For all the fuss about multiplication tables , algebra and calculus what’s more alarming is the depth of our layman understanding of statistics–including students with high test scores and elite educational backgrounds. Including, of course, journalists and politicians and newspaper editors.
Once again Richard Rothstein of EPI comes to the rescue. Along with Martin Canoy of Stamford they undertook a close examination of the numbers around international test score comparisons. Unsurprisingly they found that the differences were (1) usually a reflection of the percentage of low-income children in the sampled population, 2) the choice of what kind of information to cover (number theory vs algebra–where we do better on the latter and the Finns on the former, but we just happened to be on the unlucky draw of the dice).
It makes for good reading. For more go to Economic Policy Institute (EPI)
I think I turned off of math in elementary and high school (although I did fairy well because I was dutiful). I thought it was a dull subject because it was just a question of right and wrong answers–which didn’t seem to me to offer room for intellectual curiosity. Except for statistics, which I took in college and again when I needed a certificate in eduction. (It’s too bad, because later on I discovered that all math can be fascinating.)
It was statistics that first clicked for me–because by that time I had become well aware of how easy it was to use data to “prove” one’s case–regardless of which case you had in mind. (My father was an expert at it!) By the time I began teaching, and above all by the time I was putting together reports to the DOE and friendly Foundations, not to mention serving on my local school board, I discovered a world in which data was the most freely floating of phenomena. I became a fa of true hard data–direct narrative. At a certain point I ceased to believe any data on education that rested on any kind of “high stakes” data collecting–that is data that teachers and/or principals and/or school boards/ and or politicians needed for one self-interested purpose or another. (It took me a while to suspect that I needed to do the same about economic data, financial data, and on and on.)
Nothing could be taken for granted. Not even the definition of being “absent” from school. In California, at one time, only students who were playing truant and had no legitimate excuse note from home were marked “absent.” In NYC it depended on when attendance was taken. Too raise attendace rates in NYC one enterprising chancellor just changed the time of day for taking attendance–from first to 4th period.
Drop out rates? They remain a complete fraud. Partly because we define them differently and partly because it’s so easy for a principal to cheat and partly because it’s not easy for them to actually know whether a student simply transferred or dropped out.
And on and on. I laugh when anyone gives me data from countries like China – where they are no doubt experts at using data for propaganda purposes. Are those poor children in Shanghai–who were considered illegal immigrants (from the countryside) counted? Probably not because they couldn’t attend schools in Shanghai. And few Chinese citizens are likely to take up the FairTests role in China: questioning the State’s official truth.
Yes yes yes. I trust the judgment of almost every teacher more than the judgment that rests only on so-called “hard” data. The hardest data of all is the work of the kids themselves, their voices and language, their defense of their work, their projects and products. If we cared enough–that’s what would be judged.
Imagine the increase in road accidents if we eliminated the actual driving test and only used the multiple-choice section!!! The scorers who drive with the testee may have biases, but I’ll accept their judgment before the paper-and-pencil test score, with all of its “objectivity”. Of course, we could improve those driving tests…..
Filed under: 2013 posts