Part Two: Cheating in DCPS

DC Education Reform Ten Years After, 

Part 2: Test Cheats

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. 

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average US school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons: 

·      in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

·      test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time; 

·      after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

·      after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven. 

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.  

Cheating scandals

From 2007 to 2009 rumors percolated of an extraordinary level of wrong-to-right erasures on the test answer sheets at many DCPS schools. “Erasure analysis” is one among several “red flag” indicators that testing contractors calculate to monitor cheating. The testing companies take no responsibility for investigating suspected test cheating, however; that is the customer’s, the local or state education agency. 

In her autobiographical account of her time as DCPS Chancellor, Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee), wrote (p. 197)

“For the first time in the history of DCPS, we brought in an outside expert to examine and audit our system. Caveon Test Security – the leading expert in the field at the time – assessed our tests, results, and security measures. Their investigators interviewed teachers, principals, and administrators.

“Caveon found no evidence of systematic cheating. None.”

Caveon, however, had not looked for “systematic” cheating. All they did was interview a few people at several schools where the statistical anomalies were more extraordinary than at others. As none of those individuals would admit to knowingly cheating, Caveon branded all their excuses as “plausible” explanations. That’s it; that is all that Caveon did. But, Caveon’s statement that they found no evidence of “widespread” cheating—despite not having looked for it—would be frequently invoked by DCPS leaders over the next several years.[1]

Incidentally, prior to the revelation of its infamous decades-long, systematic test cheating, the Atlanta Public Schools had similarly retained Caveon Test Security and was, likewise, granted a clean bill of health. Only later did the Georgia state attorney general swoop in and reveal the truth. 

In its defense, Caveon would note that several cheating prevention measures it had recommended to DCPS were never adopted.[2] None of the cheating prevention measures that I recommended were adopted, either.

The single most effective means for reducing in-classroom cheating would have been to rotate teachers on test days so that no teacher administered a test to his or her own students. It would not have been that difficult to randomly assign teachers to different classrooms on test days.

The single most effective means for reducing school administratorcheating would have been to rotate test administrators on test days so that none managed the test materials for their own schools. The visiting test administrators would have been responsible for keeping test materials away from the school until test day, distributing sealed test booklets to the rotated teachers on test day, and for collecting re-sealed test booklets at the end of testing and immediately removing them from the school. 

Instead of implementing these, or a number of other feasible and effective test security measures, DCPS leaders increased the number of test proctors, assigning each of a few dozen or so central office staff a school to monitor. Those proctors could not reasonably manage the volume of oversight required. A single DC test administration could encompass a hundred schools and a thousand classrooms.

Investigations

So, what effort, if any, did DCPS make to counter test cheating? They hired me, but then rejected all my suggestions for increasing security. Also, they established a telephone tip line. Anyone who suspected cheating could report it, even anonymously, and, allegedly, their tip would be investigated. 

Some forms of cheating are best investigated through interviews. Probably the most frequent forms of cheating at DCPS—teachers helping students during test administrations and school administrators looking at test forms prior to administration—leave no statistical residue. Eyewitness testimony is the only type of legal evidence available in such cases, but it is not just inconsistent, it may be socially destructive. 

I remember two investigations best: one occurred in a relatively well-to-do neighborhood with well-educated parents active in school affairs; the other in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Superficially, the cases were similar—an individual teacher was accused of helping his or her own students with answers during test administrations. Making a case against either elementary school teacher required sworn testimony from eyewitnesses, that is, students—eight-to-ten-year olds. 

My investigations, then, consisted of calling children into the principal’s office one-by-one to be questioned about their teacher’s behavior. We couldn’t hide the reason we were asking the questions. And, even though each student agreed not to tell others what had occurred in their visit to the principal’s office, we knew we had only one shot at an uncorrupted jury pool. 

Though the accusations against the two teachers were similar and the cases against them equally strong, the outcomes could not have been more different. In the high-poverty neighborhood, the students seemed suspicious and said little; none would implicate the teacher, whom they all seemed to like. 

In the more prosperous neighborhood, students were more outgoing, freely divulging what they had witnessed. The students had discussed the alleged coaching with their parents who, in turn, urged them to tell investigators what they knew. During his turn in the principal’s office, the accused teacher denied any wrongdoing. I wrote up each interview, then requested that each student read and sign. 

Thankfully, that accused teacher made a deal and left the school system a few weeks later. Had he not, we would have required the presence in court of the eight-to-ten-year olds to testify under oath against their former teacher, who taught multi-grade classes. Had that prosecution not succeeded, the eyewitness students could have been routinely assigned to his classroom the following school year.

My conclusion? Only in certain schools is the successful prosecution of a cheating teacher through eyewitness testimony even possible. But, even where possible, it consumes inordinate amounts of time and, otherwise, comes at a high price, turning young innocents against authority figures they naturally trusted. 

Cheating blueprints

Arguably the most widespread and persistent testing malfeasance in DCPS received little attention from the press. Moreover, it was directly propagated by District leaders, who published test blueprints on the web. Put simply, test “blueprints” are lists of the curricular standards (e.g., “student shall correctly add two-digit numbers”) and the number of test items included in an upcoming test related to each standard. DC had been advance publishing its blueprints for years.

I argued that the way DC did it was unethical. The head of the Division of Data & Accountability, Erin McGoldrick, however, defended the practice, claimed it was common, and cited its existence in the state of California as precedent. The next time she and I met for a conference call with one of DCPS’s test providers, Discover Education, I asked their sales agent how many of their hundreds of other customers advance-published blueprints. His answer: none.

In the state of California, the location of McGoldrick’s only prior professional experience, blueprints were, indeed, published in advance of test administrations. But their tests were longer than DC’s and all standards were tested. Publication of California’s blueprints served more to remind the populace what the standards were in advance of each test administration. Occasionally, a standard considered to be of unusual importance might be assigned a greater number of test items than the average, and the California blueprints signaled that emphasis. 

In Washington, DC, the tests used in judging teacher performance were shorter, covering only some of each year’s standards. So, DC’s blueprints showed everyone well in advance of the test dates exactly which standards would be tested and which would not. For each teacher, this posed an ethical dilemma: should they “narrow the curriculum” by teaching only that content they knew would be tested? Or, should they do the right thing and teach all the standards, as they were legally and ethically bound to, even though it meant spending less time on the to-be-tested content? It’s quite a conundrum when one risks punishment for behaving ethically.

Monthly meetings convened to discuss issues with the districtwide testing program, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS)—administered to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. All public schools, both DCPS and charters, administered those tests. At one of these regular meetings, two representatives from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) announced plans to repair the broken blueprint process.[3]

The State Office employees argued thoughtfully and reasonably that it was professionally unethical to advance publish DC test blueprints. Moreover, they had surveyed other US jurisdictions in an effort to find others that followed DC’s practice and found none. I was the highest-ranking DCPS employee at the meeting and I expressed my support, congratulating them for doing the right thing. I assumed that their decision was final.

I mentioned the decision to McGoldrick, who expressed surprise and speculation that it might have not been made at the highest level in the organizational hierarchy. Wasting no time, she met with other DCPS senior managers and the proposed change was forthwith shelved. In that, and other ways, the DCPS tail wagged the OSSE dog. 

* * *

It may be too easy to finger ethical deficits for the recalcitrant attitude toward test security of the Rhee-Henderson era ed reformers. The columnist Peter Greene insists that knowledge deficits among self-appointed education reformers also matter: 

“… the reformistan bubble … has been built from Day One without any actual educators inside it. Instead, the bubble is populated by rich people, people who want rich people’s money, people who think they have great ideas about education, and even people who sincerely want to make education better. The bubble does not include people who can turn to an Arne Duncan or a Betsy DeVos or a Bill Gates and say, ‘Based on my years of experience in a classroom, I’d have to say that idea is ridiculous bullshit.’”

“There are a tiny handful of people within the bubble who will occasionally act as bullshit detectors, but they are not enough. The ed reform movement has gathered power and money and set up a parallel education system even as it has managed to capture leadership roles within public education, but the ed reform movement still lacks what it has always lacked–actual teachers and experienced educators who know what the hell they’re talking about.”

In my twenties, I worked for several years in the research department of a state education agency. My primary political lesson from that experience, consistently reinforced subsequently, is that most education bureaucrats tell the public that the system they manage works just fine, no matter what the reality. They can get away with this because they control most of the evidence and can suppress it or spin it to their advantage.

In this proclivity, the DCPS central office leaders of the Rhee-Henderson era proved themselves to be no different than the traditional public-school educators they so casually demonized. 

US school systems are structured to be opaque and, it seems, both educators and testing contractors like it that way. For their part, and contrary to their rhetoric, Rhee, Henderson, and McGoldrick passed on many opportunities to make their system more transparent and accountable.

Education policy will not improve until control of the evidence is ceded to genuinely independent third parties, hired neither by the public education establishment nor by the education reform club.

The author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of Erich Martel and Mary Levy.

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Citation:  Phelps, R. P. (2020, September). Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, Part 2: Test Cheats. Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials. https://nonpartisaneducation.org/Review/Testimonials/v16n3.htm


[1] A perusal of Caveon’s website clarifies that their mission is to help their clients–state and local education departments–not get caught. Sometimes this means not cheating in the first place; other times it might mean something else. One might argue that, ironically, Caveon could be helping its clients to cheat in more sophisticated ways and cover their tracks better.

[2] Among them: test booklets should be sealed until the students open them and resealed by the students immediately after; and students should be assigned seats on test day and a seating chart submitted to test coordinators (necessary for verifying cluster patterns in student responses that would suggest answer copying).

[3] Yes, for those new to the area, the District of Columbia has an Office of the “State” Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Its domain of relationships includes not just the regular public schools (i.e., DCPS), but also other public schools (i.e., charters) and private schools. Practically, it primarily serves as a conduit for funneling money from a menagerie of federal education-related grant and aid programs

What did Education Reform in DC Actually Mean?

Short answer: nothing that would actually help students or teachers. But it’s made for well-padded resumes for a handful of insiders.

This is an important review, by the then-director of assessment. His criticisms echo the points that I have been making along with Mary Levy, Erich Martel, Adell Cothorne, and many others.

Nonpartisan Education Review / Testimonials

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Looking Back on DC Education Reform 10 Years After, 

Part 1: The Grand Tour

Richard P Phelps

Ten years ago, I worked as the Director of Assessments for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as Chancellor. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary

My primary task was to design an expansion of that testing program that served the IMPACT teacher evaluation system to include all core subjects and all grade levels. Despite its fame (or infamy), the test score aspect of the IMPACT program affected only 13% of teachers, those teaching either reading or math in grades four through eight. Only those subjects and grade levels included the requisite pre- and post-tests required for teacher “value added” measurements (VAM). Not included were most subjects (e.g., science, social studies, art, music, physical education), grades kindergarten to two, and high school.

Chancellor Rhee wanted many more teachers included. So, I designed a system that would cover more than half the DCPS teacher force, from kindergarten through high school. You haven’t heard about it because it never happened. The newly elected Vincent Gray had promised during his mayoral campaign to reduce the amount of testing; the proposed expansion would have increased it fourfold.

VAM affected teachers’ jobs. A low value-added score could lead to termination; a high score, to promotion and a cash bonus. VAM as it was then structured was obviously, glaringly flawed,[1] as anyone with a strong background in educational testing could have seen. Unfortunately, among the many new central office hires from the elite of ed reform circles, none had such a background.

Before posting a request for proposals from commercial test developers for the testing expansion plan, I was instructed to survey two groups of stakeholders—central office managers and school-level teachers and administrators.

Not surprisingly, some of the central office managers consulted requested additions or changes to the proposed testing program where they thought it would benefit their domain of responsibility. The net effect on school-level personnel would have been to add to their administrative burden. Nonetheless, all requests from central office managers would be honored. 

The Grand Tour

At about the same time, over several weeks of the late Spring and early Summer of 2010, along with a bright summer intern, I visited a dozen DCPS schools. The alleged purpose was to collect feedback on the design of the expanded testing program. I enjoyed these meetings. They were informative, animated, and very well attended. School staff appreciated the apparent opportunity to contribute to policy decisions and tried to make the most of it.

Each school greeted us with a full complement of faculty and staff on their days off, numbering a several dozen educators at some venues. They believed what we had told them: that we were in the process of redesigning the DCPS assessment program and were genuinely interested in their suggestions for how best to do it. 

At no venue did we encounter stand-pat knee-jerk rejection of education reform efforts. Some educators were avowed advocates for the Rhee administration’s reform policies, but most were basically dedicated educators determined to do what was best for their community within the current context. 

The Grand Tour was insightful, too. I learned for the first time of certain aspects of DCPS’s assessment system that were essential to consider in its proper design, aspects of which the higher-ups in the DCPS Central Office either were not aware or did not consider relevant. 

The group of visited schools represented DCPS as a whole in appropriate proportions geographically, ethnically, and by education level (i.e., primary, middle, and high). Within those parameters, however, only schools with “friendly” administrations were chosen. That is, we only visited schools with principals and staff openly supportive of the Rhee-Henderson agenda. 

But even they desired changes to the testing program, whether or not it was expanded. Their suggestions covered both the annual districtwide DC-CAS (or “comprehensive” assessment system), on which the teacher evaluation system was based, and the DC-BAS (or “benchmarking” assessment system), a series of four annual “no-stakes” interim tests unique to DCPS, ostensibly offered to help prepare students and teachers for the consequential-for-some-school-staff DC-CAS.[2]

At each staff meeting I asked for a show of hands on several issues of interest that I thought were actionable. Some suggestions for program changes received close to unanimous support. Allow me to describe several.

1. Move DC-CAS test administration later in the school year. Many citizens may have logically assumed that the IMPACT teacher evaluation numbers were calculated from a standard pre-post test schedule, testing a teacher’s students at the beginning of their academic year together and then again at the end. In 2010, however, the DC-CAS was administered in March, three months before school year end. Moreover, that single administration of the test served as both pre- and post-test, posttest for the current school year and pretest for the following school year. Thus, before a teacher even met their new students in late August or early September, almost half of the year for which teachers were judged had already transpired—the three months in the Spring spent with the previous year’s teacher and almost three months of summer vacation. 

School staff recommended pushing DC-CAS administration to later in the school year. Furthermore, they advocated a genuine pre-post-test administration schedule—pre-test the students in late August–early September and post-test them in late-May–early June—to cover a teacher’s actual span of time with the students.

This suggestion was rejected because the test development firm with the DC-CAS contract required three months to score some portions of the test in time for the IMPACT teacher ratings scheduled for early July delivery, before the start of the new school year. Some small number of teachers would be terminated based on their IMPACT scores, so management demanded those scores be available before preparations for the new school year began.[3] The tail wagged the dog.

2. Add some stakes to the DC-CAS in the upper grades. Because DC-CAS test scores portended consequences for teachers but none for students, some students expended little effort on the test. Indeed, extensive research on “no-stakes” (for students) tests reveal that motivation and effort vary by a range of factors including gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, the weather, and age. Generally, the older the student, the lower the test-taking effort. This disadvantaged some teachers in the IMPACT ratings for circumstances beyond their control: unlucky student demographics. 

Central office management rejected this suggestion to add even modest stakes to the upper grades’ DC-CAS; no reason given. 

3. Move one of the DC-BAS tests to year end. If management rejected the suggestion to move DC-CAS test administration to the end of the school year, school staff suggested scheduling one of the no-stakes DC-BAS benchmarking tests for late May–early June. As it was, the schedule squeezed all four benchmarking test administrations between early September and mid-February. Moving just one of them to the end of the year would give the following year’s teachers a more recent reading (by more than three months) of their new students’ academic levels and needs.

Central Office management rejected this suggestion probably because the real purpose of the DC-BAS was not to help teachers understand their students’ academic levels and needs, as the following will explain.

4. Change DC-BAS tests so they cover recently taught content. Many DC citizens probably assumed that, like most tests, the DC-BAS interim tests covered recently taught content, such as that covered since the previous test administration. Not so in 2010. The first annual DC-BAS was administered in early September, just after the year’s courses commenced. Moreover, it covered the same content domain—that for the entirety of the school year—as each of the next three DC-BAS tests. 

School staff proposed changing the full-year “comprehensive” content coverage of each DC-BAS test to partial-year “cumulative” coverage, so students would only be tested on what they had been taught prior to each test administration.

This suggestion, too, was rejected. Testing the same full-year comprehensive content domain produced a predictable, flattering score rise. With each DC-BAS test administration, students recognized more of the content, because they had just been exposed to more of it, so average scores predictably rose. With test scores always rising, it looked like student achievement improved steadily each year. Achieving this contrived score increase required testing students on some material to which they had not yet been exposed, both a violation of professional testing standards and a poor method for instilling student confidence. (Of course, it was also less expensive to administer essentially the same test four times a year than to develop four genuinely different tests.)

5. Synchronize the sequencing of curricular content across the District. DCPS management rhetoric circa 2010 attributed classroom-level benefits to the testing program. Teachers would know more about their students’ levels and needs and could also learn from each other. Yet, the only student test results teachers received at the beginning of each school year was half-a-year old, and most of the information they received over the course of four DC-BAS test administrations was based on not-yet-taught content.

As for cross-district teacher cooperation, unfortunately there was no cross-District coordination of common curricular sequences. Each teacher paced their subject matter however they wished and varied topical emphases according to their own personal preference.

It took DCPS’s Chief Academic Officer, Carey Wright, and her chief of staff, Dan Gordon, less than a minute to reject the suggestion to standardize topical sequencing across schools so that teachers could consult with one another in real time. Tallying up the votes: several hundred school-level District educators favored the proposal, two of Rhee’s trusted lieutenants opposed it. It lost.

6. Offer and require a keyboarding course in the early grades. DCPS was planning to convert all its testing from paper-and-pencil mode to computer delivery within a few years. Yet, keyboarding courses were rare in the early grades. Obviously, without systemwide keyboarding training in computer use some students would be at a disadvantage in computer testing.

Suggestion rejected.

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics. 

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’ Central Office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of Data and Accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon. 

Four central office staff outvoted several-hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior Central Office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform. 

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid. 

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

Unfortunately, in the United States what is commonly showcased as education reform is neither a civic enterprise nor a popular movement. Neither parents, the public, nor school-level educators have any direct influence. Rather, at the national level, US education reform is an elite, private club—a small group of tightly-connected politicos and academicsa mutual admiration society dedicated to the career advancement, political influence, and financial benefit of its members, supported by a gaggle of wealthy foundations (e.g., Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace, Hewlett, Smith-Richardson). 

For over a decade, The Ed Reform Club exploited DC for its own benefit. Local elite formed the DC Public Education Fund (DCPEF) to sponsor education projects, such as IMPACT, which they deemed worthy. In the negotiations between the Washington Teachers’ Union and DCPS concluded in 2010, DCPEF arranged a 3 year grant of $64.5M from the Arnold, Broad, Robertson and Walton Foundations to fund a 5-year retroactive teacher pay raise in return for contract language allowing teacher excessing tied to IMPACT, which Rhee promised would lead to annual student test score increases by 2012. Projected goals were not metfoundation support continued nonetheless.

Michelle Johnson (nee Rhee) now chairs the board of a charter school chain in California and occasionally collects $30,000+ in speaker fees but, otherwise, seems to have deliberately withdrawn from the limelight. Despite contributing her own additional scandalsafter she assumed the DCPS Chancellorship, Kaya Henderson ascended to great fame and glory with a “distinguished professorship” at Georgetown; honorary degrees from Georgetown and Catholic Universities; gigs with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Broad Leadership Academy, and Teach for All; and board memberships with The Aspen Institute, The College Board, Robin Hood NYC, and Teach For America. Carey Wright is now state superintendent in Mississippi. Dan Gordon runs a 30-person consulting firm, Education Counsel that strategically partners with major players in US education policy. The manager of the IMPACT teacher evaluation program, Jason Kamras, now works as Superintendent of the Richmond, VA public schools. 

Arguably the person most directly responsible for the recurring assessment system fiascos of the Rhee-Henderson years, then Chief of Data and Accountability Erin McGoldrick, now specializes in “data innovation” as partner and chief operating officer at an education management consulting firm. Her firm, Kitamba, strategically partners with its own panoply of major players in US education policy. Its list of recent clients includes the DC Public Charter School Board and DCPS.

If the ambitious DC central office folk who gaudily declared themselves leading education reformers were not really, who were the genuine education reformers during the Rhee-Henderson decade of massive upheaval and per-student expenditures three times those in the state of Utah? They were the school principals and staff whose practical suggestions were ignored by central office glitterati. They were whistleblowers like history teacher Erich Martel who had documented DCPS’ student records’ manipulation and phony graduation rates years before the Washington Post’s celebrated investigation of Ballou High School, and was demoted and then “excessed” by Henderson. Or, school principal Adell Cothorne, who spilled the beans on test answer sheet “erasure parties” at Noyes Education Campus and lost her job under Rhee. 

Real reformers with “skin in the game” can’t play it safe.

The author appreciates the helpful comments of Mary Levy and Erich Martel in researching this article. 

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What Do the Latest NAEP Results Tell Us About Education “Reform” in Washington, DC?

The usual gang of supporters of bipartisan education “reform” never tire of telling the world how wonderful education ‘reform’ has been in Washington, DC, what with the proliferation of charter schools, Congressional support for vouchers, a seriously handicapped teachers’ union, tremendous churn of teaching and administrative staff, tons of consultants, and direct mayoral control.

I’ve been among those saying that the results are NOT so wonderful. I have documented how virtually none of the promises came true that Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson made about 8 years ago. They promised that the improvements in test scores, graduation rates and much more would go through the roof, but in fact, almost none of that came to pass. The recent scandals about truancy, absenteeism, phoney grades and illegitimate graduation rates have shown that much of their supposed successes have been purely fraudulent.

In addition, I showed recently that in fact, progress for a number of DC’s subgroups (blacks, whites, and Hispanics) on the NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and math tests are further evidence of failure, since improvement rates per year BEFORE mayoral control cemented the rule of our ‘reformista’ Chancellors wee BETTER THAN they were AFTERWARDS.

I was asked by one of the members of DC’s now-powerless board of education to analyze changes over time for ALL of DC’s students as a group (not subdivided in any way) to compare pre- and post-‘reform’.

I made my own graphs using the data on the NAEP Data Explorer page, being careful to use the same vertical scale in each case, and starting at the lowest point, or nadir, of DC’s NAEP scores back in the 1990s. I asked Excel to calculate and draw the line of best fit for the data points. In each case, that ‘trend-line’ of linear correlation fit the data extraordinarily well. In fact, the R-values of linear correlation went from a low of 94% to a high of 99%. I didn’t use the graphs that the NAEP Data Explorer page provided, because they changed the vertical scale from situation to situation – so a rise of, say, 10 points over 20 years would look just about the same as a rise of, say, 60 points over 20 years. And they aren’t! So my vertical (y-axis scale) is 200 points in each case.

I also marked on the graphs where the dividing line was between the time when we had an elected school board (abolished in 2007) and the present, when we have direct mayoral control with essentially no checks or balances on his or her power.

So here are the graphs:

4th grade math, ANSS, all dc, 1996-20174th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-20178th grade math, ANSS, all DC, 1996-20178th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-2017

So do you see any miracles?

Me neither.

So what does all of this that mean?

  1. You need a good magnifying glass to see any significant differences in progress on the NAEP test scores for ‘all students’ in Washington, DC when comparing the two eras. The slopes of the dashed lines of best fit are essentially identical on the two sides of the purple line.
  2. Since the proportion of white inhabitants of DC and of students in DC’s publicly-funded schools have both increased markedly in the past 10 years, and the proportion of black residents and black students have decreased markedly, and this has skewed the graph in a positive direction after 2007.* That means that this data, and these graphs, are actually making the overall situation look more favorable to the reformistas.
  3. Anybody pretending that there are huge increases in national test scores after the reformistas took over education in DC, is blowing smoke in your eyes.

===========================

*Why? When you remove low-scorers and add high-scorers (on anything) to a group, the overall average score will go up.

Here is a sports example: A football coach has been given a roster consisting of these players:

  • twenty big, strong, and bulky linesmen and backs and so on. Let’s pretend their average weight is 280 pounds.
  • twenty relatively small, but very fit, place-kickers (actually, they are soccer players looking for a fall sport) who weigh an average of 180 pounds each.

The team’s average weight is exactly 230 pounds (That’s (20*280 + 20*180) / 40) .

At noon,  the coach realizes there is no need for so many place-kickers, and she cuts 15 of the placekickers, leaving five of them. Their papers say that each one in fact weighs 180 pounds.

NOTHING ELSE CHANGES. In particular, none of the players gain or lose any weight during these fifteen minutes that the coach is making these changes.

At a quarter past noon, the average weight of the team has now increased markedly. It is now (20*280 + 5*180) / 25, or 260 pounds – it has gone up by 30 pounds simply by cutting 17 of its least-heavy players.

Is that coach a genius, or what, at bulking up her team?

Actually, although it’s not the direct result of what any Chancellor has done, this situation is somewhat similar to what’s happening in DC. Remember that white students in DC are the highest-scoring group of white students anywhere in the nation, because their parents overwhelmingly have graduate or professional degrees; DC’s white working class left town decades ago. So when relatively low-scoring African-American students (from working-class families) move to PG County, and white students and their relatively-highly-educated families move into DC from wherever, the averages will increase much as they did in my example with the imaginary football team.

Progress (or Not) for DC’s 8th Graders on the Math NAEP?

8th grade naep math, DC, w + H + B

Here we have the average scale scores on the math NAEP for 8th grade students in Washington, DC.* You will notice that we don’t have data for 8th grade white students in DC in math for the years 2003, 2007, and 2009, because there weren’t enough white students taking the test in those years for the statisticians at NCES to be confident in their data.

The vertical, dashed, red line near the middle of the graph represents the date when the old, elected, DC school board was replaced by Chancellors Rhee, Henderson, and Wilson, directly appointed by the various mayors. That year (2007) was also when Rhee and her underlings instituted brand-new teacher evaluation systems like IMPACT and VAM and new curricula and testing regimes known as Common Core, PARCC, and so on. Hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers were either fired or resigned or took early retirement. If these reforms had been as successful as Rhee promised in writing, then the lines representing scores for white, black, and hispanic students in DC would go slanting strongly up and to the right after that 2007 change.

I don’t see it.

Do you?

In fact, let’s look carefully at the slopes of the lines pre-Rheeform and post-Rheeform.

For black 8th grade students, scores went from 231 to 245 in the years 2000 to 2007, or 14 points in 7 years, which is a  rise of 2.0 points per year. After mayoral control, the scores for black students went from 245 to 257, or 12 points in 10 years. That’s rise of 1.2 points per year.

Worse, not better.

For Hispanic students, scores went from 236 in the year 2000 to 251 in 2007, a rise of 15 points in 7 years, or a rise of about 2.1 points per year. After mayoral control, their scores went from 251 to 263 in 10 years, which is a rise of 1.2 points per year.

Again: Worse, not better.

With the white students, a lot of data is missing, but I’ll compare what we have. Their scores went from 300 in year 2000 to 317 in the year 2005, which is an increase of 3.4 points per year. After mayoral control, their scores went from 319 in 2011 to 323, in 2017 or a rise of four (4!) points in 6 years, which works out to about 0.6 points per year.

Once again, Worse, not better.

Voters, you have the power to stop this nonsense, if you get organized!

—————————————————-

* Note that I’m using the numbers for Washington DC as a whole – which includes the regular DC Public School system, all the charter schools, as well as private (aka ‘independent’) and parochial schools. At one point, NAEP divided the DC scores into those for DCPS only (on the one hand) and for everybody else. In addition, they began to make it possible to separate out charter schools. However, since the regular public schools and the charter schools together educate the vast majority of students in DC, and the DCPS-only score-keeping started well after 2007, I decided to use the scores for all of DC because there was a much longer baseline of data, going back about twenty years.

=================================================

Here are my previous posts on this matter:

  1. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/just-how-much-success-has-there-been-with-the-reformista-drive-to-improve-scores-over-the-past-20-years/
  2. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/maybe-there-was-progress-with-hispanic-students-in-dc-and-elsewhere/
  3. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/progress-perhaps-with-8th-grade-white-students-in-dc-on-naep-after-mayoral-control/
  4. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/was-there-any-progress-in-8th-grade-math-on-the-naep-in-dc-or-elsewhere/
  5. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/one-area-with-a-bit-of-improvement-4th-grade-math-for-black-students-on-the-naep/
  6. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/more-flat-lines-4th-grade-reading-for-hispanic-and-white-students-dc-and-nationwide/
  7. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/the-one-area-where-some-dc-students-improved-under-mayoral-control-of-education/
  8. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/how-dcs-black-white-and-hispanic-students-compare-with-each-other-on-the-naep-over-the-past-20-years/
  9. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/comparing-dcs-4th-grade-white-black-and-hispanic-students-in-the-math-naep/
  10. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/dcs-black-hispanic-and-white-students-progress-on-the-naep-under-mayoral-control-and-before-8th-grade-reading/

DC’s Black, Hispanic and White Students Progress on the NAEP Under Mayoral Control and Before – 8th Grade Reading

8th grade naep reading, DC, B + W + H

We are looking at the average scale scores for 8th grade black, Hispanic, and white students in DC on the NAEP reading tests over the past two decades. Ten years ago, Washington DC made the transition from a popularly-elected school board to direct mayoral control of the school system. Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, our first and second Chancellors under the new system, promised some pretty amazing gains if they were given all that power and many millions of dollars from the Walton, Arnold, and Broad foundations, and I showed that almost none of their promises worked out.

In the graph above, the vertical, dashed, green line shows when mayoral control was imposed, shortly after the end of school in 2007, so it marks a convenient end-point for school board control and a baseline for measuring the effects of mayoral control.

For 8th grade black students in reading in DC, their average scale scores went from 233 in 1998 to 238 in 2007, under the elected school board, which is a (very small) rise of 5 points in 9 years, or about 0.6 points per year. Under mayoral control, their scores went from 238 to 240, which is an even tinier increase of 2 points in 10 years, or 0.2 points per year.

Worse, not better.

For the Hispanic students, scores only increased from 246 to 249 before we had chancellors, or 3 points in 9 years, or about 0.3 points per year. After mayoral control, their scores went DOWN from 249 to 242 in 10 years, or a decrease of 0.7 points per year.

Again, worse, not better: going in the wrong direction entirely.

For white DC 8th graders, it’s not possible to make the same types of comparisons, because there were not sufficient numbers of white eighth-grade students in DC taking the test during five of the last ten test administrations for the NCES statisticians to give reliable results. However, we do know that in 2005 (pre-mayoral control) white 8th graders in DC scored 301 points. And since the mayors and the chancellors took over direct control of education in DC, not once have white students scored that high.

Again, worse, not better.

Why do we keep doing the same things that keep making things worse?

==============================================

My previous posts on this topic:

  1. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/20/comparing-dcs-4th-grade-white-black-and-hispanic-students-in-the-math-naep/
  2. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/the-one-area-where-some-dc-students-improved-under-mayoral-control-of-education/
  3. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/more-flat-lines-4th-grade-reading-for-hispanic-and-white-students-dc-and-nationwide/
  4. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/17/one-area-with-a-bit-of-improvement-4th-grade-math-for-black-students-on-the-naep/
  5. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/was-there-any-progress-in-8th-grade-math-on-the-naep-in-dc-or-elsewhere/
  6. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/progress-perhaps-with-8th-grade-white-students-in-dc-on-naep-after-mayoral-control/
  7. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/maybe-there-was-progress-with-hispanic-students-in-dc-and-elsewhere/
  8. https://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/just-how-much-success-has-there-been-with-the-reformista-drive-to-improve-scores-over-the-past-20-years/

 

Kaya Henderson Really Doesn’t Know How to Run a School System

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson told the city two days ago, “I want to be clear. We know what we need to do, and we have what it takes to get it done.”

That is patently untrue.

Even by her own yardsticks, namely test scores, Henderson and her kind of ‘reform’ has so far been a complete failure; Continuing the churn-and-test-prep regime won’t make it any better

As I wrote in a comment on the article in the Washington Post:

All of Henderson’s boasts of continuous progress are completely bogus. 
 
If you look at the scores on the DC-CAS for every single subgroup, you can see that they have stagnated since 2009, which was the year before Rhee, Kamras and Henderson implemented their trademark reforms (IMPACT, TLF, VAM “merit pay” and eliminating seniority protections for teachers). The gaps between white students and hispanic or black students have NOT narrowed since that time. There were some increases from 2006-2009, but it’s not clear how much of that was due to adults cheating, or simply because students and teachers were adapting to a brand-new test. (You may recall that the DC-CAS was administered for the very first time in 2006, and the percentages of kids deemed ‘proficient’ dropped quite a bit in comparison to what they were under the old test, especially in math.) 
 
Also: out of the 78 measurable goals set by Rhee and four large foundations, in order to earn that $64.5 million grant in 2009, the DCPS leadership has achieved a mere one and one-half of those goals (and I’m being generous with the one-half). That is a success rate of TWO PERCENT. 
 
In other words, Rhee and Henderson have an almost perfect record of failure, none of which is publicized by the media (esp. not WaPo editorial staff) but is easy to see if you look at the official OSSE statistics and are willing to dig a little bit.  
 
I’ve done some digging and have made some pretty easy-to-understand graphs showing how much Rhee and Henderson have failed. Look at my blog, gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com , and in particular at http://bit.ly/10mna8c , http://bit.ly/10mneEY , and http://bit.ly/1ptal1K . 
 
After you read those blog posts, can you explain to me why Kaya Henderson still has a job? It is so clear that mayoral control has been a complete failure!

Latest DC Audited Enrollment Figures for all, charters, and regular public schools

The latest audited enrollment numbers have just been released, but not in a very useful format.

They show that regular DCPS enrollment is pretty close to flat, with only a small change over last year, or even over the last seven years. However, overall enrollment in all taxpayer-funded schools in the District of Columbia continues to rise, mostly because of a steady 15-year-long rise in charter school enrollment and a large increase in the overall city population.

The strangest feature I see is that the high school enrollment (grades 9-12) is down at all types of schools, with apparently many of those students moving to ‘alternative’ schools, at least on paper.

As I said, I didn’t think the graphs put out by OSSE were very informative, so I’ve re-plotted them here. For example, they put the charter school and public school enrollments on different graphs with different scales, making them hard to compare.

My first graph is of overall enrollment figures for regular public schools and for the charter schools (which several courts have decided are NOT public entities)  since the start of the millennium:

audited enrollment, dc public and charter schools, 2001-14

 

The red line is enrollment in the charter schools, and the blue line is that of the regular public schools. You can see that the blue line has been just about level since 2007-8, when Michelle Rhee was appointed chancellor of DCP.

My next graphs explores where the students are. OSSE separates students into various “bands” which are a bit hard to decipher. PreK3, PreK4, and Kindergarten totals are counted separately, and then they lump together grades 1-3 (‘primary’), then grades 4-5 (‘upper elementary’), then grades 6-8 (‘middle’), and grades 9-12 (high school). Students in alternative schools, of unspecified ages, are counted separately, as are students enrolled in Special Education schools and those in adult learning centers.

This first one is for regular DC Public Schools. You can see that preK3 though grade 3 comprises just under half of the entire DCPS population.

overall dcps - only enrollment by bands, 2013-4

 

The next graph shows the same thing but for ALL taxpayer-funded schools, both public and charter. Notice that the ‘adult’ sector is larger here.

overall dc osse enrollment by grade bands, 2013-4And the next graph shows the same thing for just the charter schools:

overall dc charter enrollment in percentages by grade bands 2013-4We see a much larger fraction of students in the adult sector. Again, Prek3 through grade 3 makes up just under half of the total.

Now let’s look a bit closer at the changes from last year to this, by grade band. My first graph shows overall changes from last year to this year, in all taxpayer-funded schools in Washington DC. Notice the large increase in the ‘alternative’ population and the ‘adult’ population, followed by a somewhat smaller rise in grades 1-3. The high school population – both public AND charter – actually dropped, as did the number of students enrolled in a special education school like Sharpe. It appears that a large fraction of that drop is students being reclassified as “alternative” instead of being in a high school.

increases, decreases by grade level, all DC OSSE schools, 2012-3 ri 2013-4Now let’s look at the corresponding graph for the regular DC public schools:

actual increases or decreases by grade level, DCPS only 2012-3 to 2013-4

 

Notice that once again, there was a big jump in the ‘alternative’ population, followed by an increase of about 250 at grades 1-3. As in overall DC stats, there was a drop in grades 9-12 and in special education. (the number for grade 6-8 is a typo: it should be 50)

Lastly, here are the changes since last year by grade band for the DC charter schools:

actual changes in enrollment, dc charter schools by grade bands, 2012-3 to 2013-4

 

I was surprised to see small drops in all of secondary charter schools (that is, grades 6 through 12). We see robust increases at all other levels, especially at the adult and alternative levels. I’m not exactly sure what’s causing this; perhaps readers closer to the trench lines than me (retired 5 years now) can comment.

My understanding  from reading US census figures is that the number of teenagers in Washington, DC – and thus, the number of students eligible to enroll in grades 6-12 continues to fall, while the number of younger kids is increasing. Obviously, those little kids generally grow older, and soon we will see a robust increase in the high school enrollment in the public and charter schools — unless they and their families all move out of town or decide to spend huge amounts for private or parochial schools. Which I doubt will happen.

In any case, claims of huge increases in enrollment in the DC public schools under chancellors Henderson and Rhee are just wishful thinking — like most of the boasts on Michelle Rhee’s famous resume.

 

Comments are most definitely welcome, even if you need a magnifying glass to see the “comments” button.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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More on those supposedly wonderful DCPS NAEP TUDA scores…

In this post, let us look at how the District of Columbia Public Schools fared on the Trial Urban District Assessment sub-set of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. I think you will agree that there has been no significant change in trends if you compare the pre-Rhee era and the post-Rhee era, which we are in now. None of these graphs were made by me: I merely copied and pasted them from the NAEP website, and added a little color and a few labels.

The next graph shows the average scores on the NAEP for 8th-grade math for DC Public Schools and for all large-city public school systems in the US. You will have to look very hard to notice any change in slope for the lower, blue line, which represents DCPS, on either side of the orange vertical line, which separates the pre-Rhee era from the post-Rhee era.

dcps and large urban public schools math 8th grade

The next graph shows the average scores on the NAEP for 8th-grade reading in DCPS and all other large urban school systems. There has been no large change in either the national scores or the local DCPS scores since 2002, but I guess the best we can say that after two periods of small declines after mayoral control was imposed in 2007, the scores actually went up a bit in 2013 in DC. However, DCPS students on the whole are a little farther behind other urban kids now, under Chancellor Henderson, than they were at any time in the era before Rhee. But the changes are not very large or significant.

dcps and large urban public schools 8th grade reading

dcps and large urban public schools math 4th grade

The previous graph shows average Math NAEP scores for fourth-graders in DCPS and all other urban districts. Do you really see any big changes in the trends for DCPS scores? They have been going up rather steadily since 2003… It’s nice to see that DCPS kids seem to be catching up with those in other cities, but that was happening anyway.

My last graph in this post is for fourth-grade reading. It looks like I forgot to draw the vertical line separating the pre-Rhee and post-Rhee eras. Draw it in yourself. Do you see evidence of the supposed miracles that getting rid of 90% of the veteran teachers and school administrators, and hiring enormous numbers of inexperienced, highly-paid central-office administrators, has caused?

I surely don’t.

dcps and large urban public schools reading 4th grade

In a future post, I will actually dive a little deeper and ask how much of these changes (or lack thereof) are due to changing demographics….

I will also attempt to tease out how the privately-run charter schools in DC compare..

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

What I actually had time to say …

Since I had to abbreviate my remarks, here is what I actually said:

I am Guy Brandenburg, retired DCPS mathematics teacher.

To depart from my text, I want to start by proposing a solution: look hard at the collaborative assessment model being used a few miles away in Montgomery County [MD] and follow the advice of Edwards Deming.

Even though I personally retired before [the establishment of the] IMPACT [teacher evaluation system], I want to use statistics and graphs to show that the Value-Added measurements that are used to evaluate teachers are unreliable, invalid, and do not help teachers improve instruction. To the contrary: IVA measurements are driving a number of excellent, veteran teachers to resign or be fired from DCPS to go elsewhere.

Celebrated mathematician John Ewing says that VAM is “mathematical intimidation” and a “modern, mathematical version of the Emperor’s New Clothes.”

I agree.

One of my colleagues was able to pry the value-added formula [used in DC] from [DC data honcho] Jason Kamras after SIX MONTHS of back-and-forth emails. [Here it is:]

value added formula for dcps - in mathtype format

One problem with that formula is that nobody outside a small group of highly-paid consultants has any idea what are the values of any of those variables.

In not a single case has the [DCPS] Office of Data and Accountability sat down with a teacher and explained, in detail, exactly how a teacher’s score is calculated, student by student and class by class.

Nor has that office shared that data with the Washington Teachers’ Union.

I would ask you, Mr. Catania, to ask the Office of Data and Accountability to share with the WTU all IMPACT scores for every single teacher, including all the sub-scores, for every single class a teacher has.

Now let’s look at some statistics.

My first graph is completely random data points that I had Excel make up for me [and plot as x-y pairs].

pic 3 - completely random points

Notice that even though these are completely random, Excel still found a small correlation: r-squared was about 0.08 and r was about 29%.

Now let’s look at a very strong case of negative correlation in the real world: poverty rates and student achievement in Nebraska:

pic  4 - nebraska poverty vs achievement

The next graph is for the same sort of thing in Wisconsin:

pic 5 - wisconsin poverty vs achievement

Again, quite a strong correlation, just as we see here in Washington, DC:

pic 6 - poverty vs proficiency in DC

Now, how about those Value-Added scores? Do they correlate with classroom observations?

Mostly, we don’t know, because the data is kept secret. However, someone leaked to me the IVA and classroom observation scores for [DCPS in] SY 2009-10, and I plotted them [as you can see below].

pic 7 - VAM versus TLF in DC IMPACT 2009-10

I would say this looks pretty much no correlation at all. It certainly gives teachers no assistance on what to improve in order to help their students learn better.

And how stable are Value-Added measurements [in DCPS] over time? Unfortunately, since DCPS keeps all the data hidden, we don’t know how stable these scores are here. However, the New York Times leaked the value-added data for NYC teachers for several years, and we can look at those scores to [find out]. Here is one such graph [showing how the same teachers, in the same schools, scored in 2008-9 versus 2009-10]:

pic 8 - value added for 2 successive years Rubenstein NYC

That is very close to random.

How about teachers who teach the same subject to two different grade levels, say, fourth-grade math and fifth-grade math? Again, random points:

pic 9 - VAM for same subject different grades NYC rubenstein

One last point:

Mayor Gray and chancellors Henderson and Rhee all claim that education in DC only started improving after mayoral control of the schools, starting in 2007. Look for yourself [in the next two graphs].

pic 11 - naep 8th grade math avge scale scores since 1990 many states incl dc

 

pic 12 naep 4th grade reading scale scores since 1993 many states incl dc

Notice that gains began almost 20 years ago, long before mayoral control or chancellors Rhee and Henderson, long before IMPACT.

To repeat, I suggest that we throw out IMPACT and look hard at the ideas of Edwards Deming and the assessment models used in Montgomery County.

My Testimony Yesterday Before DC City Council’s Education Subcommittee ‘Roundtable’

Testimony of Guy Brandenburg, retired DCPS mathematics teacher before the DC City Council Committee on Education Roundtable, December 14, 2013 at McKinley Tech

 

Hello, Mr. Catania, audience members, and any other DC City Council members who may be present. I am a veteran DC math teacher who began teaching in Southeast DC about 35 years ago, and spent my last 15 years of teaching at Alice Deal JHS/MS. I taught everything from remedial 7th grade math through pre-calculus, as well as computer applications.

Among other things, I coached MathCounts teams at Deal and at Francis JHS, with my students often taking first place against all other public, private, and charter schools in the city and going on to compete against other state teams. As a result, I have several boxes full of trophies and some teaching awards.

Since retiring, I have been helping Math for America – DC (which is totally different from Teach for America) in training and mentoring new but highly skilled math teachers in DC public and charter schools; operating a blog that mostly concerns education; teaching astronomy and telescope making as an unpaid volunteer; and also tutoring [as a volunteer] students at the school closest to my house in Brookland, where my daughter attended kindergarten about 25 years ago.

But this testimony is not about me; as a result, I won’t read the previous paragraphs aloud.

My testimony is about how the public is being deceived with bogus statistics into thinking things are getting tremendously better under mayoral control of schools and under the chancellorships of Rhee and Henderson.

In particular, I want to show that the Value-Added measurements that are used to evaluate teachers are unreliable, invalid, and do not help teachers improve their methods of instruction. To the contrary: IVA measurements are driving a number of excellent, veteran teachers to resign or be fired from DCPS to go elsewhere.

I will try to show this mostly with graphs made by me and others, because in statistics, a good scatter plot is worth many a word or formula.

John Ewing, who is the president of Math for America and is a former executive director of the American Mathematical Society, wrote that VAM is “mathematical intimidation” and not reliable. I quote:

pic 1 john ewing

 

In case you were wondering how the formula goes, this is all that one of my colleagues was able to pry from Jason Kamras after SIX MONTHS of back-and-forth emails asking for additional information:

pic 2 dcps iva vam formula

One problem with that formula is that nobody outside a small group of highly-paid consultants has any idea what are the values of any of those variables. What’s more, many of those variables are composed of lists or matrices (“vectors”) of other variables.

In not a single case has the Office of Data and Accountability sat down with a teacher and explained, in detail, exactly how a teachers’ score is calculated, student by student, class by class, test score by test score.

Nor has that office shared that data with the Washington Teachers’ Union.

It’s the mathematics of intimidation, lack of accountability, and obfuscation.

I would ask you, Mr. Catania, to ask the Office of Data and Accountability to share with the WTU all IMPACT scores for every single teacher, including all the sub-scores, such as those for IVA and classroom observations.

To put a personal touch to my data, one of my former Deal colleagues shared with me that she resigned from DCPS specifically because her IVA scores kept bouncing around with no apparent reason. In fact, the year that she thought she did her very best job ever in her entire career – that’s when she earned her lowest value-added score. She now teaches in Montgomery County and recently earned the distinction of becoming a National Board Certified teacher – a loss for DCPS students, but a gain for those in Maryland.

Bill Turque of the Washington Post documented the case of Sarah Wysocki, an excellent teacher with outstanding classroom observation results, who was fired by DCPS for low IVA scores. She is now happily teaching in Virginia. I am positive that these two examples can be multiplied many times over.

Now let’s look at some statistics. As I mentioned, in many cases, pictures and graphs speak more clearly than words or numbers or equations.

My first graph is of completely random data points that should show absolutely no correlation with each other, meaning, they are not linked to each other in any way. I had my Excel spreadsheet to make two lists of random numbers, and I plotted those as the x- and y- variables on the following graph.

pic 3 - completely random points

I asked Excel also to draw a line of best fit and to calculate the correlation coefficient R and R-squared. It did so, as you can see, R-squared is very low, about 0.08 (eight percent). R, the square root of R-squared, is about 29 percent.

Remember, those are completely random numbers generated by Excel.

Now let’s look at a very strong correlation of real numbers: poverty rates and student achievement in a number of states. The first one is for Nebraska.

pic  4 - nebraska poverty vs achievement

R would be about 94% in this case – a very strong correlation indeed.

The next one is for Wisconsin:

pic 5 - wisconsin poverty vs achievement

Again, quite a strong correlation – a negative one: the poorer the student body, the lower the average achievement, which we see repeated in every state and every country in the world. Including DC, as you can see here:

 

pic 6 - poverty vs proficiency in DC

Now, how about those Value-Added scores? Do they correlate with classroom observations?

Mostly, we don’t know, because the data is kept secret. However, someone leaked to me the IVA and classroom observation scores for all DCPS teachers for SY 2009-10, and I plotted them. Is this a strong correlation, or not?

pic 7 - VAM versus TLF in DC IMPACT 2009-10

I would say this looks pretty much like no correlation at all. What on earth are these two things measuring? It certainly gives teachers no assistance on what to improve in order to help their students learn better.

And how stable are Value-Added measurements over time? If they are stable, that would mean that we might be able to use them to weed out the teachers who consistently score at the bottom, and reward those who consistently score at the top.

Unfortunately, since DCPS keeps all the data hidden, we don’t exactly know how stable these scores are here. However, the New York Times leaked the value-added data for NYC teachers for several years, and we can look at those scores to see.

Here is one such graph:

pic 8 - value added for 2 successive years Rubenstein NYC

That is very close to random.

How about teachers who teach the same subject to two different grade levels (say, fourth-grade math and fifth-grade math)? Again, random points:

pic 9 - VAM for same subject different grades NYC rubenstein

One thing that all veteran teachers agree on is that they stunk at their job during their first year and got a lot better their second year. This should show up on value-added graphs of year 1 versus year 2 scores for the same teachers, right?

Wrong.

Take a look:

pic 10 - VAM first yr vs second year same teacher rubenstein nyc

One last point:

Mayor Gray and chancellors Henderson and Rhee all claim that education in DC only started improving after mayoral control of the schools, starting in 2007.

Graphs and the NAEP show a different story. We won’t know until next week how DCPS and the charter schools did, separately, for 2013, but the following graphs show that reading andmath scores for DC fourth- and eighth-graders have been rising fairly steadily for nearly twenty years, or long before mayoral control or the appointments of our two chancellors (Rhee and Henderson).

 

 

pic 13 - naep reading 8th since 1998 scale scores many states incl dc

 

pic 12 naep 4th grade reading scale scores since 1993 many states incl dc

pic 11 - naep 8th grade math avge scale scores since 1990 many states incl dc

 

 

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