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Subject:

Follow the money.

From:

Norman Stahl <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 8 Nov 1999 11:07:02 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (665 lines)

From the NRC listserv----you might find it of interest.


>Date: Mon, 08 Nov 1999 11:44:04 -0500
>From: [log in to unmask]
>Subject: Follow the money.
>Sender: NRCEMAIL <[log in to unmask]>


>http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/1999/11/08/testing/index.html
>
>
> Grilling our young
>
> The SAT test coaching
>
> industry goes after
>
> kindergartners. Little blank slates
>
> mean great big bucks.
>
>
> - - - - - - - - - - - -
>
> By Jonathan Fox
>
>
> Nov. 8, 1999 | Six years ago, MichaelHasty
>
> was just another anxious parent whenhe wrote
>
> a study guide to help his son pass the
>
> sixth-grade math portion of the Texas
>
>
> Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). He
>
> produced the homemade guide in frustration
>
> after school officials told him there were few
>
> tools designed to help kids pass the TAAS, a
>
> battery of standardized tests that determine
>
> graduation, grade promotion and school
>
> rankings -- and set the agenda for nearly all
>
> school-reform efforts -- in test-happy Texas.
>
>
> At first, Hasty didn't consider his do-it-yourself
>
> math guide more than a family tutoring aid, but
>
> when a racquetball partner offered $100 for a
>
> copy to help his son prepare for the TAAS, it
>
> didn't take him long to smell a market. Soon
>
> after, the Test Masters Company was born, and
>
> Hasty, a property tax consultant, was selling
>
> thousands of guides nationwide to worried
>
> parents, teachers and principals.
>
>
> Test Masters has since diversified to the
>
> Internet, where parents as far away as South
>
> Africa pay $25 and school districts pay $1,000
>
> a month to access practice exams and receive
>
> instant results. About 1,000 people take exams
>
> through the site every day. Today, Hasty
>
> considers his work a public service -- albeit a
>
> profitable one. "It's designed to help children
>
> pass the standards, but it's also designed to help
>
> children learn math," he says.
>
>
> But not everyone considers his line of business
>
> so benign.
>
>
> The runaway success of Test Masters has fired
>
> up the mammoth SAT coaching industry,
>
> already blamed for exacerbating inequality in
>
> college admissions and feeding test score
>
> hysteria. In the coming months, Kaplan and
>
> Princeton Review, the majors of test prep, will
>
> launch Web sites and publish printed guides
>
> aimed at children as young as kindergartners.
>
> They now see the K-12 test prep market as a
>
> rich vein of ore worth mining: Kaplan, for
>
> example, has funneled $25 million into product
>
> development and marketing for its new Web
>
> site.
>
>
> This big-money march on the lower grades has
>
> sparked wrath from critics who say that tests
>
> encourage schools to dumb down their
>
> curriculum to fit multiple-choice tests that
>
> don't measure real learning. They liken
>
> test-focused education to a plague of locusts
>
> that leaves in its wake nervous kids, badgered
>
> teachers and a black hole where classroom
>
> innovation once existed.
>
>
> Even worse, say opponents of test prep, the
>
> products of test coaching companies are
>
> accessible mainly to wealthy parents and
>
> schools. The massive expansion of companies
>
> like Kaplan and Princeton Review will come at
>
> the expense of the poorest schools, they say,
>
> which will suffer flak from politicians and lose
>
> public support when they can't raise test scores
>
> as fast as well-heeled counterparts. SAT
>
> coaching has already deepened the divide
>
> between haves and have-nots; with test prep in
>
> early grades, critics predict the gap may
>
> intensify sooner and doom lower-income
>
> students before they even leave elementary
>
> school.
>
>
> "Schools will get the educational steroid that
>
> coaching makes possible," says Robert
>
>
> Schaeffer, public education director for the
>
> National Center for Fair and Open Testing
>
> (Fairtest), "but they won't necessarily get any
>
> better, and gaps between rich and poor
>
> communities may grow."
>
>
> For now, that warning is lost in the din of
>
> voices demanding higher educational standards,
>
> which currently means a lot more tests -- and by
>
> extension, a lot more test prep. Under the
>
> Clinton administration, "high-stakes" testing
>
> has proliferated. Currently, every state except
>
> Iowa has grade-by-grade standards detailing
>
> what students must know in English, math,
>
> science and social studies. Poor scores on tests
>
> aligned to new standards increasingly result in
>
> students being retained at their grade level, sent
>
> to summer school or denied diplomas while
>
> principals are fired and teachers get poor
>
> evaluations.
>
>
> Proponents have seized on Texas and North
>
> Carolina, two test-busy states that have raised
>
> state and national test scores in recent years, as
>
> evidence that standards and tests work. Yet
>
> Texas still has the fourth lowest high school
>
> completion rate, and both states, which started
>
> out low or average in national rankings to
>
> begin with, have enacted other reforms that
>
> could account for the gains, such as lowering
>
> class sizes and raising teacher salaries.
>
> Meanwhile, other test-intensive states haven't
>
> shown improvement. The testing juggernaut,
>supported by
>
> campaigners George W. Bush and Al Gore, has
>
> flourished under the pretense of bipartisanship:
>
> After all, who can be against "higher
>
> standards"? Politicians prefer tests as a reform
>
> of choice since they are cheaper than, say,
>
> addressing the root causes of low achievement
>
> or increasing the capacity of low-achieving
>
> schools through investments in teacher
>
> recruitment and high-caliber instruction.
>
>
> Along ideological lines, conservatives like the
>
> "back-to-basics" thrust of standards and tests,
>
> while liberals hope that setting uniform
>
> benchmarks will focus attention and resources
>
> on poor kids. It's not clear whether that is
>
> happening, but kids are definitely taking more
>
> tests. State investment in tests will grow from
>
> $165 million in 1996 to a projected $330
>
> million in 2000, according to Achieve Inc., a
>
> partnership of CEOs and governors that leads
>
> the standards movement.
>
>
> Having been shown the money, the SAT test
>
> prep industry is moving full throttle to develop
>
> products targeting children as young as third
>
> grade. This month, Kaplan launches
>
> eSCORE.com and will publish study guides for
>
> tests in the populous states of Massachusetts,
>
> Texas, New York and Florida. Its rival,
>
> Princeton Review, this month launched
>
> Homeroom.com, which will soon become a
>
> full-service site after pilot testing is finished.
>
> And many more players will stake out ground
>
> online. "We've just seen the tip of what's going
>
> to be a huge iceberg," says Fairtest's Schaeffer.
>
>
> To no one's surprise, the companies
> are targeting the insecurities of vulnerable parents
>
> and beleaguered educators. Homeroom.com
>
> says it can help ensure that "our children have
>
> every possible edge in achieving academic
>
> success." The Virginia-based edutest.com,
>
> which offers incentives for PTAs to sell its
>
> wares, warns on its Web site that "many state
>
> school systems are unable to meet these
>
> standards ... and risk losing accreditation."
>
>
> Not surprisingly, testing foes are aghast. "These
>
> tests are squeezing the intellectual life out of
>
> schools, so it stands to reason that some
>
> vultures want to make a buck off them," says
>
> Alfie Kohn, a former teacher and author of the
>
> anti-testing tome "The Schools Our Children
>
> Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional
>
> Classrooms and Tougher Standards."
>
>
> Schaeffer is more pragmatic; he says the
>
> companies are simply filling a niche
>
> inadvertently created by lawmakers. Indeed,
>
> idealistic advocates of standards didn't
>
> anticipate an industry would latch onto their
>
> reforms. "I certainly didn't hear about it at the
>
> little powwows I've sat at over the years," says
>
> Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust,
>
> a group seeking to improve education for poor
>
> children.
>
>
> The lack of foresight doesn't surprise Schaeffer.
>
> "As so often happens," he says, "liberal
>
> reformers don't think about the likely
>
> consequences of their reforms nor heed the
>
> damage they have done." Many conservative
>
> backers of standards, he speculates, seek to
>
> make public schools look bad and build
>
> support for vouchers.
>
>
> Kaplan and Princeton Review insist their K-12
>
> offerings won't resemble their SAT ventures,
>
> which stress "strategic teaching" or "gaming" of
>
> tests through sleights of technique. "Why
>
> would you have a third grader try to game a
>
> test?" asks Photo Anagnostopolous, managing
>
> director of Homeroom.com. "You would really
>
> be doing a disservice to that child. And if you
>
> look at these tests, they're not like the SAT."
>
> Where the SAT features analogies and math
>
> puzzles, she explains, many K-12 tests gauge
>
> mastery of a distinct body of knowledge and
>
> skills.
>
>
> But Schaeffer deems this assurance naive. He
>
> predicts K-12 test prep will include gaming
>
> tricks such as pacing, knowing which items
>
> appear regularly, strategic guessing and
>
> formulaic essay writing. "If they don't teach it,
>
> they'll be run out of business," he says. Indeed,
>
> soon-to-be published Kaplan test prep books
> for the third grade TAAS and New Yorkis
>
> fourth grade exam advise students on all of
>
> those "tricks."
>
>
> Yet Anagnostopolous' point addresses the
>
> debate on the merits of testing, which advocates
>
> promote as a legitimate learning tool. "Good
>
> tests are worth teaching to," says Robert
>
> Schwartz, Achieve's president and a Harvard
>
> University education professor. "This means
>
> tests that require writing andthinking that can't
>
> easily be prepared for."
>
>
> Bad tests, he says, "drive instruction downward
>
> toward drill and kill." To many reformers, the
>
> TAAS is the most hellish test of all. "If this
>
> were all about the TAAS, I would want to slit
>
> my throat and stick pencils in my eyes," says the
>
> Education Trust's Haycock, who nonetheless
>
> credits Texas for improving poorer schools. In
>
> fact, the tests Schwartz praises are rare, found
>
> only in a handful of states. Marylandis test, for
>
> example, has students explain in writing how
>
> they solved tough math problems and
>
> performed science experiments in a group. But
>
> most other states and big cities use bubble tests
>
> that Schwartz says he disdains.
>
>
> Herein lies a major rub of the standards push:
>
> The Clinton administration and groups like
>
> Achieve claim to support better-quality tests
>
> and the use of measures like grades and teacher
>
> feedback in addition to test scores when making
>
> high-stakes decisions such as gradepromotion
>
> and graduation. Then they laud reform efforts
>
> in Texas and cities like Chicago, which employ
>
> shoddy tests and rely on test scores alone in
>
> making crucial decisions, a tactic even test
>
> developers deem unfair.
>
>
> Schwartz also worries that a successful test
>
> prep industry will "tilt the playing field even
>
> further." After all, how many low-income
>
> parents will have access to shiny new test prep
>
> sites on the Internet? Schwartz says he is
>
> heartened that Princeton Review, like Test
>
> Masters, will target parents and schools for
>
> Homeroom.com. "To the degree these
>
> companies try to come into the school market
>
> rather than the rich parent market, it's good," he
>
> says.
>
>
> For now, the larger Kaplan is sticking to the
>
> rich parent market. It plans to draw millions of
>
> visitors to eSCORE.com next month with an
>
> extensive TV, radio and print advertising blitz.
>
>
> To be sure, online test prep costs much less
>
> than tutoring at a "bricks and mortar" center,
>
> which averages $400 a course. Homeroom.com
>
> will cost schools less than $10 per student, and
>
> $30 to $60 for monthly parent subscriptions.
>
> eSCORE.com, on the other hand, will charge
>
> $75 for online counseling and $20 to $50 for
>
> test "readiness appraisals." Edutest.com gives
>
> discounts to some strapped schools and has
>
> several clients in rural Virginia, says Steve Hoy,
>
> vice president for sales and marketing.
>
>
> Equity watchdogs dismiss what they see as
>
> sporadic acts of charity and say that any costs
>
> create inequities. "Even if they target schools,
>
> poor schools don't have a lot of bucks,"
>
> Schaeffer says. "When you're talking about
>
> schools that don't have enough money to buy
>
> paper, $2,000 is unreal, but it's nothing to a
>
> suburban school."
>
>
> Eventually, critics say, a pervasive K-12 test
>
> prep industry may challenge the standards
>
> movement by prompting parents to question
>
> whether the tests measure things worth learning
>
> and by highlighting the snares of high-stakes
>
> testing for all children, regardless of their
>
> income level.
>
>
> "You're going to have kids throwing up on test
>
> day," says Gerald Bracey, an educational
>
> consultant and Virginia's former testing
>
> director. "You're going to have more kids
>
> turned off by schooling."
>
>
> The question, then, is all about timing. How
>
> long will the side effects of our latest education
>
> fad fester before we establish system that truly
>
> fosters high standards for all?
>
> salon.com | Nov. 8, 1999
>
>
>
>
>Grilling our young | page <A HREF="index.html">1</A>, <A HREF="index1.html">
>2</A>, 3
>>From Salon magazine
>salon.com | Nov. 8, 1999
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>Related Salon stories
>
>
>
> <A HREF="/books/it/1999/10/18/strivers/index.html">Striving to stay alive</A>
> With the disavowed Strivers program, the Educational Testing Service tried
>to rebuild a failing business and badly damaged product -- the SAT.
>
>
>By Claire Barliant 10/18/99 <A
>HREF="/news/feature/1999/09/17/education/index.html">Surprise: Bush could be
>the "education president"</A> A longtime school reformer says the Republican
>front-runner might be the best hope for low-income and minority students at a
>time when you can&#039;t talk about "poor kids" -- to Democrats.
>
>
>
>
>
>
>



*********************************
Norman A. Stahl, Acting Chair
Department of Literacy,
Intercultural and Language Education
GH 223c
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

Telephone:
(815) 753-9032 {office}
(815) 753-8563 (FAX)

Email: [log in to unmask]

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