One Way to Raise Test Scores: Get Rid of the Special Education Students

The easiest way to raise average test scores in a class or a school is to eliminate the ones who present problems: those requiring special education services, recent immigrants with little English ability and little education in their home country, and so on. If you eliminate the students who are often difficult to teach and who tend to have low scores, then you can look like a winner, because your average scores will rise — and those of your “competitors’ will fall. Without doing anything about our national problems.

(Ain’t educational competition grand?)

Judging by what the for-profit Tesseract/EAI company did in Baltimore back in the first half of the 1990’s, when they were awarded a contract to run seven elementary schools, it looks like they may have done just that. (But their scores STILL weren’t anything to brag about!).

Why do I bring this up? Because recently-departed Chancellor of DC Public Schools, Michelle Rhee, supposedly performed various miracles in one of those Tesseract schools, starting in 1992-1993 and going through SY 1994-5. The name of the school? Harlem Park.

See for yourself:

As you can see, the percentage of students eligible for Level 4 special education services in the two official comparison groups of regular public schools, grades 1-5,  stayed pretty constant during the entire 4-year experiment: somewhere between 6% and 8% of their students were identified as Level 4 special education.

Not so in the seven Tesseract schools, though. The percentage for the entire group of EAI schools went from 8% SPED to 2% SPED, which means that the proportion of students in those schools eligible for special education services dropped by three-fourths!!!

At Harlem Park, too, the proportion of students in special education during that time period dropped drastically – by 70%.

Did this weeding-out of Special Education students have anything to do with Chancellor Rhee’s alleged miracle? (remember: she claimed on her official resume that she

“[t]aught in Harlem Park Community School, one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in Baltimore City, effecting significant measurable gains in student achievement. Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90% of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.“) [emphasis added by GFB]

Stay tuned for more results.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I look forward to more on this. I thought Rhee had subtly stopped mentioning her claim of Baltimore miracles, but I see she repeated it in December of 2010 in the Washingtonian:

    In my second year of teaching, we took them from the bottom to the top on academics, and what I learned from that experience was these kids were getting screwed because people wanted to blame their low achievement levels on the single-parent households and on the poverty in the community. In that two-year period, none of those things changed. Their parents didn’t change.


  2. I have been waiting for someone to dig on this, please keep digging and then post nationally.


  3. What did Rhee and her co-teachers actually do in the classroom that led to the jump from 13th to 90th? What level or percentile were the students on after only one year? Did they document what they did as they went along? Was it different from what other teachers were doing in classes of the same grades? If so, how? Did they get that kind of jump over a period of years with other classes of students? Did the school notice and get all the teachers to teach that way? Why didn’t that become the new way for all teachers to teach if it was really that successful? Why didn’t it lead Rhee to become a teacher trainer instead of a teacher recruiter?
    How much of the jump can be attributed to what Rhee, as an individual, did since it was a team effort?


    • You are assuming that what Rhee says is accurate. Look at my blog for today and judge for yourself. It’s a puzzle.


  4. Guy didn’t you do a previous post about charters in DC that showed their special needs population is much lower than DCPS as well?


  5. Did the numbers drop because the kids were moved out of the special ed. catagory due to improvement acaemically or because the kids were removed from the school in some way? Can we verify what happened to the sped kids they started out with?


    • There is very little that we can verify, other than the results publicly posted by the UMBC study. Michelle Rhee has conveniently lost all of her records from this supposedly miraculous year; her principal also has no records, and the City of Baltimore’s public school system says that they can’t find any of the records either.


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