Friday, March 10, 2006

Pearson fails SAT

Freak accident or part of a long, continuous series of stories just like this one? You decide.

By the way, Pearson blamed the problem on "excessive moisture" in their facility here in Austin, Texas. I can tell you, folks, unless they had some leaky faucets, there has been hardly any moisture at all -- much less excessive -- in Austin for about a year now. Most of Texas is in the midst of a painful drought.

This is a strange story and should certainly lead to some more much-deserved chinks in high-stakes testing's armor.

The mistakes, which the company, Pearson Educational Measurement, acknowledged yesterday, raised fresh questions about the reliability of the kinds of high-stakes tests that increasingly dominate education at all levels. Neither Pearson, which handles state testing across the country, nor the College Board detected the scoring problems until two students came forward with complaints.

"The story here is not that they made a mistake in the scanning and scoring but that they seem to have no fail-safe to alert them directly and immediately of a mistake," said Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "To depend on test-takers who challenge the scores to learn about system failure is not good."

These were not the first major scoring problems that Pearson has experienced. The company agreed in 2002 to settle a large lawsuit over errors in scoring 8,000 tests in Minnesota that prevented several hundred high school seniors from graduating. It also has made significant scoring errors in Washington and Virginia.

After those problems, company officials had assured clients that they had vastly improved their quality control. But the new problems on the October SAT turned out to be the most significant scoring errors that the College Board had experienced.

Pearson said yesterday that the SAT errors, which affected 4,000 students out of 495,000 who took the October test, arose partly because of excessive moisture that caused the answer sheets to expand before they were scanned at the company's large test-processing site in Austin, Tex.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Another constitutional crisis

We're facing a constitutional crisis here in Texas over school funding and a Supreme Court decision that the system is illegal.

Now we get to welcome another state to the club:

Concord – A superior court judge handed a victory yesterday to Londonderry, Nashua and 16 other school districts, ruling the state’s latest school funding plan is unconstitutional.

Justice William Groff ruled that past New Hampshire Supreme Court rulings in Claremont cases make it clear the new law, contained in House Bill 616, fails to clear even the first of four hurdles the courts set for the Legislature.

“The Legislature has completely failed to fulfill its constitutional duty,” to define a constitutionally adequate education, Groff ruled. As for determining the cost of an adequate education, he said, the Legislature, “has abdicated its duty.”

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Change in Texas

Texas House Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf lost in a Republican Primary election yesterday.

Grusendorf was in the leadership's camp, a camp that advocated no-new-money for schools, vouchers, and other assorted unsavory "ecucation reforms." His opponent, Diane Patrick, is an education professor at UT-Arlington and a public education advocate.

Could the tide be turning within the Republican Party? Could the moderates be reasserting themselves?

Wal-Mart reaches out to blogs

Wal-Mart may be seeking you out, fellow blogger, to carry their water. Don't do it. Apparently, they're reaching out to try to spread the message of how wonderful they are in the blogosphere. Lord help us.

Monday, March 06, 2006

G-d help us

Yet another reason why vouchers are a bad idea. What if the people who wrote the curriculum discussed in this column wrote it for all students!?

G-d help us (no pun intended).

Where ed policy meets campaign finance reform

I wrote last week about the Republicans' sugar daddy in Texas, James Leininger. Over the weekend, the San Antonio Express News (which by the way, just might be the best newspaper in Texas) did a thorough piece on the San Antonio native.

He's spent over $3 million on state primary elections in this election cycle alone! That's a mind boggling figure for one person to have kicked in. Why's he doing it?

With a privately funded San Antonio voucher program poised to expire, and policy and political trends potentially making chances even bleaker for the controversial idea after next year's regular legislative session, some say this election is a make-or-break time.

So comes the war's escalation.

Leininger, 61, says that for him, it's all about improving the chances of saving inner-city children from low-performing public schools. His critics say vouchers would damage public education for all children.

What's more, critics say his infusion of more than $3.2 million so far in this year's primaries — with the majority going to the five targeted legislative seats — signals a disturbing effort by one man to buy democracy.

"It's unprecedented and more government than any one human being ought to be able to buy," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen, a private watchdog group. He called Leininger the "poster doctor" for campaign finance reform.

What the article doesn't get into is Dr. Leininger's religion. And it is an issue here. Dr. Leininger is a devout Christian, which is fine, but he wants public money to go to private Christian schools, which is not. If Leininger is successful tomorrow -- he would need most of his 5 House candidates and a conservative Democrat in the Senate to win -- he might just get his publicly funded voucher program after over a decade of trying.

SCOTUS unanimous against gay rights

Rumsfeld v. FAIR has been decided. And the result was no surprise.

What was a surprise was that the justices ruled unanimously that law schools must allow military recruiters even though the military discriminates against gays. (Many law schools have anti-discrimination policies for recruiters.)

The so-called "don't ask, don't tell" rule is a sham and will one be looked back on with shame. I'm starting to get the feeling, though, that there will be a lot of decisions from the Roberts court that will be viewed unkindly by history.

MLK said the arc of history is long but bends towards justice. Sometimes, I'm not so sure.
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