The problem with proficiency

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.)

CREDO: Indiana charter students do well

Students at Indiana charter schools outperformed similar students at traditional public schools in math and reading, concludes a new report from Stanford’s CREDO. Indianapolis charter students did especially well, reports Ed Week.

The study tracked 15,297 charter school students at 64 schools from grades 3-8. On average, students in charter schools ended the year having made the equivalent of 1.5 more months of learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school counterparts did. Students in charter schools in Indianapolis ended the year ahead of their traditional public school counterparts by two months in reading and three months in math.

Charter students and the control group were matched by  demographic and performance data (gender, race/ethnicity, special education status, English language proficiency, free-or-reduced lunch participation, grade level, and prior test scores on state achievement tests).

In Indiana, 58 percent of charter students are black, compared to 11 percent of the state’s students. Eleven percent of charter students are in special education compared to 15 percent in traditional public schools.

In a wrap-up on education research in 2012, Matthew Di Carlo notes that CREDO’s research on charter gains in Indiana and New Jersey show most of the progress comes in big cities, Indianapolis and Newark. By contrast, rural charter students tend to underperform similar students.

One contentious variation on this question is whether charter schools “cream” higher-performing students, and/or “push out” lower-performing students, in order to boost their results. Yet another Mathematica supplement to their 2010 report examining around 20 KIPP middle schools was released, addressing criticisms that KIPP admits students with comparatively high achievement levels, and that the students who leave are lower-performing than those who stay. This report found little evidence to support either claim (also take a look at our post on attrition and charters).

An another analysis, presented in a conference paper, “found that low-performing students in a large anonymous district did not exit charters at a discernibly higher rate than their counterparts in regular public schools,” DiCarlo adds.

On the flip side of the entry/exit equation, this working paper found that students who won charter school lotteries (but had not yet attended the charter) saw immediate “benefits” in the form of reduced truancy rates, an interesting demonstration of the importance of student motivation.

Di Carlo has more on the research this year on charter management organizations, merit pay and teacher evaluations using value-added and growth measures.

Colvin: It’s time for a new measure of student growth

California should scrap its Academic Performance Index, set up in 1999, argues Richard Lee Colvin for Education Sector.

The API . . .  is, “to a large extent, an indicator of students’ wealth rather than of a school’s educational quality.” It places overwhelming emphasis on math and reading, which results in an under-emphasis on science and social studies. And because more than 40 percent of California schools have API scores at or above the state minimum, they no longer have to worry about helping students who are not yet proficient reach that goal. That means that schools that enroll more affluent and better performing students could rest on the laurels of their students and let the quality of teaching slide.

No Child Left Behind’s proficiency deadline and the coming shift to Common Core assessments make this the time to devise a system that relies more heavily on student growth, Colvin writes. While the new measure is being debugged, the state could continue to report API numbers, he suggests.

Is enrollment peaking?

California community college students are competing for space in classes, but elsewhere some colleges report enrollment is stabilizing or declining after years of rapid growth.