Selective outrage about testing

Indiana schools have finally received their preliminary 2015 ISTEP test results, and school officials aren’t happy. Superintendents, especially, are pushing back hard.

In media stories and statements to the public, they have called aspects of this year’s tests “not fair,” “a complete fiasco” and “almost unfathomable.” The setting of grades, they said, was arbitrary and invalid.

On the one hand, good for them. On the other, where were they when test scores and a similarly arbitrary process were being used to label other people’s schools as failing?

Were they pushing back against a state accountability system that was stacked against high-poverty schools? Or were administrators and school board members content with a system that delivered high grades and let them boast of running an A school corporation.

Yes, this year’s ISTEP exams were more difficult and stressful than in the past, with a new set of state standards and new tests to measure what students were learning. But the real issue seems to be the passing scores that the State Board of Education approved last month.

Under the new cut scores, the number of students who pass the tests is expected to drop by 20-25 percentage points. Lower tests scores will result in lower school grades. Continue reading

Grace College should say no to Seven Oaks charter school

It took a few years, but charter school organizers have finally figured out that the easiest way to open their school may be to ask one of the state’s private colleges to act as authorizer. That’s the case in Monroe County, where the folks behind the proposed Seven Oaks Classical School – rejected twice by the Indiana Charter School Board – have turned to Grace College & Seminary, a small Christian college 180 miles to the north.

The state legislature, seeking to induce more charter schools to open, amended the law in 2011 to allow 30 private colleges and universities to authorize charter schools and to create the state charter school board. So far, only three private colleges, Grace, Trine University and Calumet College, have joined the game.

This creates significant issues of accountability and transparency that the legislature should consider. Other Indiana charter school authorizers – local school boards, the Indianapolis mayor’s office, Ball State University and the state charter school board – are at least indirectly accountable to elected public officials. And under the state public meetings law, they make their decisions about authorizing schools in public.

That’s not the case with private colleges. In the case of Seven Oaks, the Grace College board of directors will decide whether to approve a charter. Good luck finding out even who the board members are, let alone why they should be trusted to make a decision about spending public dollars to provide an effective education for the children of Monroe County.

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Tyrone Howard to teachers: Have empathy, demand excellence

Tyrone C. Howard draws a line between sympathy and empathy for poor children and students of color.

Sympathy – feeling sorry for students – can mean teachers have lower expectations, settle for less and choose not to challenge students, he said. It can lead to a “pedagogy of poverty” that focuses on basic skills and denies children the rich opportunities offered to more advantaged peers.

Empathy, on the other hand, means listening to students, learning from them and understanding how their culture and life circumstances influence how they think and talk and behave in school.

Tyrone Howard (UCLA photo)

Tyrone Howard (UCLA photo)

“I’m asking you to be empathetic and to expect and demand excellence,” he told an audience of Monroe County Community School Corp. teachers this week.

Howard, a professor of education and director of the Black Male Institute at UCLA, spoke with teachers Tuesday during a professional development session on cultural competence. A renowned scholar of race and educational equity, he is the author of “Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools” and “Black Male(d): Peril and Promise in the Education of African American Males.”

Howard suggested it can be easy to fall into the sympathy trap. Take the nation’s 56 million public school students and compress them into one classroom of 30 students: 12 will live in poverty, and three in extreme poverty. Ten speak a primary language other than English. And one is homeless.

Seven will experience physical, emotional of sexual abuse during childhood. And perhaps that many more will experience abuse that goes unreported and undetected. No wonder some students are angry, some are sullen, and some act out in ways that adults consider inappropriate or disruptive.

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