In Which More GT Hilarity Earns a Post

6 10 2009

Jay Mathews has provided me with the opportunity for fun yet again, but this time by being right and provoking a hilarious response from the target of his article.

First, the backstory can be found here.

Read it? Good. Now, the response. Oh my, the response.

“Dear Jay,

First, let me stress how irresponsible it is to generalize about an entire school system’s commitment to meeting the academic needs of its students based on the alleged experiences of one child. Educators in Howard County are committed to providing all students with a rigorous, challenging education experience.”

How very irresponsible of you, Jay! You took a well documented case, added it to other similar cases of which you had knowledge, and drew a reasonable conclusion! Horrifying!

“And we are hardly “clueless” about the importance of the total high school experience in the student’s intellectual and personal development. By the tone of this piece, it is obvious that you have already determined that the information provided by the parent is accurate and that the school system is a heartless bureaucracy, rather than a group of dedicated professionals committed to serving the best interest of children.”

Importance of the total high school experience in intellectual development? Did you even read what he wrote? The whole point is that the district refused to allow itself to be a part of the kid’s intellectual development at all. And again with the attacking his journalistic integrity. Jay Mathews is many things, but lazy in his reporting is certainly not one of them.

“Central and school-based personnel for the school system have spent an overwhelming amount of time working to address the needs of this particular student. The school system has offered numerous opportunities and accommodations to no avail. We respect the laws governing the confidentiality of student records and therefore, we will not comment further on this child’s circumstances.

Education involves more than simply scoring well on tests. The standards we have implemented are designed to uphold the integrity of the high school diploma; another responsibility we do not take lightly.”

The integrity of the diploma my foot. A student with straight D’s gets a diploma. It’s not some sort of high honor that we’re talking about, here. In addition, yes, education is more than mere test scores. However, you’re working quite diligently against the true nature of education (learning). Might want to fix that before you go on about what education really is.

“The Maryland High School Assessments are end-of-course exams. In order to meet the Maryland Graduation requirement a student is required to successfully complete the course as well. Howard County curriculum is far more extensive than the baseline knowledge required to pass the HSA in each content area. Class discussions, group work, research, and other activities that take place in the classroom enrich and enhance the educational experience.”

Hehehehe. Yeah. Those rigorous tests that absolutely aren’t a joke. And we provide so much more! Really! What’s that you say? He did college level work? WELL WE’RE GRAD SCHOOL LEVEL THEN! GET IN LINE!

“Education also involves more than just intellectual development so when deciding whether to move a student to an advanced grade, educators consider (and discuss with the parents) the following factors:
· Academic achievement level
· Age of the student
· Previous accelerations
· Attendance record
· Parental concerns
· Developmental factors
· Health factors
· Emotional factors
· Report card
· 504 Plan”

That’s nice. You’re providing a list of all the things you ignored. How helpful ^_^

“The HCPSS does award credit for home schooling and college courses provided those experiences cover the same objectives as a comparable course offered in our high schools and the student demonstrates mastery of the content. Credit will only be awarded if the student completes the college course.”

He did.

“We take great exception to the statement that “Howard has been slower than other districts in this area to embrace acceleration…” Grade skipping is not the only way to accelerate instruction. Since the early 1980’s the HCPSS has offered comprehensive Gifted and Talented programming and enrichment opportunities in all schools.”

Jay to the rescue! “Howard has lagged in AP participation for some time for a district with so many affluent, well-prepared students. But it has, as I said, gotten better, from an AP participation rate of 0.649 (ratio of college-level tests to graduating seniors) in 2000 to a rate of 1.670 in 2008. That is still below the rate of 2.692 in Montgomery County, very similar to Howard demographically.”

Currently over 40% of our students participate in our Gifted and Talented program offerings across all grades.

Explaining all the things wrong with this would literally take weeks, so I’ll stick with the most obvious: “What the ****?!” Her argument is quite literally “we do not know what the words ‘Gifted’ and ‘Talented’ mean, so clearly we are in the right!” GT, madame, is not a tool for boosting self esteem. GT is not a way to get large numbers that your district can brag about to potential tax payers. GT, madame, is providing adequate education to children far beyond the normal range. Far, far fewer than 40% of people are significantly above average in at least one area. Less than 16% of people are even one standard deviation above the average. Only about 2.5% are above the 2 standard deviations that generally qualifies as “gifted.” This is absolutely basic. Why is the district conducting PR via its pet donkey rather than, say, a mouth?

“In elementary schools, our GT mathematics curriculum is accelerated by at least two years. Other enrichment opportunities are provided through school wide enrichment programs general exploratory activities, instructional seminars, curriculum extension units, and research investigations. In Middle Schools the school wide enrichment programs continue and students also have access to advanced course work in Geography and World Cultures, US History, English, Science, and Mathematics as well as an after-school accelerated G/T Mathematics Program.”

Any time you see “enrichment” in a GT context, it becomes a fairly safe assumption that the school is lying to you. This is certainly the case here. The relevant parts are the GT math, which is their only real acceleration, and the APs. The problem with claiming APs as GT courses…they aren’t. The way APs are conducted, the classes are tailored to moderately above average, hard working students. I got a 5 in AP US history essentially without opening my textbook for anything after about 1850. AP World is proving no more difficult, and neither are AP Chem or Govpol. Same for English.

“Our high schools address the needs of our most gifted students with G/T, honors and advanced placement courses, college-level independent research and a well-established Intern/Mentor Program.”

You’re just too lazy to make them work for anyone who hasn’t fit neatly into your tracking.

“Should you have need for clarification of any of the above information, please feel free to contact me.


Patti Caplan

Director of Public Relation”

I’d like to clarify: why do you think that we are stupid?


Why Jay Matthews is Wrong

7 06 2009

I’m repeating myself, but so’s he, so I’m unashamed.

It is that time of year again for the Newseek list of the 1500 most over the top overzealous unaware moronic high acheiving high schools as measured by how many dollars their students send to Monopol…er, College Board for AP tests. That’s right, AP test = rigor. Getting crap scores? Who cares, you’re taking a college test!!!

Jay Matthews has once again asserted that college classes for high schoolers make everything better. This can mean one of 2 things. Either our standards have fallen so low that grade level material for high schoolers isn’t taught until college (I don’t think it’s THAT bad yet), or Jay Matthews is wrong.

You see, not everyone is significantly above average in some area. In fact, most people are well within the middle 60% or so across the board. They are not sufficiently outside of the normal range to need college level material, or even to be sufficiently prepared for it. That would be because they are not in college.

Throwing students into material they are not prepared for does no one any good except those who benefit from the Newsweek rankings that are based almost solely on APs taken. That is, the people responsible for such indexes (Jay might have a slight conflict of interest here…) and the administrators of schools vying for a high position on said index. Who cares if the students aren’t ready? Many school administrators do not look first to students’ needs anyway, so it is not difficult to imagine that they push students into things that are bad for the students but good for the school’s prestige (which helps them personally, and also artificially inflates property value because “Look how great our schools are!!!”).

It’s all crap. APs are not a magical cure for schools’ ills, nor are they even able to bring significant improvement when so abused. They have a purpose. Jay Matthews’ position is contrary to that purpose.

APs again

5 04 2009

The AP tests are coming up (well, actually, we have more than a month, but I’ll deal with that shortly. That means that frantic studying, class review sessions, the mass purchase of review books you just have to have if you want to do well on the APs, and general skyrocketing of the stress levels of sophomores, juniors, and seniors (and a few freshmen) has begun.

Now, isn’t this all defeating the purpose of an AP test? The APs are supposed to be determining whether you have learned material sufficiently well to bypass it in college. If you have to review frantically for it, you don’t really know the material well enough to bypass it. The problem is that since the APs are on a curve, since many people do try to cheat the test this way, you really don’t have much choice.

Relatedly, of course, there is the test prep. There are at least 8 evening review sessions run by the AP US history teachers in the month before the test. The school, having already given us the text book and a book of documents from various time periods, gives us a huge AP review book. We’re not even done with the history covered on the test and we’re reviewing. Why not just cover everything and then if you really have to, use the week or two before to go over anything that kids don’t remember well?

And finally, there’s the stress. The “Oh my god what if I don’t do well?!” sort of reactions. Well, then you don’t do well. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get a 5 on the APs. If you get a 3 or a 4, well, that’s not terrible either. The APs simply are not worth the huge deal that kids and their parents make them into.

So really, if people would just calm down about the APs and treat them as a measure of how well they learned things rather than an oracle telling them the course of their entire lives, things would be much easier, more stress free, and honestly they would probably do better.