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Schools Rob Families of Summer to Game Test Scores

As any parent can tell you, the start of the school year seems to creep earlier and earlier every year. Not long ago, Labor Day was the starting line; now it’s more like mid-August. Last weekend, the Wall Street Journal examined the pros and cons of the lengthening school year. The cons are clear: less family time, less vacation time, and less money for summer tourism. The pros are less clear, but the schools see one big one: early starts give them more time to prepare students for standardized tests.

In the past decade, testing has become more important, thanks in part to requirements in the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law—used to evaluate students, close low-achieving schools and fire underperforming teachers. Many schools have pushed up the start date to provide more instructional time in hopes it will improve test performance.

Miya Clay, a 6th grader at low-income Dulles School of Excellence in Chicago, started school Monday—the earliest she has even been in class—but she was happy to be there. “It gives me a chance to read lots of books and more time to learn” before taking the state math and reading exams in the spring, she said.

With all due deference to Miss Clay, Via Meadia has another perspective on this practice: It’s nothing but a piece of educational fraud.

It is a way to game the system of measuring student achievement through standardized tests. Deceptive educators and sleazy school boards want to make their students look better on tests without actually teaching them better. They figure that by moving the school year up, their students can benefit from more classroom instruction before taking the tests, thereby giving them slightly higher grades compared to students who start school at the normal time.

This is a cheap, disgusting trick, unworthy of serious professionals.

Via Meadia suggestion: standardized test scores should be normalized to reflect the number of days a student has spent in the classroom to discourage nasty, cheap system-gaming. Playing fast and loose with students’ and parents’ lives in order to pretend to achieve targets shows just how out of touch and arrogant school bureaucracies are.

People who do things like this are not fit to be trusted with the education of the young.

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  • Kevin

    If longer school years mean students learn more then it ought to be reflected in the tests. It would be great if we could improve academic achievement via more effective use of existing time. But if additional time will improve them then we ought to devote that time. It’s not like the US has abnormally long school years to begin with anyway. Most other countries seem to have longer school years and school days.

  • thibaud

    My, my, aren’t we testy this morning. “Gaming” the system? “Not fit to be trusted with the education of the young”?

    Perhaps our host could take his finger off the trigger for a second and answer a simple question:

    If the statewide achievement test occurs in late May (as it does in California), just how, exactly, is it “gaming the system” or educational malpractice to align the school year’s start and finish dates so that the tests actually occur at the END of the school year instead of weeks before it?

    Does Prof. Mead schedule his Fall Semester finals before Thanksgiving?

    Aside from helping boost sales for travel companies, does this make any sense?

    Perhaps he could do some, you know, research before he starts fulminating yet again at those evil, no-good, dirty rotten schoolteachers.

  • cacrucil

    Hey, Profssor, what gives? I don’t understand your problem with this story. The idea that more studying in school will lead to higher test scores doesn’t seem to be too crazy. American kids need to spend more time in school. I teach in Korea and I can tell you that Korean kids go to private academies when they are on vacation from their regular school.

    It seems that the children of the wealthy in America are now studying hard during the summer. This article is about intense summer test prep in the hamptons.

  • Kansas Scott

    I have to say that the tone and language of this post is a large deviation from what I expect when I visit Via Media.

    You would do well to not assume that school boards are “sleazy” and educators are “deceptive” without something to support the charge. All you do is offer your “perspective” but no evidence.

    It really could be that people you disagree with have good motives even if you find their actions misguided. The idea of a longer school year in the US is hardly a bolt out of nowhere. It is also not on its face a sign of sleaze or fraud. It may be wrong but point out why and not immediately jump to questioning the motives of people.

    This piece smacks a lot more of cable news programs than any kind of serious policy discussion. You usually do much better.

  • Jim.

    Apparently none of Miss Clay’s teachers have seen fit to encourage her to read and learn on her own over the summer. Fifth or sixth grade is by no means too young for that.

    Honestly, how dependent are these kids growing up to be?

  • Eurydice

    Wow, somebody must’ve found something unpleasant in his Cheerios this morning. And somebody’s got an awfully idyllic view of how families spend their summers. Maybe I’m imagining this (and I’m sure someone will correct me), but haven’t there been discussions here about the irrelevancy of the 9-month school year?

  • Eurydice

    @Jim #5 – If Miss Clay is from a low-income family she may not have access to books at home or a library nearby. I’m just guessing about Chicago, but I know that’s a problem here in Boston.

  • Mick The Reactionary


    “If Miss Clay is from a low-income family she may not have access to books at home or a library nearby.”

    Strangely, it never seems to be a problem for low-income Asian families, some of them, recent immigrants for example, could be very poor.

    Somehow you see them in city libraries with kiddies borrowing tall stacks of books.

    What gives?

  • JKB

    Teach a child to pass the test, they learn for a day.
    Teach them to order their thoughts and a tentative attitude toward knowledge, they learn for a lifetime.

    The last line is what is really studying. However, most people have come to view “studying” as sitting quietly staring at a book having never been taught how to assimilate the information they perceive. Thus, one cannot say teach them to study as few understand the term in any useful form.

    As for the inability to learn during the break:
    “In spite of the fact that schools exist for the sake of education, there is many a school whose pupils show a peculiar “school helplessness”; that is, they are capable of less initiative in connection with their school tasks than they commonly exhibit in the accomplishment of other tasks.”

  • thibaud

    #9 – we’re not talking about college youth. These are _children_ trying to master basic skills.

    We can and should test their mastery of those basic skills before we go all Mortimer Adler on them and ask them to start parsing sonnets or analyzing the Constitution. This is what standardized tests are all about.

  • Kris

    I’m OK with a longer school year. After all, if the kids aren’t needed for farm work, they should be studying. 🙂 I share the post’s distaste (though not its high dudgeon) over the motivation for this development. These standardized tests are generally not exceedingly difficult. What we have here are schools that have not been able to meet minimal standards responding not by engaging in self-reflection and actually changing things, but merely hoping that some extra time will somehow fix things. “Why Johnny Can’t Read”? For want of an extra two weeks of school! Blah.

  • Eurydice

    @Mick – Well, you won’t see anybody at the local library if there aren’t any local libraries – that’s one of the problems. But, instead of picking at Miss Clay’s imagined antecedents, perhaps we should rejoice that she loves books and loves to read – her life will be enriched and she can pass that love down to her children, if she has them.

  • Jim.


    Library hours may be shortening, but if there’s been a case of a city library system shutting down entirely, please point to it.

    Also, used books are cheap. While ten-cent paperbacks are uncommon these days, many can still be had for a dollar or two. Books like the Bible can be had for free, even (sometimes especially) in inner cities.

    I suspect this is the most likely scenario: Miss Clay knows her teachers are going to pat her on the head for her sentiments. (This may be the most positive attention she gets all year, which is a tragedy of another sort.) Unfortunately, whether that love of books and learning goes beyond velleity is an open question.

    If Miss Clay passively depends on government programs instead of scrambling to improve her lot, she’s going to fall behind the Miss Nguyens of this country, and most likely fail in this life.

  • Toad

    WRM & Co. may be a little off regarding the rationale for starting the school earlier. In our school district the fall semester starts earlier so the semester can conclude when Winter break begins; the number of days of actual instruction does not change

    By doing this final exams and end of course tests can be taken before students take two weeks off and forget some/much/most of the course material. If fall classes start after labor day the semester continues into January, and getting students back up to speed can waste a lot of instructional time.

    Students start a new semester after winter break with new classes and new material, and the winter term ends in May. Colleges and Universities have operated with sort of calendar for a long time without being accused of malicious intent, and it seems to work just fine.

  • audrey hepburn

    In my home town, Columbus, Ohio, we are currently in the middle of a huge school system scandal. It seems that millions (with an M!) of public school attendance records have been altered. Somewhere along the line, the bureaucrats who run the system discovered that they could un-enroll underperforming or habitually truant students, and when they re-enrolled them a few minutes later, voila, not only were their truancies deleted, but so were their test scores. Nearly three million students and their records got this treatment in the last five years. Nearly 10% of the delinquencies in the entire system were sent down the memory hole. Seventy nine school administrators each deleted 10,000 or more delinquencies. Some deleted hundreds of thousands. So guess what, the state issued system “report card” for the system as a whole got better, with bonuses all around for the kleptocrats, and glowing reviews for the superintendent (who, by the way, makes nearly twice as much as the Ohio Governor.) The Superintendent, who controls the system (and sadly, the school board) with an iron fist is naturally, shocked, shocked that this has happened.

    Meade says about the date changes “Deceptive educators and sleazy school boards want to make their students look better on tests without actually teaching them better.” And “This is a cheap, disgusting trick, unworthy of serious professionals.” And finally, “People who do things like this are not fit to be trusted with the education of the young.” Well Duh! Naiveté does not become you professor. While I appreciate Dr. Meade’s views on this particular issue, this is small beer (see above.) It is however, part of the fabric of the failure of American public education. American schools are run by a rump polity of the most corrupt PEU’s in the nation – that’s the problem. Everything that this vile corner comes up with to “improve” education is about one thing: the gravy train. Just like “climate change,” “green energy,” the auto “bail-out,” and Obamacare – they are all contrivances to keep the left wing gravy train rolling. Costa Del Sol with lobster 4 times a day for Moochelle, bonuses for corrupt school principals in Columbus, rave reviews and big raises for the Super – it’s all part of the same piece of work. Nice work if you can get it. Pity us, the losers stuck with the tab.

    Some nice guys (like Meade) tut-tuting one of the more benign book cooking schemes of the corruptocrats is not helping to make this better. America is on the rocks, top to bottom, and the corruption in the administration of public education in the last three decades is high on the list of problems.

    This will only get better when the population seethes with rage at the lazy, parasitic class that runs our schools and much of the rest of our nation. I appreciate the gentile and measured tone of all that gets printed on this blog, but gosh, the money changers are in the Temple. It’s time for a real revolution.

  • Eurydice

    @Jim #13 – Actually, there are examples of entire city and town libraries closing down – I believe Salinas, CA was one of them, and with towns going bankrupt, I imagine we’ll see more examples. But there are a greater number of examples of library branches curtailing their hours, closing on certain days of the week, closing for weeks during the summer, or closing altogether. This has been going on for years now. This issue has also been pretty big in Miss Clay’s city of Chicago, and for more information I invite you to google “closing of city libraries”.

  • Jim C

    I can’t believe you really oppose a longer school year. Sure, teaching to the test isn’t the optimal use of the time, but if the test has any value, then teaching to it should as well. And if the test doesn’t have any value, the answer is to change the test. A longer school year is an integral part of the necessary reforms needed to make our kids competitive with those from other countries, who attend school for many more days than ours do (and whose educational results are commensurate). I’m very surprised to find that Via Meadia isn’t on board with this.

    I’m also very surprised at the tone of this post. I think it was highly inappropriate and out of keeping with the usual great stuff on Via Meadia.

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