2010 PASS Scores Revisted
By Alex Saitta
August 24, 2010
Last night the district leadership made its presentation to the board about the PASS scores. It was about a 20 minute presentation that took us through all the numbers.
I wouldnít have followed with the following questions and comments, but I felt I needed to for two reasons.
One, many of the board members believe academic performance is improving. This is mostly due to the many not looking closely at the data and just taking the districtís often misleading word for it. While the top one-third of students have been showing improvement, the bottom half to two-thirds are declining, hence, when you look at measures that consider all the students (e.g., PASS, graduation rate and High School Exit Exam), the results are going down.
Two, the district often misleads the board, the press and the public by telling them half the story (the good half), so most have the belief that results are improving. This time so much information was given, combined with the misleading press release whether the results improved or not was unclear.
For those two reasons I had to speak up.
Why The PASS?
The school district's responsibility is to educate all the students. Thus, the PASS exam is a good measure because all students from third to eighth grade take the test. Plus the state uses the PASS to judge the district performance.
When speaking with the department head, I highlighted three data points.
Six grades take the PASS and each grade is tested on five subjects. Thus, there are 30 grade/sub ject measures. In 19 subject/ grade categories the percentage scoring at or above grade level went down. It went up in only 11 categories.
and then scroll down to see the PASS results.
Given the results were down, some suggested maybe the test was harder this year. I then pointed out that statewide, students were up in 15 subject grade categories, down in 14 and was unchanged in 1.
Finally, some will say, you have to look at how the same exact students scored. For example, compare how the 4th grade students did this year vs. how they did last year when they were in 3rd grade. When you look at that, we were down in 18 subject/ grade categories and up in only 7. Worse.
I then went on to say the press release doesnít mention any of this, and asked why? The press release touted significant improvement in the third and eighth grade, showing improvement in 4 of 5 subjects.
Why didnít the press release mention in 5th grade the students did worse in all 5 subjects. Ditto for the 6th grade. In 4th grade results got worse in 4 of 5 subjects. 7th grade the percentage of students test ing at or above grade level fell in 3 of 5 subjects.
Since 2006, High School Exit Exam results are down, the graduation rate has fallen and the End of Course results are down in Math, English and Science since 2006.
Every school board member promises they will improve academic performance. Unfortunately, many donít realize the measures that consider all students are going down. When I point that out, most donít want to talk about the figures specifically. My sense is they donít look closely at the data to hold their half of the conversation. Other times, they just deflect the point by noting some other measure that considers just the brightest 15% to 30% (e.g., the ACT exam). Or theyíll point to MAP results, which is an internal test the district gives and the state doesnít recognize.
Even the worst districts will be improving on something or getting some kind of award that you can point to. It is not hard to point to some kind of award ó they give themselves tons of awards.
Can you believe the Superintendent picks the criteria that he is evaluated by. Can you image telling your boss here is the criteria you will evaluate me by? There is no accountability because there has been no leadership on this issue at the board level.
What the board needs to do is take leadership on this, and say performance will be evaluated by looking at measures that consider ALL STUDENTS and the STATE RECOGNIZES THEM.
If a district wants to point their WYFF4ís Golden Apple Award or that MAP scores are up, thatís fine, but the board needs to set the evaluation criteria and it should gauge all students and measures that are used by the state to judge its districts. For starters, that is the PASS, graduation rate, and High School Exit Exam.
As a financial analyst, I studied data for a living. When you look closely at all the test data, it is clear now, like it has been for a long time ó the districtís top one-third of students are very bright and seem to be improving. You saw that in the rise in exemplary students in the PASS and the rise in ACT scores. Both look at the top 15% to 30% of students, depending on which subjects you pick out.
What is happening, though, is the bottom half to two-thirds of students are doing worse, and that is dragging down the overall results. The reason for their decline is not academic, but I con tent due to a declining social trend in this county. True, even thirty years ago education wasnít highly valued because a student could always just get a good paying job in the mill. What is happening today is the social woes are spreading. As the Bible Belt has lost its grip, we now have a breakdown of families, drug use (meth), imprisonment issues and falling incomes at the lower levels as higher priced entry level jobs at the factories have gone away.
What is going to compound the problem is the district will have less money in hand in order to deal with this growing social problem. So really, there are two growing problems. One is lower revenue. Two, declining social issues are starting to weigh heavily on the bottom half to quarter of students and their families.
Sadly, I donít think the leadership understands either, nor does it fully recognize this socio-economic trend is in full swing and if they did, would have the tools to deal with it? This is a social and an economic problem. Most are trained and educated in academic problem solving. There tool box only has academic solutions (e.g. better text books, more teacher development or better testing). Their social tool box is non-existent and their economic skill set is rather weak too.
The situation requires bold leadership.