Wednesday, October 07, 2009

School Correlations 2

Richard Mason asked in the comments to School Correlations why test scores dipped between 3rd and 4th grade at my daughter's school.  I didn't have a good answer for that; I suspected it had to do with student turnover.

Now that I have observed the 4th grade teachers in action, I have a better explanation.

Test scores tell you how well the kids did on that particular test.  They don't tell you what else (if anything) they learned.  Two schools can attain the same mean test scores, but one school may have spent half the school year prepping the kids for the test, to the exclusion of all else.   The other school may have done nothing more than put aside their regular instruction for the test day(s).

Remember when we pulled Iris out of school for a week in April/May 2008 for a trip to Hawaii?  I was astonished by the number of school-aged kids there at the same time.  In speaking with the other parents, I learned that the weeks leading up to standardized testing are the perfect time to take a vacation with bright  kids.  The kids were missing nothing but drilling.  The teachers were happy to get rid of the kids who would do fine on the tests without drilling.  That way, they could devote more time to the struggling kids.

We thought about taking a vacation in Spring of 2009 as well, but I was too ill at the time.  We kept waiting for the drilling to occur, and it never did.

Iris' 4th grade teacher doesn't believe in drilling for smart kids.  She said that it pisses them off and causes a discipline problem that no one needs.  She went on that her 'learning center' kids were being prepped for exams by the teachers there, and the rest of the kids would do fine without test prep. 

She spent those weeks teaching the rest of the kids elementary algebra such as plotting a linear function and determining the x-intercept or given a y, solve for x. ( I discovered this when I tried to homeschool Iris in elementary algebra.  She said she already knew it and pulled out her old homework as proof.)

The STAR results back up her methods.  75% of the 4th graders scored at the advanced level.  But, I think that the drop between 4th and 5th grade says more about the mix of kids in those cohorts than about the teachers.  You'd have to look at a longer time span to draw any conclusions.  I will say that my kid was happy that her teacher last year didn't assign tons of homework.

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