Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Testing schools’ test integrity

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which completed a study of 14,000 school districts.  Their reports are in a series of articles available online here.  How did they conduct the study?  According to the AJC, "A team of three reporters and two database specialists spent five months collecting databases of standardized test scores in those grades for 69,000 schools, in 14,743 districts in 49 states. (The 50th, Nebraska, didn’t have usable data because it didn’t give a statewide standardized test until last year.)"  To read the complete discussion of the methodology, and more, go here.

To read the full editorial by Mr. Riley, go here.

If you spend a little time this weekend with your Sunday newspaper, then you know The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has produced a remarkable investigation into the integrity of school-testing results from around the country.
School tests have been a big story for years now, as national policy has required tests measuring the learning of students in each state.
In Atlanta, the testing story was even bigger, as our reporters revealed questionable results in Atlanta Public Schools that prompted the country’s biggest cheating scandal.
Now we know Atlanta is the tip of the iceberg.
Our nationwide analysis shows that our country has an ugly problem undercutting educational policy:
● In 196 of the nation’s 3,125 largest school districts, the investigation reveals highly improbable swings in test scores, a finding that strongly points to tampering.
● For 33 of those districts, the odds of getting such results without intervention are less than one in a million.
● In at least one district, the results for entire grades of students jumped two, three or more times the amount expected in one year. The next year, when children moved to a new grade, their scores plummeted.
● Some of those questionable scores come from districts lauded as top places for reforms, as Atlanta had been.
And so now leaders in districts across the country must confront the numbers — as leaders in Atlanta, at first, struggled to do.
Based on history, the reactions in these places may not be what we’d hope: seeking the truth and placing the interests of children at the forefront.
Expect at least some hostility and denials, and possibly an attack of your newspaper. Blaming the media, of course, can be a first line of defense.

And:

And let’s hope the discussion quickly turns from one of hollow and bureaucratic defensiveness to a plan for how we can fix this for the thousands of kids who are the real victims.
Because that’s what we should be talking about.

4 comments:

  1. What makes the the Highland case so depressing is that it seems so indefensible (94% advanced in reading for a student body that is almost 2/3 in ESL / Limited English Proficiency) and yet Starr is just completely shameless.

    Starr doesn't have any idea what happened, and he wasn't even here at the time in question, but that doesn't stop him from being vociferous in his spin.

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  2. Spin? Standing up for students is spin? Where is the proof of cheating? No one has produced a shred of evidence

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  3. "For 33 of those districts, the odds of getting such results without intervention are less than one in a million."

    At Highland there WAS intervention. There's less than 1 in a million that those results occurred by chance.

    "In at least one district, the results for entire grades of students jumped two, three or more times the amount expected in one year. The next year, when children moved to a new grade, their scores plummeted."

    Now this is interesting- not sure if it's possible to know to what extent this happened at Highland.

    I do think Dan Hess makes a good point. Can someone receiving ESL services be an advanced reader? Or put another way- should an advanced reader be receiving ESL services?

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  4. Ben W. writes
    "Where is the proof of cheating? No one has produced a shred of evidence"

    The evidence is statistical. If you mean individual tests, well no, we are not allowed to have that because there is no investigation. I certainly have no access to the test records or students and neither do you. The question is, does Starr have the character or integrity to actually investigate this situation? No he does not. He is merely making stuff up regarding a time he was not here without even trying to find out the truth.

    There can be no mistaking the culture of dishonesty in MCPS.

    Starr is not off the hook though, because he cannot sequester all of the students who attended Highland during those years. The truth will come out. The cover-up is worse than the crime.

    It wouldn't be shameful if ESL students aren't reading at the highest level and it wouldn't be shocking if a test proctor or two felt bad and tried to intervene. But Starr, when faced with a genuine and public moral dilemma, chose spin and dissembling rather than true leadership.

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