What Lessons Has DC Drawn From PISA?

Basically, the lessons drawn by those in charge of education in Washington, DC, is to do exactly the opposite of everything being done by nations with high test scores. Valerie Jablow at EducationDC explains the details.

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The Real Lesson of Singapore Math!

By now you’ve probably heard that Singapore and Shanghai are the two places on earth with the smartest kids in the entire world. We can see their PISA scores (go to page 5) are right at the top.

Case closed, right? Whatever they are doing in education, we in the US need to emulate that in order to catch up! Common Core! StudentsFirst! Teach for America! Race to the Top! PARCC! Bust those teacher unions! No more recess! All test prep all the time! Charter Schools! Turn the schools over to the billionaires (Gates, Bloomberg, Koch family, Walton family, and their hirelings and shills)!

But wait a second.

Have you noticed that an ENORMOUS fraction of the low-skilled, low-paid people living in Singapore are temporary foreign workers from various parts of Asia and Africa and are not allowed to bring their kids with them? Those kids are raised back in the workers’ homelands by various relatives, far away, and only get to see their parents at long intervals (somebody has to fly somewhere); back home, jobs are even scarcer and worse-paid, so the parents go elsewhere to try support their families.

Now, everywhere in the world, family income is very, very closely linked to children’s test scores in school. It’s one of the tightest correlations there are in the social sciences, as you can see in the simple scatter-plots I have repeatedly shown in this blog over the past 4 or 5 years. (Try using terms like “poverty” “income” and “scores” together in the search box on this page and be prepared to look through a lot of posts with such graphs, from all over!)

If one-quarter to one-third of the population of a country was legally not permitted to have children in the schools, and it was the low-paying 1/4 to 1/3 of the population, then the scores of the remainder of the kids would, quite naturally, be pretty darned good, since the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 of the distribution just got cut off.

If we systematically excluded the poorest quarter or third of our American student population from taking PISA, we know that our scores would be pretty darned high as well.*

Hmm, maybe the leaning tower of PISA hype is falling.

 

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*Let’s remember that this WAS official policy in many states of the USA up until 1865: a large fraction of the population (guess which one!) was forbidden to send their kids to schools at all and it was explicitly forbidden even to teach them to read privately. When Jim Crow was established from the 1870s to the early 1960s, school facilities for Blacks and Hispanics, BY DESIGN of the racist authorities, so inferior to those for whites that they were a national disgrace. Which is why the calls for going back to the good old days should be so infuriating. There WERE NO GOOD OLD DAYS.

USA Today Shows That Many of the Big Test Score Jumps in DCPS Probably Are Due to Fraud

You MUST read this article in today’s USA Today.

The authors have dug deeply into the suspicious rises in test scores at many DC public schools under Michelle Rhee, and they conclude that a lot of those jumps were almost undoubtedly because somebody changed lots of students’ answers from wrong ones to right ones.

The only question in my mind is who actually did the erasures? Was it the principals themselves, afraid of losing their jobs? Their henchmen assistant principals, or the counsellors, under direct unwritten orders from those principals (and afraid of losing their jobs)? Or was it classroom teachers (also afraid of losing their jobs)?

The authors claim that mathematical probability of so many wrong-to-right erasures happening by chance is about the same as that of winning the Powerball lottery.

The article concentrates most of its focus on Noyes Elementary in Northeast DC, because of the sheer volume of suspicious erasures there. However, DCPS administrators refused to allow the reporters to speak officially to any administrators there, and even refused to allow them to talk to the firm which had been ineffectually investigating prior accusations of fraud.

A number of Noyes parents had for years been protesting to the Noyes administration and to DC School Board officials that their own children’s math and reading scores were suspiciously high. They didn’t feel that their children should be scoring in the “proficient” range if they were struggling with basic reading and writing. They were given the run-around by both the local school administration and by central DCPS administration, and eventually gave up. Some teachers quoted in the article confirmed that for many of their students, the test scores were obviously grossly inflated. The high scores, in any case, didn’t last once the students left the school.

Don’t get the impression that all of the problems happened at Noyes. Many schools had enormous jumps in scores, followed by large cash bonuses for administrators and teachers. Many of those same schools had huge numbers of suspicious erasures.

Also: don’t assume that current or past DCPS administration has any intention of actually digging down into this matter and finding out what really happened. They have been stonewalling this for years.

Meanwhile, at Sharpe Health special education school, and at St. Coletta’s Special Education charter school, well over 90% of the students scored proficient or advanced in both reading and math in the 2010 DC-CAS.

I guess pigs do fly after all.

The Secret to Raising Test Scores? (Part 2)

As I have pointed out, one of the easiest ways to improve test scores in a class or a school is to get rid of the students who generally score low, and to retain the ones who do well. I suspect that may have been the secret behind the fact that Michelle Rhee, after two years of complete and utter failure with her second-grade classes, finally managed to raise the scores to somewhere near the 50th percentile mark.

It appears that the ‘weeding-out’ was pretty drastic.

The cohort that started the first grade at Harlem Park in 1992-1993 had 84 students, probably 3 or 4 distinct classes.

When they arrived in the second grade in 1993-1994 and endured Michelle Rhee’s second failed year of teaching, they still had 83 students – probably 3 or 4 classes again.

But when this cohort arrived in the third grade in 1994-1995, Rhee’s “miracle year”, their numbers dropped by nearly half, to only 44 students. I doubt strongly that so many students dropped dead. I can’t prove it, but I would not be surprised if the school (and Rhee) ‘counseled out’ the ones who were doing poorly, and kept the ones who had high test scores.

You may be wondering if the same thing happened at other Edison schools and at the regular Baltimore public schools that were used for comparison purposes. Look for yourself at the graphs below – and I think you will conclude that while some of the cohorts in some of the schools had small rises in populations, some went down a little bit, and some stayed about the same. NONE OF THEM HAD SUCH HUGE DROPS AS WE SEE IN MICHELLE RHEE’S “WONDER YEAR.”

(By the way, this trick doesn’t always seem to work. The first grade in 1991-2 at Harlem Park had 102 students, and scored at the 63rd percentile in math in the spring. The next year, they were promoted to the second grade, and only had 77 to 84  students, depending on which count you follow, and they had Rhee as one of the second grade teachers. The average percentile rank of this cohort fell from the previous (respectable) 63rd percentile to an abysmal 18th percentile. As someone might say, echoing Michelle Rhee’s recent interview with Harry Jaffe,

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. What changed? What we were doing with them in school.”

Well, if she wants to take credit for a 20-percentile rise in scores from 1994 to 1995, then she needs to take the blame for a 45-percentile-point DROP from 1992 to 1993, even with the weeding out.)

As has been the case for my past several data-driven posts, all of these tables and graphs were made by me from the tables in the appendices to the UMBC Evaluation of the Tesseract Program in Baltimore City, written by Lois C. Williams and Lawrence E. Leak in 1995. You can find it on the web at this URL.

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