Supplemental: Same old story (SOS) on the achievement gap!


Apparently clueless superintendent discusses the wonders of testing:
Nobody’s heading back to school yet. That said, we were struck by a puzzling essay in Sunday’s Washington Post—an essay from the head of the public schools in the state of Virginia.

More specifically, we were struck by the incoherence of the piece—the type of fuzziness which has dominated such writing for decades.

As she started, Virginia education secretary Anne Holton sounded an upbeat note, including a note from her own childhood. She said the state was determined to help its kids escape poverty—and she said the state’s testing program has helped:
HOLTON (7/12/15): As the 12-year-old daughter of then-Gov. Linwood Holton Jr., I helped integrate our formerly racially divided public schools here in Virginia. I have spent much of my working life focused on children and families at the margin, with full appreciation of the crucial role education can and must play in helping young people escape poverty and become successful adults.

As Virginia’s education secretary, I oversee one of the strongest public education systems in the nation. Our graduation rates are well above average, and we outperform most other states on the Nation’s Report Card. A significant factor in our success has been the Standards of Learning (SOL) accountability system Virginia implemented in the 1990s. The rest of the nation followed in Virginia’s footsteps when No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2001. Virginia led again when we moved several years ago from assessing for minimum competency to our current college- and career-readiness standards, complete with rigorous, high-stakes testing.
As you can see, Virginia’s statewide testing program carries a slightly unfortunate acronym. The statewide tests are known as the SOLs.

After puffing Virginia’s statewide performance a bit (see below), Holton said the SOLs have been “a significant factor in our success.” Presumably, she refers in part to Virginia’s success in helping kids escape poverty.

According to Holton, the state of Virginia led the way in the move from “assessing for minimum competency” to what sounds like a more challenging type of “rigorous, high-stakes testing.” But as she continued, she seemed to paint a dystopian picture of testing in the state's schools:
HOLTON (continuing directly): Our successes have come with challenges. Parents, educators and students resoundingly tell us that our kids are over-tested and over-stressed. Eight- and 10-year-olds suffer through multi-hour tests that measure their endurance more than their learning. Barely verbal special education students whose individualized education plans are focused on independent living skills are instead drilled incessantly on a handful of facts for a modified SOL exam. Teachers are teaching to the tests. Students’ and teachers’ love of learning and teaching are sapped.
It’s hard to know what to leave out as we highlight that paragraph.

According to Holton, kids in Virginia are “over-tested and over-stressed.” Eight-year-old children are “suffering through multi-hour tests that don’t really measure their learning.”

Special education students are “drilled incessantly on a handful of facts”—inappropriately so, Holton says—so they can pass their own SOLs. Meanwhile, teachers are “teaching to the tests.”

Students’ “love of learned is sapped.” Teachers have learned to dislike teaching!

According to Holton, these have been a few of the bugs—the “challenges”—as the state of Virginia has led the nation in the implementation of high-stakes testing! She makes it sound like these practices continue to this day.

The incoherence of this presentation seems apparent to us. It also seems familiar. The nation’s discourse about standardized testing has always been uninformed and incoherent. In our view, the incoherence, ignorance and technical incompetence can be found on all asides of our current debates about testing.

Personally, we can’t imagine running a low-income public school system without some sort of annual test. In the absence of some objective measure, it’s easy for systems to start fudging the facts about our achievement gaps.

Holton’s concerned about those gaps, as of course she should be. But this is what she says as she continues:
HOLTON (continues): Most troublesome, Virginia’s persistent achievement gaps for low-income students have barely budged. We have done a good job of identifying challenges but have been less successful in addressing them. An unintended consequence of our high-stakes approach is that it is now even harder to recruit and retain strong educators in our high-poverty communities. Many of the best opt instead for schools where demographics guarantee better test scores; too often fine teachers leave the profession.
In the course of leading the nation for several decades, the state’s “persistent achievement gaps for low-income students have barely budged,” Holton says.

According to Holton, the state “has done a good job of identifying challenges.” But the state “has been less successful in addressing them.”

We’re not sure when we’ve read such an incoherent presentation. Unless it was the last time we read a piece by an education official about standardized testing in schools.

Having said that, let us make a basic point about “achievement gaps.” More precisely, let us make our same old point—the SOP!—about this important subject.

Let’s assume that Virginia’s gaps haven’t narrowed all that much. That doesn’t necessarily mean that low-income and/or minority kids aren’t doing better in reading and math.

It’s true! In Grade 8 math, Virginia’s black-white achievement gap hasn’t changed in recent years. On “the Nation’s Report Card” to which Holton refers—the National Assessment of Educational Progress—the gap was basically the same in 2013 as it was in 2000.

(For all NAEP data, start here, then use the NAEP Data Explorer.)

The gap is unchanged since 2000; that sounds like gloomy news. Here’s the good news:

The average score of black eighth-graders in Virginia rose by more than fourteen points during that 13-year period. And good lord! According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year.

If we assume those NAEP data are basically valid, black eighth-graders in Virginia are doing substantially better in math. The achievement gap hasn’t been reduced for a deeply pernicious reason—white eighth-graders in the state have been scoring higher too!

What has been happening in Virginia? We can’t tell you that.

That said, do you get the idea that Holton knows? In all candor, we don’t. But this is the way such discussions have worked for as long as we’ve been following them, dating back more than forty years.

We live within a very primitive intellectual/journalistic culture. Due to the elaborate branding of newspapers like the Washington Post, this highly counterintuitive fact may be quite hard to discern.

Now for the bad or the good news: Here’s the bad news for Virginia—on a nationwide basis, black eighth-graders recorded even larger score gains in math over that 13-year period.

From 2000 to 2013, the average math score by black eighth-graders in Virginia went up by 14.07 points. Nationwide, the average score by black eighth-graders went up by 19.46 points!

As we’ve endlessly shown you down through the years, upbeat information like this never gets published or discussed, certainly not in the Washington Post. We doubt that Holton has ever heard such facts.

Instead, we keep hearing that nothing has worked in our public schools with their ratty teachers and their infernal unions. For reasons no “expert” has ever explained, our deeply primitive journalistic culture works in precisely this way.

Everyone agrees to this, including those “experts” who toil on your own tribal side. This is the world in which we all live.

Go ahead! You explain it!


    (Served With Tubs of Somerby Sauce)

    Well the ONE TRUE BOB is back thanks to another incoherent, incompetent, and ignorant person daring to express a fuzzy opinion he can refute for his terminally addled followers by picking cherries and serving them with his favorite thumb stirred magic sauce. We know you have questions so we will go in reverse.


    Because his "rough rule of thumb," just like his analysts, does not exist.

    To borrow a little syntax from the OTB "As we’ve endlessly shown you down through the years" the rule of thumb Bob invokes almost as often as Rachel clowns does not exist. Except in the minds of very ignorant charlatans who think they know something about educational statistics. There the thumbs grow . It matters not if you sprinkle the thumb with the adjective "rough" or double down and call it "very rough." Because, once again, like the analysts used as a literary device to break the tedium of his tirades, there is no such rule. The NAEP, citing the OTB himself, says it might be helpful to know how many points on an NAEP score is equivalent to what length of schooling in academic grade years. But nobody has done the work (or gone to the expense) to find out. Until somebody has measured it they suggest nobody use such a figure. That doesn't stop our OTB. Moreover, note the experts from NAEP, if you could come up with such a rough rule of thumb, it would likely be much different for reading and math. Which brings us to the fruit of the matter.


    We’re not sure when we’ve read a Howler presentation about standardized testing that didn't involve cherry picked data. Our favorite of all time was when BOB literally twisted himself into a pretzel to prove Polish kids weren't out improving American kids on PISA testing (he couldn't try to show they were not outscoring Americans
    so he created cross subject comparisons of score improvements nobody but a pinheaded donkey would fail to scoff at).

    Lately BOB's favorite cherry is eighth grade math. He serves you up[ a big scoopful today. "Look at those NAEP 8th grade math score from Virginia kids. Isn't that improvement BIG! Look at the numbers, not my magical thumbs" he seems to be saying. Well the thumb stirring up the gains masks the thumb holding down the data he doesn't want to pop up. In reading, over much the same period of time BOB's cherry results are shown for math, scores of Virginia eighth graders didn't budge. Not for white kids. Not for black kids. Not for those sons and daughters of melon calved Mexican rapists and refugees from Cuba or the Commonwealth. Alas!

    For reasons no BOBfan” has ever explained, our deeply simplistic blogger keeps entertaining them this way. Making them go to bed angry at night.

    Tomorrow: Are people really increasingly calling the folks at MSNBC the "Maddowsketeers"? Hint. Google the term.

  2. As Bob says, those who care about poor blacks should be happy to see them doing better in school. Even if non-blacks are also doing better. What matters is the absolute level educational achievement, not the size of the gap.

    And, yet....when the topic is wealth, the gap seems to matter, rather than absolute level of wealth. Thus, Bob and his ilk support higher taxes and wage limits that reduce the gap, even if these approaches don't help the poor. They support extensive regulations that make everyone less wealthy, as long as these regs don't widen the gap.

    1. Unlike our economy, schools meet the needs of all kids, even those with disabilities, non-native speakers, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. If schools only educated the gifted they would resemble the way our economy is currently rigged to benefit those who are wealthy.

    2. Most of America's "poor" have phones...air conditioning...medical care...etc. The reason most of our poor have what we'd consider middle-class benefits is that our economy produces enough wealth to afford these benefits. Thus the "poor" do indeed benefit from America's economy. Today's "poor" live about as well as the middle class did when I was young.

    3. You forgot to say "Let them eat cake".

      Did your middle-class parents each work two jobs? Did they eat cat food so they could buy their health prescriptions?

      I grew up poor and I didn't have a winter coat to wear while walking to school. Much like today's poor kids. We had TV but I had no lunch money and I was the kid who didn't go on the field trip with the class. I got asked to prom but couldn't afford a dress. Life is still like that for poor kids, even the ones with indoor plumbing, you jerk. I'll bet you went to summer camp or on family vacations. Poor kids never do that. We didn't go to a doctor unless our parents were scared we might die, and our teeth weren't straightened, or filled. You have no idea what you are talking about.

    4. Today's poor kids have access to winter coats, school buses, health care, housing, school lunch, school breakfast, and dental care. They also have negligent parents who don't avail themselves to these benefits because they produce unwanted children and then neglect them. See word gap.

    5. Despite availability of school lunch programs and other attempts to ameliorate poverty, there is still a difference between what middle class kids experience and what poor kids experience. You left out vacations, having more time with parents who work one job instead of two, access to dental care (not provided in most jobs much less clinics unless you have a cleft palate), ski or music or gymnastics lessons, concert tickets, x-boxes or "in" clothes, Spring break in Cabo, ability to apply to multiple colleges (despite their application fees) and take prep classes to prepare to SAT, participation in athletics (which require hefty parental involvement and fees), visits to amusement parks much less museums, nutritional food (as opposed to cheap fast food), new shoes and clothes at the time the old ones are outgrown. How much time do parents have to seek out and apply for sources of aid between their two (or even three) minimum wage jobs?

      You don't understand what the word gap is. You also seem to think that being poor means you didn't want your kids. You seem to think that someone might be poor and have kids anyway, instead of being well off and becoming poor after the kids have already arrived (by losing a job or getting sick).

      The way poor people afford housing in expensive areas (like major cities) is to crowd multiple families into a single family house. In poor areas, there may be 15-25 people living in one house. How does a kid do homework or read when their home is never quiet and they are never alone? Is that the same kind of "housing" that middle class kids have? Do you think poor people live together like that because they want to? You have no clue how difficult it is to solve logistical problems of daily living without enough money.

    6. The vast majority of children in poverty not only don't have two parents working, they don't have two parents, and if they have one, she isn't working. Children in intact families with employed parent(s) generally do not end up living in poverty.

    7. "Do you think poor people live together like that because they want to? "

      Yes. Family planning is available to all and paid for by others. If a trip to the doctor or 7-11 is too much to ask of someone who knows they might produce impoverished offspring, abstinence generally works.

  3. If math scores can be improved among African American kids, it undermines beliefs of people like Charles Murray (The Bell Curve) that special programs to address educational needs of disadvantaged kids are ineffective because the gap is genetic (or at least intractable). Murray and like-minded conservatives welcome an excuse to disinvest in minority kids.

    KZ gives aid and comfort to the Murray crowd, suggesting that Somerby cherry picks his data to exaggerate improvement and ignores relative lack of progress in reading. He seems superficially to be a critic of Somerby but his arguments are pure bigotry. All kids deserve the best education we can provide, whether the gap exists or not. In the meantime, KZ is working very hard to deny black kids are doing better. It is time for him to explain what he has against minority kids.

    1. The Bell Curve didn't say that. On the contrary, it said that low (on average) black IQ scores are NOT proof of genetic inferiority, because of the unique mis-treatment of blacks over the years. Go read the book for yourself and you'll see.

    2. And then Murray said Head Start was a waste of money because black kids can't learn. With that, it doesn't matter that he left the door open to non-genetic causes. Splitting hairs.

    3. I don't know if Somerby is revealing data that undermines the bigot's version of the Bell Curve. I don't know if KZ is denying black kids are doing better.

      I do think this post looks pretty idiotic by undermining the post the author just wrote criticizing Chris Matthews for noting statistics that show health care coverage for minorities was improving.

    4. Are you suggesting David in Cal = KZ?

    5. No, but I do think you are KZ.

    6. @9:31
      Herrnstein & Murray were the ones relating disparities in performance on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to race. It has been a long time since their book was published, but their main point was that intractable differences were a waste of time to address using special programs because environmental or situational factors didn't explain the differences as well as race did, as a variable. Their race-based explanation was clear, even if David thinks Murray left open the possibility of other explanations. Their book was widely criticized as racist support for conservative abandonment of efforts to improve outcomes for minority children. Your suggestion that it is liberals who are racist because they consider those with higher IQ scores (whites) to be superior is ridiculous because (1) Herrnstein & Murray first made that argument, and (2) the link between higher IQ and better outcomes is the substance of the graphs in their book.

    7. @ 9:53 KZ to some commenters is like the liberal tribe is to Bob. Always to blame. Dumb. Lazy. Immoral. And found everywhere.

    8. You are not as cute as you think you are, KZ.

  4. The assumption that being smart somehow guarantees you'll fit into the workforce is misleading. I consistently tested in 99% on tests and I'm unemployed and on disability for my schizoaffective disorder.

  5. Still doin' The Process Orientation Obfuscation Tango after all these years, huh Bob?

  6. "What has been happening in Virginia? We can’t tell you that."

    You could have tried to tell us what the Secretary of Education of Virginia's point was in her op-ed. You elected not to do that.

    You said:

    "Personally, we can’t imagine running a low-income public school system without some sort of annual test. In the absence of some objective measure, it’s easy for systems to start fudging the facts about our achievement gaps."

    Nowhere in her essay does Holton suggest doing that.

    You said:

    "Let’s assume that Virginia’s gaps haven’t narrowed all that much. That doesn’t necessarily mean that low-income and/or minority kids aren’t doing better in reading and math."

    Nowhere does Secretary Holton suggest that they have not.

    You wrote:

    "We doubt that Holton has ever heard such facts.

    Instead, we keep hearing that nothing has worked in our public schools with their ratty teachers and their infernal unions."

    Secretary Holton began, and you quoted her, saying "Our graduation rates are well above average, and we outperform most other states on the Nation’s Report Card. A significant factor in our success has been the Standards of Learning (SOL) accountability system Virginia implemented in the 1990s."

    That is hardly an indicactor she is unaware of the facts surrounding test results in her state, nor does that, or anything else she states indicates she thinks "nothing has worked" or that teachers or unions are a problem.

    You really have some nerve suggesting the competence problem is Holton's.

    1. He actually suggested that the report was an incoherent mess from which it was difficult to tell what sort of job Holton was doing. If Holton does know what is going on in her district, why cannot she communicate it clearly?

      The attacks on those ratty teachers and their infernal unions may not be expressed by Holton but they are explicitly made often enough that this sort of report fuels them. If Holton doesn't say why those gaps aren't closing and she doesn't explain that some progress is being made, what conclusion is left other than that the teachers aren't doing their jobs properly?

      Why do you knee-jerk automatically defend whoever Somerby complains about? Do you think this is a stirring compliment to Virginia's teachers and their wonderful unions? Do you think this report does point out the gains among African American children? Do you think Holton has explained how much testing is the right amount or has she blamed high stakes testing for a lack of progress, especially among the special ed kids?

      You forgot to complain that Somerby once again raised that "very rough" rule of thumb about NAEP scores and their grade equivalents. Falling down on the job, KZ.

    2. Let me respond in the order in which you asked your questions.

      "If Holton does know what is going on in her district, why cannot she communicate it clearly?"

      Holton is not, as the blogger mistakenly states and you were apparently gullible enough to believe based on the inference, a Superintendent. She is Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Virginia. She has no district.

      If Holton doesn't say why those gaps aren't closing and she doesn't explain that some progress is being made, what conclusion is left other than that the teachers aren't doing their jobs properly?

      Holton called Virginia's public schools "a success," and "one of the strongest public education systems in the nation." She praised its graduation rates and test scores. Using your own baffling logic I can use your own words to answer your question. What conclusion is left other than that the teachers are doing their jobs properly?

      "Why do you knee-jerk automatically defend whoever Somerby complains about?"

      I am hardly defending Holton by pointing out this blog post is far more incompetent that anything in the piece it complains about. In fact is is worse because it is terribly misleading. The question should be reversed. Why do you
      attack everyone who criticizes Mr. Somerby?

      The remainder of your questions don't need to be answered because they reinforce the point of my comment. Somerby made piece out to be an attack on tests, teachers, and black student performance when it was nothing of the sort. Worse, he failed to tell you what it was---an explanation of efforts to make the testing system in Virginia better.

      Finally, instead of suggesting I address something someone brought up in another comment, may I suggest you try refuting it there.

    3. This is the problem. She calls her results a success, then points out that the gap isn't closing and that the kids are being over-tested, especially the special ed kids, and that there is too much teaching to the test. There is an unacknowledged contradiction between the first set of statements and the specifics reported later, with no attempt to reconcile them.

      Somerby didn't make this report out to be an attack on tests, teachers, and black student performance. He said that gains in black student performance were ignored in favor of focus on the gaps and that testing was blamed for a purported lack in improvement. He isn't attacking testing -- Holton is. You say that her report was about improving testing. That implies that testing is the problem. I never said she attacked teachers -- I said those sorts of attacks are implied when no other explanations are provided.

      Pretending you are not the same person who wrote the first comment is a waste of time. Everyone can recognize you, whether you identify yourself or not. You are annoying because your comments never focus on the points raised by Somerby but instead discuss technical irrelevancies that confuse the issues (perhaps deliberately), distort what was said, and try to create the appearance that Somerby doesn't know what he is talking about without actually refuting anything. It is annoying and unfair to Somerby. If you disagree with him, just say so. Have a real discussion with someone. Don't just put up these smokescreens of garbage that never amount to any substantive argument.

      Personally, I don't think you care at all about education or kids (especially not minority ones) because you don't care that your arguments serve the racists and conservatives who want to defund schools, as long as they ding Somerby. I think the reasons you dislike Somerby have nothing to do with anything he posts but are personal. You should be discussing this with your therapist, not annoying people online. Your obsession with Somerby is unhealthy, but more importantly, it interferes with real life issues that are important to other people, such as how kids are being educated in our school systems.

    4. You are nuts.

    5. Great rebuttal!

  7. We can wish he was so smallJuly 16, 2015 at 10:54 AM

    Tiny KZ:

    Somerby didn't mention reading, therefore his criticism of press failures is for "Bobfans" only.

    1. Great point. Holton didn't mention black kids at all, therefore her criticism of testing is for white people only.

    2. No, stupid point. As has been pointed out here several times before, reading scores are much harder to change through school intervention because they rely on early childhood experiences that occur long before a child enters school in Kindergarten. Literacy depends on what happens during the critical period of language acquisition, so disadvantaged kids enter school already far behind. The disadvantage is cumulative, so each year, the kids without good literacy experiences in early childhood fall further behind those with better early environments. Despite the best efforts of teachers, these kids have further to catch up with each year that goes by. If they keep the gap constant as they get older, they and their teachers are doing well. Math doesn't work the same way, cognitively. People learn math later and it doesn't rely so much on experiences kids might have missed, so it is easier for disadvantaged kids to catch up in math. That's why you have math prodigies but very few prodigies in literature or fields requiring semantic knowledge (humanities and social sciences). Life experience is needed in order to relate words to their meanings. A kid exposed to words but with limited life experience will have trouble understanding what they are reading, trouble thinking and acquiring knowledge in a variety of areas based on communication of meaning using words.

      If KZ knew jackshit about education and how kids learn, he wouldn't be insisting that Somerby is wrong because the reading scores have been harder to change than the math scores. He wouldn't be mocking the word gap as if it were some invention of Somerby's and not a basic part of cognitive developmental psychology. He would be joining Somerby in calling for mandatory preschool and greater attention to what happens to kids BEFORE they enter school, instead of joining those who want to blame those ratty teachers and their infernal unions for the lack of change in reading scores. But KZ is a schizophrenic troll who lives to make Somerby appear stupid, while inflicting his "cute" puns and stupid screen names and silly jokes on people who are here because they care about progressive issues. Just go away KZ.

    3. You seem to be talking about and to KZ in both the second and third person simultaneously.

      It may be that you hear him in your mind, which distracts you when conversing with others. Or it may be due to the childhood experiences you suggest are the basis for literary problems.

      It it is the latter I am afraid even the best of our teachers can only keep your literary gap from widening. If it is the former, psychological research points to help being available, but regrettably only from clinical practitioners. I hope you don't
      have a high deductible insurance policy, but that is a matter liberals like me never discuss.