoming prepared to take advantage of future opportunities, particularly African Americans, Latinos, children with disabilities and those from low-income or immigrant families.

Is your child academically derailed?

Minority students and those from the lowest socio-economic groups have been found in disproportionate numbers in lower level track courses, and children from upper socioeconomic levels and Whites have been found consistently over represented in higher tracks. This is particularly true in Lower Merion where tracking starts in elementary school, takes shape in middle school, and becomes more formerly labeled in high school as modified, college prep, honors, advanced placement, IB, vocational education, or special education courses.

Tracking prevails because it is perceived by school staff to be a logical and expedient way to take account of wide differences in students’ academic abilities. The underlying presumption is that students are appropriately placed when tracked by standardized test scores or I/Qs or subjective measures. People get worried about the effects of heterogeneous grouping on the "upper" level students, fearing that the "lower" level students will hold them back; apparently they’re less concerned about the impact low level courses have on students placed there, or whether schools should hire and train staff who are capable of organizing curriculum and instruction so that all students can learn.

Schools that track tend to place a heavier emphasis on quantifying intelligence rather than releasing it and bringing out the genius in every child. They define (in)ability without nurturing effort, and sort according to weaknesses rather than building on strengths. For lower tracked students, educators cover content—focusing on worksheets, listening, copying, test taking, and graphic organizers--rather than stress concepts, problem solving and complex thinking. Typically, teachers contemplate whether students learn fast or slowly, are average or gifted, are adept or struggling, their ethnic, social and economic family background, and other factors before deciding on course placement levels.

Students of low tracked courses often experience school as an intellectually and physically inhospitable place for learning. Student complaints about boring classes or teacher are ignored as the question of whether they’re completing homework and sitting in their seats when the bells rings takes precedence. When students seem distant from their own learning experiences or become behavior problems, the inquiry of a school psychologist is employed evaluate whether the student has a specific learning disability or is emotionally disturbed.

Students need schools that provide quality relationships, curriculum, and instruction in every classroom. The decision to track students is essentially one of giving up on the problem, as is retention, social promotions, marginalization, and “dumping” kids into special education.

Academic tracking will maintain the status quo,
but not serve Americans well, especially African Americans.