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It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!

Upton Sinclair

the height of irony

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Gaming and Measurement

One aspect of viewing the education of students is the measurement of educational results. Frequently, the results are measured by standardized tests. Yet, if those results used to measure teachers, then the teachers are likely to “teach to the test”. In other words, the teachers game the system by limiting their teaching to the expected test questions, or at least the expected areas of relevance to the test standards.

This type of action can be described as Goodhardt’s Law, to wit, “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” The expected measure of performance ceases to function once it is used to evaluate the social actions of real people. So why, at Housatonic Valley Regional High School, are the administrators measuring the failure of students?

In Housatonic, failure has been endemic for a long time. For instance, in late 2012, Principal Matt Harnett was put upon by some board members because of the poor grades of the students, private grades that were leaked to the press by malevolent underlings. Specifically, failing grades went to 37 seniors, or 39% of the class, 38 juniors, or 31% of the class, 41 sophomores, or 41% of the class, and 20 freshmen, or 19% of the class, all at the end of the first semester. Overall, for the 424 students, that means 32% of the students failed at least one semester or possibly one course.

But course failure is just the tip of that iceberg; how many students with Ds really understand the course subject? And with so much failure comes the question: Why have these students given up on their education in this learning environment? How can the environment be changed to encourage children to become responsible adults.

And so the tracking of grades has continued to this day, as witnessed by a report to the department chairs and passed along, under protest, to the board of education recently.

Year 12-13 14-15 15-16 16-17
Ds   45.9% 40.1% 34.3%
Fs 32.1% 29.4% 23.2% 23.7%

Numbers can be confusing, but nothing is confusing about recognizing that at least one third of the students at Housatonic have given up on some part of their education today. And statements have been made that this is improving over time. But has it, or have some subset of the teachers gamed the system because they knew that they were being measured? It is impossible to tell; only the gross amount of failure is obvious.

The students have voted with their grades against the current teaching environment; all children can learn. And yet some teachers still resist any change likely because it would require more work on their parts.

Certainly, the change to personalized learning, if implemented with longer class periods, would allow teachers to focus on individual student progress. And some teachers might prove incapable of changing and have to move on to less demanding environments. What sort of learning environment is best for our children?

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