Three things to read this weekend

Happy (almost) Pi Day! Did you know that the world record for memorizing Pi out to as many decimals as possible is held by Chao Lu of China, who recited Pi from memory to 67,890 places? Think about the impossibility of that feat this weekend while you eat some pie and read the following stories.

When a Teacher’s Job Depends on a Child’s Test (The New Yorker): This snapshot of the current mood around testing and teacher evaluations in New York State raises some interesting questions about the unintended (but perhaps foreseeable) consequences of relying heavily on student test scores to judge whether teachers are doing their jobs well. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to increase the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation based on student test scores from 20 percent to 50 percent; under Cuomo’s proposal, the remaining 50 percent would be heavily weighted toward the assessment of a one-time visit conducted by an outside observer. Not everyone is on board with Cuomo’s proposal, with critics pointing out that the shift could encourage teachers to narrow their curricula or focus on improving the test scores of their most capable students at the expense of the rest of their class and could force principals to make class placement decisions that trade-off between what’s best for a student and what’s best for a teacher’s evaluation grade. Meanwhile, many parents in New York are demonstrating their displeasure with the system by opting their children out of testing altogether. At the school the author’s son attends in Brooklyn, an astonishing 70 percent of testing-age students opted out of the state tests.

Why do American students have so little power? (The Atlantic): Amanda Ripley uses the efforts of a group of Kentucky high school students to get a bill passed that would allow school boards to include students on superintendent screening committees to explore the reluctance of U.S. school systems to give students a seat at the table. Despite the fact that research has shown students to be more reliable assessors of what’s going on in their classrooms than either expert observers or test scores, only 59 percent of U.S. high school students attend schools that ask them for feedback. The percentage in Finland? Seventy-four percent. In fact, 14 states explicitly prohibit students from serving on district school boards. The main arguments adults make against giving students a voice are concerns about the stress it would impose and the maturity level of teenagers – although, as Ripley points out, the latter is not particular convincing given some of the behaviors exhibited by adult school board members around the country. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, the students’ bill looks unlikely to pass the state Senate thanks to two “poison-pill” amendments introduced by (adult) senators.

States Raise Proficiency Standards in Math and Reading (Education Next): This report from Education Next is the sixth in a series of report that have graded state proficiency standards on an A-F scale. Previous reports have shown that the average state proficiency standards are much lower than those set by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Additionally, previous reports have found wide variation from state in state in what they deem “proficient” and have found that, up until 2011, few increases in the proficiency bar. However, the latest installment is more encouraging: this analysis found that many states have raised the bar since 2011, with 20 states strengthening the proficiency standard and just eight weakening it. This finding indicates that “a key objective of the (Common Core State Standards) consortium – the raising of state proficiency standards – has begun to happen.”