2011 PASS Scores
By Alex Saitta
August 25, 2011
Whenever the press release from the district office compares our school district's results vs. the state averages, it often means the test results did not show an improvement. That is the case with the 2011 PASS scores.
South Carolina has one of the weakest education systems in the country, so even if your district had a bad year, it is not hard to say we beat the state average.
As a result, I never look at the state averages when examining how Pickens County did this year. Also, I evaluate all the data with tools like averages. Cherry picking the results is a no-no.
The 2011 Results:
The PASS tests 3rd through 8th graders in 5 subjects of English, Math, Science, Social Studies and Writing. This year they only tested 3rd and 6th graders in writing, so there were 26 grade/ subject categories rather than the typical 30.
Examining all 26 grade/ subject categories, in 14 of 26 the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level fell. Improvement was demonstrated in 12 grade/ subject categories.
This compared grade to grade. For example, it compared this yearís 3rd gradersí English scores with last yearís 3rd graders English scores. The problem with that measure is it compares different students year to year.
To avoid that comparison you can look at longitudinal results. For example, you compare last year's 3rd grade English scores with this yearís 4th grade English scores. That examines the performance of virtually the same students year to year. Those results are worse, down in 15 of 22 grade/ subject categories.
This tendency of weakening test scores as students rise in grade is present most every year and I would bet it exists in most districts. While this is a major challenge for educators, it doesnít tell you much about this particularís results because that tendency is there year after year.
Why? Iím guessing education just falls on a studentís hierarchy of values as they get older. In elementary school, and I see this in my 3rd and 4th graders, students are sponges. My daughter Scarlett swims and does homework. Thatís all. In middle school all of a sudden students get a Facebook page, a cell phone, they worry about how cool their clothes are and canít concentrate if they happen to have a bad hair day. I believe their studies suffer at the higher grades because of this competition for their attention.
I also look at the average percentage of students that tested at or above grade level for all grade/ subject categories. That percentage was virtually unchanged changing from 76.6% to 76.7%. That is, about 3 of 4 students test at or above grade level in the grades of 3rd through 8th in the five subject areas of Math, English, Science, Social Studies and Writing. One in four students are below grade level on average.
Finally, I look at our districtís average rank relative to the other 85 districts in the state. This year our rank fell from an average of 16th to 21st. The district has fallen in rank relative to the other districts in the state.
No Change In The Overall Theme:
When we examine all test data, the theme has not changed in the eight years Iíve been on the board. The top section of our students are doing extremely well. For instance, those who choose to take the ACT and plan to go to college (25%) scored #1 in the state. Our brightest students are some of the brightest in the state. However, when we look at tests that all the students must take like the PASS, it show we are struggling badly with the lowest performing students.
Gosh, four years ago we had 1,500 students in 9th grade. Only 1,000 or so made it on time to 12th grade this year. More than 25% of students are falling behind and dropping out.
We need to face this fact and come up with a better approach for educating this 25% of students who are performing below grade level and are likely to fall behind or drop out.
Dr. DíAndreaís Solution:
If you ask a surgeon for a solution to your medical problem, likely he is going to say operate. If you ask an academic how to improve student achievement, likely theyíll give you an academic solution.
Dr. Lee DíAndrea is an academic. Just as I see the world through a financial prism, she sees the world through an academic prism. She felt if the district could just improve how it delivered its academic lessons, all students would perform better. She spent millions on better training teachers, giving them all new computers and Pro-Boards, and instituted a scope and sequence curriculum.
To her credit students, who value their studies and are part of families where parents are involved in their education, responded to DíAndreaís academic solution. Those students were taken to a higher level by the Pro-Boards and improved lesson plans. Test scores for our brightest students improved. Unfortunately, thatís only about 25% to 35% of our students.
What DíAndrea misjudged or didnít see is students at the bottom are suffering academically because of behavioral, clinical and family issues. They did not respond to the improved academic lessons. Little Johnny, who was abandoned by his meth smoking mom and has been bounced from one relative to another, didnít care one lick that his classroom added a Pro-Board because he is mad at everyone one and most everything. To reach Johnny and get him turned on to learning, weíll need an understanding teacher, an experienced therapist and a school with a strict code of discipline. Johnny requires a much broader solution than just improving how the district delivers its academic lessons.
With the top students now doing well, it is time to turn our focus to the bottom section that did not respond to these academic upgrades. What is the magic formula for them? In my opinion, answering that question needs to be her focus. My guess is the answer is going to not only be academic, but also be part clinical and part behavioral and provide more family based strategies and support.
Final Note -- MAP Testing:
Finally, the district always points to improvements in MAP scores. That may be the case, but MAP is not how the State measures performance. The State, which is the sole judge, uses PASS to measure performance and PASS results did not show improvement.
My doubts about MAPís value are growing. MAP scores rose during the year, but that did not translate to a year to year improvement in PASS. If the district is going to use a test during the year like MAP to help students and teachers prepare for the PASS, maybe MAP isnít a good choice.