[ProgressiveEd] Fwd: [rsct] NYTimes 4/17/03 re: cultural bias in Massachusett's standards test

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In the light of the warm weather, it's good to remember the snowy days of the 
past! Carol
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From: "Chris McCormick" <[email protected]>
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Date: Sat, 26 Apr 2003 11:31:55 -0700
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Subject: [rsct] NYTimes 4/17/03 re: cultural bias in Massachusett's standards test
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NYTimes.com Education News Alert was just chock full of testing-related
articles last week!  Be sure to read the last quote on this one...
NYTimes.com  April 17, 2003
When a Snow Day Is More Than Just Play
BOSTON, April 16 � Many fourth graders at Hernandez Elementary School here
do not remember what they did on their last snow day, which was two years
ago. Others like Gabriel Prado, 10, remember just the painful parts, like
being hit by a snowball thrown by his older brother.
Although the students cross their fingers and hope for the big morning
announcement every time the sky becomes gray, two years, they say, is a long
time to think back on their last lucky break. And that has become a problem
for the students, who have to retake part of the state's standardized test.
A question on the fourth-grade writing section of the Massachusetts
Comprehensive Assessment System, which all the state's fourth graders took
on Thursday, asked them to imagine waking up to their "dream come true,"
school being canceled because of a snowstorm. Students were asked to "write
a story about a snow day off from school that you remember."
It has been years since many Massachusetts school districts, including
Boston, have canceled school because of inclement weather. Although heavy
snow fell this winter, almost all of it was on weekends or vacations.
Many students, educators said, have no idea what a snow day is. That is
especially true in urban districts, they say, where many students have
emigrated from countries with warm climates. Urban students are also at a
disadvantage because they, unlike their suburban counterparts, often do not
"have mom at home to do activities with" and often just watch television,
said Margarita Muniz, principal at Hernandez Elementary, a bilingual school
that teaches primarily in English.
Wilfredo T. Laboy, superintendent of the Lawrence district, which is 89
percent Spanish speaking, said: "I believe it is culturally biased. For kids
from Santo Domingo, Southeast Asia or other warm climates, what do they say
about snow?"
A spokeswoman for the State Education Department, Heidi Perlman, said the
question went through a rigorous evaluation, including passage before a bias
review committee. The department, Ms. Perlman said, did not consider that
some students might not know what a snow day is. But after some parents
called, the department decided to give principals at schools that did not
have snow days the option of re-administering the test on May 8. The
principals also have the option of giving the test to individual students
who might have been at a disadvantage because they recently arrived from a
warmer climate.
The question, which, on its face, seemed "harmless enough," Ms. Perlman
said, and was meant just to judge writing ability.
"It's entirely a question to judge how well a student can write," she said.
"If a student can write an essay about watching TV, that's fine. It's
looking at their grammar, their spelling and their writing. It's not about
the content."
Boston is the sole district that requires all fourth graders � almost
5,000 � to retake the test, said Jonathan Palumbo, a spokesman for the
Boston Public Schools. He said the district wanted to give all students the
same opportunity to do well.
Thomas Potter, superintendent of the Central Berkshire district in western
Massachusetts, canceled school once this year. Mr. Potter can understand why
some parents might be suspicious about the question if their children had
not had snow days, but said most students in the state could imagine what a
snow day would be like.
"I don't think it's culturally biased at all," Mr. Potter said.
Rebecca Jackson, 10, from Hernandez Elementary, said the test was "sort of
hard" because she "knows what I do on snow days, but not on particular snow
days." She wrote about "three things I like to do when it snows: ice
skating, forts and sledding."
Victor Mejia, 9, said he thought that the question was not fair because some
students like him had trouble remembering what occurred two years ago, a
long, long time in a fourth grader's world. But Kevin Vega, 10, said it was
not difficult for him to remember the shiny sled that he used with his
"Some of us can't forget that day," Kevin said.
When asked whether they wanted to retake the test, class members screeched a
high-pitched drawn-out, "Nooooo!"
"Does this mean we have to take the MCAS again?" Gabriel asked. "I don't
want to. It was annoying enough the first time."
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