Book review: Making the Grades

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland middle school teacher, recommends a book that exposes grading practices on the writing portion of standardized tests — written by an insider.

Steven Weinberg

One of the delights of retirement is that I finally have enough time to read. This week I discovered a new book that ought to be read by everyone involved with standardized tests — and in today’s environment, that means practically everybody.

“Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry” by Todd Farley (2009) gives a detailed description of what actually happens to the writing sample portions of standardized tests when they are sent to testing companies for scoring. Although the book is written in an amusing style (the first 150 pages kept me in stitches, and when I read passages aloud to my wife and we both laughed until we could barely talk), the message is serious: Testing companies care only about making a profit and will cut any corner and ignore their own guidelines to do so.

Farley began his career in the testing industry in 1994, earning $10 an hour as a grader. Continue Reading


A Twitter plug

If you’re an avid consumer of education news, I should level with you: I post updates and story links about schools on Twitter, and some of it doesn’t make it into the blog or in the paper.


Even if you don’t want to sign up, or you’re not quite ready to “follow” me (understandably), you can still see those updates by going to the above Web page. Like the one I just posted about the solar panels to be installed at 17 Oakland schools. Of course, there wasn’t space to list the schools on Twitter, so I’ll do it here: Continue Reading


Oakland principals speak out about gang violence, ask for help

Two East Oakland elementary school principals have appealed to the police and the community for help, saying increased gang activity and violence is threatening to erode the progress they have made during the last several years.

In a letter sent this afternoon to Oakland school district’s police chief and dozens of others from the school district, city and county (and local newspaper), ACORN Woodland Principal Kimi Kean and EnCompass Academy Principal Tram Nguyen detailed their concerns — which include daytime shootings and weekend drug sales in the school parking lot — and proposed solutions.

They write: Continue Reading


Tilden update: Can one shuttered school save another from closing?


Tribune file photo by Sean Donnelly

For well over a year, parents from Oakland’s Tilden School have cajoled, grilled and held district administrators to task about the future of the unique program, which serves children — many of them, with special needs — in preschool through third grade.

Tilden will close in June. Still, those behind the dogged effort to keep elements of the program alive have scored a substantial victory: a new preschool and special needs diagnostic center at the nearby Burbank campus. Most of Tilden’s students are in preschool. Continue Reading


On the agenda: Charters, protests and Tilden

Oakland Unified’s hard-line charter schools office says the district should renew its contracts with two schools: Oakland School for the Arts, a middle and high school located in the renovated Fox Theater building downtown, and Berkley Maynard, one of six charters in Oakland that are run by Aspire Public Schools, a management organization.

image by Nick Bygon, flickr.com/creativecommons

image by Nick Bygon, flickr.com/creativecommons

Also on Wednesday’s school board agenda is a “conditional endorsement” of the March 4 Statewide Day to Defend Public Education, which will include public schools, colleges and universities.

Translation: The district will support a “teach-in” and demonstrations before and after school — as long as the actions don’t “impede student learning,” according to OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint.

Betty Olson-Jones, the teachers union president, says there is not a strike planned for March 4, but that some teachers and students plan to be out of school that day. Others, she said, will picket before school starts or, possibly, take their children on a “walking field trip” to demonstrate.

Continue Reading


Hearts for Haiti

Bret Harte Middle School
photo courtesy of Bill Watson Payne

Kids at Oakland’s Bret Harte Middle School are showing their love this month by raising money for victims of the earthquake in Haiti. So far, they have raised more than $700 for Oxfam, according to teachers at the school. Each heart represents a student’s contribution.

At Oakland School for the Arts, Graciela Olguin and her classmates organized an online art sale to raise money for the American Red Cross’s Haiti relief efforts. They set up this Web site, and generated more than $300 as of late last week.

If your school has undertaken a similar project, tell us about it.


Safety scare, basketball game postponed

Mack v. Oakland High, 2008Yesterday afternoon I was putting the finishing touches on a story about security at Oakland’s high school basketball and football games when I got an email from our prep sports writer, Jimmy Durkin: Friday’s basketball game between Oakland High School and McClymonds was postponed, for safety reasons.

Part of the reason for the decision, I learned today, was an incident that happened at lunchtime yesterday, a couple of blocks from McClymonds. A car pulled up to a crowd of people in front of a convenience store on Market Street — it’s a popular lunch spot for students — and someone inside the car fired a shot.

No one was hit, according to OUSD Spokesman Troy Flint. But whoa. Continue Reading


Report: Charter schools a “civil rights failure”

Researchers with the Civil Rights Project, now based at UCLA, released a report today, “Choice Without Equity.” They said they found greater racial segregation in charter schools than in regular public schools.

Seven years after the Civil Rights Project first documented extensive patterns of charter school segregation, the charter sector continues to stratify students by race, class and possibly language.

The report said that in California, charters provide “havens for white re-segregation from public schools,” and that Latino students are underrepresented. Neither of those things is true in Oakland, as far as I can see.

It’s an interesting point, though, because the goal of many local charter schools seems to be to serve low-income students — which, in Oakland, typically means children who aren’t white. In fact, just think about the solution being proposed in Berkeley Unified to help the city’s lower-achieving (and largely black and Latino) high school students: a charter school just for them. Continue Reading


A new teacher, a new strength

Dan AdilettaAs I get closer to my colleagues in my school, my district and in my department, I’m finding tremendous strength. I went to my professional development on Monday beleaguered—still with a box full of papers to grade. I’m stressed about my school closing, my shaky financial situation and how to manage my troubled students while increasing the academic rigor.

I’m not the only one. In fact, I found myself in a room heavy with worn faces. In that shared burden there was camaraderie, albeit in an exhausted form.

Continue Reading


Science labs, race and equity at Berkeley High

berkeley highOur editorial board weighed in today on the controversy at Berkeley High, where parcel tax money that pays for after-school, college-prep science labs might instead fund extra teachers to work with struggling students.

At the core of the issue is the stubborn achievement gap between the school’s white students and its black and Latino students. In the 1980s, voters approved the parcel tax money in question to help bridge the gap, but it remains as wide as ever. Most of the students who participate in the after-school science program are white.

The Trib editorial argues that eliminating these rigorous labs is the wrong way to address the racial disparity. Continue Reading