2006 October 26 Thursday
Voters Upset By Mandatory School Testing Results

Lots of voters do not like to be told their kid is below average.

LAUDERHILL, Fla. -- School exams may be detested by students everywhere, but in this state at the forefront of the testing and accountability movement in the United States, the backlash against them has become far broader, and politically potent.

The role of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, has become central to the race to succeed Gov. Jeb Bush (R), with polls showing a growing discontent over the exams, which he has championed and which are used to determine many aspects of the school system, including teacher pay, budgets and who flunks third grade.

Republican Charlie Crist is offering to push forward with the testing regime, but Democrat Jim Davis has condemned what he calls its "punitive" nature, arguing that exam pressures have transformed schools into "dreary test-taking factories."

"Couple years ago one of my sons brought this quiz home, and the first question was 'What does the FCAT stand for?' " Davis told a meeting of clergy here Saturday. "I won't repeat to you what I said because I used words I'm teaching my boys not to use. . . . We're going to stop using the FCAT to punish children, teachers and schools."

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation which has caused the states to institute mandatory testing is better called No Lie Left Behind. In obedience to the dictates of the leftist commissars about what is permissible to believe about human nature the legislation assume that all children are bright enough to learn topics which require IQs well over 100 to master. But since the real world is not the mythical Lake Woebegone where all children are above average the myths embodied in the legislation have collided with the reality of a growing proportion of dim bulbs in the class rooms (thanks Open Borders advocates) and the kids aren't measuring up to the feigned expectations of the leftists.

In other states voters are also upset to be told their kids are dumb.

A similar exam revolt has become a key issue in the race for governor in Texas, another state in the vanguard of the testing movement, and the issue has roiled the Ohio gubernatorial contest as well.

America's domestic policy political debate is conducted under the rubric of a set of lies. Until that changes most of the resulting policies will remain either useless or destructive.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 October 26 07:22 AM  Education

Curious Citizen from Sweden said at October 26, 2006 2:20 PM:

What do you feel is the core of the lies?

I wonder how a compact set of litmus questions would look in this area. Questions should be answerable and cut to the core of this issue.

I have had some fun with suggesting that half of the swedes have an IQ below average. It tends to realy make people perplexed when they realise that 50% is quite many people. (About half of the population even!)

If anyone sends some good questions, I will try them out on some politicians and bureaucrats here in Sweden.

Fred said at October 26, 2006 11:44 PM:

This post follows nicely from the previous one about intelligence in the US, and it does point out the political difficulties inherent in applying any reasonable educational standards, particularly in the public system. As soon as the standards demand anything more than an operative pulse, some students will fail. True, not that many, but some. And since the vast majority of students will pass, those who fail will feel (assuming that they can understand that they've failed) stigmatized, discriminated against, unfairly pidgeon-holed, etc. And we can't have that. "Children are our future." Actually, infantilization is our future, but I'm getting off track. So anyway, there will have to be remedial instruction and remedial testing. As somebody pointed out earlier, this swallows time, resources, money. How many times are the ones who failed going to take the remedial courses that they keep failing? Are you going to be the one who teaches these remedial classes and then fails almost all of the students for a second time, or the third or fourth? If you are, believe me, you are the exception, because most people are NOT going to take on this thankless task, followed by the even more thankless task of explaining to students, parents, and adminstrators why virtually all of the students failed. Again. What are you going to do when the student, his or her parent(s) and/or the administration implicitly or explicilty threaten you with legal action, demotion, relocation to an even worse school, or grievous bodily harm? Maybe "teaching to the test" (and a little help during the test) isn't such a bad idea.

Hence, the need for externally-developed and administered exams, which will only highlight the inability of certain schools to do the impossible and see to it that EVERYBODY PASSES, which will lead to more widespread complaints about "teaching to the test," (which in fact can be a problem, in my opinion), and on and on. I'm getting depressed just typing this.

I read not too long ago that something like 78% of high school graduates characterize high school as "too easy." Think about that. Not "pretty easy, or just "easy", but "too easy." Well, if you're going to run a system in which everybody who shows up, refrains from committing fealonies on school property, and simply turns in a sheet of paper, eventually graduates, it is not at all surprising that 4 out of 5 students find that this system "too easy."

Looking at it from the outside, it appears to me that we already have a covert, multi-track high school system (Advanced Placement courses, etc), we just don't speak of it as such. This is probaby wise on our part, because there are people who would then demand that these multiple tracks be eliminated. It's a crime to deprive any child of his or her rightful shot at MIT.

Would a voucher system work better? Well, I'm sure it wouldn't work perfectly, but then what does? It would at least make it more feasible for schools to recruit students at a certain level of ability (their customer base), then set what they considered standards appropriate to the those students. When some students failed, the school could then explain that perhaps the student's parent(s) should look for another school offering a better match to the student's abilities. Would some students wind up in schools whose curriculum didn't push them to maximize their talents? Well, obviously. How many people do you know who've ever maxmized their talents? But you would probably get a closer fit between the student's abilities and the curriculum. I just think this alternative should be tried, as it's likely to be better than the current set up.

Oh, and one more point. It does matter that we expend lots of effort to raise the marginal students up half a notch and almost no effort on the brighter students. Kids very quickly become cynical and bored when they see the educational system is geared toward the lowest common denominator. This doesn't correlate with achievement or excellence, as even the stupider students can easily see.

John S Bolton said at October 26, 2006 11:58 PM:

The public educational system is an engine pushing towards dictatorship, riling the minorities and continually becoming more of an organ of propaganda.
It has to be privatized so as to neutralize the effects of these expenditures.
Every year the aggression on the net taxpayer is made to increase through the public schools.
Already they've got it over 10k per student/year, and children of foreign-born over 20%, and no end in sight.
The worse they fail, the more money they get, and the more they propagandize for more immigrants with more children, to fail more massively, and bring in more money for worse failure.

Kurt said at October 27, 2006 8:57 AM:

We want to live in a society where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all of the kids are above average. If all of the kids are above average, does that not create a new average where half of the kids will be below it?

Kurt said at October 27, 2006 9:00 AM:

I hear that something like 50% of the education budgets in many states is spent on remedial instruction and "special needs" kids. Is this true?

rtove said at October 27, 2006 4:52 PM:

It must be that the teacher's union is promoting the idea of softening tests and their candidates and the media have picked it up. It's also an issue in the Arizona school superintendent race, the subject of an NPR piece today. NPR, Washington Post, when will the NYT piece hit? Does the union tip the bloggers, or do they find these articles on their own? Polls are "showing growing discontent"? Well, it must be a true crisis. The idea that all those lame high school teachers will be held accountable gets me steamed up, too.

I disagree with parapundit's general assessment of NCLB. The most significant effect of the law would seem to be to allow a lot of parents of kids in mediocre schools in states setting higher test standards the equivalent of a voucher plan. This is a top down, federally mandated end-around local or state opposition to these plans. Well, the more schools marked as "failing" the better. I'm not saying that a voucher plan is a panacea, but it can't hurt. NCLB promotes competition in provision of education, but we don't like it because minority students can't be expected to perform like priviliged white students. It doesn't follow. Setting a uniform threshold for passing doesn't presuppose that all students have equal abilities, nor do they need equal ability to pass.

Gary Ee said at October 27, 2006 5:06 PM:

You know the local educators laughed incessantly and hysterically when they read about "no child left behind" as an educational paradigm. I come from Singapore where the system is more akin to "win or die". We stream our students every few years so that each time the brighter cohort goes ahead of their weaker classmates. After the first couple of streamings, if you test below acceptable margins you wind up learning how to use tools, cook food and basically get prepped for a life in the service industry. If you test above this margin, they keep upping the ante until you crack or graduate from university. This system accepts a very fundamental truth, that there are students who are either unmotivated to learn or simply intellectually weak and nothing but the Hand of God will change that. Why bother teaching them about quantum mechanics, phylogenetics or fractuals when they will probably never grasp even the most basic understanding of these theories? Would it not make sense to prepare them with skills for a job to which they are suited and can earn an honest, if modest, living?

To take an example from compulsory education, strong students graduate from Primary School (starting from age 7) at 12 years old while weaker ones graduate at 13 or 14. Secondary School lasts from ages 12-16 for stronger candidates who graduate with a Cambridge GCE "O" level certificate. Weaker candidates go from ~13-17 and then sit for the Cambridge GCE "N" level certificate. If they can meet a minimum score, *then* they get to study for another year or two before trying the "O" level paper.

rtove said at October 27, 2006 6:20 PM:

I mean, what's wrong with trying not to leave lower performing students behind? Why should anyone be laughing at this objective. The overriding goal of the law from Bush's perspective is to do something meaningful about miserable public schools serving lower IQ students. No person expects these students to grasp quantum mechanics and this isn't the point of the law. From Bush's perspective, if standards are set too high and schools are marked failing, great, competition is triggered. if standards with some kind of consequences motivate schools, teachers, and students to do better, great, kids get better educations. It may be true that the law is dressed up and sold in a way vaguely suggesting equality of abilities. so what if it is? Aren't the Bush people sophisticated in using false liberal belief in equality to justify a policy that results in greater competition in education? And wouldn't we all have to agree that, with the unions so solidly against it, it must be having some positive effect?

Also, Singapore may have a "win or die" system, but it probably also is ground zero for adults with "smartest kid in the class syndrome".

Randall Parker said at October 27, 2006 7:19 PM:


There's a fallacy here in your comments:

From Bush's perspective, if standards are set too high and schools are marked failing, great, competition is triggered. if standards with some kind of consequences motivate schools, teachers, and students to do better, great, kids get better educations.

First of all, how will competition be triggered? On engineering teams if you set up people with impossible goals they become demoralized and work less hard, not more. I've seen this up close and personal. I've seen managers argue about goals for this very reason. I've seen good teams punished for not reaching impossible goals after they strived hard and did far more than management deserved.

Teachers are surely the same way. If you give them lousy students and then tell them they'll get fired or smaller raises or criticised when their charges inevitably can't measure up how is that going to make the teachers work harder? More than likely the talented ones will send out their resumes to schools with better students where the teachers can look better according to the scoring systems that states have adopted as a result of NCLB/NLLB (No Lie Left Behind). You'll end up with a lousier teaching staff and lots of substitutes and temporary teachers. Ambitious administrators won't stick around because they won't want a bad score on their resume.

No Lie Left Behind fails to measure how well teachers and school administrators perform. The better teachers aren't identified by NLLB. Teachers who have brighter charges look good. Teachers who have dumber charges look bad.

The Bush people used a false belief to fashion bad policy. This is to be expected. If you use falsehoods for the basis of decision-making the result is going to be bad decisions. The lies have costs.

Another cost is less learning for the brighter kids. Why offer advanced courses for the brighter kids? The incentive of NLLB for a school district that has a mix of bright and dumb kids is to put very little effort toward teaching the brighties and a great deal of effort toward teaching those who are not doing so well. So the kids who have the greatest potential to gain the skills needed for high productivity work do not get taught as much. This is a very lousy move from an economic standpoint. The brightest figure out how to make the goods and services and pay the taxes that make the whole system work.

nz conservative said at October 27, 2006 8:44 PM:

Although I basically support state education (for the time being), I have to agree with some of the views here. The more multi-cultural a country becomes the more difficult it is to maintain a functioning state eductation system.

Similarly, there has to be a limit on how much tax money goes funding 'special needs students' and 'learning disorders'.

I think the state funding for things like learning disorders should go into research rather than treatment. In the UK, they are putting state money into quack treatments like homeopathy, while neglecting to put research money into treatments for legitimate learning disorders.

rtove said at October 28, 2006 2:34 PM:

This recent study of 900,000 Florida students shows that any demotivating effect of NCLB standards didn't seem to affect test scores (while 75% of schools were branded "failing to make adequate progress" and were set up for the limited school choice options under the law) and that low performing schools get a little bit better when motivated by testing with consequences under Florida's A+ system. http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/ksgnews/PressReleases/040505_ppg.htm The motivation effect for the worst rated schools was about 10% of a standard deviation per year; kids scoring in the 17th percentile might bump up to the 19th or 20th, I assume, with improvements coming on top of the effect of generally rising scores for all students under the system during the study period. With wasted time being the principal feature of education from at least junior high through college, it would be surprising if any system designed to motivate better performance didn't have some effect. The figures are for the florida system; failing under NCLB wasn't found to have an effect on scores, although the fact that a significant majority of schools were failing under NCLB and that the two programs were operating simultaneously complicates the study.

A valid criticism of NCLB is the possible redirection of resources to low performing students. Also, choice provisions would have much bigger effects if multiple school options were available under the same roof. Convenience issues for parents would be eliminated and teachers and administrators would likely be energized by immediate competition they could see everyday.

I appreciate the frank look at underperformers of all sorts offered on parapundit. However, celebrating our frankness sometimes runs over into a complete lack of sympathy for lower strata people and offering dual "lock them up" or "segregate them" policy options isn't terribly compelling. If you want to demotivate some people you could broadcast your honesty to say, some 10 year old black kids. Maybe their skill level is below average, their parents are lower income, and the people they're around all the time are lower level. Then a professional white guy from the more successful side of life opens up with "well first of all, you're screwed because you're black". Great. Anyhow, false hope is a motivator that is built into the species. We may not reach our grander objectives but the something less we achieve is greater than it would have been without the false hope.

Anyhow, why don't you apply some of the new science to the issues of the lower strata. One idea is that it isn't so much IQ as ability to concentrate that makes some low strata people unable to reach an acceptable of stability and success (underline acceptable).

Bob Badour said at October 28, 2006 5:55 PM:


You are creating a false dichotomy. Another option is to stream kids based on merit and ability without regard to race at all and without screaming racism when all groups are not proportionally represented in every stream.

The only reason a poor black kid is screwed now is the competition from illegal aliens. Remove that competition and the kid might actually want to learn a trade and somebody might actually want to hire him.

Randall Parker said at October 28, 2006 7:06 PM:


From the Harvard report you linked to:

West and Peterson’s findings, presented at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society in Nottingham, England on March 22, show that Florida’s fourth and fifth grade students make modest but significant gains in reading and math if their school is at risk of becoming a part of the state’s voucher program. Florida schools at risk of being subject to the public-school choice provisions of NCLB showed no gains.

A couple of things to note here:

1) The threat from NCLB didn't help.

2) It is not clear who conducted the tests that the researchers used to measure progress. As has been demonstrated in a number of school districts, when schools are pressured to raise scores the administrators and teachers sometimes cheat. So did they measure a real gain?

False hope as a motivator: What motivates dumb kids to drop out of high school? I read a report a couple of weeks ago (should have blogged it while I still knew the URL) that the kids that drop out often are showing up to classes but failing to comprehend (they used more polite terminology). The problem isn't lack of face time with teachers because they are truants. Now, you can lie to them and tell them how smart they are. But do you think that's going to convince them to subject themselves to the daily humiliation of bad grades and of not being able to answer questions when the teachers call on them?

You think lies are efficacious and necessary to protect fragile egos and boost motivation. We live in the big lying society. How are our schools doing with the dummies? Not so well as far as I can see. The lies to not appear to be working.

I do not think that the massive national lie-fest on race is working. I think it is causing many bad policies on immigration, education, crime, welfare, and other subjects.

I do not think an objection to these lies represents a lack of sympathy. The lies are making the less intellectually able face even more competition. At the same time the lies leave the less intelligent two explanations:

A) They are morally failing by not mastering the subjects.

B) Some bad nasty people are plotting against them.

Do you think their reaching either of these conclusions helps them or us?

As for what to do about the dummies:

1) Stopping letting in more.

2) Deport the illegals who are here.

3) Give the dummies vocational training rather than put them in classes that drive them out of school.

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