November 1, 2009

Some Perspective

Two posts ago we looked at the writing of some students (mostly seniors) at Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy magnet school.  I was none too impressed to put it mildly.  And no one has stepped up so far to defend the actual writing ability of the students.  Time will tell.

Now pretend you are setting proficiency standards.  Where would these students fall out on an advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic scale for this assignment (the subject matter of which admittedly was overly-difficult, although, the task of writing a position paper was not.)

Have you determined your standards yet and the approximate percentage of students falling within each category?  Don't read on until you have.

Now where would you predict the commonwealth of Pennsylvania would set their standards? What percentage of students would be advanced?  What percentage would be proficient?  Basic?  Below basic.

Last April, 11th graders took Pennsylvania's writing exam.  Here is how the SLA students fared:

Advanced:  28.4%
Proficient: 71.6%
Basic: 0%
Below Basic: 0%

The 2009 PSSA Writing School Level Proficiency Results, p. 266.

Your eyesight isn't failing you.  100% of SLA 11th graders were proficient or above in Pennsylvania's writing assessment.

Bear in mind that Pennsylvania falls out somewhere in the middle of the states as far as where the PSSA exam falls out relative to the NAEP in Reading and Math.  See Figures 2 and 3.  Sadly, 11th graders don't take the NAEP writing exam.  Only 8th graders do.  36% of 8th graders were proficient on the NAEP writing assessment.

Sherman Dorn is right to point out that the NAEP cut scores have been arbitrarily set.   However, whenever I look at actual test NAEP questions or how students perform on state tests which relative to NAEP are low, it's hard to come to a conclusion that arbitrary necessarily means too high.  If anyuthing it's just the opposite.

Update:  Some more perspective.  Here's the breakdown of SLA's 11th graders based on the writing test statistics: 36.2% are white, 49.1% are black, 15.3% are Asian or Hispanic, and 30.1% are economically disadvantaged.  Also, students need to apply and be accepted to SLA.  Here is the admission criteria:

Criteria: Admission to SLA is based on a combination of a student interview at the school with a presentation of completed work, strong PSSA scores, As and Bs with the possible exception of one C, teacher or counselor recommendation and good attendance and punctuality. Interested families must contact the school to set up an appointment for an interview. SLA will not initiate the interview process with families.
 Just in case you thought SLA was teeming with abjectly-impoverished inner city kids with abusive parents and poor language skills who really don't want to be in school anyway.


Dick Schutz said...

You get a lot of points for actually looking at kid performance, Ken.

The bad news is that NCLB mandates reliance on the phony indicators of "proficiency," so you're "out of compliance." Watch out for "reformers" who will contend you should be "turned around" or that your blog should be closed and restructured.

The situation is alarmingly parallel to the reliance on "derivatives" in the banking system. We're in educational meltdown, but it hasn't yet been noticed.

Looksee Fishy Fish said...

Numbers... Seems to me a silly tradition to measure a persons abilities. Why not watch them or give them excellent mentors, while listening to them and being sincerely interested in what they are saying. Numbers also seem to be a way to keep out students with many different learning styles, therefore keeping the old eleite system in a safe place, far away from creativity. Knowing the rules to break the rules is an old idea. We need more rule breakers if we want to see quick change. Also, in this blog you have made a beautiful point that schools as we (pre information revolution people) see them, don't work any more. Something has got to give & the media needs to stop targeting children. You are right schools need to change. We are attempting that change, 3 years is a very short time to be judged upon. Come see us in 5. Better yet come to the school and see what caring for a student can do for their academic success. And isn't that the way s brain works if your needs are met you are able to intellectualize? Look at Maslow, that is what I follow. Sir, don't you see enough negotivity in this world of education why woulld you pick out our community that strives for rigor and happiness? What is it that you are expecting from a brand new school? What was you school like? Did it compare to your standards or did you make your own? I cane out of one of the best high schools in the country in 1991. That scares me, even with all the money in that district not all learners were given equal oppertunities to learn. They were tracked low and forgotten about and all the concentration was put on the students that could score high in math & science. Some of them are still living in their parents basements. So, I ask you what do these numbers mean? What do they mean to parents? What do they mean in higher education. Also, what kind of conversation or dialog do you want to get into with the staff at SLA? What is your purpose for reporting this? Anyone can cause a conflict. I would rather talk about solutions, kids & alternative types of instuction so that all student can feel success. We are an easy target, seems to me you are upset about something and you are hiding behind this blog post instead pf just writing your beef. Where's the beef?

Looksee Fishy Fish said...

Lots of typos, excuse me, I wrote this quikly on my iPhone With one finger :)

Tracy W said...

Why not watch them or give them excellent mentors, while listening to them and being sincerely interested in what they are saying.

The trouble with this is that people are subject to various biases that affect their judgment of other people, so such systems can easily discriminate against women or minorities.
For example, many orchestras have implemented a system of blind auditions, where would-be musicians play behind a screen, in order to eliminate the tendency, very possibly unconscious, of music directors, conductors and musicians being biased about how they hire. This sort of standardised system has improved the diversity of orchestras.
A similiar thing happens in science fields, tests have shown that implementing double-blind reviews in the peer review process for science journals increases the representation of female authors, implying that reviewers were (likely unconsciously) biased against female-named papers.

Numbers also seem to be a way to keep out students with many different learning styles, therefore keeping the old eleite system in a safe place, far away from creativity.

I am curious, what makes you think this happens?

And, also, since you are skeptical about numbers as a measure of learning, how do you address fears of unconscious discrimination in your assessments of students?