Friday, July 24, 2009

AYP: Maybe Stories Speak Louder Than Numbers

This whole standardized testing mess is complicated. No doubt about that. It's easy to see how even conscientious followers of the news can get flummoxed by AYP this and confidence interval that. What to think?

The statistics, terminology and sheer density of information are enough to make just about anyone's head explode. Now some might say that's deliberate, and that the blizzard of numbers tied to whether schools are "passing" or "failing" is a very successful attempt to make public education look bad, and alternatives to standard public education (charters, home schooling, private schools) look good.

I'll leave that argument for a few paragraphs, and (to the great relief of many readers of recent far-too-complicated posts here) will today avoid the use of bewildering percentages, confidence intervals and such.

In fact, I'll just use one percentage: 100%

Many of you probably saw/read this news story:
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - An Albuquerque woman faces a criminal charge after her 13-year-old son was dropped off at a hospital unconscious and extremely drunk.

Crystal Deleon, 31, faces a charge of child abuse resulting in great bodily harm.

The boy told police he was drinking with his mom and others on Wednesday. At some point, he said he was pushed through a window, suffering a severe cut on his finger.

Deleon told police her son arrived home drunk and started a fight.
Here's what some folks don't understand and others deliberately ignore when it comes to public schools and standardized testing. This terribly unfortunate 13-year old is going to return to a public school in a few weeks. That school will do its best to educate this child. If the student stays at a single school for most of the school year, he will be given a standardized test, and it will "count" toward performance of the school as "passing" or "failing".

And here comes the 100% part.

By Spring 2014 No Child Left Behind dictates that 100% of public education students be "proficient" in Math and Reading. It does not matter if that child has been determined as "learning disabled" through a labyrinthine process involving testing, observation and parental contact. It does not matter if the child lived in a foreign, non-English speaking, country for her/his first seven years, and lives in a home in which this foreign language is spoken 100% of the time.

More to the point today, it does not matter if this child has been raised in a horribly dysfunctional home, given little useful guidance about life, much less education, and been juvenile witness to the worst habits adult life has to offer.


By 2014 this poor 13-year old boy and every single other kid going to public school must meet some standard of "proficiency" regardless of...anything. No consideration of individual circumstances to be given, whatsoever, and no analysis of individual student growth. They are either "proficient", according to a blanket measure created by bureaucrat/statisticians in Santa Fe, or not.

That is the philosophical basis of "No Child Left Behind". That's why (in addition to its genius level marketing power) it has that name. That's the system we're playing under. Really.

I apologize for all the complexity folks, because on one important level it's really this simple.

Public schools are based on taking ALL children. Charter schools are based, in part, on trying to circumvent the rule of taking all children, devising informal/formal systems to focus on particular types of students (no offense intended "Public Academy of Performing Arts", "Albuquerque Institute of Mathematics and Science", etc).

Private schools, of course, rigorously filter who can attend based on academics, family finances and parental involvement (have you ever tried filling out all those forms to go to private school?). And after this rigorous screening, private schools don't even have to conduct standardized testing. No tests, no subgroups, no confidence interval, no reports in the newspaper with little "passing" and "failing" lists.

Yes the complicated is important. And yes, your humble blogger here is obsessively interested in having more folks know about the confidence intervals and all that. Maybe too obsessively interested. But having seen the recent twists and turns in another public debate, on health care, we are reminded that simplicity and simple explanations may trump detail and minutiae.

Some public school teachers will receive the aforementioned 13-year old boy in a few weeks, welcome him into their classes with wildly open arms, and teach their little hearts out trying to help this young man anyway they can. Good luck to them, the 13-year old who has been unfortunately displayed as an example here today, and everyone else operating within the "rules" of No Child Left Behind. Given this setup for "failure", 100% of us need all the luck we can get.


John Fleck said...

Nice analysis-by-way-of-storytelling. Have you ever thought of getting your stuff published in a newspaper or something? :-)

doshimaitri said...

yes it really works because people mostly are liking to believe more on what they hear that also in a proper manner, as how you have discussed. I also believe that each and every child in this world should have atleast some level of education hence forth they would have been able to have employable in their life and they would not have to be dependent on other's for their livelyhod.They should be necessaryly provided with Language schools so as to study many new languages.

ched macquigg said...

How long do you suppose, we will continue to try to stuff a million very different children, into one mold?

It is incredible to me that the whole NCLB process is so immune to input from practitioners.