"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

If You Can Hide the Facts That Don't Fit, Hide Them: If You Can't Hide the Facts, Declare Them Irrelevant

In the case of the latter reform strategy of declaring the facts irrelevant, New Jersey's (and the Business Roundtable's) Education Commissioner, Bret Schundler, provides a prime example. Because the reality does not fit the "terrible teacher" narrative that Governor Christie has adopted, two days ago Schundler denounced New Jersey Public Schools as a “wretched system” and the state’s #1 national ranking on the NAEP in both 4th and 8th grade reading and math as “irrelevant.” Facts don't fit the ideology? Just declare them meaningless.

In the case of the former reform strategy of changing the facts, school turnaround artists in Houston recently have demonstrated an ability to jigger the facts and manipulate the data in ways that would make even the former Superintendent, Rod Paige, blush. In so doing, another Houston Miracle has been realized, no less fallacious than the first one done under the the tough crook Paige, but enough of a miracle, when you need one most, to bring to town Governor Rick Perry, along with the hapless educrat and former journeyman forward of the Melbourne's Eastside Spectres, Arne, the Dunc, Duncan.

Both of these shining stars of the political firmament were at Sam Houston High School to celebrate the miraculous turnaround that has been announced after just two years. Erika Mellon of the Houston Chronicle picks up story (great reporting):

. . . .In the summer of 2008, the Houston Independent School District was under orders from Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott to make major changes at Sam Houston, which was the longest-running unacceptable school in the state. State guidelines required HISD to replace the principal and rename the school. In addition, at least 75 percent of the teaching staff had to be replaced, and half the students were supposed to be new.

Instead of rezoning some students to a different high school, HISD, with Scott's permission, split Sam Houston into two campuses: one for freshmen, called the Ninth Grade College Preparatory Academy, and one for upperclassmen, called the Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center.

Projected to pass

In 2009, the first year the new schools were rated, the Math, Science and Technology Center earned “recognized” status — the state's second-highest rating — and the Ninth Grade Academy was dubbed “academically acceptable,” one step below “recognized.”

What Perry didn't mention at his news conference was that both campuses got a ratings boost thanks to a change in the state's accountability system, which rates schools based mostly on students' scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams. Under the new rules, schools got credit not only for students who passed the exams but also for those who were projected to pass within three years.

Without the easier standard, called the Texas Projection Measure, the Ninth Grade Academy would have been rated “unacceptable” because of the low science and social studies scores of a few students and the upper school would have been rated “acceptable,” not recognized.

The Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center also benefited from not having freshmen count in the ratings.

The old Sam Houston had been rated unacceptable for the last five years specifically because the scores of black students on the math TAKS weren't high enough. Last year, with the schools split, there weren't enough black students at either school for them to be counted separately in the ratings. A racial subgroup is counted only if there are at least 30 students. The Ninth Grade Academy tested only 27 black students in math, and the Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center tested only 25.

Had the schools been combined, there would have been enough black students to count in the ratings — and the passing rate would have fallen in the “academically unacceptable” category again under the previous, tougher, rating system.

Of the 52 black students at both schools, 26 passed the math TAKS. That's a 50 percent passing rate — 5 points below the 55 percent “acceptable” standard. (To complicate matters, with the Texas Projection Measure, the combined scores would have hit the acceptable mark.)

Researcher's view

Ed Fuller, an education researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, said it's “misleading” to call Sam Houston a successful turnaround school based on the state's accountability system.

“It is really smoke and mirrors,” Fuller said. “If they're going to hold Sam Houston up as a turnaround school, the lesson for district policymakers is to split your schools and ensure your lowest-performing subgroup is not included in the accountability system.” . . . .

If you can hide the facts that don't fit the ideology, hide them.

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