Thursday, October 21, 2010

School Performance Scores in Proper Perspective

School performance scores (SPS) are now available for review at the LA Dept. Of Education web site. The state average SPS has grown to 92.5 which is an increase of 1.5 from the 2009 average. Even though most public school systems in the state have implemented major campaigns aimed at raising test scores at each school, it is becoming increasingly difficult to show dramatic gains. Most of the obvious strategies for increasing LEAP scores which make up the greatest part of the SPS have already been implemented in most schools. The one remaining strategy is one that few local education leaders are willing or should be willing to employ. That would be essentially converting the entire school year to test rehearsal.

The state goal of an SPS of 120 for all schools by 2014 is looking more and more unattainable for all but a few select schools. A total of 75 out of 1282 public schools have already reached this goal to date, but if the tests retain their present rigor, it will be difficult for a significant percentage of the remaining schools to reach 120 by any deadline.

I believe that the accountability program in Louisiana has basically succeeded in focusing the attention of local school officials on academic achievement. There is no question in my mind that we have long needed a major push for improved academic performance. Thanks to good local leadership, most of this improvement in emphasis has been accomplished without abandoning solid principles of good education. Even so, the continued pressure by state and federal officials to simply improve test scores threatens to convert most public schools into creativity killing "test prep factories". Some schools are already using public funds to hire test prep companies who begin the testing and diagnosis process early each school year. Such schools focus most of the rest of the year on boosting test performance. Many highly respected master teachers believe that such strategies result in less emphasis on critical learning and thinking skills in favor of rote learning. (Not to mention the fact that it is sure to drive the best teachers out of the profession)

In addition, most of the emphasis of the “no child left behind” mandate has placed the full responsibility of school performance on the school administration and teachers without adequate consideration of negative or positive community factors. That incorrect assumption is made evident by the setting of an identical goal of school performance for all schools by 2014. As 2014 approaches it will become increasingly evident that such a goal was impractical and unfair to many schools and their students and staffs.

Another Critical Analysis of “Waiting For Superman

Click on the following link to Diane Ravitch's analysis of the documentary movie “Waiting for Superman” which was published in the New York Review of Books. Educators may also be interested in reading her latest post in her blog titled “Bridging Differences”, in which she examines a recent “Manifesto” on education by 16 large city Superintendents. She points out the apparent hypocrisy of superintendents calling for reforms to systems which they now have the authority to implement themselves. Where will these superintendents point the finger of blame when it becomes clear that just firing a certain percentage of teachers makes no significant change in student performance? My comment on this issue, is simple: Take the top performing teachers in one of our high performing magnet schools and place them in one of our low performing poverty schools and you will see a dramatic change in their student's test score results. Or do the converse by sending teachers from low performing schools to high performing schools and see the dramatic improvement in their performance.

Special late addition:
I just got an interesting email from Lance Hill at Tulane, who sent me a chart on the SEED school in Washington DC that claims in "Superman" that they now have a 100% graduation rate. The only problem is (and the chart shows) that in 7th grade they had approximately 145 students enrolled while in 12th grade there were only 13 students left. The school apparently has a practice of weeding out low performing students before they get counted in the graduation rate. That's also why I believe it is more accurate and honest to calculate our graduation rate by following a cohort starting at 7th grade even if we give them a couple of extra years to graduate. It has also been brought to my attention that some of the charter schools that claim to have 100% of their students attending college have not been in business long enough to see the results of those college enrollments! Here in Louisiana, many folks are proud to send their children to LSU but what really counts is graduation from that special 4 year institution. LSU has less than a 20% graduation rate.

Continuing to blame teachers for all the ills of education is preventing us from attacking the real causes of under-performance in our schools. I've discussed this before so I will just summarize the critical issues with just a few words: Firm school discipline, parental responsibility, and strong principals who work with teachers to create a positive learning environment. We don't need charter schools to implement these principles. Finally, our school curriculum must be made more relevant to the world of work. Students must see the connection between success in school and future rewarding careers. It is absolute folly (and destructive to many students) to call for college prep as the only worthwhile goal for all children.

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