Texas school raises scores by teaching two subjects, math and reading, and feigning grades on the rest

testing (Medium)To boost scores and gain the coveted “exemplary” status in Texas, a Dallas elementary school taught third graders only math and reading for most of the year, ignoring the other subjects and pressuring teachers to simply make up grades for those discarded areas, including social studies, music and science.

The tactics used by Field Elementary are getting a lot of criticism in the media, but one point is being overlooked: Clearly, there are payoffs to an intense focus on math and reading.

I’d like to know the views of parents and teachers on this story as it reminds me of a debate in Georgia when the state wanted to make some non-core courses, including PE and music, optional in middle school to create more time for reading remediation. At the time, Gov. Roy Barnes argued that reading trumped all else and that sacrificing PE and music so that struggling students could spend more time catching up on their reading skills was a worthwhile consideration.

Without those reading skills in place, the students were doomed in high school and probable drop outs, he said. And the research supports that conclusion..

The Texas school broke the rules and cheated, but was the math-reading focus what students needed? But couldn’t reading skills be reinforced in the social studies and science classes as many schools are now doing?

According to a story in the New York Daily News:

A Texas elementary school principal was suspended is taking “teaching to the test” to a whole new level.

For most of the 2010-11 year, Field Elementary School only taught third-grade students two subjects — math and reading – according to a July report by the Dallas Independent School District dated July 14 and originally reported by the Dallas Morning News. Meanwhile, the students received almost no instruction in social studies, science or other subjects.

To make up for the gap, teachers were encouraged to invent grades.

The hyper-focus on math and reading set many students back a year in most subjects, but boosted Field Elementary’s score on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills Test (TAKS). The school’s TAKS score helped it earn “exemplary” status from the state of Texas. For third graders, math and reading are the only TAKS scores that count statewide.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

88 comments Add your comment

Peter Smagorinsky

November 23rd, 2011
9:26 am

“Reading” is not something that happens in a vacuum, nor is all reading the same. So when you eliminate reading in history and science, you are only teaching kids how to pass reading tests, not teaching kids how to adapt their reading in response to different kinds of textual clues and codes, which is what skilled readers do.

Cliff Claven

November 23rd, 2011
9:28 am

How did the parents let this go on the entire year? Shouldn’t they have known or figured it out? And how about the teachers. Why did they let this go on all year?

Shar

November 23rd, 2011
9:37 am

I’m sure that other, more knowledgeable posters here will come up with excellent reasons why Field Elementary’s actions were awful, but I believe that their approach, which would only have been put in place in the face of abject failure of the approved curriculum, is justifiable and perhaps even preferred with the exception of two elements: its application to all students at the school and the fact that the administrators and teachers colluded and lied.

The issues with the second point are self-evident. On the first point, it would be most unusual for every single student in a school to be, in Barnes’ terms, “struggling”. I agree that the foundational skills of reading and computation must, must be learned before more expansive areas can be taught, and that students who fail to reach fluency with either are doomed to academic impoverishment. In many elementary schools, students who are weak in math and reading are routinely pulled out for extra emphasis in those areas while other students are taught science, social studies and/or art (PE is usually not sacrificed as children need a chance to work off frustrations and find pleasure in being at school, at least in some degree). I believe that this is appropriate, particularly if the struggling students can rejoin their classmates for science experiments or social studies field trips.

However, students who are at or above grade level should not be held back or, worse, used as tutors for the struggling ones. If this is tracking, so be it. Allow children who are capable to move forward and do more challenging work while the students who cannot keep up get the help they need to master skills and follow their classmates forward at a slower pace. This has to be useful in rationalizing lesson plans as well.

catlady

November 23rd, 2011
9:37 am

Well, under the guise or “guidance” of Reading First, we did something kinda similiar for YEARS. Reading (not language arts) was 2 hours and 20 minutes a day. Math was an hour and a half. By the time you added lunch, pe/art/music, and a few minutes of recess, there was little time for anything else. Many of the kids also got remedial classes in math and reading, in addition–they were pulled out of the language arts, science, or social studies times. The result: A large group of kids who HATE reading, don’t have any comprehension, and are flunking high school. They are, however, good at decoding words, but have no experiential background to make sense of the words.

So, no, I don’t recommend it. It was a travesty encouraged by the federal government through many hundreds of thousands of dollars spent very unwisely.

Mountain Man

November 23rd, 2011
9:49 am

So, if they improved their scores on math and reading by spending 6 hours a day on those two subjects, maybe the answer is to lengthen the classroom day so that other subjects can be covered also. Another idea might be to lengthen the school year. More great ideas that might get us up there with other countries, but will never happen in the good ol’ USA.

Private schools work

November 23rd, 2011
9:51 am

Maureen

Shouldn’t you be more concerned with Atlanta teachers getting caught fixing grades and helping children cheat?

Private schools work

November 23rd, 2011
9:52 am

” including social studies, music and science.”

MUSIC????? LOL I didn’t even start band until the 5th grade and most kids dropped out by the 7th grade. Geez, you really are grasping at straws.

Mountain Man

November 23rd, 2011
9:53 am

At a lot of the failing schools, the probelm is not that there is enough instruction time (there is), but the students either are not physically present or they are disruptive to the point where learning cannot take place. You have to fix those problems first. THEN, hold back any child that has not achieved grade level.

Lee

November 23rd, 2011
9:55 am

Field Elementary is 87% Hispanic / 10% Black / 1% White.

Most of the schools in the APS and Dougherty County cheating scandal were 90%+ black.

The IQ hierarchy from highest to lowest is Asian/White/Hispanic/Black.

Connect the dots….

Mountain Man

November 23rd, 2011
9:59 am

Private Schools work – interesting name. Of course private schools are better than public schools – THEY HAVE BETTER STUDENTS. Private schools skim off the cream of the crop; they won’t take students that would pull them down. And if a student misbehaves at a private school – he is out of there. Public schools don’t have any of those luxuries – they MUST take all students, regardless of their SES, SPED status, disciplinary record, etc.

Michael

November 23rd, 2011
10:00 am

This is just another example where the U.S. has lost its way in education. Yes, I feel that Language Arts and Math are key subjects in the world today. However, how can anyone in today’s world ever fit into the world economy and the changing international makeup of the population of the U.S. without having a real understanding of cultural and physical geography. Tolerance in our country is sorely missing, with prejudice and misunderstanding seen on a daily basis in our schools and the general population. Not teaching all core subjects in elementary school should be considered a crime against our general population.

Marlena2

November 23rd, 2011
10:00 am

You are missing the valuable point: elevated scores. If you went into many high schools and requested the lexile levels of high school students, you would be appalled. Most students read but have genuine issues with comprehension, inference skills, main idea, details and vocabulary skills. Once a student has truly acquired the skill of reading and analysis and become analytical thinkers, then they can and will succeed in all ares of education. Why do you believe our children abhor reading? It is NOT the process but inability to comprehend.

Maureen Downey

November 23rd, 2011
10:05 am

@Private, Yes, which is why you can search the blog and literally find hundreds of blog entries about APS. But our field of inquiry occasionally expands to the wider world beyond APS and Georgia.
Maureen

To Cliff Claven from Good Mother

November 23rd, 2011
10:11 am

Cliff Claven, that adorable know it all from the show “Cheers” writes:

“How did the parents let this go on the entire year? Shouldn’t they have known or figured it out?”

How would they have known? How would they have figured it out?

Let’s see how that would go — a parent looks at a report card and sees good grades. The parent asks the teacher how his or her child is doing in each subject and the teachers assures the parent everything is going well.

Cliff, those aren’t clues that let the parent know the administration and teachers colluded and lied.

It’s very interesting that the administration and teachers colluded and lied but Cliff Claven blames the only people who weren’t at the school, the parents.

No matter who the criminal is, parents get the blame.

There is likely to never be a topic on this blog where parents are blamed for all ills.

To Private Schools Work from Good Mother

November 23rd, 2011
10:14 am

My children attend an elementary school where there is both a full time music teacher and a full time art teacher. The children, k through 5 all get weekly art and music lessons and also Spanish.

Albeit, the school is severely overcrowded and most of the kids go to a “classroom” in a delapidated, dangerous trailer with no bathrooms.

Tony

November 23rd, 2011
10:19 am

Narrowing the curriculum is the result of so much emphasis on testing. It’s simple. Too many schools fret over the “achievement results” as measured by the state tests that they forget the fact that students’ learning is being sacrificed on the altar of No Child Left Behind (and now Race to the Top.)

There is much more to being a person than is measured by the state tests and there is much more to being an excellent school than teaching only math and reading.

Maureen, I must take exception to your remark about the good being overlooked. It is this kind of twisted logic that excuses bad behavior on the part of politicians, media and school leaders. While there is tremendous value in making sure kids can read, there is absolutely no value if the students do not have experiences and opportunities to use those skills in the other critical areas. So please stop excusing this kind of bad behavior.

Private schools work

November 23rd, 2011
10:22 am

“THEY HAVE BETTER STUDENTS.”

Gotta love ignorant people.

Private schools work

November 23rd, 2011
10:22 am

“Albeit, the school is severely overcrowded and most of the kids go to a “classroom” in a delapidated, dangerous trailer with no bathrooms.”

Public education at its finest.

Private schools work

November 23rd, 2011
10:23 am

“But our field of inquiry occasionally expands to the wider world beyond APS and Georgia.”

So why Texas? Why not California, NY etc? Why not write about how the government is forcing parents in California to put their children in horrible public schools?

Mountain Man

November 23rd, 2011
10:24 am

So, a la APS, are the teachers who “feigned” grades (i.e. cheated) going to be fired?

What about administrators in every school here who tell teachers to change grades or in some cases, change the grades themselves? Should they not be fired also. What about administrators who transfer students just before testing so their school make AYP, should they not be fired?

If cheating is bad, then fire EVERYONE who cheats, not just those that happened to get caught cheating after administrators told them they had to in order to keep their jobs.

Aquagirl

November 23rd, 2011
10:25 am

Well, under the guise or “guidance” of Reading First, we did something kinda similiar for YEARS.

@ catlady, may I ask what grade levels were involved? I think LEARNING reading for nearly 2 1/2 hours would drive most adults insane, never mind children.

IMHO you have to get kids reading very early for a real payoff. After they’re 8 or 10 so….you’re screwed. The amount of time and resources rises exponentially with age.

Mountain Man

November 23rd, 2011
10:28 am

Albeit, the school is severely overcrowded and most of the kids go to a “classroom” in a delapidated, dangerous trailer with no bathrooms.

Sounds like Cherokee County in 1998.

Mountain Man

November 23rd, 2011
10:32 am

THEY HAVE BETTER STUDENTS.”

Gotta love ignorant people.

So, Private Schools Work, I presume YOUR kids go or went to private schools. What proportion qualified for free or reduced lunch? What proportion were black? What proportion were from low SES backgrounds? What proportion were SPED students? How many discipline problem students were in your school? Everyone here knows the answers to those questions, so you are not fooling anyone.

oneofeach4me

November 23rd, 2011
10:34 am

Peter, Michael, and Tony are right on this morning. Reading and comprehension should be exercised in every subject. Grades and curriculum should not be “made up”. Emphasis on testing is ruining everyone involved in education; the kids, the teachers, and the parents. The only ones excluded are the politicians who go with whatever the latest fad is or to whichever group contributes more.

Mountain Man

November 23rd, 2011
10:34 am

“Why not write about how the government is forcing parents in California to put their children in horrible public schools?”

I had not heard this story. Did California make Private Schools illegal?

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 23rd, 2011
10:37 am

“The Texas school broke the rules and cheated, but was the math-reading focus what students needed? But couldn’t reading skills be reinforced in the social studies and science classes as many schools are now doing?”

Disagree!

It appears nothing illegal or unethical ocurred, the teachers played the hand they were dealt and excelled/BEAT THE SYSTEM!!! Perhaps those “in charge” should have anticipated this move, then again they are probably just too stupid.

zeke

November 23rd, 2011
10:42 am

Our K-12 schools should emphasize math, science and US history! Social studies are useless! If we are to once again lead the world in every worthwhile endeavor, WE MUST TEACH MATH, SCIENCE AND OUR OWN HISTORY!!

zeke

November 23rd, 2011
10:43 am

As an addition, it is appalling to watch things like Jeapordy and see that these smart contestants know very little about our history!!

To Dr No from Good Mother

November 23rd, 2011
10:50 am

Dr.No, you write:
“…the teachers played the hand they were dealt and excelled/BEAT THE SYSTEM!!!”

How did they beat the system? The teachers and principal were caught lying and cheating.

They didn’t “get away with it.”

Veteran teacher, 2

November 23rd, 2011
10:52 am

Why do we continue to put up with this nonsense??? The election is coming up in less than one year. Unless we change those that make the insane laws and appoint people that impose ridiculous policies, stuff like this will continue. Things will probably even get worse.

Please get politically active. Please vote for candidates that will fix this nonsense instead of continuing it.

Nonsense like this is EVERYBODY’S fault. We have allowed the politicians to impose policies like NCLB. Stop talking about it and do something about it!!

BlahBlahBlah

November 23rd, 2011
10:57 am

The concept of the “three R’s” has been around forever, because it makes sense. If you can’t read, write, and add, everything else is just trivia. Yet we continue to treat our kids like they’re going on Jeopardy! next week.

Hugh Beaumont

November 23rd, 2011
10:59 am

Want to see problem with public schools? Read the story about the Walmart brawl and watch the video. Just imagine trying teach students like that.

Zeke's "logic" from Good Mother

November 23rd, 2011
11:01 am

This little nugget of “logic” really has me laughing this morning.

I nearly spit out my McDonald’s coffee when I read his twisted logic. Zeke writes:

“Social studies are useless! If we are to once again lead the world in every worthwhile endeavor…”

Social studies teaches students about the world around them, not just our own culture. So, if in fact our society is supposed to “lead the world in every worthwhile endeavor…” then surely we must learn about the world. We can’t be leaders if we are ignorant about the people we lead.

Funny.

Yet sad.

Looks like Zeke is in need of an education.

Zeke, really, in all seriousness, we can teach math, reading, science, social studies, physical education and have art and music.

I came from a poor background with neglectful parents and went to school in a very low economic area in the deep South — we didn’t even have air conditioning in our school and I lived in a two room cement block “home” with not even a kitchen cabinet. We kept our food in boxes on the floor.

Yet, I learned to read and write and excelled in all subjects, graduated with honors and got a merit scholarship to college.

It is not impossible to teach and for students to learn all the traditional subjects.

GM

catlady

November 23rd, 2011
11:03 am

Aquagirl: Grades k-3 got most of the emphasis. 4-5 also had to adopt some of the methods. The problem was, the kids arrived in grade 4 “reading” 120 WPM but having NO understanding of anything they had “read.” There was NO effort on comprehension–”It will come AFTER they are good at decoding” we were told. So kids believed they were reading when they were actually saying words fast. Heck, we had kids reading 200+ wpm, but could not answer even the most simple question about the passage.

Then, some higher ups (who had little/no experience teaching reading) were “surprised” because these same kids failed the CRCT! They bought into the lie that decoding quickly meant understanding, and rejected that when you actually UNDERSTAND, your speed might GO DOWN because you were actually interacting, intellectually, with the text. It was the teachers’ faults!

However, we got a lot of nice “stuff” and the higher-ups got lots of trips around the country to workshops and trainings and cheerleading sessions.

Then, when the program was actually evaluated independently, the only positive finding for the kids was that, in first grade, RF kids’ phonics skills were better than usual. That was IT.

Millions of dollars channeled to FOB.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 23rd, 2011
11:11 am

To Dr No from Good Mother

November 23rd, 2011
10:50 am

Guess my speed reading skills need a refresher. Nevermind…

Linda

November 23rd, 2011
11:13 am

This is going on in some Fulton County schools now and everyone knows it. I think it is completely unfair. It punishes students who can do more. Why not pull the ones who need help, even if it is 90% of the school?
Good Mother, please don’t split infinitives! (At the very least stop making grammatical errors until you are willing to cut others some slack. I can’t stand a hypocrite.)

Roach

November 23rd, 2011
11:15 am

I don’t see what the principal did wrong.
Just exactly how do elementary school grades matter, anyway? And what exactly are 3rd graders likely to learn in those other subjects that is worth a damn? The following grades mostly recap the same content–over and over again. Reading and math are skills that help students acquire knowledge and build skills.
Maybe the principal didn’t have authorization to conduct an experiment of this scope, but that should only produce a reprimand, not termination. The principal’s plan wasn’t wrong–it was brilliant.

"Lots of Nice Stuff" from Good Mother

November 23rd, 2011
11:18 am

Catlady says about the rewards she received for teaching reading to the detriment of other subjects “However, we got a lot of nice “stuff” and the higher-ups got lots of trips around the country to workshops and trainings and cheerleading sessions.”

The culprit appears to be getting “lots of nice stuff.”

In other words, greed is a cause of cheating, not just the feds and NCLB.

I wonder how many teachers would stand up and refuse to cheat if there was no monetary, physical incentive (money and nice stuff) at stake.

Trolls Bane

November 23rd, 2011
11:19 am

A return to teaching the R’s (Reading, wRighting, aRithmatic, and Retoric) should be a good thing. These skills served as a foundation of the excellent education of our forefathers and will work today.

Wow

November 23rd, 2011
11:21 am

Did you walk to school in the snow barefoot up hill both ways?

teacher&mom

November 23rd, 2011
11:22 am

Question? Did the Texas school spend an entire day on standardized reading and math practice or did they spend an entire day on honest-to-goodness reading and math instruction (the type of instruction most of us experienced in school)?

There is a HUGE difference.

I suspect they spent a lot of time and money on standardized test prep…and it paid off. They won awards and accolades.

Wonder how those “exemplary readers” are (or will be) performing in high school?

Any guesses?

http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2011/08/03/when-reading-tests-attack-content/
http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2011/06/09/turning-decoders-into-readers/

More News from Good Mother

November 23rd, 2011
11:24 am

The Huffington Post has more details about this lying, cheating group.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/texas-school-with-exempla_n_1107758.html

I found this particular passage interesting:

“According to the investigation by Dallas Independent School District investigators, parents were never informed of the falsified grades, nor were they told that their children had missed nearly a year of instruction in subjects other than reading and math.”

Yet, according to the man or woman behind the Cliff Claven monniker, parents are to blame.

It’s a head scratcher.

teacher&mom

November 23rd, 2011
11:32 am

@Good Mother:

Sincere question?

If your boss, company, etc. adopted a new program and required everyone to use it, would you “stand up” in protest if it was a defective program?

If…after repeated attempts to convince those in charge to consider better alternatives… the program was still implemented, what would you do?

What if your annual evaluation depended on how well you implemented the new program? What would you do?

Would you stand up and denounce the wasteful spending?

IgnoranceIsBliss

November 23rd, 2011
11:34 am

@Lee, you are most definitely an idiot. The primary reasons why APS and Dougherty County were caught cheating is due to the fact that they are predominantly minority (African American) districts. If the State Department of Education, look a little closer it will find out that the majority of districts (especially the largest ones’) within Georgia have creative ways of staying under the radar. This IQ hierachy is which you refer to has no merit. Students who are exposed more culturally, socially, and academically will fair better than those who aren’t. Please research and connect the dots away from ignorance.

teacher&mom

November 23rd, 2011
11:35 am

Incredulous

November 23rd, 2011
11:39 am

What about the students that were/are on level or above? Were they denied classes and instruction as well?

teacher&mom

November 23rd, 2011
11:41 am

If your elementary school student is not bringing home papers, portfolios, etc., then you need to demand the teacher send them home.

This is a common, and expected, practice in my school district. Each week I had to sign off on their reading, writing, math, science, and social studies folders. The folders, along with the library books they read each week, were my link to the learning taking place in the classroom.

Any parent in my district who “isn’t aware” of the learning taking place in the classroom, can not blame the teacher.

Linda

November 23rd, 2011
11:41 am

Good Mother, of course I would know that my children were not learning science and social studies.

Private schools work

November 23rd, 2011
11:43 am

“What proportion qualified for free or reduced lunch? What proportion were black?”

No free lunches, MM. Also, who cares what proportion are black? Why are you a race baiter?

Private schools work

November 23rd, 2011
11:43 am

” Did California make Private Schools illegal?”

Home schooling.