Singular Minds
June 1, 2006 • Volume II, Issue 7
Prolinguistica Dyslexia Correction Center
Laura Zink de Diaz

Quote - Make that Quiz - of the Month
A few Science test questions from Texas
Most of the released questions from the TAKS involve interpreting charts and graphs but here are a few questions that don't.

* The pineal gland produces melatonin during periods of darkness. Which of these events supports the hypoethesis that infants begin producing melatonin at about three months of age?
a) Infants begin to roll over.
b) Infants nap for three hours each afternoon.
c) Infants grasp at moving objects.
d) Infants start sleeping through the night.

*The colorful petals of a flower benefit a plant by--
a) Absorbing radiant energy
b) attracting insect pollinators
c) protecting it from pedators
d) catching windblown pollen

*Which group is most responsible for the recycling of atoms within the environment?
a) Autotrophs
b) Consumers
c) Phototrophs
d) Decomposers

*Which organelle has the most control over a cell's functions?
a) Cell membrane
b) Ribosomes
c) Nucleus
d) Vacuole

*Which relationship is represented when a hyena eats a rodent it has caught?
a) Scavenger/carrion
b) Herbivore/consumer
c) Predator/prey
d) Host/parasite

I'm pretty sure that I never heard of melatonin until I was in my 40s, and I know I've never heard of an autotroph, yet I've somehow managed to be a functioning, competent adult. Granted, I haven't worked in a science-related field, but how urgent is it that EVERY high schooler in Texas (or anywhere else) know these "particular" facts? Are these reasonable items to place on a high stakes test that ALL children must take? And, do you wonder -as I do- how many of the politicos (who rant that kids who can't pass this test should not receive a high school diploma) could themselves pass it? Find this and a sad letter from a parent at:
http://susanohanian.org/show_atrocities.php?id=6078


Good Stuff to Read

Too Much on the Numbers…Not Enough on the Children
PBy Gene R. Carter, Executive Director, ASCD
Concern is rising in the ASCD community that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law is overemphasizing testing, leading schools to focus too much on the numbers and not enough on the needs of the children. Several recent reports raise concerns about flaws in the NCLB data collection requirements that could not only penalize diverse schools but also cause inaccurate measures of student and school progress. Read this statement from the influential Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development at:
http://www.ascd.org/portal/site/ascd/menuitem.ef397d712ea0a4a0a89ad324d3108a0c/template.article?articleMgmtId=0e3329f22444b010VgnVCM1000003d01a8c0RCRD

Books are better, says school computer man
By Liz Lightfoot
Books are more than twice as effective as computers in raising standards among pupils, says a senior academic who spent 30 years training teachers to use computers. Spending £100 a year on books for each primary school pupil raised test scores by 1.5 per cent while the same amount invested in computer technology was less than half as effective, according to the study by Steve Hurd, a former teacher trainer specialising in computer assisted learning. Mr Hurd, who now lectures at the Open University, said the results were "significant". "It is surprising that books matter. Things have gone overboard on ICT (information and communication technology). It is out of kilter. Schools pick up the message that they will be clobbered if their technology is not up to scratch, but no one looks at books." Read the rest of this interesting article at:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/05/20/nbooks20.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/05/20/ixuknews.html

Too much, too soon
W
by Lorie Smith Schaefer
“A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.” Groucho Marx
Carson City kindergartners are the latest victims in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability madness. Children for whom merely sitting quietly and paying attention for 15 minutes is a challenge are being asked to sit and listen to their teacher read multiple-choice questions to them for 45 minutes. Twice. Once for language arts and once for math. These tests are supposed to tell me whether my students have learned what I have taught them. As if I didn’t know by watching and listening every day. As if I didn’t know that while one child counts to 100, another can’t get past 12 without help. As if I didn’t know which children are reading real books and which ones can’t seem to remember more than a few letters. Whoever is making these decisions---and let me tell you, it’s not teachers--- isn’t interested in what I observe every day because it doesn’t fit into little boxes on a spreadsheet. Moreover, no test publishers make any money off my observations and assessments. Nope. If isn’t a multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble test, well, it just isn’t a “real” test. This teacher makes a number of important points, so please read the rest at: http://susanohanian.org/show_nclb_atrocities.html?id=2061

Student reading falls 12 percent
BBy Antoinette Konz, Montgomery Advertiser
Library use at Montgomery public schools is down by more than 195,000 books from last year, when the district changed the way it grades reading. Circulation this school year, through April 30, was 1,341,981 books, compared with 1,535,267 for the same period last year, according to district numbers. The decrease is more than 12 percent. "Oh my goodness!" Melanie Owens, whose daughter and son attend Garrett Elementary School, said of the numbers. "But at the same time, I cannot say that I am surprised. Both of my children have not brought home near as many books as they did last year, and I don't think either of them are being challenged to read." Owens and several other parents attribute the circulation drop to the new way that reading grades are figured. A high-ranking district administrator does as well, but thinks students actually are reading the books they check out and scoring higher on comprehension tests. Superintendent Carlinda Purcell decided last summer that reading grades shouldn't include the grading component of the Accelerated Reader (AR) program, which had counted for 25 percent. The district still uses the rest of the program, which is designed to motivate students to read more and then tests their reading comprehension. "It (AR) was designed to encourage and motivate students to read, and when you begin to penalize them, you begin to destroy the motivation you were trying to create in the first place," Purcell said in an interview earlier this year. She asked the principals to motivate students to read as many books as last year using only positive incentives, not negative ones such as grading. Some schools have done well, others have not. Read the rest at:
http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060507/NEWS/605070373/1001
This article ends with a quote from a parent who reports that her children say they don't read now because it's not part of their grade any more. But Krashen has another idea about why student reading has fallen in Montgomery:
"When we reward something that is intrinsically pleasant, like reading, we are sending the message that it isn’t pleasant, that nobody would do it without being paid or bribed. So when the reward is eliminated, or as in this case, reduced, the behavior may disappear. Alfie Kohn, who has gathered an enormous amount of evidence against the use of rewards and punishments (See his book, Punished by Rewards), tells this story: “An elderly gentleman is taunted by a group of ten year olds who insult him as they pass by his house on the way home from school everyday. The old man came up with a way to end the rude comments about his baldhead and sagging stomach. On Monday afternoon he met them on his lawn as they passed by. He said, “Anyone who comes by tomorrow to insult me will receive a dollar. So on Tuesday the children showed up even earlier to harass the old man. True to his word he gave them a dollar. Then he said, “If you come by tomorrow and do the same thing I will give you 25 cents.” So on Wednesday the same thing happened. He told them that from now on he would only pay a penny to be insulted. The kids decided that a penny was not worth the effort they were putting in and never came back again.” See also: Krashen, S. 2003. The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of Accelerated Reader. Journal of Children’s Literature 29 (2): 9, 16-30, also available on
http://www.sdkrashen.com

School recess isn't exactly on the run
By Greg Toppo
Reports of the death of recess may be greatly exaggerated, a U.S. Education Department study suggests. With the nation's public elementary schools balancing growing academic demands and tight budgets, advocates have warned for years that recess is in danger of extinction. In March, for instance, the National PTA, the Cartoon Network and others launched the Rescuing Recess campaign, saying nearly 40% of elementary schools "have either eliminated or are considering eliminating recess." But data released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics finds that 83% to 88% of elementary school children still get nearly a half an hour of recess a day, as well as regular physical education classes. Only about one in 12 students go without daily recess, according to school surveys last spring. But the study also finds that how much money a student's parents earn has a dramatic effect on how much recess he or she can expect to get. Public schools with more wealthy children get, on average, about 50% more recess a day than those with the most low-income students. Perhaps it was ever thus.... Check it out at:
http://susanohanian.org/show_atrocities.php?id=6047

Did you know how this works?
Odd Math for 'Best High Schools' List

BBy Michael Winerip
You would think they'd be celebrating in Rye Brook, N.Y. The local high school in that prosperous suburban Westchester district, Blind Brook High, jumped from being ranked No. 200 on Newsweek's list of America's Best High Schools in 2005, all the way up to No. 88 on the 2006 list. But at last week's school board meeting, there was Monroe Haas, a longtime board member, blasting the Newsweek rankings as "meaningless," "ridiculous," "illegitimate" and "journalistic Barnum & Bailey." Newsweek says it can rank all 25,000 public high schools in the United States by assigning a precise numerical value — calculated to three decimal points — based on a single variable: the number of College Board Advanced Placement exams taken by students at a high school, divided by the number of graduating seniors. How the students score on the AP tests does not figure into the Newsweek ranking. As Mr. Haas pointed out, "every student at the school can fail every AP test, but as long as lots of students take the tests, you can still be one of Newsweek's best high schools." Read the rest at: http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=405

Autistic brains may daydream less
ANeural networks used to self-reflect are dulled in autistics.
Helen Pearson
Autistic patients may lack the ability to daydream normally, say researchers who have found that these people's brains act differently when they are taking a break. Neuroscientists know that a certain network of brain regions fires up when our minds wander, and that this is important for pondering and reminiscing about ourselves, others and our emotions. Other studies have hinted that autistic patients, who have learning and social problems, might have abnormalities in this region but the details have been unclear. Read the rest at: http://www.bioedonline.org/news/news.cfm?art=2505
This study leaves it unclear whether the way the way the autistic brain behaves causes their social problems, or vice versa. So I'm a bit skeptical. As usual, further research is probably indicated.


300,000 Children in U.S. Found to Have Autism

By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post
About 300,000 American children have been diagnosed as having autism, according to the first comprehensive national surveys of the developmental disorder. Boys were four times more likely than girls to have the disorder, which is characterized by verbal, social and emotional problems. White families with higher incomes were also more likely to report having children with the disorder, a fact that federal experts said probably reflected unequal access to medical services. The new data came in two surveys released yesterday by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said the numbers matched the range found by earlier studies that looked at smaller groups of people. Autism has been dogged by controversy for more than a decade after what appeared to be a sharp increase in diagnoses in the 1990s. Many experts believe the increase reflects changes in diagnostic criteria adopted in 1994, increased public awareness of the problem, and the difficulties in telling apart a number of overlapping conditions that fall under an umbrella known as autism spectrum disorders.... racial and class differences in diagnoses reflected the fact that getting a diagnosis often requires that parents be effective advocates, at least in the years before children arrive in school. "It's not like leukemia or a broken bone where a diagnosis will be made no matter what your social class is," said Goldstein, who is also a board member at Autism Speaks, an advocacy group focused on research and awareness. "You have to be an advocate." Peter Bell, chief executive of the Cure Autism Now Foundation, an advocacy group, said the fact that some children do not get diagnosed before they reach school is troubling. Early diagnoses, he said, allow for early interventions, which are more effective. You can read the rest at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/04/AR2006050401724.html

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That's all for this issue. Because of my impending (and time consuming!) move to South America, Singular Minds will be on hiatus over the summer.

Please remember you can always reach me via e-mail (laura@prolinguistica.com).

And now you can reach me via Skype as well. Skype is a free program, downloadable at www.skype.com. It works on almost any computer and allows you to call other members, anywhere in the world, using your computer as a telephone. No charge for overseas calls between members. In case you ever need to use it, my user-name in Skype is "profecita".

Watch your in-box for the next issue this coming fall - have a wonderful summer, and be well!
Laura


Next Issue of Singular Minds: Fall, 2006

Got a topic you’d like to see addressed in Singular Minds? E-mail questions, proposals, letters, and/or stories to: singularminds@prolinguistica.com