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The Big K - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
The Big K
I've been looking through Margaret's Kindergarten registration packet today and I am having a major meltdown in the form of OMG, MCAS scores in our school district really suck, no wonder NONE of the elementary schools so much as mentioned a gifted program. We can't afford private school for three kids. Is it time to flee to the suburbs? Is history about the repeat itself in the form of Margaret reading the entire Nancy Drew series under her desk during 4th grade? Sure, I survived North Babylon public schools and went to MIT, but even so the information that has lots about the support for non-native English speakers and not a thing about advanced math is freaking me out.
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treptoplax From: treptoplax Date: January 7th, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Gifted programs as such are almost (actually?) non-existant in Massachusetts public schools, although there are definitely some good extracurriculars.

With respect to MCAS, it's worth noting that there's almost no correlation between actual MCAS scores and demographic-adjusted ones; my (out of date even if correct) recollection is that Somerville actually did quite well on the latter.... On the gripping hand, here I am out in the 'burbs. Jaedian has dug into all this far more than I - if you run into her and have a hour sometime :) I'm sure she'd be happy to share her opinions/experience/research.
psychohist From: psychohist Date: January 7th, 2013 10:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
How are the demographically adjusted scores adjusted? If it's for the average demographic of the city, that's not sufficient; we're not willing to sacrifice our kids' learning to pull up the rest of the city's learning.
From: treptoplax Date: January 8th, 2013 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
My recollection is that it was something approximately sensible along the lines of "Put the kids into demographic buckets (e.g., 'Two parents with college education and gross income >$70K') and compare local scores in each to corresponding statewide".

However, I recall being unsatisfied with the level of specifics of what they'd done even at the time, and I don't think I ever saw more detailed material on it (maybe this was a Globe article from about 10 years ago?), so take all that with a very heavy discount...
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: January 8th, 2013 02:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Perhaps I should try to run into her so I can pick her brain.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: January 10th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Indeed, gifted programs are nearly extinct in MA. One of the benefits of living in such a left-wing state is the purity of the anti-elitist ideology.
sichling From: sichling Date: January 7th, 2013 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Differentiated teaching seems to be the idea now. William has been enjoying his kindergarten so far. Parent volunteers can make a big difference in helping teach more advanced stuff also. I wouldn't panic until you've given it a try. Talk to Abbe and Sierra, if you know her, about their Somerville school experiences so far.

All that said, Arlington is nice :-)
pekmez From: pekmez Date: January 7th, 2013 11:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Differentiated education is a convoluted buzzword that seems to allow way too much handwaving about "serving all learners" without actually specifying how the hell a teacher is supposed to do that, but it seems to be the current buzzword to provide a way to talk about "hey, I have a smart kid, what's the teacher/school district going to do with them if there is no pullout gifted program and half the class is struggling with the most basic material at the same time". *sigh*
pekmez From: pekmez Date: January 7th, 2013 11:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, the gifted programs have much more to do with public school policy trends and Massachusetts in particular than whether there is a critical mass of smart kids in our schools who want or need them.

I got past my MCAS freakout moment about the average scores in our district or in our individual schools - mainly because I don't necessarily think that those numbers give me any conclusions I can necessarily draw about how the school will educate my particular kid (who, to be snarky and full of confidence about my child, will probably draw her school's MCAS average up by about the same amount no matter how well or poorly they're teaching her... or maybe not, having just spent half an hour doing arithmetic with her.)

I haven't yet gotten past my MCAS freakout moment about the nobody-is-focusing-on-these MCAS *science* test scores (they test, but there is no consequence for schools if they don't perform as well like there is for math and literacy). In 2011, 0% of the 8th graders in gljiva's school scored in the top category (ie "advanced", not "just proficient" in science. Now, depending on how the class sizes fell out, I think that still could have been 1 student acing the MCAS science test.. but even so, where did all of the smart kids go? Possibly that is just a blip; the 2012 results show 11% of the 8th grade class that year in the "advanced" category, so I am already vastly relieved (and had not looked until now at the 2012 numbers.. :) Blip or no, that one worries me whether or not 50% of the other kids were horrifically failing science, which worries me on a far less personal level. I plan to watch that number, and to get more involved in finding out what is going on with the science curriculum and science teaching in our classrooms, over the next few years.

While it's the first place that I've freaked out about the MCAS scores, I don't actually feel any less happy with our choice of schools as it has played out in my child's experience for kindergarten and first grade. (We are at Healey, which has an emphasis on creativity and the arts, progressive, hands-on, and experiential learning. It's the school that has historically made room for experimental curriculum, mixed age classrooms, and much mroe hands-on parent involvement in both classroom experiences and decision-making about education, and we like it a lot. So far our child of 2 MIT alums has been the most advanced reader in her class by a long shot, but that's starting to even out, and both of her teachers thus far have run with her reading strength and done well at making sure she has appropriate levels of books to work on during reading time.

(Demographics-wise, she has another child of 2 MIT alums in the same class as her and a good number of other kids who seem to share academic interests, strengths, and inclinations with her. I still think she's the strongest reader and speller in her class thus far. ;-) She also has a good mix of non-native English speakers and kids who get extra special ed support in her class, and it's certainly not an "all-gifted" group. She seems happy and challenged and encouraged by school. )
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: January 8th, 2013 12:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have thoughts. Will share post-vacation.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: January 12th, 2013 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
MA spends almost nothing on gifted education. That said, many of the states that do, merely have pull-out classes at the lower grades. NYC was one or two hours a week.

A bigger problem is that most schools have done away with tracking. Which I think makes it much harder for the teachers, how do you handle the smartest kids when you also have kids that are struggling?

But I think NCLB has really hurt the kids that are average or even smart. The schools are required to spend resources on the kids that have problems, and in the current economy with budgets strained, the other stuff has to give. I seem to remember that Somerville had a higher per student spending than the suburbs, and I think that is largely because of the kids who are having problems. Lawrence which is a severely under performing city next door to Andover, gets gobs of funding and really not a lot of results to show for it.

I am starting to get the feeling education has fundamentally changed since I was a kid. There is a lot more emphasis on standardized tests and perfection than I remember. With standardized tests, I see more of a focus on memorizing facts, which I think is not as helpful, especially in the Internet age when everything can be looked up. I think learning how to think and use facts is more important, but that is harder to grade on a standardized tests.
jaedian From: jaedian Date: January 12th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
We should get together to chat.

I just typed a whole message and then my program crashed, so I can't rewrite it again, with the level of interruptions here. Sorry.

Maybe you could meet up with me at Gather Here for knitting sometime?
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