Tag Archives: indiana

Better testing through “data forensics”?

The re-drawn chart comparing the various gradi...

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With standardized testing occupying a more and more prominent place in American academic life, it’s only natural that cottage industries of all sorts should spring up around it. For example, there’s Caveon Test Security, which is the subject of this NY Times article. Snippets:

As tests are increasingly important in education — used to determine graduation, graduate school admission and, the latest, merit pay and tenure for teachers — business has been good for Caveon, a company that uses “data forensics” to catch cheats, billing itself as the only independent test security outfit in the country.

[…] Caveon says its analysis of answer sheets is the most sophisticated to date. In addition to looking for copying, its computers, which occupy an office in American Fork, Utah, and can crunch up to one million records, hunt for illogical patterns, like test-takers who did better on harder questions than easy ones. That can be a sign of advance knowledge of part of a test.

The computers also look for unusually large score gains from a previous test by a student or class. They also count the number of erasures on answer sheets, which in some cases can be evidence that teachers or administrators tampered with a test.

If you’re going to have this kind of testing at the kind of significance level we give it, then you have to have some security measures in place to make sure the credentialing that comes from the test is actually meaningful. With that in mind, it’s a little surprising we haven’t heard of more of these private data forensics firms popping up. Who’s been taking care of test security on the big-name tests up to this point? Locally appointed proctors? (Here in Indiana that hasn’t worked so well: this, this, this.) The testing companies themselves? Or nobody? (Related question: Who did the University of South Florida’s data forensics, if indeed the threat of data forensics wasn’t just a bluff?)

Possibly more interesting than the existence of data forensics firms like Caveon are the thoughts of John Fremer, Caveon’s founder, about standardized testing. In the NYT article he states:

Fundamentally…testing is a way of ascertaining what you know and don’t know and developing ranks, and the critics go right to the ranks. Well, it does rank, but on the basis of knowledge of the subject, and if you think that’s not important, there’s something improper about the way you think.

I’m going to assume that Dr. Fremer realizes that “knowledge” is only the bottom-most layer of human cognition, and what he’s saying is that knowing whether this layer is sound or not is important, and that testing is a way (not the way) of determining that soundness — and that he’s not saying that standardized tests are the best way to assess subject mastery. But surely there are those who believe this, and the rise of multimillion-dollar industries to ensure the soundness of a very narrow kind of assessment says something about our collective approach to education as well as the level of trust one can place in these kinds of assessments in the first place. When’s the last time we heard of  private firms being contracted to make sure our assessment of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation tasks are working well?


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Filed under Education, Life in academia, Student culture, Teaching, Technology

Indiana teacher licensing changes now official

The sweeping set of teacher licensing changes for Indiana, which I first blogged about here last July, has officially been signed into law. Frankly, I’m surprised, on two levels.

First, although this proposal flew mainly under the radar in Indiana, it was quite polarizing. The public, especially parents of school-aged kids, seemed mainly to be in favor of the bill; while teachers, teacher unions, and university education professors were quite vocally against it. Usually something this divisive doesn’t make it to being signed into law, or else it gets gutted and compromised first. But I can’t find any changes that were made between the bill and the law. It looks like what we saw is what we will get.

Second, it was pretty clear if you scratched the surface of this bill that one of its reasons for being was to put Indiana in a position to get Race to the Top money from the Federal government. Once Indiana was declared out of the running for that money, I figured the bill would get dropped, or else gutted/compromised. But apparently not so.

There will be winners and losers as these changes are implemented. As I said back in July, probably the biggest losers will be the education departments at large universities, which are constructed for the sole purpose of preparing preservice teachers to fulfill the outgoing licensing requirements. Now that the pedagogy coursework requirements for education majors will be drastically reduced, so will the workloads of many of the profs in those departments, and one wonders what happens next. The smaller colleges, like mine, will be fine. Our education faculty are generalists by necessity, and most of our secondary education degrees — which will no longer exist — are just one or two courses shy of a content major anyway. The big winners in this are going to be:

  • People who want to become teachers but lack the time, resources, or willpower to follow the traditional — and highly regimented and lengthy — coursework for an education degree. Many of these are students who come to my college wanting to get a degree in math or science and eventually find their way into teaching, and who walk away disappointed that preparing to become a teacher is an all-or-nothing proposition — you can’t just “pick up a teaching license” in a content area. You either choose to invest dozens of credit hours in education courses or you stay out of teaching. I will be very happy to tell all of my highly talented math and engineering students that as of today, if you want to become a teacher, you can.
  • Indiana college students, who now have more career options open to them. College students who trained to become teachers but who later want to leave the profession for something else will have a content degree to fall back upon. Those with, or who are working on, content degrees won’t have to make the all-or-nothing choice I mentioned above; if they decide later in their degree program to become teachers, they can.
  • Indiana school kids, especially high school kids who are now guaranteed to have teachers who will now be just as proficient in their subject areas as a beginning practitioner of the discipline working in business, industry, or government or going to graduate school. We all realize that content competence (if not mastery) is not a sufficient condition for good teaching; but it is a necessary condition, and far too often that condition is not met. No longer!

This is a big net win for Indiana.


Filed under Early education, Education, High school, Life in academia, Teaching

What are “essential teaching skills”?

In my last post, I expressed incredulity at Pat Rogan’s statement that by limiting education degrees to no more than 30 hours of pedagogy courses, the state of Indiana would be “put[ting] educators without essential teaching skills into classrooms”. I brought up the example of one-room schoolhouse teachers and homeschooling parents as examples of people who teach successfully without anywhere near that amount of coursework. Another example I realized this morning was my own profession of college teaching. Most college professors have never had a pedagogy course in their lives, and yet many of those are among the best classroom educators our society has to offer. They certainly have “essential teaching skills”.

Of course there are also many professors whose teaching is atrocious. But there are also high school teachers with 30+ hours of pedagogy courses whose teaching is equally atrocious, and it’s highly questionable whether they have “essential teaching skills” despite surviving all that coursework.

What exactly are “essential teaching skills”? How do these differ from one teaching situation to the next — the preschool classroom, elementary schools, public high schools, private high schools, college classrooms, homeschoolers’ living rooms? Is there a single set of “essential teaching skills” that is common to all teachers, regardless of their context? And what role does education coursework play in conveying those skills?


Filed under Teaching

Big changes coming for Indiana teacher licensing?

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is announcing today a plan to overhaul the state’s system for teacher licensure. The announcement is here, and there are three PDF’s linked at the bottom of that page that go into more depth. [Update: There’s now a 7-minute video of the press conference at this site as well.] And here’s an Indianapolis Star article (written prior to the announcement, so it’s a bit short on detail) that gives a thumbnail overview and some reactions from local education people. Those reactions seem pretty heated, and when you read the details of the program, you can begin to understand why.

The first point listed in the plan, and the one that seems to have the most impact, is that requirements for content knowledge for pre-service teachers are going to be ratcheted up several notches. Secondary education teachers will now be required to earn a baccalaureate degree in a content areanot in education — and earn a minor in education. Elementary education majors may do this as well, or earn a baccalaureate degree in education with a minor in a content area. Those aspiring to change careers into teaching do not have to get any formal coursework in education at all, but rather be certified by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which involves holding a baccalaureate degree (in any subject) and then passing a teaching exam and attending teaching workshops. In addition, the very definition of a “major” or “minor” in education will be changed: A degree in education can have no more than 30 hours in pedagogy, and a minor can have no more than 15. This new system, along with the other changes in the plan I didn’t just mention, would be put into place on July 1, 2010.

In a word: Whoa. These are some  monumental changes to the way things are currently done here in Indiana. And that’s not all. There is more to the proposal than what I mentioned above — in particular, a big change is that the PRAXIS I exam will no longer be required, and there’s an end to a portfolio and mentoring requirement that I know firsthand new teachers hate — but let me give some quick thoughts about the changes I did mention, which affect directly those of us involved with training new teachers.

  • The change in degree requirement for secondary education teachers is huge. Consider the Mathematics Teaching major at my college. As it is, students in this program take 24 hours of “professional secondary education” courses (including methods courses, instructional strategies, etc.) along with several semesters of field experiences plus internships in education. Most, if not all, of the courses in the “professional” category would probably be considered “pedagogy” courses under this new system (although there’s no clear definition of that term). Under the new system, all of that would be replaced with an education minor that consists of no more than 15 hours of pedagogy courses. This is effectively cutting the “professional secondary education” courseload for these students by half or more.
  • Like I said, this is huge — for both students and faculty. Students wanting to be secondary educators are now going to have much more flexible schedules and greater choice. And if, previously, a secondary education content major was heavy on the education and light on the content area, the whole world will be changing for students in that major. For us, our Math Education degree is just one course away (an independent research project) from a Mathematics degree; students in Math Education usually just double-major, so this change is not going to affect us much. But it could completely change the landscape for other programs where the math (or science or whatever) education major is something like half of the associated content area major plus a bunch of education courses.
  • It’s also huge for faculty. Now you can see why some of the teacher education people might be very concerned. Their pedagogy courses are going to be depopulated. And the effect will be far worse at larger schools, where education professors tend to specialize more and you might have some profs whose entire course load, year in and year out, consists of pedagogy courses — courses that are now being taken by only a fraction of the former number of people. If universities were like industry, we’d simply lay off, reassign, or let go the profs whose services are no longer needed. But what if such a prof has tenure? Things get complicated.
  • I think the change to allow ABCTE certification is brilliant. I have talked to dozens of students and their parents who are thinking about going into teaching, but they aren’t sure, so they want to major in a content area and then “go back and get a teaching certificate later” if they felt the call. It is painful to have to explain that, in Indiana, you can’t just “go back and get a teaching certificate”. Well, now you can. (Assuming this all passes.) This is an excellent way especially to get more teachers in math and science. I know a lot of scientists and engineers who have wanted to get out of industry and into teaching, but the amount of coursework required was a real hindrance. Now there is an alternate route.
  • The speed of the timeline is shocking. If this goes through, this upcoming academic year will be the last one in which the traditional secondary education majors exist. That’s got to be a major jolt to the system for many colleges, especially the education departments. But it becomes less shocking when you read the “Licensing Summary” PDF and see that the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, and the tons of money contained therein for states with “streamlined” licensing processes, is listed there. They want to get this deal done quickly so they can be better positioned for money from this program.

A telling statement from Pat Rogan, executive associate dean of the education school at IUPUI, was in the Indy Star article: that the proposed limits of 30 credit hours of pedagogy in education courses for education majors and 15 for education minors would “put educators without essential teaching skills into classrooms”. Seriously? It takes more than 30 credit hours — the equivalent of an entire academic year of coursework if the student took nothing but pedagogy courses, 15 hours a week solid for nine months — to convey “essential teaching skills”? Somebody needs to send a memo back to the great one-room schoolhouse teachers from 100 years ago, and all the successful homeschooling parents today, letting them know that they are badly lacking in their preparation and need more pedagogy courses. Perhaps the gist of this entire plan is to say to education schools: Align your conception of what constitutes “essential teaching skills” with reality, and then redesign your programs to match.


Filed under Education, High school, Higher ed, Life in academia, Teaching

Speaking of grading…

…it’s not really good to farm out your grading tasks to a person who is not an employee of your university, as one faculty member at  IU-South Bend apparently has done:

Professor Otis B. Grant faces sanctions as a result of student complaints that he allowed a nonemployee to grade student work and access student academic records, a potential violation of federal privacy laws.

Students also complained that Grant used foul language in class, improperly canceled classes and dismissed two students from a course without due process.

The investigation did not determine the identity of Riane Hunter, the name used by a woman who identified herself as Grant’s graduate assistant. Students said she graded and signed their academic papers and sent instructions to the class from Grant’s campus e-mail address.

No one named Riane Hunter is employed by IUSB or has ever been enrolled at any IU campus, according to IU administrators. Students said Grant referred to a woman named Riane Hunter as his graduate assistant for several years, but no student has come forward who met her in person.

Indeed, some of the IUSB administrators are not even sure if “Riane Hunter” even exists. Read the whole article, which describes even more lurid behavior, such as summarily expelling students from a course and refusing to let students see their final exams. And yet, he was granted tenure and even won teaching awards as recently as 2005. If any one of those allegations are true, is it any wonder that the general public has such a negative view of higher education?

Ironically, Prof. Grant teaches “law and society” and affiliates himself with the “Institute for the Study of Race, Law and Public Policy” and the “Center for Leadership, Law and Culture”. The latter appears to be fictitious, based on newspaper investigation. The former has a web site here with almost nothing on it, with the exception of Prof. Grant’s credentials, which describe him as “a critical socio-legal theorist and psychoanalyst whose work focuses on the intersection of culture, jurisprudence, leadership and power” with “a particular interest in legal (un)consciousness”.

Indeed, you’d have to be pretty legally unconscious to think that you can hire out your grading and evaluations to a non-employee of the university and not violate FERPA in a hundred different ways.


Filed under Higher ed, Life in academia, Teaching

Not quite washed away

In case you haven’t seen the news, central Indiana — location of the Casting Out Nines global headquarters — has spent the last two days being hit with the worst flooding it’s seen in decades. The photo here is from the downtown area of the town where my college is located. It’s even worse in other areas, where entire towns are underwater and the whole scene looks like something post-Katrina.

We are fortunate enough to live in a subdivision that was built with pretty good drainage and near some significant rolling hills. So there was no “flooding” per se where we were — nothing like in the photo. Still, we woke up Saturday morning to the sound of prolonged, wet splattering in our basement. The drain on one of the windows in our basement had gotten plugged up with mud and grass clippings, and the entire window well was full of water and coming into the basement. I was soon out in the thunderstorm, bailing water out of the window well with a bucket, and then back down into the basement to bail more water as it came into the window well into a 13-gallon trash can and then dumping the water into the bathtub in our finished bathroom in the basement.

Then, the power went out — and the bathtub doesn’t drain when the power’s out. Fortunately we had installed a battery backup to our sump pump just a month ago, which saved our basement from being filled ankle-deep in water like our neighbors’ basements did. But we were rapidly running out of places to dump the water from the window well. Fortunately (or Providentially, as we were all praying as we were hauling water back and forth), the rain subsided just as the water level in the bathtub was maxing out, so we escaped any kind of water damage beyond what initially came in and a few slops onto the floor here and there. We had to spent the rest of the day and half the night in a steaming hot house with no A/C — which meant we spent the day driving around to look at the flooding and then hanging out in Target. It was a grand feeling to wake up at 1:00 AM and feel the cold air on me.

But that’s as bad as it got for us, and it’s a lot better than some people just a mile or so from us had it. I’m thankful that we didn’t have any damage to the house, that the kids weathered the situation reasonably well, and that we’re all more or less back to normal aside from a very dirty and sort of musty-smelling basement to contend with.

I know some of CO9s’ regulars live around here too, so let us all know how you’re doing.

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Filed under Personal

Stupidest online poll of the week

From the Indianapolis Star online

It’s apropos of this story about how a court ruled that a teacher who allegedly slapped a student while trying to restore order in a gym class was protected from battery charges under the state’s corporal punishment laws. Saying that what the teacher did — and it’s not obvious that anybody got actually slapped in this incident — under duress is protected under law, and saying that teachers “should” slap students — as if it were a first line of defense — are, of course, very different things. But I guess the interns writing the poll don’t really grasp that.  (The headline at the link Sun-Times article is almost as badly off.) 

The scary thing is that the voting is currently 51%/49% in favor of slapping as a classroom management technique.  

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Filed under Education, High school

What’s shakin’?

UPDATE and bumped: 20 minutes ago there was an aftershock from the quake this morning, magnitude 4.2 4.5. Here’s the USGS map from 10 minutes ago:

I didn’t feel the one from this morning, but I was (still am, for 15 minutes more) giving a test in a computer lab on the third floor of our library, when the floor started to undulate and the computer monitors started to sway back and forth. It lasted all of 4-5 seconds, but everybody definitely felt it. A few moments of near-panic as I contemplate what I ought to do when I’m on the third floor of an already-old building and the ground starts swaying under my feet!

I’ll keep updating if anything else happens.


Answer: Apparently most of southern Illinois and a good portion of central Indiana this morning from a 5.2 earthquake centered in Mount Carmel, Illinois. That’s about 100 miles from where I sit, and according to the CNN report the control tower at Indianapolis International Airport was evacuated for an hour after the quake. This happened at 5:30 AM, and I was in the shower and didn’t feel a thing. The first I heard of it, I was dropping my 4-year old off at preschool and her teacher asked me, “Did you feel it?” I replied, “Feel what?”

But apparently there was some minor damage in houses around here — dishes falling off the shelves and so forth — and when I get home I’m going to check the basement to make sure nothing fell down and that the foundation of the house is OK. Also, the epicenter of the quake is very close to where my mother-in-law lives, but I haven’t had time to check to see what might have happened out their way.

It’s easy to forget that there’s a major faultline that runs right up through the midwest until something like this happens.


Filed under Personal

On tour and on break

I’ve got a pretty full next week ahead of me. On Friday I’ll be in South Bend at the Indiana MAA section meeting, where I’ll be in charge of administering the Indiana Collegiate Mathematics Competition (read: putting out fires and making copies and grading). On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll be in the Chicago area giving a couple of talks on digital signature algorithms and on cryptology in general at Benedictine University. Sunday and Monday I’ll be (somewhat frantically) getting those talks fine-tuned. Next week is also spring break for us, which means it’s spring break for my kids as well, which means I’m a stay-at-home dad for a little while — perhaps the most enjoyable task of all of the above.

So I’ll be blogging only intermittently until next Thursday or so, just so you’ll know. I’ll be more likely to Twitter, so that’s where you can find me online most likely.


Filed under Blog announcements, Crypto