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

Friday, July 09, 2010

Another Texas "Miracle!"

Here's what happens when you let Pearson come up with growth models to evaluate schools:

How schools get credit for a TAKS zero


July 6, 2010, 10:54PM

Houston state Rep. Scott Hochberg isn't your normal glad-handing politician.

Known as perhaps the only elected official in Texas who really understands the state's byzantine school finance system, Hochberg is at least as happy sitting alone crunching numbers as he is schmoozing with constituents or even lobbyists.

But he wasn't so happy when he sat at his computer a few weeks ago trying to figure out the new formula that more than doubled the number of "exemplary" schools in Texas last year and magically made the number of "unacceptable" schools about one-tenth of what it would otherwise be.

As he pored over the mounds of data available on the Texas Education website, and then used a handy calculator provided on the site to see how the new Texas Projection Measure turns failing TAKS scores for students into passing TAKS scores for schools, he found something that stunned him.

"I was literally sick over it," Hochberg told me. "I walked away and said this couldn't be right."

What he found was so unbelievable that he asked me not to report it until he had a chance to show what he had found to TEA officials at a public hearing. He wanted to make sure he hadn't made a foolish miscalculation.

The good news is that, as chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, Hochberg can summon TEA officials to a public hearing.

The bad news is that, when he did exactly that last week, the hearing drew almost no public attention.

As with most hearings, there was a fair amount of tedium. But one dramatic moment made up for it.

Chriss Cloudt (pronounced Klute) is TEA's associate commissioner for assessment, accountability and data quality. In other words, she's the top official when it comes to the TAKS test and the accountability system that rates the state's schools. Cloudt was testifying alongside Adam Jones, TEA's chief operating officer and second in command to Commissioner Robert Scott.

Hochberg asked them what accounted for the huge increase in the number of schools and school districts rated as "recognized" and "exemplary" in 2009.

Jones said he couldn't "intelligently answer that question," but Cloudt jumped in.

"Yes, I can," she said. "Performance."

She elaborated that the percentage of schools and districts rated in the top two categories had gone from the teens to the 60s because the state "defined a body of knowledge that students must learn and demonstrate knowledge of, your testing program measures that content and what you want to see is increases in performance on that test over time."

'Projected' numbers

Hochberg appeared skeptical. He noted that the number of school districts given the top rating of "exemplary" based on TAKS scores had risen from 43 in 2008 to 117 in 2009.

He also noted that 73 of the 74 additional "exemplary" districts used the Texas Projection Measure to attain that distinction.

TEA says the Projection Measure is an effort to give schools and districts "credit" for students who hadn't passed the TAKS, but were showing improvement. So Hochberg asked Cloudt to use a calculator on the TEA website that adjusts scores according to the "projection" formula. The results were beamed to a screen on the wall.

The "projection" is based on an analysis indicating that if a child does well on math and reading, other scores will improve.

Magic, or manipulation?

The formula includes a small adjustment according to the student's school, so Hochberg cited specific schools and asked Cloudt to assume the student made the minimum passing score for math and reading.

After a couple of examples in which a school got to count a student as "passing" with depressingly low scores, Hochberg asked Cloudt and an associate to see how many correct answers a fourth-grader with barely passing math and reading scores at Benavidez Elementary in Houston needed to be counted as "passing" the writing test.

The unbelievable answer Hochberg had reached himself was confirmed by Cloudt: The child needed zero correct answers for his or her teachers and administrators to get credit for his or her "improvement."

That's right: zero.

Coming Friday: Hochberg shows that TEA's top officials either don't understand this magical "accountability" system, or are lying about it.

You can read the follow-up story here.

I understand the desire to use test score growth to measure improvements - heck, it's better than looking simply at raw scores. But how can a zero be an improvement? And, of course, we're still conflating testing with learning. Maybe Pearson can help Michelle improve her testing dungeons in DC...

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