Proficiency rates are terrible measures of school effectiveness because they “mostly reflect a school’s demographics,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. Schools should be evaluated on growth measures, he argues.
Our school—let’s call it Jefferson—serves a high-poverty population of middle and high school students. Eighty-nine percent of them are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch; 100 percent are African American or Hispanic. And on the most recent state assessment, less than a third of its students were proficient in reading or math. In some grades, fewer than 10 percent were proficient as gauged by current state standards.
That school deserves a big ole F, right?
But there’s more.
According to a rigorous Harvard evaluation, every year Jefferson students gain two and a half times as much in math and five times as much in English as the average school in New York City’s relatively high-performing charter sector.
. . .Jefferson is so successful, the Harvard researchers conclude, because it has “more instructional time, a relentless focus on academic achievement, and more parent outreach” than other schools.
Now how would you rate this school? How about an A?
“Jefferson” is Democracy Prep Charter High, a New York City school whose high school seniors earn high test scores. It takes at least five years to get them there, says Seth Andrew, founder of the DP network.
Proficiency matters too, responds Checker Finn.
Kids can show plenty of “growth” in school—and yes, we should laud schools that accomplish this—but still not be ready for college because they aren’t actually proficient. This is why absolute levels matter, too, and why schools should be judged in part by how many of the students emerging from them have reached true proficiency or, in today’s parlance, are truly college and career ready.
Let’s concede that both matter, but growth is a better measure of school effectiveness.
Petrilli’s piece has sparked an avid e-mail discussion including American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten, Diane Ravitch, Rick Hess, Robert Pondiscio and a host of others. (I’m on vacation with unreliable wireless access — I typed part of a post on a smart phone! — so I haven’t jumped in.)