Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are the 10 schools selected for school improvement audits and grants the right ones?

I wrote yesterday about the surprise revelation that the Kentucky Department of Education already started to use the rules from House Bill 176, which was passed in January, to start holding some of the state’s worst-performing schools accountable. Accountability was not expected to start until late summer and was supposed to be based on the results from the still to be administered 2010 Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT).

Now, 10 schools are being held to account for their 2009 and earlier KCCT scores.

This unexpected action has generated a lot of questions. Today, I’m going to explore that further using this table.

(Click on Table to Enlarge)

The table summarizes test results for the 10 schools in question. It includes the latest KCCT reading and mathematics proficiency rates in each school and the most recent Composite Score averages from 11th grade testing with the ACT college entrance test.

All schools are ranked for performance against the same level schools (middle or high) on the KCCT and the high schools are additionally ranked for their ACT performance.

I also show the latest NCLB status for each school based on whether it was a “Title 1 school” (Those receive appreciable federal funding) or not. Non-Title 1 schools don’t receive a formal NCLB Tier classification in Kentucky but can be classified by the number of years they failed to reach the NCLB Annual Yearly Progress goals.

As you review the rankings, you will note that there are gaps in both the KCCT and the ACT rankings. In other words, some schools that are not on this list performed even more poorly in 2009 than those that are.

How can that be?

I’m still working on answers to how some schools were omitted from the bottom five percent. I do know that the identification of schools is supposed to actually be based on a three-year average of the KCCT math and reading scores, but I still have to check on exactly how that calculation is done.

However, the results in the table are good enough to discuss some concerns. Specifically, since we will spend a large amount of money in the 10 identified schools, it’s important to pick the right schools.

I’m not sure this list does that. For example, consider Deming High School in Robertson County.

In 2009 Deming High ranked 228 for its gruesome average of math and reading proficiency on the KCCT, just above last place Shawnee High School. Fewer than seven percent of Deming’s students were proficient in math last year.

On the ACT it ranked at 224 out of 229 high schools in the state that got a score report. Deming’s dismal ACT Composite average was only 15.4.

Deming has continually been in an NCLB Tier status for the past four years. It first failed to make NCLB targets way back in 2004-05.

But, because Deming just happened to luck out and actually made its NCLB targets for one year in 2006-07 (a school has to do this for two years to get out of Tier status), it apparently gets to skate.

Instead of putting half a million dollars a year for the next three years into improving Deming, we are going to spend that $1.5 million in Fern Creek High School, where the ACT Composite average is notably higher (though still horrible) at 16.6 and the most recent proficiency rate average for KCCT math and reading was over 11 points higher than in Deming.

Oh, in the past two years Fern Creek actually made its NCLB target for reading. Deming flunked consistently for both reading and math in that same period.

Make no mistake – neither of these schools is doing anything close to an acceptable job.

But, if we can only spend extravagantly in one school, I think the test scores and recent trends say we should do it in Deming, which has a terrible track record despite the “glitch” in 2006-07 where the school momentarily got lucky, and which presently scores virtually at the bottom, notably lower than Fern Creek.

Stay tuned for more.


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Alan said...

National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

A Trip To The Number Yard is a math book focusing on the building of a bungalow. Odd numbered chapters cover the phases of the project: lot layout, foundation, framing, all the way through until the trim out. The even numbered chapters introduce the math needed for the next stage of building and/or reviews the previous lessons.

This type of project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our tactics and teach math via real life projects.

Alan Cook

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