Friday, May 27, 2011

Scrapping Scrubbing

The NY Times came out with an article yesterday about how NY State education officials have ordered schools to end the longstanding practice of reviewing Regents exam scores that fall just below the passing grade.

The practice, known as scrubbing, was put into effect to protect students whose tests might have been mis-scored, where a careful review might prove that some of those students in fact deserved a passing grade. But schools began to look at essays -- where there is room to interpret what a grade should be -- as opportunities to add points and pass more students who otherwise would have failed.

In February, the city announced that it would introduce regular audits of schools that seemed to show suspicious amounts of grade-changes. But now NY State officials have decided that such audits don't go far enough to prevent grade inflation, and have removed the ability to rescore tests at all.

Let me state for the record that I believe hard work should be rewarded and that as a general rule I am not in favor of allowing students to coast without earning their grades. However let's take a step back, look at the larger picture, and be realists for a moment. First of all, some students' exams will be misgraded, and a review of their score may make the difference between passing fairly and failing unfairly. This is why the practice was begun in the first place. Removing the right to rescore tests in the 61-64 point range is unfair to those students. Second, the removal of the right to rescore does not factor in real world considerations: There is sometimes a hardship to many students and their families created by keeping them back, and a teacher might know of a particular student's situation. There are huge swaths of the population who are not going to be better off in life if they struggle through a class one more time in order to squeak out two more points on a Regents examination but who are going to be worse off if they can't graduate and get on with finding a job and helping out their households. A sad reality, perhaps, but a reality nonetheless.

But the larger problem lies in removing the ability to check altogether, in removing the protection for students who might have been robbed of a critical point of two they had, in fact, earned and deserved. Audits of the nature the city implemented in February are a big enough hammer -- if the state is concerned about unorthodox practices, whether because a school is concerned about getting funding under the No Child Left Behind provisions or because the test grader wants to help a student with his/her real-world needs, the state can simply audit those schools where there seems to be a pattern and practice of abuse. There was no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater by banning the rereading of tests altogether. What a shame.

-Jack Simony

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Seeing a Himalayan Peak Scaled at BAM

I'm seeing Sir Derek Jacobi in Michael Grandage's deftly directed production of "King Lear" at BAM tomorrow night, and I admit that I'm a bit punchy with anticipation. The production debuted at the Donmar in London, to superlatives:,%20king%20lear&st=cse&scp=1

It was nearly sold out here at BAM from the get-go, and has garnered raves here, too:

I'm thrilled to be seeing someone of Sir Derek Jacobi's intelligence, talent and finesse in the role. Here's what he said about playing the elderly King:

“It is a peak in the Himalayas, part of a mountain range that includes ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and the Scottish play,” [Sir Derek] said (following actorly practice, he never says “Macbeth” in the theater if he can help it).

He continued: “When you’re young you’re kind of judged on your Hamlet. If you get through that hoop successfully, you’re admitted to the classical club. When you’re older, you have to go through the Lear hoop to see if they were right to admit you to the club in the first place.”

He's far too modest. I am not going to see Sir Derek jump through hoops. He has nothing to prove to me, or to anyone. I'm just excited to be one of the lucky ones, one of the "happy few" who will forevermore be able to say that I saw him play King Lear in that legendary Grandage production at BAM.

-Jack Simony

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brave New World

Scientists working with Conservation International surveying the waters surrounding Bali have discovered what may be nine new marine species. Eight are fish and one is coral.

The scientists were not seeking new marine life. They were conducting a survey to assess the health of the reefs. Good news on that front: the reef is recovering following years of unchecked depletion and destruction, though it still needs intensive protection. More good news: We may all maintain our senses of wonder for a while longer -- we have more to learn about the world in which we live. Henry Miller once said, "We are all part of creation, all kinds, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there."
-Jack Simony

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

No Trivial Purchase

The whole world has been aflutter with the news this week that Microsoft has acquired Skype.

OK, no it hasn't. It's still been focused on what happened in Abbotabad last week. And Microsoft tends to elicit a collective yawn when mentioned in a crowded room. But there are a few potential uses to which Microsoft could put Skype that could be interesting, not only to the business world, but to the average Joe as well.

The article I just cited suggests that Skype might be integrated with XBox, which would vastly improve its real-time communication capabilities among remote-location players. This doesn't rock my world, but it would be seismic for many...and XBox would be giving PlayStation a run for its money.

Skype could help Windows mobile phones gain in popularity. It would cut into the hold Cisco has on video-conferencing and teleconferencing. It would boost users of Microsoft's Hotmail, which was left in the dust by the advent of Gmail. And Microsoft owns a piece of Facebook...Social media and Skype dovetail perfectly, don't they? This could be very big for Microsoft, indeed, not to mention for Facebook users.

I'm not yawning.
-Jack Simony

Friday, May 6, 2011

Focus at Home, Please

Yes, the killing of Osama bin Laden is big news. Yes, it is cathartic to read and hear about it, fascinating to get glimpses into his compound, his world, his psychosis and that of his followers. But no, it should not push other very important news entirely off the front pages of our newspapers and off of our television screens.

What would have been our top story this week? Surely the devastation in the South wrought by a record series of tornadoes. More than 175 tornadoes in a three-day period have been confirmed, and the number may rise to over 300. Municipal leaders down South are fairly begging our nation to snap its eyes back in their direction:

We as a nation must unite around our internal tragedies as well as those of international scope. The tornadoes that ripped through the South last week have taken hundreds of lives that we know about, and many more are still missing and presumed dead. Tens of thousands of our fellow Americans have lost their homes, their businesses and, in some cases, their entire towns.

We can continue to be fascinated by the unfolding story about the raid on bin Laden's compound that finally killed that monster. But we should not do so in lieu of focusing attention on the catastrophe in our own country. Our fellow Americans need us. We need to rally around them -- doing so is what our nation is about.
-Jack Simony

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tonka Trucks and Fisher Price Weapons

It could be a story from The Onion, except it’s no joke. Libyan rebels are going miserably ill-equipped and ill-trained into battle against Qaddafi’s forces (and a host of well-paid mercenaries, including hundreds of representatives of that relic of Soviet international interference, the Polisario Front from the Western Sahara).

Soviet tank guns that don’t shoot; pre-World War II Italian rifles that have no cartridges; 30-year-old French submachine guns without magazines; a steak knife. And the rebels’ inexperience, ignorance and lack of discipline match their arsenal.

Meanwhile, NATO is trying to figure out – without any serious help from the U.S. – how to help these It might just be funny if it weren’t so pitiful – and dangerous.
-Jack Simony