Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Good Is A Perception - Tests Are A Reality

Let me begin this Blog entry by stating that I do not feel that tests cores alone are sufficient and appropriate measures of the value of a school. There are many additional factors that influence the overall quality of any school. However, this Blog post will reflect on one such metric used by the state and reported by the local media, and use it as a platform for discussion.

The Albany Times Union just reported on the release of the most recent data evolving from the annual state mandated assessments of learners. Interestingly, the headline proclaimed, "Rules net 'good' schools." 

As superintendent of a school district that had been acknowledged as a school that qualified for the burdensome and embarrassing label of a SINI school prior to my arrival (School In Need of Improvement) I found it alarming that the newspaper now appears disturbed that school districts perceived as "good" have schools within their systems that display under performing levels of achievement. It's as if the media's concern about performance levels is now heightened because the reach of the state's ability to designate schools for poor test scores has extended into the suburbs.

The State Department of Education presented a list that showed 1,325 of the 4,685 public schools across the Empire State are now considered Schools In Need of Improvement - SINI schools. Despite the inclusion of more affluent suburban schools perceived and assumed as "good" according to the newspaper, Green Island Union Free School District is not on the list of under performing schools that now includes over one fourth of all of the schools in the state.

Although I find it a bit disconcerting that there is something implicit in the headline "New rules net 'good' schools," which infers that perhaps the new rules are to blame for the incongruous juxtaposition of 'good schools' and a negative designation by the state department of education. It sounds like the heresy that leaves good schools exposed on a list of shame. The newspaper lists several schools in the capital district region - many from suburban districts that had been, up until now, immune from the fears and anxieties that constantly shadow the less affluent and financially challenged schools.

Nearly all of the area schools identified in the news article were cited for deficient scores among subgroups comprising the general population of learners. It means at least one subgroup (i.e. gender, special education learners, race,...) failed to meet adequate yearly progress levels. While that may statistically be less significant than if the entire learner population was under performing, it does reveal the underbelly of a school that might otherwise have been free of the scar in the past. Not that long ago, schools were usually assessed by the general public on the bottom line of percentage of high school graduates, percentage of graduates attending college, scores on Regents exams and other statewide tests. In schools that have small numbers of racial minorities, special needs learners, or economically disadvantaged learners (as measured by the percentage of children eligible for the federally sponsored free and reduced meal program) it was possible for these low numbers in subgroups to be statistically overwhelmed and obscured by the sheer numbers of white, non-special needs, and economically advantaged learners in the school who were meeting academic expectations.

Now however, a school is evaluated on all of its component parts and subsequently held accountable for all learners. So, no matter how well the largest group of learners perform on the tests, the school may not escape the clutches of the state department of education if a single identified group falls short of making appropriate rates of progress. For example, even if 95% of the learner population reach a perfect score on the state test the school may still be considered a School In Need of Improvement as long as a single group (i.e. racial minorities) representing 5% of the learners does not meet adequate standards of performance. And that's how it should be. I think that there have been districts throughout the country that overlooked the achievement gap among learners as long as the overall scores of the school were acceptable. There are legions of 'good' schools born when the success of the majority masked the deficiencies of the minority.

We can't tolerate any child left behind, and we certainly can't exclude an identifiable group of learners from moving forward. I believe all children are entitled to a free and equal education, with equal defined in the form of opportunity. We can't guarantee that everyone will achieve at the same level, but we should assure everyone of the opportunities and conditions that promote success. If we continually experience insufficient levels of achievement among the economically disadvantaged, the special needs learners, or racial minorities our society will eventually suffer from the accumulated deficit emerging from disparity and inequity. 

The Heatly instructional team pursued a goal of reducing the deficit among subgroups within the learner population and the data from the most recent state tests indicates evidence of progress as the performance between males and females narrowed, as did the gap between those eligible for free/reduced lunch and those not eligible. Special needs learners also achieved at higher rates of success. The benefit of this focus on specific subgroups is that the same techniques and practices designed and delivered to improve the performance of the subgroup usually precipitates an increase in the instructional skills of the teacher for all learners.

No comments:

Post a Comment