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[teacherartexchange] Obama on Education


From: Woody Duncan (woodyduncan_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed Mar 11 2009 - 04:51:03 PDT

I didn't agree with everything Obama said in his recent speech on
education - but one section really hit home. It was about testing.

I heard something very important in Obama's speech on education
Tuesday morning. He spoke of the need to set up systems for tracking
progress of students from grade to grade. This differs from the way
most school districts measure progress now. The exact words he used
are quoted below:
            "Of course, raising standards alone will not make much of
a difference unless we provide teachers and principals with the
information they need to make sure students are prepared to meet
those standards. Far too few states have data systems like the one in
Florida that keep track of a student’s education from childhood
through college. And far too few districts are emulating the example
of Houston and Long Beach, and using data to track how much progress
a student is making and where that student is struggling – a resource
that can help us improve student achievement, and tell us which
students had which teachers so we can assess what’s working and
what’s not. That is why we are making a major investment in this area
that we will cultivate a new culture of accountability in America’s
            In my experience, schools do not track a group of
students as they move from one level to the next. Rather, they
compare this years 6th graders to last years group of 6th graders.
And then we say - "Look at the progress we have made." To me, this
has always seemed a rather useless effort. It's not the same
students. Why not collect data so we can see how each group of
students improve in abilities as the move from 6th to 7th and on to
8th grade and beyond. I raised this very issue each year when my
school would bring out test scores so teachers could talk about how
we were doing.
            If I heard President Obama correctly - he wants to
compare students as they improve, not how they compare to last years
crop. The standard (old) method might work for corn crops or
basketball teams but not for true progress in education. Yes,
students move, change schools, drop out, etc. - the group is not the
same as they progress grade to grade. But, with good data gathering
methods, modern computers and the right statistical analysis we can
determine if we are having any real effect upon students.


Woody, Retired in Albuquerque

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