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>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]