Sunday, September 01, 2013

Seth Andrew on NYS Test Results

Seth Andrew with some very good points on the recent NYS test results:

Let’s invent a game; it’s called “Rate This School!”

Start with some facts. Our school—let’s call it Jefferson—serves a high-poverty population of middle and high school students. Eighty-nine percent of them are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch; 100 percent are African American or Hispanic. And on the most recent state assessment, less than a third of its students were proficient in reading or math. In some grades, fewer than 10 percent were proficient as gauged by current state standards.

That school deserves a big ole F, right?

Now let me give you a little more information. According to a rigorous Harvard evaluation, every year Jefferson students gain two and a half times as much in math and five times as much in English as the average school in New York City’s relatively high-performing charter sector. Its gains over time are on par or better than those of uber-high performing charters like KIPP 
Lynn and Geoffrey Canada’s Promise Academy.

Jefferson is so successful, the Harvard researchers conclude, because it has “more instructional time, a relentless focus on academic achievement, and more parent outreach” than other schools.
Now how would you rate this school? How about an A?
My little thought experiment makes an obvious point, one that isn’t particularly novel: Proficiency rates are terrible measures of school effectiveness. As any graduate student will tell you, those rates mostly reflect a school’s demographics. What is more telling, in terms of the impact of a school on its students’ achievement and life chances, is how much growth the school helps its charges make over the course of a school year—what accountability-guru Rich Wenning aptly calls students’ “velocity.” This is doubly so in the Common Core era, as states (like New York) move to raise the bar and ask students to show their stuff against a college- and career-readiness standard.

To be sure, proficiency rates should be reported publicly, and parents should be told whether their children are on track for college or a well-paying career. (That’s one of the great benefits of a high standard like the Common Core.) But using these rates to evaluate schools will end up mislabeling many as failures that might in fact be doing incredible work at helping their students make progress over time.

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