Tuesday, August 04, 2009

AYP NM: We're Not Alone and We Can Do Something

It's a different State, but the madness is basically the same.
Here's the "100% by 2014" curve for Arizona
(note the ridiculous giant leaps expected shortly)

One thing I've noticed in doing fairly intense education research the last year or so is that schools are the opposite of pizza. Just about everybody thinks the best pizza in the world is the place down the street. Conversely, just about everybody is also convinced their own school district is most probably the most awful in the universe.

Take the reaction to Standardized Testing. As scores come in around the country, newspaper large and small report the findings. Findings that often seem to confirm the local school district is deficient. Commenters to those online stories rant and declaim about how awful the local district is. Here are a few examples (each word a separate, though highly similar link).

Closer to home, the Santa Fe New Mexican has a solid little story this morning about the New Mexico scores, with special attention paid to the little education pizza joint down the street, Santa Fe Public Schools. The news is bad. The comments are vehement, venomous and just about violent. Unprecedented failure. Local and state heads must roll. Dogs and cats living together.

What are those of us in the apparent downward spiraling cesspool of public education to do? Looking more closely at the scores, it's apparent the overall percentage of those achieving "proficiency" is going up. Small increases to be sure, but up. Nevertheless, these improvements are overwhelmed by the vagaries of subgroup scoring, and the continued perception that our local schools are failing in ways unmatched by schools anywhere else.

Two asides. One: Regular readers of this little blog probably saw the word "subgroup" above and are now wincing as it must surely mean Scot will go into one of his 50,000 word deconstructions of subgroup scoring. Not this time....those wanting to read such density are free to look through earlier posts (be sure to bring plenty of caffeine and No-Doz). Two: This local "sky is falling" perception is not limited to the United States. Despite what Americans might think, citizens of other countries are convinced their own school systems suck, too. I visited Germany this past June and had more than one conversation with parents aghast at German public school practices and test results.

So getting back to the question: what do we do now?

First, we need to better understand that we (parents, children, teachers) are not alone, both across the nation and within our own districts. I've touched on the national/international front, but here are three quick facts of solidarity locally:
  • No Albuquerque Public School middle school made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress)
  • Only one high school made AYP
  • And perhaps most importantly, no APS school (elementary or otherwise) with statistically relevant numbers of both "Students With Disabilities" and "English Language Learners" made AYP. Zero.
As has been said here ad nauseum, infinitum and a whole hell of a lot of times, we must change the way "Students With Disabilities" and "English Language Learners" are tested and scored. Again, we are not alone in thinking this. Newspaper stories/editorials across the country bring up the same point. But instead of simply yelling about the misguided attempt to be "fair" to these populations by making them test at the same exact level of proficiency despite the fact that they have specially designed educational plans developed in response to noted, catalogued and meticulously recorded educational challenges of language, etc., we need to do something about it.

The system of "accommodations" to adapt the standard test to these special needs is a joke. The continued hurtful embarrassment to these kids, their parents and teachers by forcing them to take educationally inappropriate tests is a travesty.

And we can do something about it. States like Georgia have successfully petitioned the U.S. Department of Education to allow for alterations not only in scoring for these populations, but to have an altogether different test for Special Education kids. New Mexico needs to do the same. We need to quickly design fair and useful assessments that can more truly determine individual student progress in these populations, and stop this charade of "fairness".

As I have suggested before, I just wish politicians who crow so proudly about how No Child Left Behind is designed to help ALL children could spend a few hours in the testing room for some Special Education kids in New Mexico. That would surely speed up the process of testing reform exponentially.

Having addressed the sham "fairness" of testing these subgroups, we in New Mexico also need to lead the way in developing a new framework for improvement in student proficiency. As anyone who actually works in education (and frankly, anybody in any field who has actually looked into it at all) can tell you, the infamous 100% by the 2013-2014 school year proficiency curve chart is perhaps the most ludicrous, silliest ideas in human history.

Each state has been "free" to develop their own chart, but No Child Left Behind mandates that each silly little chart (Arizona is linked above) end up with 100% by 2013-2014. Everybody...EVERYBODY thinks this is stupid. NOBODY argues that the chart or expectation has any scintilla of reality in it. EVERYBODY is waiting for a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind to recast this silly little chart in more realistic terms.

But it's now 2009, and there's been no reauthorization of NCLB, and that stupid, silly chart is still with us.

The New Mexico Public Education Department needs to go from its current role as passive, reactive whipping boy to taking a proactive, innovative approach to gauging student improvement. We should not wait for the Federal Government to change silly charts, but forge our own and lead the Federal Government in developing realistic standards of progress.

As I mentioned above EVERYBODY pretty much agrees on this. Yet nothing is being done. I can only think this is due to the perception that we are alone in our educational suckiness. We're not. Stop cowering, New Mexico. Amid a bunch of really bad numbers..and the numbers, such as that on graduation, are really bad, are overall numbers of statistical improvement.

For example, lost in a sea of bad news, AYP failure and sky is falling, PED Secretary Veronica Garcia noted this yesterday:
Over the last five years, the percent of students proficient or above has increased 11% overall in Math, 5% overall in Reading, and 6% overall in Science.
Are these gains enough...probably not. Could they be better...yes. Still, they are gains, but gains never noticed in that sea of bad news. As has been noted by EVERYBODY, NCLB is currently designed, carefully designed, to perpetuate and exacerbate the public perception that there local school district is a disaster, and that things MUST be better elsewhere. Increasing Math proficiency by 11% in five years is generally impressive. How many "common decent New Mexicans" are going to know/remember that little statistic?

In August 2009, only five years away from the insane dream world of "100% by 2014", there is a vacuum of educational leadership at the state level to take on the federal insanity. This needs to change. Period.

I'll close with a personal note. This year my little school "failed" in the areas of "Students with Disabilities" (both Reading and Math) and "English Language Learners" (in Reading). We've failed for pretty much the same reason for a few years now, and have reached the "failing school" status of "Restructuring-1". Whatever the Hell that is.

Near as we can tell, "Restructuring-1" means we have to attend a bunch of meetings on "continuous improvement" (among other things), and express sentiments like "by continuously improving we can maximize our value-added educational opportunities and create an environment for universal student success". There are a great number of professionally depressing aspects to No Child Left Behind, great injustices as noted above. For me, personally, nothing tops the professionally enervating ennui of looking forward to a school year full of meetings on "continuous improvement".

I'm hoping my staff and I can overcome the ennui, and use the anger created by these stupid meetings to effect change both at my school and throughout the system. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Okay, maybe on this one, I'm the only one. We'll find out. This School Year of 2009-2010 is the year to really find out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article ! I am also a teacher at an ABQ high school. No Child Gets Ahead is ruining our schools. The part in your article in which you pointed out that the gov't proclaims public education to be a disaster, then enacted NCLB to perpetuate this idea, thus they can turn around and say "aHA! We told you so!" is so true.

Real teachers and real students, the one who truly care and are doing well, know better. Thanks for the article.