Measuring performance by results

Can School Performance Be Measured Fairly? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.

Testing Has Moved Beyond Filling Circles, responds Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation. Objective test scores should be just one part of measuring student success.

When No Child Left Behind was written 11 years ago, standardized tests were the only way to consistently measure student learning on a large scale. But since then, many states have developed sophisticated data systems that can calculate the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college, enlist in the armed services and land steady, well-paying jobs. Instead of using proxy measures for successful preparation (i.e. test scores) we can use measures of the real thing. If high school graduates need to take remedial courses in college, for example, that means their high school didn’t do its job.

School evaluation should include standardized test scores and visits by “highly trained school inspectors” who can  “observe classrooms and interview teachers and students.”

Waivers don’t go far enough in allowing states to use better measures of achievement, adds Fordham’s Mike Petrilli.

States may not, for example, use a race-neutral approach to identifying schools that are leaving disadvantaged students behind, as Florida would have liked. (In the Sunshine State’s own system, schools are docked if their lowest-performing students — whatever their race — don’t make significant gains in the course of the school year.) They can’t evaluate high schools by outcomes — like how many students go on to graduate from college — instead of by test scores. They can’t even use computer-adaptive tests, like those uses for graduate school admissions, because low-performing students would get assessed on content that is “below grade level.” (Of course, that’s the point of computer-adaptive technology — it can pinpoint exactly where students are, even if they are far ahead or behind most children their age.)

Use international benchmarks and real-world results, writes Sandra Stotsky, a University of Arkansas education professor.

We can find out if our teachers and administrators are effective by comparing our students’ performance levels on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which assesses knowledge of mathematics and science gained from a rigorous curriculum, and the Program for International Student Assessment, which assesses daily life skills and minimal academic content.


Massachusetts’ 26 regional technical/career high schools have long wait lists and high graduation rates, notes Stotsky, who helped write Massachusetts standards. “Accountability ultimately lies in their employability after high school.”


Where diploma dreams go to die

Outside of its elite private institutions, Chicago is the The City Where Diploma Dreams Go to Die, writes Kevin Carey of Education Sector. Chicago State is at risk of losing accreditation because so few students earn a degree: The six-year graduation rate is 13 percent; after eight years, that rises to only 27 percent.  Other Chicago colleges also have trouble educating poorly prepared students:

The graduation rate for black students at Northeastern Illinois University, in Chicago, is 4 percent. Even the Chicago branch of the University of Illinois graduates fewer than half of its students in six years.

These are Arne Duncan’s students washing out of college, Carey notes.

Since becoming secretary of education, Duncan has repeatedly denounced the “dropout factories” in urban school systems, high schools that routinely fail to graduate most of their students. What about the dropout factories in higher education? They serve the same students in the same places, and are performing even worse.

To its credit, the Obama administration has proposed spending tens of billions of new dollars on Pell Grants, community colleges, and an Access and Completion Fund. But as now designed, those reforms won’t be nearly enough to turn things around in cities like Chicago.

Many colleges receive accreditation despite dismal graduation rates, Carey writes. There’s no sense of urgency to close failing colleges. Chicago State probably will survive. The standards are very, very low.

Illinois defines proficiency at a below-basic level by national standards. So many students were failing the eighth-grade math test that officials lowered the passing bar from the 67th to the 38th percentile in 2006, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Not surprisingly, failure rates soar in high school, when students take a test linked to the ACT.

53% earn bachelor's in six years

Four-year colleges graduate 53 percent of students in six years, concludes an American Enterprise Institute analysis of Education Department data.  Diplomas and Dropouts looks at full-time students who enrolled in fall, 2001.

Looking at institutions with comparable admissions standards, there were notable differences.

•Among schools that require only a high school diploma for admission, Walla Walla University and Heritage University, both in Washington state, reported graduation rates of 53% and 17%, respectively.

•Among colleges that require high school grades averaging a B-minus or better, John Carroll University in Cleveland and Chicago State University in Illinois graduated 74% vs. 16%, respectively.

•In the “most competitive” group, Amherst College in Massachusetts and Reed College in Portland, Ore., graduated 96% vs. 76%, respectively.

Education Sector’s Kevin Carey explains how Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee boosted its success rate in Introducing a Remedial Program That Actually Works in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Nearly two-thirds of new students must take at least one remedial class, comparable to the remediation rate for community college students nationwide. Until recently, nearly half failed their remedial courses; most dropped out.

John Squires, chair of the math department, decided to try the math “emporium model” popularized by the National Center for Academic Transformation.

Instead of attending traditional lectures in basic math, elementary algebra, and intermediate algebra, remedial students come to a large computer lab where they solve math problems and, when they need help, work with on-site faculty members and tutors. Courses are arranged in weekly modules with accompanying quizzes that can be retaken until students are ready for the next step.

. . . The percentage of remedial students at Cleveland State earning at least a C in the three math courses jumped from 55 percent to 72 percent.

Test scores are up too, and students who’ve gone through the remedial program are succeeding in college-level math classes. In fact, they’re earning higher grades than classmates who didn’t require remediation.

Cleveland State’s new approach costs less and gives professors more time for direct contact with students.  The flexibility saves students time and money too, Carey writes. Those who do well can complete two or three math courses in one semester.  The college is redesigning its math program completely — and the English Department is planning to try the emporium model.

Do vouchers matter?

School vouchers don’t matter in the larger policy debate, writes Kevin Carey of Education Sector in Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington, D.C.’s program didn’t “create new competition and provide incentives for innovators and entrepreneurs to bring energy and resources to the enterprise of educating students.”

No new schools have been built as a result, no groundbreaking programs created, competition spurred, or innovators attracted. It’s basically just an exercise in seeing what happens when you take a couple thousand students out of pretty bad schools and put them in a range of other schools that are, collectively, somewhat better. Answer: some of the students may be doing somewhat better! I think we already knew this.

Remarkably, the D.C. voucher program is being taken seriously even as, right here in the same city, charter schools are actually creating the whole range of market responses that vouchers are not.

A better education for 1,700 low-income students is nothing to sneer at, counters Jay P. Greene.

While Carey doubts 17,000 vouchers would have motivated Sidwell Friends and Georgetown Day to “up and build annexes in Anacostia,”  Greene responds that most voucher students attend non-elite private schools that might expand “if you offered them 10 times as many spots and long-term security of funding.” And D.C. charter schools wouldn’t be offering much competition if they’d been limited to 1,700 students and one third the district’s per-student funding.

Reason TV has video of the D.C. school voucher rally, which pushed President Obama to announce that currently enrolled students will continue to receive vouchers through high school. No new students will be allowed to enter the program.