Cooking the numbers

At my Madison lunch yesterday, several people said the school district was lying about achievement data. After reading Parentalcation and Right Wing Nation, I suspect they were talking about Superintendent Art Rainwater’s claim to have eliminated the racial achievement gap. From the Fayetteville, NC Observer:

Superintendent Art Rainwater loves to discuss the Madison Metropolitan School District’s success in eliminating the racial achievement gap.

But he won’t consult with educators from other communities until they are ready to confront the issue head on.

“I’m willing to talk,” Rainwater tells people seeking his advice, “when you are willing to stand up and admit the problem, to say our minority children do not perform as well as our white students.”

Only then will Rainwater reveal the methods Madison used to level the academic playing field for minority students.

This is an odd statement. The racial achievement gap is accepted as an uncomfortable fact everywhere; it is much discussed. No superintendent in the U.S. — except for Rainwater — claims to have eliminated the gap.

Today, Rainwater said, no statistical achievement gap exists between the 25,000 white and minority students in Madison’s schools.

Impressive, but untrue, writes Right Wing Prof, who looked at Madison reading scores across all grades.

Only 54% of the black students are proficient or above. Only 55% of the Hispanic students are proficient and above. And only 91% of the white students are proficient or above.

D-Ed Reckoning explains how Madison is cooking the numbers to claim its balanced literacy program is succeeding. All student scores went up because the reading test was made easier, but black students gained less than whites and the huge rise in scores statewide was not confirmed by federal scores, which remained flat. (See Reading Wars II for more.) I found a graph comparing Madison to five similar districts in Wisconsin, all of which do much better than Madison on fourth-grade reading.

About Joanne


  1. Ken and I are writing an article on this for Edspresso. It will probably go up sometime next week.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I love numbers – you can do anything with them, like duct tape.

  3. “you can do anything with them”

    Only if you know nothing about numbers.

  4. Jeff Henriques says:

    I am, of course, aware of the claim that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” However, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what data the Superintendent is basing his claims on. It can’t be graduation rates 86.8%(white) vs 60.9% (African-American). It can’t be 4th grade reading scores 93% (white advanced and proficient) vs 57% (African-American advanced and proficient) or reading scores at any grade level. In fact, data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction show the gap widening over the last four years. Explore for yourself:

  5. proletariat says:

    Ok, I’ll tell you, but don’t let Art know I told you.

    Comparing black and white scores is not very helpful because it says nothing about the class distribution.

    Years ago there would be some disparity even when class was held constant. For example comparing an upper middle class black and white family a white child would perform much higher.

    What Art is talking about is that the racial disparity has leveled off. As one can see in the test results there is still disparity along class lines.