YouTube clips spur debate on racial stereotyping, standardized tests, copyright laws

Kris Anne Bonifacio

Three weeks after a heated exchange between Evanston school officials made its way onto Youtube and sparked controversy throughout the city, debates over copyright issues, students’ test scores and school district leadership continue as parents eye April’s school board election.

At the Jan. 24 meeting of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 School Board, board member Tracy Quattrocki asked to discuss the students’ scores on statewide assessments that had been posted on the district’s website last October.

“Some of these measures have been called into question as to whether they are reliable or they are misleading, and I think we need to resolve this at the board level,” Quattrocki said.

A back-and-forth exchange between board members ensued, before Superintendent Hardy Murphy stepped in with a statement that surprised those in the room.

“I think that the real issue that we’re struggling with is that we are stereotyping black kids as failures,” Murphy said. “I am offended by over and over again telling African-American children in this district that they are failures.”

Murphy’s comment as well as the entire exchange shocked some Evanston residents. One parent posted video of the debate on YouTube. The video, which circulated around the Evanston community, is now the subject of a copyright feud between the parent who posted it and District 65 officials.

But the argument and video copyright saga constitutes just the surface of the testing issue.

Debate turns controversial

In October, the district posted on its website the 2010 Achievement Report, a “highlights report” that underscores improvements in the district’s performance on state assessments. At the end of the report, under the heading “college-readiness,” the district posted the results of a subsection of a statewide test.

Students in District 65 are required to take Illinois Standards Achievement Test, a statewide exam that determines whether Illinois school districts meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. Like standardized tests of other states, the ISAT includes Stanford Achievement Test 10th edition questions.

Quattrocki told board members the highlights report uses the SAT-10 scores as a measure of college readiness, as opposed to two other test scores she said the district talked about using. The results of these two other tests, the Measures of Academic Performance test and the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, appear elsewhere in the report.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, District 65 board members debated which test scores are more indicative of college readiness.

Quattrocki said at the meeting the SAT-10 scores are misleading because they normally yield results that are 20 points higher than the two other tests. Many doubt if they are a good measure of college readiness, she said.

Murphy defended the decision to use the SAT-10 scores as an indicator.

Quattrocki asked Murphy why school administrations used the SAT-10 scores instead of the MAP or NAEP tests as a measure of college indicator.

The board had not discussed race until Murphy made his comment in which he said the district repeatedly stereotypes African-American children as failures.

Murphy wrote in a guest essay in the Evanston Roundtable last month that research shows national exams, such as ACT or SAT, often underpredict success for African Americans.

The battle over the YouTube video

The heated debate drew significant criticism from parents in the district. One parent, Evanston resident Becket Strom, said he was so shocked after seeing a recording of the meeting he wanted to show it to other parents.

“I watched it, and I was appalled by the deplorable behavior,” he said. “I thought, a lot of people probably haven’t seen these board meetings, so I decided to post them on YouTube.”

Days after he posted the video online, Strom said he received a copyright infringement notice from YouTube. The website had taken the video down at the request of District 65 adminstators.

District 65 secretary Pat Markham, who requested the video be removed, said Evanston Community Television, which films the board meetings, contacted her and informed her its recording of the Jan. 24 meeting had been posted on YouTube without its consent.

Markham said she registered a YouTube account and flagged the videos as a copyright infringement.

“We are being portrayed incorrectly as trying to censor or prevent people from seeing it, which we are not doing,” Markham said. “I would never try to hide our broadcast meetings.”

She said ECTV broadcasts the board meetings three times a week until the next meeting is held, and the district also gives out DVD copies of the meetings to those who request them.

“The concern I had was that the videos posted did not show the meeting in its entirety, and some of the clips were out of sequence,” Markham said.

Strom defended his videos and said they are numbered, in order, and none of the videos was edited except for length. He said he didn’t put the entirety of the meeting up because he only wanted to show the exchange over the test results.

Still, the district asserts it has copyright over the videos.

“The clips belong to us,” Markham said. “ECTV did not get credit for the footage, and there was no permission given to repost them.”

Strom, however, said no one had told him about the issue of attribution, but he’d be happy to attribute the videos to ECTV if the district asks him to. He said he just didn’t understand why this was an issue now.

“Other District 65 board meetings have been posted to YouTube, using the footage from ECTV,” Strom said. “It’s somewhat ironic that they’re just pulling out copyright infringement and attribution now. I think they just don’t like what’s being presented, and in that case, don’t make them public if you don’t want people to watch it.”

Another Evanston parent, Mindy Wallis, said the controversy brings up the long-standing problem of lack of transparency in the district.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s public information,” said Wallis, who works as the treasurer for the District 65 PTA council. “The district has a responsibility to parents and the public to open meetings. I don’t see why putting it up on YouTube isn’t well within their own policy.”

She said the same theory applies to test scores. Because taxpayer dollars are funding the district, the district has a responsibility to accurately portray how the district is doing.

“That means putting whatever data they have, letting it show whatever it shows,” Wallis said. “If it shows the schools aren’t performing where they ought to be, we as a community need to know that. They don’t need a public relations arm. Students are required to attend public schools. They’re not recruiting, so why do they need to put the best face on something?”

The district is ‘performing’

School board president Keith Terry defended the district’s performance and said the district is doing fine in these state tests.

“District 65 is performing,” Terry said in a phone interview. “I don’t care what assessment tool you use. The ISATs shows the performance of all the kids in our school system.

The question, however, is whether or not ISATs are an accurate way to measure college and career readiness. Terry said there is now a shift in the country from the No Child Left Behind Act to the question of whether or not students are ready for college or a career.

The Illinois State Board of Education is currently working on a consortium with 26 other states in the nation to find a new and better way to test children kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers has adopted the Common Core State Standards in English and math that are more rigorous standards of assessing where students are at, said Mary Fergus,
spokeswoman for the state board.

Fergus said it also remains uncertain as to whether a new internationally benchmarked test will replace the ISAT and the Prairie State Achievement Examination, the high school equivalent of the ISATs, because the federal government has yet to look into amending the No Child Left Behind Act.

Regardless, the new assessment will not be ready until 2014, leaving school districts, like District 65, to determine what assessment to use for college readiness, which is what Quattrocki brought up at the board meeting.

Are students ready for college?

In 2008, the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago published a report called “From High School to the Future: The Pathway to 20.” The report discusses the correlation between ISAT scores and the ACT, one of the tests used for college admissions, scores, and the consortium found that students who just meet the ISAT standards have a very low chance of scoring 20 or higher on the ACTs.

The report uses eighth grade scores on ISAT math tests, and the consortium found that those who just meet the state standard of 246 have 0 to 5 percent chance of scoring 20 or higher in the ACTs. Students who score 280 or higher have a 50 percent chance of scoring 20 or higher in the ACTs. Those in the lower end of the state’s “exceeds standards” category only have about a 65 percent chance of scoring 20 or higher.

“This suggests major misalignment between our expectation of what students should know and be able to do at the end of elementary school and whether or not they are on track for college readiness,” according to the report.

But school board member Jerome Summers said he wants to dispel the notion the ISATs are an invalid method of assessment.

“It’s not like it’s not a legitimate test,” Summers said. “Everyone has different views on it, and I personally don’t have a preference as to which test we use on our district page. We test these kids a lot, and it’s not like (Murphy) made up the test. The test results were valid.”

He said he recognizes Quattrocki’s concern regarding the choice of which test to use as a measure of college readiness was a valid one, and he also understands the frustration of talking about an issue board members have already discussed in the past. He said he doesn’t understand all the fuss about what happened at the board meeting, however.

“They are two smart and very committed people who got their feelings hurt,” Summers said. “I don’t want to blow this thing out of proportion. Two people who care about the district had a little disagreement, and I don’t want it to be more than that. I would like to see them shake hands and move on.”

Murphy and Quattrocki declined to comment.

No definitive resolution in sight

Meanwhile, the district’s battle over copyright infringement over the YouTube video remains at a standstill. Strom said he is not looking to file a lawsuit against the district, but he said he anticipates a Freedom of Information Act inquiry into the matter.

“I am not filing a lawsuit, and I don’t know of any being filed,” Strom said. “There are rumblings of a FOIA request or investigation that I have heard in passing, and I don’t know if that requires a lawsuit or not.”

Regardless of how the debate over the video or how Murphy and Quattrocki will resolve their disagreement, the issue of the test scores still remains to be a heated topic in the future. Several candidates in April 5 school board election have discussed how to handle the assessment of the district’s students.

“As we talk about college and career readiness, we need to understand what that means in the early years,” said school board member Katie Bailey, who supported Quattrocki’s request at the meeting. “We need to measure it. We need to understand the measurement and use the same measurements year in and year out.”

While Terry said they have discussed this issue multiple times in the past, he said the topic will most likely be on a future agenda.

“We need the discussion, and we need the public to pay attention to this because it is very complicated,” he said.

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