Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Ravitch Denounces Reformers For Insisting on 100% Proficiency, Failing to Insist on 100% Proficiency

Kevin Carey points on the contradictions in Ravitch's argument:

Ravitch Denounces Reformers For Insisting on 100% Proficiency, Failing to Insist on 100% Proficiency

by Kevin Carey on June 1, 2011


The problem with constructing a public persona dedicated to arguing that your opponents are always wrong is that you end up contradicting yourself a lot. For example:

"Ten years ago, Congress adopted the No Child Left Behind legislation, mandating that all students must be proficient in reading or mathematics by 2014 or their school would be punished…Educators know that 100 percent proficiency is impossible, given the enormous variation among students and the impact of family income on academic performance. Nevertheless, some politicians believe that the right combination of incentives and punishments will produce dramatic improvement. Anyone who objects to this utopian mandate, they maintain, is just making an excuse for low expectations and bad teachers."

So, politicians who insist on 100% proficiency are bad people and indeed the whole concept of judging a school based on the percentage of students who pass a test is morally bankrupt. Okay. Except, here we are two paragraphs later:

"In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama hailed the Bruce Randolph School in Denver, where the first senior class had a graduation rate of 97 percent…But the only miracle at these schools was a triumph of public relations. Mr. Obama's praise for Randolph, which he said had been "one of the worst schools in Colorado," seems misplaced. Noel Hammatt, a former teacher and instructor at Louisiana State University, looked at data from the Web site of the Colorado Department of Education. True, Randolph (originally a middle school, to which a high school was added) had a high graduation rate, but its ACT scores were far below the state average, indicating that students are not well prepared for college. In its middle school, only 21 percent were proficient or advanced in math, placing Randolph in the fifth percentile in the state (meaning that 95 percent of schools performed better). Only 10 percent met the state science standards. In writing and reading, the school was in the first percentile."

Got that? If you write policies based on test score proficiency rates and insist that proficiency is the only reasonable way to judge success, even in schools beset by poverty, then you're cruel, utopian, and out to destroy public education. If, on the other hand, you do as President Obama did and praise a school beset by poverty despite its low proficiency rates, because it scores well on other measures, like graduation rates, college going rates, and annual growth on state tests, then you're peddling the myth of miracle schools as part of a campaign to destroy public education.

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