Wednesday, August 09, 2006

New Rating System For Schools Flawed

State School Superintendant Suellen Reed unveiled a new rating system for the state's schools, but she was dumb-struck by a question from WISH-TV's Leslie Olsen about the system which puts its very credibility in question. And, well, Reed looked pretty dumb trying to answer the question. What Olsen's question pointed up about the state's new rating system is that a school which shows a lot of improvement over last year can be rated higher than a school that actually performed better because the system rewards schools showing the most improvement. It's like assigning a higher grade to a student for improving his test score from a 60 to a 70 than a student who improved his grade from a 78 to an 80. Olsen explains it's impact on Marion Co. schools:

News 8 focused on Marion County schools. The only district to achieve "exemplary" status is Pike Township. It's neighbor to the east, Washington Township only received the middle ranking of academic progress. But about 73 percent of Pike's students passed ISTEP. Nearly 78 percent of Washington Township's students did. Over two years, Pike students improved by 3 percent, Washington Township's students by 1.5 percent.

Is it fair that Pike gets top ranking and Washington Township essentially gets a "C"? Washington Township Superintendent James Mervilde hadn't noticed the disparity until News 8 pointed it out.

"We believe in data. There's only one thing worse than having no data and that's having bad data," said Dr. Mervilde.

We asked the Department of Education's administrator over the new system to explain the difference.

"I would say Pike is getting credit for showing more improvement," Jeff Zaring said.
But is Washington being penalized for not showing that much?

Washington Township is being categorized differently because it didn't show as much improvement. We're going to have to look at the numbers and see and maybe adjust those categories," said Zaring.

State School Superintendent Suellen Reed admits new figuring may be in order.

"This is just Marion County. We've got to look all over the state and see where else this kind of discrepancy has occurred," said Dr. Suellen Reed, State School Superintendent. "But your point is great and that's the kind of thing, I mean our phone's going to be ringing off the wall."

Reed's phone should be ringing off the hook. What an absurd way to rate our state's schools. The new system rates the schools by assigning them one of the following five categories: exemplary progress, commendable progress, academic progress, academic watch and academic probation. According to an AP report, 70% of the state's public high schools are rated in the lower categories of academic probation or acedemic watch. "I think there's both good news and alarming news in this," Reed told the Star. For schools in the worst categories, "this should be a call to get to work.”

Great reporting Leslie Olsen and WISH-TV. It looks like you showed Reed that the real call to get to work is the wake-up call you just sent her with this report.

UPDATE: Today's Star has more on the state's confusing new rating system: "Indiana's new school rating system got high marks from educators Wednesday for fairness but low marks from parents and others who don't understand what it means. That's because a school could be rated as successful by the state and subpar by the federal No Child Left Behind rankings, or the other way around."


Anonymous said...

Isn't this, though, the whole dumbass focus of the federal "No Child Left Behind" program, that schools are to measured and each state has to have a plan for measuring "Adequate Yearly Progress" and grading schools on "improvement" each year?

Always struck me as exactly the kind of system that does "leave kids behind" because of the backassward focus. Theoretically, there are great schools out there that don't need to "improve" that much. If 99% of Park Tudor kids pass ISTEP one year and 99% pass the next year, it made zero improvement. But maybe it didn't need to. It's no way to compare schools. Meanwhile, individual kids get "left behind" (or pushed on, more like it, into dropoutland) because it doesn't measure the improvement of indivudal kids, or classes of kids, it's based on the group class to test...

So, great, a school can just make improvment with the next class of kids and get a great ranking.

Teachers have been quietly griping about the uselessness of this "accountabilty system" of NCLB (and Indiana's pre NCLB version) since it came in. This realy needs to be exposed more in the media; perhaps they will crib this blog again (credit being probably too much to hope for) and run with it. Not much real help for the kids that didn't do well, just plans to get a better "improvement" ranking by turning to the next class and helping them test better.

And no way did DOE not know about this whole issue. They're just faking ignorance because the Emporer has no clothes with this one. There is no rational explanation, and they know it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is complaining about a system without taking any time to learn about it. The ratings are based on both current performance and improvement. In the "Park Tudor" example -- and any other school has more than 90% of students passing -- the automatic designation is "exemplary." In fact, Park Tudor's pass rate could FALL from 99% to 91% and it would still be labeled as "exemplary."

For the same reason, the Pike-Washington Twp comparison has a simple explanation. Both districts fell into the same passing range, 70-79%. Surely we can all agree that neither district can rest at that point. With 2-3 students out of every 10 still failing, they need show some improvement. So, as long as schools in this pass range show at least one percent of modest improvement, then they get the third out of five ratings (academic progress). (If these were grades instead of labels, then a C would make sense, right?)

But the Indiana accountability system gives additional credit for making additional progress. Schools in this range can earn a "commendable" rating (the 2nd highest) by showing at least two percent improvement. And like Pike, they can earn even more credit, earning the label of "exemplary," by showing at least three percent improvement.

It is quite embarrasing that our state superintendent could not explain this. But the system itself has some pretty good merits.

Anonymous said...

Comparing one school system to another is ridiculous.

I want to know how my district's schools are doing. Period. With accurate data.

This should've been the first tipoff that this system is flawed: anyone who thinks a Pike diploma is equal to a North Central diploma...well, go back to ninth grade. It's not even a close call.

Anonymous said...

It was a great news story, AI. Leslie Olsen may be one of the most-thoughtful reporters in town.

I'm still a fan of Sue Ellen Reid. Mostly because she took on the Gov. and David Shane during the last session and won. But, they were lying in the tall reeds waiting. Shane is now a member of the State Board of Ed, and collectively, they're gonna slam Sue Ellen. MMM now controls the state board. Sue Ellen may be chair by law, but she's presiding over a board of her own executioners. Mary, Queen of Scots, are you listening?

The biggest problem with all this "acocuntability" is that the data has been put together by educators. They speak their own language, and the further they are from the classroom (read: administrators) the less sense they make. Their world isn't real...never has been.

Here's what we need to know, without a bunch of other extempraneous data factoring into the equation:
1. How many students?
2. How many advance, year-to-year?
3. Aggregate ISTEP scores (ultimately, change ISTEP altogether)
4. How many low-income?
5. Racial breakdown?
6. How many special needs students?
7. Migration factor: how many students moved in or out?

Graduation rate is a statistic that means little. So many things factor into that.

The above information. coupled with the annual (simplified) budget report, tells me all I need to know.

If the above info. is compileld for us (the taxpayers, customers) to sift, here's what you'll find: No. 7 is a huge factor. Some classrooms see complete turnover before first semester ends.

It's difficult to teach, particularly in younger formative years, if your classroom is constantly changing. Education Schools don't really teach how to cope with that.

Teachers are the real front-line in this abttle for quality education. Despite the fact there are teachers who need to retire or move on, an overwhelming number of them really care, and they don't get to really teach but about 60% of the time. Turn -em loose. Lengthen the school day, and pay them more.

We have the shortest school day in the industrialzed world. We spend a lot of money to get kids to school, and for the most part, we spend a lot of money in Indiana to house them once they're there. Factor in lunch and recess, and the school day is reduced at elementary level.

Our kids can take more rigorous instruction and longer school days. Our future demands it.