Monday, September 08, 2008

Eubank Elementary: I'm Calling BS Here

"It is such a good thing, publicly, to be off that list," she said. "It makes us feel good there is some kind of validation."
-- Karen Butchart, Principal, Eubank Elementary School, APS, quoted in Albuquerque Journal, 9/8/08

This morning's Journal has one of those feel good Standardized Testing stories that just perpetuates the BS of winners and losers when it comes to meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). A casual reading of the story makes it appear both positive and pretty simple. Eubank Elementary made AYP in Math because of the positive actions of a bunch of concerned teachers, administrators and parents. Explicit here is the argument that:
The school's subsequent turnaround in math is due to its in-service training for teachers and Butchart's strength in curriculum, said Rose-Ann McKernan, APS executive director of instructional accountability.
Implicit in the story is that Eubank passed because of a bunch of concerned teachers, administrators and parents, and that other schools are failing because they don't have a bunch of concerned teachers, administrators and parents.

Well both the explicit and implicit arguments here are BS. First, all schools have concerned teachers, administrators and parents.
It's true that some schools are more efficient and effective in turning these concerns into higher scores and better student performance, but efforts exactly like the one at Eubank Elementary are in place are tons of failing APS schools.

Second, given the set of statistical circumstances at Eubank Elementary many of those failing schools would have passed. Let's look at those statistics.

First of all, Eubank didn't make AYP in reading at all, a fact glossed over in the Journal story. I love the quote from Assistant Secretary for the NM Public Education Department Carlos Martinez:
"If they make AYP for next year, everything is fine."
And if that frog doesn't jump next year it won't keep hitting it's hind end on the ground. Whatever. Now let's get real boring by looking at an actual number or two. Interestingly, Eubank Elementary was able to count the proficiency for only about half of its students. While 268 students were tested, only 143 counted toward AYP because only that smaller number was considered to have attended for the "FAY" Full Academic Year (doncha love all these acronyms?). As it states in the glossary at the PED website "f
or AYP proficiency calculations, students continuously enrolled in the school for a full academic year at the time of testing are counted." For whatever reason, the FAY number at Eubank is dramatically lower, as a percentage, than the typical school, elementary or otherwise.

Now I'm not saying there is a conspiracy here, and that Eubank got a bunch of less academically talented students to disenroll from Eubank, go down the street to X Elementary School for a few weeks, then return to Eubank. No, I'm not saying...although I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts it has happened somewhere in the United States in the last few years.

What I am saying is that because of such a low number of "FAY" students, the subgroups ("Students With Disabilities", "English Language Learners", etc.) are reduced to the point where the scores of these subgroups don't count. For instance, Eubank had 40 "Students With Disabilities" tested in Math. Only 20 were FAY. 20 is below the 25 required to be statistically relevant. So.....Eubank didn't have to include its "Students With Disabilities" in its AYP report this year, which is nice because of the 20 who were tested only 20% or four were "proficient". It's easy to pass when you eliminate significant subgroups from consideration..and I'm sure many others school with "concerned teachers, administrators, and parents" would like to have the same deal.

Now I know all these numbers make some people's heads hurt. For instance, your humble blogger got in trouble at a staff meeting recently for noting that the small testing samples of subgroups in standardized testing made any percentage increases/decreases statistically irrelevant. I'm still living that one down.

But gosh darnit, if we refuse to take the time/mental energy to really look at these scores we're just setting ourselves up for a "winners/losers" world in which BS newspaper articles are written about supposed "winners" in the testing game, with casual readers (and anyone else not crunching the numbers) left with the impression that "well, I guess that school really cares and other schools don't, or they would pass too".

That's BS thinking. And I'm afraid there isn't anyone around to call these folks (and I include the APS and PED officials quoted in the story in the "folks" category) on their BS here. Well, except for a wild-eyed, crazy ranting blogger here and there. Like that's gonna accomplish anything.


Anonymous said...

I think in their own way, Mesa del Sol is calling the BS.

Amber in Albuquerque said...

Good call. My son with a disability (ADHD) was granted a transfer to a passing school last May. On the first day of school this year...transfer revoked.

Chaos ensues trying to find a new school. That was eventually resolved.

Not resolved (but reported to the Federal Office of Civil Rights) is my feeling that something about the revocation stinks to high heaven. Perhaps the principal is hand picking transfer students to ensure the school keeps meeting AYP? Your numbers and information on the numbers it takes for a subgroup to be statistically relevant are especially enlightening. Perhaps this is why, after we were assured that the school could provide our child with the services he needed (basically some small group instruction in math and reading), the school all of the sudden realized that they had no room for him AND could not provide him with the necessary services. That's one way of keeping your subgroups low and your test scores high. Too bad it's illegal.

Natalie said...

If people (parents) and folks (all those lumped-into categories you mentioned) truly understood AYP scoring, they would ban together to not allow subgroups to be include in the testing results. These subgroups (God forbid, but I'm just sayin'...) could have their own level of testing which, I would imagine, especially considering we have two special needs kids in our household, could potentially be all over the board. I still think the measure should be in the effectiveness of the Individual Education Plan 'cause, well, with special needs, it's very, um, individual! That might even mean the IEP's will be looked at and used in a timely manner. Novel idea, I know...
Alas... only a few of us have taken the time to actually educate ourselves on how AYP works and how/what all of this affects teachers and kids.
AYP and NCLB (sorry to swear on your blog) have changed the course of getting your kid into a school and truly measuring the effectiveness of the education provided within that school.
I know that it was all designed as to not leave any kid behind but we really should be asking how to be statistically relevant within the goals of education.
Maybe then we can truly begin to work on Brooks' goal of getting kids (and families and, by golly, even teachers!) excited about education.
I knew I took that boring, stupid, and totally blahhhh statistics class for something... Now, if I could only get others to see the light...

Gerald said...

As a student in APS up until this academic year, i have seen that the subgroups hurt schools in so many ways. The most annoying subgroups are those that are just large enough to be counted, but are too small to provide statistically relevant information on the group's Progress. In the special education group at my high school, there were just enough students to be counted. However, with an insanely high "target" proficiency, just the three students who were absent for that particular day caused the subgroup to get the "failure" tag,even if all the other students met "proficiency" despite the efforts of all involved in the actual educational process. And of course, a subgroup failure causes the entire failure of the school.

jscotkey said...

After having read the comments above and given the subject another thought or two, I'd just like to add the following:

1. Nobody is blaming the kids in these "subgroups". It's those creating these twisted meaningless "win/loss" statistical anomalies and cruelly pinning AYP "failure" on these identified students who are rightfully blamed.

2. If anyone thinks this is one of those "sourgrapes" reactions to the fact my school, Jefferson, did not make AYP due to scores by those in these subgroups while Eubank did, that anyone is wrong. And it's that kind of "winner/loser" thinking (and I know it exists out there) that perpetuates all this madness.

3. I am still mystified as to why New Mexico and other states haven't either successfully sued the Feds over inclusion of these subgroups (and making them take identical tests), or just unilaterally ignored these pernicious mandates. It sure looks like this is the only way this is going to be changed, and lame petitioning by NM and other states ain't gonna cut it.

4. Those who feel the evil that is NCLB will be immediately killed by an Obama Administration are mistaken.

5. Those who feel NCLB is a subject more worthy of large-scale presidential candidate discussion than Sarah Palin's "new rock star" status and other superficial BS non-issues are likely, like me, to be close to the point of having their heads explode at this juncture.

6. The cranial pressure caused by the situation in #5 above is only likely to get worse in the days leading up to November 4th.

7. And yeah, the more a teacher really knows about the AYP numbers, the more depressing it is. One guesses that it is this fact, combined with a general aversion to statistics/math in general, that has left the average APS employee no more informed on the subject than the typical Albuquerque Journal article.

8. Still, I think that's no excuse, and I am as upset about the overall complacency of the preponderance of my colleagues toward NCLB, as I am upset about NCLB itself. Sheep...pathetic, uselessly bickering, ultimately inert sheep when you get down to it. Not every teacher mind you, but enough to make even inconsequential blogposts like this one the exception, and vacuously bitter acquiescence the norm.


Gerald said...

I know it's bad. The students work hard to learn, but the odds of subgroups are against students, teachers and schools. As for numbers five and six on the list, just try not get an ulcer from too much painkiller and alcohol combined. This is an area where I hear parents of my fellow students and friend occasionally talk, but there is a glut of misperceptions and false attitudes toward AYP in the community and media. There are people who dig and scramble to uncover the details that stay submerged, but there is not an organized movement for the dissemination of facts beyond the headline news.
I have a friend who attends a different school form where I went to high school, and I've heard the same stories from his viewpoint as from my own. In the subgroups, factors beyond the proficiency of the students affect the school's AYP rating.
I have to ask what reporters at the Trib would be doing with this. I don't see this at the Independent and I wonder how important parents would think it is to change the system if they knew that things don't work now. The parents and students that I know who do know about this whole mess are almost in unison that a new method for evaluation the educational system needs to be implemented. However, I don't know how to to that. I can cry and shout that we need change, but if asked how, I don't personally know what to do. I'm not an educator, just a student.

Anonymous said...

I am still mystified as to why New Mexico and other states haven't either successfully sued the Feds over inclusion of these subgroups (and making them take identical tests), or just unilaterally ignored these pernicious mandates. It sure looks like this is the only way this is going to be changed, and lame petitioning by NM and other states ain't gonna cut it.

Exactly, well said. Where is the $ for this underfunded mandate? (Not that it would ever trickle down to a classroom in APS anyway!) Where is the organized campaign against NCLB by local and national unions? Time to Strike!

Anonymous said...

For a brief period in history, public schools were places where a community came together. Those days are in the past thanks to NCLB. I think the problem here is that NCLB is politics at its worst. No one is allowed to question it, because its goals are so noble. If the teacher's unions stand against it, they are standing against both parties and there just isn't any way to do that right now. People would call that a cynical position and claim that the union is predictably trying to avoid accountability. I think the unions are hoping that communities will start crying out about the unfair labels--so far it just hasn't happened that way. It is easier to blaim your public school than address deeper social issues. I also think that the charter school wave has been effective in silencing opposition to NCLB. Having choices means not having to deal with the social issues that public schools face--just send your kid to the school where he/she fits in. This is self-segregation in the name of choice. The "public" school is becoming just a dumping ground, or ghetto. Less and less will be offered to proficient students unfortunate enough to have to stay at one of those public schools. Morale of teachers begins to decline and soon everyone's just marking time until the place gets shut down. The self-fulfilling prophecy has reached fruition--you teach at a failing school.

Anonymous said...

"Morale of teachers begins to decline and soon everyone's just marking time until the place gets shut down. The self-fulfilling prophecy has reached fruition--you teach at a failing school."

Wow that is so correct on so many levels, thanks anonymous