Friday, January 12, 2007

School Scores Too Good to be True, and Likely Are.

The Morning News is reporting that school test scores are way up, in one case even passing the "national average" even though the "national average" itself keeps going up every year. The test is administered to fourth and eighth graders.

Happy lawmakers still had too much sense to believe that their recently enacted teacher pay raise or also-recently enacted pre-K were responsible for Arkansas' accelerated climb. They could only guess as to what the real cause would be.

I might as well throw my "guess" in there, although it is a highly educated one since I taught for 13 years and still have family in the business who tell me what is actually going on.

Legislators should check the number of students labled "special ed" and "504" from 2002 to 2006. If the 2006 number is much higher, the answer is clear- Arkansas' schools are doing a better job than the nation of keeping low-performing students from taking the test by classifying them as some sort of "Special Ed". This would not represent a better effort at educating children, but more akin to "increasing average height" by excluding more short children from the measurements.

In past years, every student, including all Special Ed and 504 students, had to take the test. 2006 was the first year that a percentage of them could be exempted- and suddenly Arkansas' schools found they have a lot more children with "disablities". In my little town we went from maybe having 10% of the children classified like that in 8th grade to having (if my source is correct) an absolute majority of the students in the 8th grade labled as having some "disability".

My guess is that there has been an explosion of labeling children as "special ed" and "504" by many schools in the state so that the schools can exclude more low performers from taking the test. Now you may be asking, "Isn't it kinda sick to decide to tell parents (and child) that their child has a "disability" just so school administrators can keep their test scores up?" Yes. Next question.

I hope I am wrong and that real academic progress has occurred here over and above the fact that the whole nation is learning how to "teach to the test" to the detriment of all other academic content. But like the ledge, I have my doubts. My fear is that Arkansas school administrators are simply more ruthless than their counterparts in other states, both in their willingness to sacrifice non-tested academic content and in slapping a label on a child who doesn't really rate it. This of course waters down the help and attention that the system can give to those children who truly are disabled, but hey, look at our test scores!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think test scores are rising now?

Just wait until the merit pay garabage gets passed.

The good and honest teachers will be the ones not getting base pay.

The ones willing to "make sure students fully understand" the test and willing to brand disabled any slacker will be rolling in the merit pay.

The fraud is already going on now without any direct incentive to the teachers, wait until there is cash on the table for fraud.

3:10 AM, January 13, 2007  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

That is why even though I believe in merit pay in principle, I have never seen a proposal for state-directed merit pay that I can support.

People need to think about that long and hard. Conservatives just hear that phrase "merit pay" and they think "Yeah, bring the market into it", but this is NOT the market. The market pleases the CUSTOMERS, not the government. Pleasing customers is not what is being measured in these proposals. It is pleasing state buearucrats.

9:00 AM, January 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The business model doesn't work for schools.

They don't produce a commodity that is sold on a free market.

Which customer do you listen to?

The students who just want to do their time and get out?

The students who want a foundation for a higher education?

The parents who want the schools to teach their kids the morals they don't model to their own children?

The parents who want their kid to have a high grade point and graduate with honors without being asked to get involved or their kids expected to do homework?

The business community that needs some barely literate people to plug into repetitive labor intensive jobs?

The business community that needs skilled workers?

There are so many competing interests that it would be a daunting (impossible) task to find a measure that all stakeholders agree is appropriate.

12:10 PM, January 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is actually getting more difficult to assign special ed status to kids now. I have students in my class who desperately need special classes, but the procedure to have them identified is extraordinarily complex.
What is actually causing the scores to rise is the lowering of cut scores. I checked with a math teacher earlier this year who shared that a score of 42% earns a student in the 7th grade a Proficient in math. Imagine that! A 42 in my class is an F. On Arkansas' tests, it's proficient!

12:20 PM, January 13, 2007  
Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

Interesting info, I think that a few years ago schools were making it difficult to get a child in special ed, because they knew it entailed certain obligations and brought the lawyers in. This loophole just opened up this year, and many schools have not "caught on" and others simple don't want to label a child "disabled " unless their is a legitimate need.

2:28 PM, January 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was put in with the 'tard room' back in the mid 80s when in the fifth grade, I believe, so the school could receive more funding. The school staff couldn't care less about the quality of education the students get, and the less effort required on their part the better. Subsequently, I set the record at my school on the ACT test. I absolutely hate the 'highly educated know nothings' that run schools.

9:46 AM, January 16, 2007  

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