Thursday, June 08, 2017

Career and College Ready

Queens City Councilman Rory Lancman is upset about college readiness rates in the city. He says that students graduate from high school at twice the rate of college readiness. And if you go strictly by the stats, he's absolutely right. If you read his argument, it's tough to find fault with it.

But if you look a little deeper, there is an issue, and that issue is how we define college readiness. The way we do it is via a combination of test grades. Here's a report from Reformy John King that likens college and career readiness to rating "proficient" on NAEP. Diane Ravitch argues that this is an absurd interpretation, the same one that the Reformy Waiting for Superman film used to berate public schools. Here's a more recent NY Regents report, full of Common Corey stuff.

Who determines who's college and career ready? Well, it's not really a who, but a what. It's based on test scores. Students who get so many points on this test and so many points on that are college and career ready. Students who get fewer points or fail this test are not. So if we want to make our students college and career ready, how can we do that?

It's pretty simple, actually. We test prep them. And as we all know, there's nothing more inspiring to teenagers than sitting around prepping for some test. That will certainly inspire them. They'll look forward to college and career, because they got to sit for hours in some classroom endlessly practicing exercises designed to show them how to pass one test.

Actually there are studies that show teacher grades are a better indication of college readiness. Unsurprisingly, students who do well with high school teachers tend to also do well with college teachers. Rory Lancman hasn't considered that, since he read somewhere that too many city students aren't college ready. In fact, a whole lot of people read articles like these and assume that students aren't college ready. And honestly, how many people follow closely enough to understand that college and career readiness are just a bunch of arbitrary test scores that some overpaid educrat dreamed up in some cozy office in Albany?

A problem with state exam scores is that they are wholly inconsistent and unreliable. One year it's the English Regents exam and the next it's the Common Core English exam. Which one is better and how do you prove it? Unfortunately, standardized tests are not really standardized as they're subject to whatever trendy nonsense comes into vogue. Next year maybe they'll drop the name Common Core and give the same test under a new name, pretending it's different. Or maybe they'll change a few things and say it's the same. Who knows?

Also the grades don't really mean a whole lot either. They are forever raising and lowering lines. One year they want everyone to pass so as to conclusively establish the genius of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The next they want everyone to fail so as to prove every teacher in New York sucks and needs to be fired. Who knows where the lines are this year? Who knows what they mean, particularly when coupled with the ever-evolving test, which Rory Lancman and readers of New York newspapers assume to be perfect no matter what?

There are issues with teacher grades now, too, unfortunately. I myself have attended meetings, the themes of which have largely revolved around how we could pass every student in every subject no matter what. I'm afraid I'm far from alone in this. Teachers understand messages, and not only subtle ones. We get when we're being hit over the head with a sledge hammer. We understand what it means when schools are closed for alleged failure.

If you consider the entire situation, it's very hard to say who is college and career ready. If anyone really cared, or really wanted to know, they'd empower teachers to do what's right and use their professional discretion. Of course, in New York State, that's out of the question. You see, the folks in Albany set cut scores up and down to make them appear any way they wish. That's fundamentally dishonest.

The thing about people who are fundamentally dishonest is they tend to believe the same is true of everyone. That's why they think we teachers are all too crooked to grade the state exams of our own students. As long as the crooks in Albany assume us to be pathological liars, no one's likely to attach any validity to the predictive nature of our grades.

But if anyone really wants to know how kids are doing, and how ready they are, they will empower teachers. The whole vilification thing really doesn't work for anyone at all.
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