Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Getting Right With Websites…Or Not

with 7 comments

The title has nothing to do with what I want to talk about today.  It’s just an indicator of my frustration.

I got in to school a little later than usual yesterday, so I wasn’t able to get any real work done on the computers.

To make up for that, I’ve been trying to sign in to the college website this morning, only to be continually told that my “session has timed out,” even though I’ve JUST signed in.

The site gets like that sometimes, but it’s making me crazy.

I have been reading the comments and I’ve got a couple of notes:

1) I agree with Cheryl that some bureaucracy will always be necessary, but it’s a necessary evil, and it should be kept as minimal as possible, which is a lot more minimal than it is. 

At the very least, bureaucracies should not have the ability to issue regulations that have the force of law, and they should be required to enforce only objective standards.

No bureaucrat, major or minor, should have the right to say “this is what this regulation means to  me” and then enforce it that way.

That will always lead to favortism, corruption and empire building.  There is nothing else it can lead to.

2) I’m not with Robert about  multiple choice tests.  I think they’re a bad measure of anything.

We give our  students multiple choice tests to determine their literacy levels when they enter, and too many of the kids who get good scores on those are completely unable to write a coherent and grammatical sentence.

What I want are long tests hand written out, preferably with individual examiners from some entity entirely unconnected to the schools, and with some tests (say, for history) done orally.

And yes, I know.  This would be very expensive, and I’m not likely to get it just because of that.

But that would at least give me some indication of what they actually know and are able to do.

3) I knew about our statistics on the international tests, but all I have to say about that is–they are obviously not testing correctly for what needs to be tested for.

My students are virtually all white, but even in my advanced class they are almost all incapable of writing ANYTHING grammatically, and most of their reading comprehension levels are minimal.

It’s one thing to read a passage, be given a set of possible answers, and be good at figuring out which of those answers may be correct.

It’s something else to be given a short story or essay to read and be able to figure out from that alone what the text is saying.

I’m going to go try to sign on to that website again.

Written by janeh

February 7th, 2013 at 9:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Getting Right With Websites…Or Not'

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  1. Hmmm. I said the kids should be tested, and that it was possible to determine whether they’d learned the material. I don’t think I said it HAD to be multiple choice. I think you can do a pretty good job with multiple choice in math science, history–if the material to be taught is agreed–and the more mechanical elements of English such as spelling and grammar. For reading comprehension and English composition, I’d rather have them read a short piece of prose and write an essay on a specified topic as a response, but it is going to be a little more touchy-feely than what year the Gettysburg Address was given or problems in long division. I’d ask for no more than an assessment of grade level, and have an appeal process or multiple essays to different graders.

    It still shouldn’t be expensive, though. I used to grade high school AP papers as a GTA, and no one was paying me any fortune. Compare the cost of grading 50 essays with the cost of a three credit-hour course, or a year’s salary for a high school English teacher.


    7 Feb 13 at 1:24 pm

  2. If you’re doing it for thousands of papers – all students throughout the system – and doing it for high stakes (eg pass/fail), you need at a minimum to set up a committee to agree roughly on a standard for the grades, to do the marking and to set up a system of quality control in which randomly selected essays are marked twice. It gets expensive. That’s why governments like cheaper methods – either not having the provincial or national standards (and letting the individual teacher mark them any way he or she or the prinicpal wants) or using multiple choice.

    Then you get into the limitations of multiple choice questions. Writing really good ones for even material suited for that type of evaluation isn’t easy, and if you’re going to have the questions used year after year (to monitor improvement or the reverse) you’re going to need parallel exam forms, and that means you need to know the difficulty and discrimination level of those questions, and that means you need to field test them. That gets pricy, too. There’s a reason really good-quality mc tests and questions are so expensive to purchase commercially – when they exist for a particular topic.

    Sure, you can hire some grad student, pay him peanuts, and get some papers marked, but you won’t have any assurance of the quality of the result unless you give him training and use some method of quality control.

    It can all be done properly, of course, but you need a belief in the value of testing DONE PROPERLY and a willingness to pay for good tests and marking to get that sort of thing in place. Otherwise, politicians go for the cheapest and most popular multiple choice tests, use their results far beyond what they actually indicate – to fire teachers, for example, on the basis that scores on a poor test indicate something about the quality of teaching – and then the general public wonders why many teachers – not just the types who don’t believe in formal evaluation anyway – are opposed to testing!


    7 Feb 13 at 1:49 pm

  3. Spare me anything devised by a committee. And try to imagine how little of the “training” would be devoted to mastering the subject, and how much to whatever the liberal hot button of the week is. The British farmed their essays out for years to any professor in need of the extra pay. No one got rich, and I never heard a complaint that someone was clearly wronged.

    But 200 valid multiple-choice questions per subject used over about a three-grade span is a long weekend’s work. You pick randomly 50 or 100 each year, changing the order of the questions and the order of the answers. That’s enough to tell you how the school is performing relative to other schools using the same test. And no essays graded by human beings, no matter how “trained” can do much more than say “This essay is written more or less at a senior year of high school level.”

    That said, If it cost you a million dollars to devise a suitable test for high school history, and you used it nationally for four years, the cost of devising the test would be well under 25 cents per student, and the cost of computer grading would average more or less nothing. If you pay your graders $10 per two-page essay, that’s about two or three days’ school lunch money. The ONLY way a written or multiple-choice test can be expensive is to produce misleading results. More often, the problem is that the results are perfectly clear and someone wishes they weren’t.


    7 Feb 13 at 8:14 pm

  4. Robert, Assume 1 million students randomly divided into groups of 25 and all given the same lectures and exams. Half of those groups have to score below average. I wouldn’t judge a teacher on the basis of a class doing poorly on an exam, but if the teacher got bad results for 5 years, I would consider that significant.

    There is also a problem with judging schools. If 1 school has many students with parents who do a lot of reading and talking about current affairs and another school has many students from non-reading homes, then I would expect different exam results.


    8 Feb 13 at 2:22 am

  5. Of course. You have to compare like circumstances. And before you dismissed a teacher based on standardized test results, you’d want to consider those results VERY carefully.

    But but take School A, whose 7th graders scored 350 at the start of the year and 400 at the end of it. Over in School B, they went from 350 to 500. 300 students is more than enough to average out minor glitches from the same starting level. Time for School A to get a different Principal or different teaching methods. Let the Principal, who can see them all the time, worry about individual teachers.

    Oh, And by and large poorer students learn FASTER during the school year in K-12. They keep losing ground between school years. A deal that says “raise the average performance of your students by X much for a bonus” would usually pay off better for teachers in the worst schools. But I would prefer to focus on changing instructional methods and ensure that the Principal had reason to make sure all his teachers were trying hard rather than apply statistical methods to individual teachers. Over time, you’re right. But I don’t think a good and “incentivized” principal would let a bad teacher accumulate that five-year baseline.


    8 Feb 13 at 6:36 am

  6. And again, some counterpoint from the NYT:

    “According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of full-time foreign graduate students in science, engineering and health fields has grown by more than 50 percent, from 91,150 in 1990 to 148,900 in 2009. And over the 2000s, the United States granted permanent residence to almost 300,000 high-tech workers, in addition to granting temporary work permits (for up to six years) to hundreds of thousands more.

    The bill’s proponents argue that for the sake of our global competitiveness, we shouldn’t train and then return the tens of thousands of Chinese and Indian students who come here every year. But almost 90 percent of the Chinese students who earn science and technology doctorates in America stay here; the number is only slightly lower for Indians. If they’re talented enough to get a job here, they’re already almost guaranteed a visa.

    If anything, we have too many high-tech workers: more than nine million people have degrees in a science, technology, engineering or math field, but only about three million have a job in one. That’s largely because pay levels don’t reward their skills. Salaries in computer- and math-related fields for workers with a college degree rose only 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2011. If these skills are so valuable and in such short supply, salaries should at least keep pace with the tech companies’ profits, which have exploded.

    And while unemployment for high-tech workers may seem low — currently 3.7 percent — that’s more than twice as high as it was before the recession.

    If there is no shortage of high-tech workers, why would companies be pushing for more? Simple: workers under the H-1B program aren’t like domestic workers — because they have to be sponsored by an employer, they are more or less indentured, tied to their job and whatever wage the employer decides to give them.

    Moreover, too many are paid at wages below the average for their occupation and location: over half of all H-1B guest workers are certified for wages in the bottom quarter of the wage scale.

    Bringing over more — there are already 500,000 workers on H-1B visas — would obviously darken job prospects for America’s struggling young scientists and engineers. But it would also hurt our efforts to produce more: if the message to American students is, “Don’t bother working hard for a high-tech degree, because we can import someone to do the job for less,” we could do significant long-term damage to the high-tech educational system we value so dearly.”

  7. I’m going to give The Lecture. Those who’ve read it before can skip.

    It has been obvious for decades that passing 8th grade/getting a high-school diploma/receiving a four-year degree no longer necessarily means mastering the material once expected at those levels. That means that education can’t simply be left to the educators. We’ve already tried that. We’ve doubled per pupil spending in K-12 and more than that in college without measurable result.

    We can argue for one test format or another, but I see no alternative to someone outside the school testing what the students have learned, and to changing teaching methods and if necessary staff based on how well–if at all–the schools are educating students. Everything else is details, but the quality of the education MUST be verified by an outside party, and not educating the students MUST have consequences for the faculty and staff.

    That is how the world works and must work. It’s interesting to me that these are precisely the points educators think should not apply to them.

    I’ll try to be less Grinch-like next time.


    8 Feb 13 at 9:15 pm

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