Monday, July 20, 2009

AYP: Other States, Other Rules

I. Coming Soon to a Theater Near You on August, 3rd, 2009 (deep movie trailer announcer voice over ear-bleeding loud movie trailer music)

Have you ordered your party hats (the pointy ones), party "favors" (in particular those obnoxiously loud unrolling horn things), and heavily spiked punch yet for August 3rd?

What, you don't what's happening on August 3rd?

Well, New Mexican with an obsessive interest in K-12 public education, you are slipping in your obsessiveness! You may even be turning "normal" and "well-adjusted", unlike certain other people who blather on and on about arcane public education news and know EXACTLY why every New Mexican should not only mark August 3rd on their calendar, but is already mentally hopping up and down with angst-filled anticipation regarding 8/3/09.

Not to be condescending, patronizing or anything, but, duh, August 3rd is when the New Mexico Public Education Department releases its report on AYP. You know, standardized testing and which schools met Adequate Yearly Progress and which didn't!

Now maybe you're of the learned opinion that standardized testing is categorically evil, and thus dismiss the importance of releasing these scores. Perhaps you are one of those in public education who simply put their fingers in their ears and go "la, la, la, la, la, LA, LA, LA" louder and louder whenever these scores are mentioned.

The following is not for you.

Frankly, I don't know if the following is for anyone outside a select insane few, who, like me, obsess not only on the scores themselves, but how the scores are derived. The following is for these sick, unalterably twisted folks who really just need to get a life.

II. You Might Be a EduGeek If:

You create a Gmail Google News Alert for "AYP", thus receiving a ton of newspaper stories responding to the release of test scores as states get around to it.

If you've already crossed this line of obvious insanity, you already know that Georgia, Hawaii and Minnesota have released scores.

III. The Not-So-Profound Point of Today's Posting

"More Than 79% of Schools Make AYP" is the July 14th headline for a press release from the Georgia Department of Education. The state's paper of record, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), doesn't put it quite as glowingly, but notes that "More Georgia Schools Meet 'No Child Left Behind' Testing Goals".

The newspaper has followed-up with additional profiles on schools that made scores, almost made scores and the pressures to make scores. At the same time, the AJC hasn't delved too terribly much into the minutiae of how Georgia's Department of Education determines AYP. The paper's webpage with school-by-school reports puts it this way:
"The Georgia Department of Education uses a complex formula to determine if schools were successful."
And for 99.9% of the population, the phrase "complex formula" is enough, as it is far more important to simply drop down to the individual school reports, click a few times and see if a particular school has a "Y" or "N" next to it, designating AYP as met or unmet.

But what does "complex formula" mean? Well, it's complex.

Still, with a bit of gazing at accompanying documentation here and a phone call here there, your humble blogger has learned the following:
  • Like other states, Georgia's elementary schools meet AYP at a much higher rate than middle or high schools;
  • One big reason for this is the size of the school;
  • Elementaries tend to be smaller, and, because of this, sub-groups such as "students with disabilities" (Special Education) tend to be too small to be statistically counted
  • Sub-groups large enough to be counted are given a "confidence interval" by statisticians, a number lower than the actual required Annual Measurable Objective (AMO). The AMO is the mandated percentage of students who must be "proficient" for a particular year. AMO figures vary from state to state, but No Child Left Behind dictates that all schools/states reach 100% proficiency by 2014;
  • E.g., if a state's "required" proficiency rate (AMO) is 59.5% for Math Grades 3-8 (as it was in Georgia this year), the actual required rate for a school to "pass" in a testing sub-group might be 50% or even lower, depending on the number of students in that sub-group who took the test;
  • In this, Georgia is just like New Mexico;
  • But in other ways, Georgia is nothing like New Mexico;
  • Georgia's "complex formula" for establishing AYP includes several other steps states like New Mexico do not employ;
  • A Georgia school not meeting AYP on first statistical run-through gets several other "chances" in addition to all the "confidence interval" business;
  • First, a "multi-year averaging" method is employed to see if the school/sub-group meets scores via that average. It is important to note that this averaging is so complicated even the Georgia AYP "Consolidated Accountability Workbook" doesn't get into it;
  • Second, like other states, Georgia uses a "Safe Harbor" provision that allows schools to "pass" if the percentage of students "failing" in a particular sub-group is reduced by 10% or more from the previous year. E.g., if 81% of the "students with disabilities" "failed" the Math test in 2008 at a particular school, that school would "pass" via Safe Harbor if only, say 68% of the Special Education students "failed" in 2009. Again, Safe Harbor is in place throughout the country;
  • Third, and this is where it gets weird, Georgia schools that pass in ALL categories EXCEPT "students with disabilities" get to apply an "interim federal flexibility" percentage. In slightly more simple English, this means schools falling into this situation (and there are many in Georgia as there all over the country) get to add a proscribed percentage to the original score for Special Education kids. The proscribed percentage for the 2009 test was 18%. In other words, Georgia's 2009 target for Grades 3-8 Math might have been 59.5%, but the figure for schools using this "interim federal flexibility" guidelines was only 41.5%. And that's tacked on to the lower figures statistically required via the whole "confidence interval" business;
  • Lastly, I called the Georgia State Department of Education's Accountability Office to get a better idea of what this "interim federal flexibility" was all about. Basically, Georgia wrote up a proposal to use this formula and the U.S. Department of Education agreed to it, with the provision that the program end in 2009;
  • Georgia is going to let the program end, and will not try to renew use of the "flexibility";
  • Here's why...
  • In 2010 Georgia will have an altogether different standardized test for students with disabilities.

IV: What Is To Be Done

For the 99.9% of New Mexicans who will peruse the August 3rd release of AYP reports from the Public Education Department (PED), the blizzard of bullets above mean less than nothing. For these folks, understandably, the idea that Georgia will have a different test for Special Education students just makes sense and is no big deal. For a very few others it's hard to explain to the masses how closely this concept mirrors movie statements like "It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people!" or "You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" Only with less overacting.

I guess my hope is that, for the .1% of us obsessed with how arcane rules determine educational policy and perception of policy, the above might be a bit of a springboard toward revising the travesty that is current NM PED policy regarding testing, in particular its scandalous policies toward sub-groups such as "students with disabilities".

Other states are doing it differently.

A cynic might call this "gaming the system". I'm a cynic, and... yeah it's gaming the system. Still, for purposes of changing how New Mexico does things, I'm willing to take off my cynic hat, and do whatever it takes to earnestly, sincerely correct some inarguably gross injustices and warped policies. Who's with me?

P.S.: The Georgia information (outside of a follow-up phone call) came from this report (caution: big .pdf). Those interested enough might want to also take a gander at other details in the report, including the laughable AMO increases called for in the tail-end years of the NCLB 2014 mandate. Funny, cynical and "gaming" at its finest.


ErinM said...

On a minor note, it is unlikely that 99.99% will peruse the AYP results (seeing as peruse means to read carefully).
Otherwise, Scot, thank you for another insightful, questioning look into the confusing testing we students are subjected to.

jscotkey said...

Good point, Erin. I really should explain the little sarcastic "jokes" better in my posts. Or perhaps dispense with them altogether.