Education News 10-29-15
Education News Update – October 29, 2015
By Danielle Bonnici
So, About Those Tests….
The Washington Post reports that for the first time since the federal government began mathematics exams in 1990, test scores have declined. Reading scores were also worrisome — scores either dropped dramatically, or remained the same.
The tests once again demonstrate that gaps between white and black students, as well as rich and poor students, remain. It seems despite the plethora of laws aimed at closing the achievement gap, the desired results are not being reached.
The United States education system is in constant flux- there are increasing numbers of poor and immigrant students and constant, major changes to educational policy regarding teacher evaluations and the Common Core. Many are starting to doubt if these changes, originally implemented to decrease the achievement gap, are worth the time and expense being put into them. There has been no marked difference in student success; if anything there has been a decline, according to Carol Burris, a former NYC principal.
Differing Views of the Scores
Despite the score slide, Education Secretary Arne Duncan still defends these changing policies: “…massive changes in schools often lead to a temporary drop in test scores while teachers and students adjust…I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”
The president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, heartily disagrees. She believes the scores are proof that the burgeoning tests being imposed upon the students in order to evaluate teachers are failing. She hopes the scores will cause a change in policy. She points out that even President Obama acknowledges that kids are taking too many tests. Weingarten believes that the decline in scores is proof positive: “Not only is there plenty of anecdotal evidence that our kids have suffered, these latest NAEP scores again show that the strategy of testing and sanctioning, coupled with austerity, does not work.”
And more tests…
On Monday, NYC school Chancellor Carmen Farina announced that New York City would offer all public school students in their junior year a free SAT exam. The test will also be administered during school hours, rather than on Saturday. It is hoped that by removing the steps of signing up and paying a $54.50 fee, more students will take the test.
This new program follows in the footsteps of the successful implementation of the PSAT to sophomores and juniors during the school day. Since it was piloted, the school day PSAT has tripled student participation.
Free exams will begin in the spring of the 2016-2017 school year. It is one part of larger, statewide measures to bring more students to the test. Some states have even made the ACT or SAT part of school testing requirements.
Daryl Blank, a principal at a NYC high school, said that taking the test during regular school hours, “in the comforts of where they learn,” would be a huge improvement for the students. He also lauded the free test. He said that for many teens, taking a test that costs money on a Saturday feels more optional than obligatory, and they would rather spend their time and money elsewhere. He may have a point. In 2015, only 56% of New York City public school students took the SAT at least once.
And now, take a deep breath…
“Please let your eyes close,” said a small boy named Davinder, from his spot on the linoleum.
Davinder gently struck a shallow bronze bowl.
“Take three mindful breaths,” he said, and the room fell silent. (NYT, October 23)
This is the morning scene at an elementary school in Queens. Likewise, at the Brooklyn Garden Charter School, fifteen minutes is set aside at the open and close of each day for meditation. Principal Linda Rosenbury says “Everyone clears off their desks. They shouldn’t be chewing gum, but if they are, they spit it out. Their hands are free. We ring a bell. A building full of preteens and teenagers goes quiet…”
In New York City and beyond, mindfulness and meditation practices are growing in schools. Despite little evidence, many believe that meditation can help students work through stress and become more focused. Most of the schools incorporating meditation utilize Transcendental Meditation- a technique that focuses on the silent repetition of mantra and mindful breathing. The goal is to encourage students to learn techniques to calm themselves and “clear their minds.”
School Chancellor Carmen Farina says: “We’re putting it in a lot of our schools… because kids are under a lot of stress.” A spokesperson for the Department of Education says that there are grants and PD to train staff in the technique — the Move to Improve program has helped almost 8,000 school teachers learn techniques in mindfulness.
Researchers in Britain are investigating if mindfulness practices can improve the mental health of students. It may take a while before we learn anything, so in the meantime, take a deep breath.
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CITE is the Center for Integrated Training and Education . For over 25 years, CITE has and continues to train TEACHERS (Early Childhood, Literacy, Special Ed, Grad Courses, DASA); COUNSELORS (School, Mental Health Masters, Advanced Certificate); and ADMINISTRATORS (SBL, SDL, Public Admin, Online PhD) in all five boroughs of NYC, Yonkers, and Long Island.
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