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Saturday, July 28, 2012: Education, Erik Steele and Penn State

Missing the point

I believe that both sides in the discussion about student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test miss the point. Don’t look at the student scores; look at how they are generated. Don’t look at the Harvard study; look at NAEP, which can be done to exhaustion at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/.

The reported test results are statistical constructs. Scores are imputed from rigorously defined statistical parameters ensuring that statistically, every assumption and conclusion is defensible. Most people who read the results of studies, such as the Harvard study, believe that a sample of students sits down and takes the whole test, as we did when we were in school. They don’t. No student takes the entire test. Group (state) outcomes are generated from samples.

For example, the NAEP glossary defines “plausible values” as proficiency estimates for an individual NAEP respondent, drawn at random from a conditional distribution of potential scale scores for all students in the sample who have similar characteristics and identical patterns of item responses. Estimates? Potential? Similar? Identical? Read the definition again. I’m not shooting the messenger. Rather, I’m taking a long look at the messenger.

The point is that perhaps Maine teachers are being imaginative, not teaching to the test. What their students are learning is expanding, not constraining, their cognitive ventures. Yes, other states are showing improvement, which implies that the educators in those state systems are aligning themselves with the expectation of the test… Maine, perhaps, seeks a more independent context for its students, its future residents.

Mark Schwartz, Ph.D.


Steele articulation

Thank you, Erik Steele (BDN, July 20). You have given me the framework I need to work for President Barack Obama in the upcoming election. When we get involved in politics, especially a heated presidential campaign, many of us become passionate and then, as Steele articulates so well, “attach visceral emotional or judgmental responses” to those we “quickly categorize” as part of the opposition. We seek out and delight in all the media bits that emphasize and distort the negative in our nonchosen candidate.

Conversations I hear and sometimes take part in are heavy on the blanket criticisms and ridicule. My goal during this election season is to use some of the techniques that Steele suggests, to practice teaching my brain to respect others: “listening, learning and seeking to understand” people of a different political persuasion, while still passionately supporting my chosen candidate, Obama. I don’t expect to do a perfect job, but it’s my intention to do the best I can.

Suzanne Kelly


NCAA got it wrong

The actions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association are going to cause collateral damage at Penn State College that will be as bad as what we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Scores of businesses and present students as well as future students are going to be punished for something that they had nothing to do with. In addition other colleges that were scheduled to play, Penn State will also suffer. Not just this year but in years to come.

I would suggest that the program be continued, but all incoming funds, not to be limited to ticket sales but to all funds that are a result of the athletic program, be deposited into an escrow account administered by a neutral board appointed by the NCAA and reporting to them directly. Any NCAA fines would come out of this account as well as funds necessary to run the program. If there is no legal basis for this to occur then the state Legislature could pass the necessary legislation to make it legal.

This approach would allow the NCAA to obtain suggestions on how the surplus funds would be used. They could get input from many interested parties that would help them navigate through this new unchartered waterway so there is as little collateral damage as possible, and more good could come from this tragic affair than they have thought of. This could have a time limit on its application.

John Ferriday


School daze

The column from Lois Kilby-Chesley on July 24 certainly informs Gov. Paul LePage of what is really happening in the Maine public schools. I have always believed that Maine does a better job with less money than many states.

When considering moving here around 1987, both my husband and I interviewed for jobs. My elementary school interviews revealed that kindergarten through grade 3 classes were kept small for better instruction. My 20 years back in Maryland would not transfer, so I continued to build up years toward a 30-year retirement there.

Every summer I look at what is happening in Maine’s public schools. Computer education was ahead of the curve years ago. This summer I find that iPads are being tried with kindergarteners in the Lewiston area. Bravo, Kilby-Chesley and her fifth graders. Bravo, Maine public schools, in spite of what LePage claims. Those in the profession know of the daily successes and yearly achievements. High school drop-out improvements are most impressive.

Thank you, Kilby-Chesley, for your fine, informative column. Now, let us see what the reading skills are for our Maine governor.

Martha F. Barkley

Belgrade Lakes

Global warning

What is it with people who deny the veracity of science, whether it be evolution or climate change? The human mind must have a powerful denial response to fearful things in some people. Unfortunately, those blithely denying people get in the way of those of us who understand the truth and would like to do something to help the world continue to exist for our children and grandchildren.

Paul Krugman’s article in The New York Times on July 23 explains how much those addicted to denial, as well as those who profit from playing on that addiction, are hurting the rest of us. I wish we could all rise up and stifle those ridiculous voices who say that global warming is not true.

Carolyn Bower


Thank you for support

Recently family members held a dinner and silent auction for our brother, John Birmingham, who recently had a bilateral lung transplant.

The outpouring of support from local businesses, the media, volunteers and individual donors was inspirational and truly appreciated. What a wonderful, caring community we live in.

Thank you to all that made this event such a huge success. Go to www.HelpHOPELive.org for more information.

Ann Birmingham


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