Each year, students in California public schools sit to take the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress exam, which determines how prepared students are for college. Those test scores were just recently released, and while students in the Los Angeles Unified School District scored better on this year’s state standardized test than last year’s, only 39 percent of students met the benchmark standards in English and only 29 percent meet standards in math. Despite how low these numbers remain, the district did improve by 4 percent and 6 percent in math and English respectively. This year’s scores remain notably low for certain groups, such as black students and those learning English as a second language.Wealthier schools, such as Wonderland Avenue Elementary School in the Hollywood Hills (where 84 percent of students met the English standards and 83 percent met the math standards) tend to outperform more economically disadvantaged schools on exams of this nature. Standardized tests that measure aptitude and college readiness reflect the trend in K-12 education that illustrates the large impact wealth has on a student’s education. Thus, these tests often predict a student’s wealth more than his or her intelligence and should not be given as much weight by government and education officials when determining a student’s aptitude for success.Though opinions differ as to why, on K-12 achievement tests and college entrance exams, lower-income students, as well as black and Latino students, consistently score below privileged white and Asian students. In fact, the socioeconomic status of a child’s parents has always been one of the strongest predictors of the child’s academic achievement and educational attainment. Some explanations as to why this gap exists relate to neighborhood conditions, school quality, parental investments, the educational attainment of the parents and family structure. These gaps still persist, as apparent in this year’s LAUSD CASPP scores, despite decades of research and numerous studies attempting to explain and close them. However, one recent related study shows a closing of one major socioeconomic gap dealing with kindergarten readiness. Stanford University’s Sean Reardon, a professor of poverty and inequality in education, studies the gap between wealthy and impoverished children in terms of how prepared they are to begin kindergarten, and how that gap has changed since the late 1990s. From 1998 to 2010, his research illustrates how the gap between wealthy and poor students’ preparation for kindergarten has improved by about one month’s more time of instruction. This is an achievement, especially considering the skills that children possess when they enter kindergarten can be very predictive of how the child will progress through school.Scores on college entrance exams such as the SAT also illustrate a strong correlation between wealth and high scores. What is ironic, however, is that the SAT was devised as a tool to identify talented students from underprivileged backgrounds, and was originally thought of as a test of aptitude rather than learned knowledge. According to John Katzman, president and founder of The Princeton Review, predictive tests like the SAT measure “only about 18 percent of the things that it takes to do well in school,” and have only a 4 percent chance of predicting success in college. SAT scores are strongly correlated with income, parental educational attainment and ethnicity. Thus, wealthy white or Asian students, whose parents have a graduate degree, and who have taken the PSAT before the SAT, are more likely to get high scores on the exam than a minority student whose parents have a only a high school degree. The difference in exam scores between two such students could be as high as 400 or 500 points.Overall, less importance should be given to exams that seek to measure student intelligence. These sorts of high stakes standardized tests, like the CASPP and other exams in United States public schools or college entrance exams like the SAT, are not accurate measurements of what students have learned. They cannot assess critical thinking skills and instead teach students how to memorize information more than learn actual material. Moreover, these types of exams more often illustrate a link between high test scores and family wealth more than innate or learned intelligence.Julia Lawler is a senior majoring in history and social science education. Her column, “Get Schooled,” runs Fridays.
Share18TweetShare8Email26 SharesInfrogmation of New Orleans (Photo by Infrogmation (talk) of New Orleans) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia CommonsOctober 26, 2015; Insider Higher EdTwo weeks ago, NPQ covered an excellent report written by the Century Foundation’s Robert Shireman about for-profit universities that convert to nonprofits. The report detailed a web of interrelationships and self-dealing only very thinly veiled. In the report, Shireman writes that beyond the initial granting of tax-exempt status, the IRS is unlikely to police these organizations even if their violations are relatively flagrant—and if the IRS doesn’t act, then the Department of Education is not likely to. He calls this a “regulatory blind spot.”But on Friday, sparked by the very explicit and detailed report, a group of Democrats in the U.S. Senate sent letters both to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen to urge them to stop allowing these conversions.These sham nonprofits make a mockery of traditional nonprofit governing and accountability structures with incestuous leadership arrangements, troubling debt structures, while continuing to make hefty profits for those in charge with questionable results for students. As the agencies responsible for granting nonprofit, tax exempt status and protecting students, the [IRS] and [Education Department] must work together to better assess these conversions based on the priorities and authority of both agencies.They went on to write:The report enumerates ways in which four institutions—Herzing University, Remington College, Inc., Everglades College, and the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE)—have converted to non-profit educational organizations without any substantial changes in their operations and in ways inconsistent with what the organizations declared when seeking tax exempt non-profit status. In each of these cases, the companies that owned and operated for-profit college campuses and online programs appear to have sold the for-profit entity’s assets to a non-profit entity controlled by the same individuals who had controlled the for-profit institution. Questions exist regarding how the asset purchases were structured and whether loan payments made to the non-profit entity by the for-profit entity to finance the asset purchase are a form of de facto profit to the former directors and executives that would not otherwise be allowable.Other concerns include: 1) schools operating board of directors hand-picked by former owners and filled with trustees with conflicts-of-interest or who are profiting directly and indirectly from the new non-profit institution; 2) paying rent for the use of facilities retained by the same individuals who previously owned the for-profit schools housed there; and 3) former owners of the for-profit schools collecting money from the new non-profits for ancillary services like hotel fees and private jets on top of receiving an inflated salary. Given these concerns, we encourage you to review the cases highlighted in the report to ensure these entities comply with the law and the requirements for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.Those signing on to the letter included Delaware Senator Tom Carper, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, and Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.—Ruth McCambridgeShare18TweetShare8Email26 Shares