August 21, 2006

Still Spinning Test Scores

The Philly Inquirer continues its tradition of over optimistic reporting of test scores (the PSSA in Pennsylvania). Compare paragraph one:
High schools led the way in state reading and math tests in the Philadelphia region and in Pennsylvania, with 11th graders showing strong gains, an Inquirer analysis [ED. giggle] shows.
with paragraph twenty [Ed: !!]:
Still, districtwide, only about 27 percent of Philadelphia's 11th graders scored at or above grade level in math and only about a third met the standard in reading.
Now that is a buried lede. Nine grafs deeper than their last test score article. But who's keeping track.

In between comes this inexplicable quote:
Philadelphia officials said they were encouraged.
It must not take much.

Scores are not much better statewide:

The state has a long way to go.

A little more than half of all 11th graders scored at grade level in math; 65 percent reached that level in reading.

The NAEP, a test that can't be taught to, tells a different story:

2005 8th grade Reading: 36% at or above proficient

2005 8th Grade Math: 31% at or above proficient

And then we get to see why the Inquirer performed its own "analysis."

Nearly three quarters of Philadelphia's high schools had more students passing math this year. More than one-quarter of the district's schools gained 10 percentage points or more. The numbers were slightly lower for reading.
To put the proverbial lipstick on the pig. Touche. And, also:
In the Philadelphia suburbs, where many schools already score at a higher level, there was much less improvement among 11th graders. Just under half posted gains in math; many schools also showed a decline in reading scores.
To state the ridiculously obvious.

Then we get a few quotes from school administrators who really need some PR assistance:

Plus, Springfield will use a new math curriculum this year, which should boost scores, principal Joseph Roy said.

The new curriculum requires students to do more problem solving, something the PSSA requires, he said.

Er, sure it will. Just like all the other times they've changed curricula in the past. It would help if there were empirical support for the new curriculum. Then there's this gem:
"I don't know why some schools make it and some don't, why some districts make it and some don't," [the principal] said. "We're just glad our effort paid off, for whatever reason."
This from the person in charge of running the school. Egad. Only a state-run monopolist funded by tax dollars could survive such a foolish quote.

Then we have the story within the story which I pieced together from some blurbs in the story.
"District officials attributed some of the improvement to the breaking down of the larger high schools into smaller ones."

"Vallas also cited the leadership of principal Lois Powell Mondesire. She makes time for her teachers to meet and discuss lessons and approaches, he said."

"Bichner said Gratz used in-class coaches in math and English to boost achievement."

"and the district has looked at individual students' performance to see who needs help so they can get it this school year."

"An academic support teacher has been added in the language-arts area for students who need more support, she said. And the principal has reviewed every student's schedule to be sure they are in the classes they need."

"Gillespie said her school worked hard: Teachers and aides worked with small groups of students who needed extra help."

"One teacher became a full-time PSSA skills coach, and the music and art teachers and librarian helped with test skills during their free periods. Parents went to meetings to learn how they could help their students prepare. The chorus program was folded into music class so that students no longer missed math or reading to participate. Field trips were pushed back to after the PSSAs were given. School opened early for morning tutoring."

"'There was so much emphasis on using every instructional minute,' Gillespie said."
I'd title it: "NCLB gets schools to finally take improving seriously."

Many of these things won't be effective and some are downright foolish, but at least schools are beginning to focus on improving student achievement rather than shuffling them off to the special education ghetto. I'd say that's a good thing.

1 comment:

Tracy W said...

The chorus program was folded into music class so that students no longer missed math or reading to participate.

Gosh - no wonder they were failing before. I wonder what Gillespie thought when she learnt that the school regarded the chorus programme as more important than maths or reading.

"and the district has looked at individual students' performance to see who needs help so they can get it this school year."

This is wonderful.