Friday, October 19, 2012

Let's look at the data

Mike Flanagan, Michigan's State Superintendent of Public Education, has decided to defend a system that is indefensible. His technique is a classic propaganda technique - provide part but not all of the data.

Today, Mr. Flanagan sent an email to educators throughout the state of Michigan. In this email he talks about the state's new achievement classification system. Quoting from his correspondence he says, "The Focus School methodology identifies schools with the largest achievement gaps."

He is correct about that. But he makes that seem like a bad thing. In some instances I am sure that it is but in my schools it is not.

The Focus School calculation measures the difference in performance between the highest 30% and bottom 30% in a school. Those with the largest difference in the state are labeled Focus Schools.

Mr. Flanagan argues that "some schools have been going along thinking they are doing well, when in fact, large numbers of students are struggling."

I am here to disagree! There are not large numbers of students struggling in my schools. There is a range in ability. Our goal is to help every student move forward every year. If I do that there will always be a gap because those at the high end are moving just as those at the low end are moving. The vast majority of students in my district are proficient. The data is clear on that.

In my district we have seven schools labeled as Focus Schools. Here is the data on the "bottom 30%" from two of our Focus Schools.

School One
  % Proficient Reading % Proficient Math % Proficient Writing % Proficient Science

Bottom 30% 86.58% 71.95% 25.92% 0.00%
African American 100.00% 42.85% 0.00% 0.00%
American Indian     . 0.00%
Asian American 75.00% 80.95% 25.00% 0.00%
Hispanic 100.00% 100.00% 0.00% 0.00%
White 91.66% 71.15% . 0.00%
Multi-racial     . 0.00%
LEP 64.28% 57.14% 0.00% 0.00%
Stdts. w/ Disabilities 61.11% 33.33% 0.00% 0.00%
ED 100.00% 50.00% 0.00% 0.00%

School Two

  % Proficient Reading % Proficient Math % Proficient Writing % Proficient Science

Bottom 30% 87.08% 64.63% 48.14% 0.00%
African American 71.42% 44.44% 100.00% 0.00%
American Indian        
Asian American 87.09% 80.00% 44.44% 0.00%
Hispanic 50.00% 60.00%   0.00%
White 92.68% 54.00%   0.00%
Multi-racial 100.00% 0.00%   0.00%
LEP 76.92% 42.85% 20.00% 0.00%
Stdts. w/ Disabilities 72.00% 17.39% 28.57% 0.00%
ED 33.33% 40.00% 100.00% 0.00%

Look at the percent proficient. In "School One" over 86% of the students in the bottom 30% are proficient in reading and almost 72% of the bottom 30% are proficient in math. That's right - in the bottom 30% of performers in this school over 86% are proficient in reading and 72% are proficient in math.

"But look," you say, "only 33% of the students with disabilities are proficient in math." That's right only 6 of 18 special education students are proficient in math. Remember those are students with a diagnosed disability and 6 of them are proficient.

Mr. Flanagan's propaganda would have you believe that this is a school that is struggling. Yet look at the numbers. When he calls it a Focus School and says it has a large achievement gap a person immediately thinks that large amounts of students are failing. But that is not the case!

There are schools in the state that do not have as many students proficient as this school does in its bottom 30%.

You might also say no one is proficient in science. Here is another dose of Mr. Flanagan's propaganda. Ask Mr. Flanagan how many school districts in the state of Michigan when you look at the bottom 30% of students have 0% proficient in science? The answer - 99.6%.

That's right - in almost 100% of Michigan school districts no one in the bottom 30% is proficient in science. Mr. Flanagan fails to point that out when he suggests that Focus Schools are doing a lousy job because no one is proficient in science. It appears that not one district in the entire state is doing well teaching science.

Or could it be that the measure of proficiency is unrealistic.

Mr. Flanagan would have you believe that Focus Schools are doing a poor job. But look at this data from another school in the state. This is not a Focus School.

School Three

  % Proficient Reading % Proficient Math % Proficient Writing % Proficient Science

Bottom 30% 59.84% 1.56% 0.00% 0.00%
African American 64.70% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
American Indian 100.00% 0.00% 0.00%  
Asian American 50.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Hispanic 25.00% 10.00% 0.00% 0.00%
White 63.04% 1.11% 0.00% 0.00%
Multi-racial 0.00%   0.00% 0.00%
LEP 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%  
Stdts. w/ Disabilities 37.50% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
ED 56.81% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

In reading 60% of their bottom 30% are proficient in reading but only 1.5% of their bottom 30% are proficient in math.  That's right - less than 2% of their bottom 30% are proficient in math. Yet the state suggests that they need no intervention because they do not have a large achievement gap.

They have no gap because all of their students are clustered around a much lower percentage of proficient than the students in my schools.

The bottom 30% in my school outperform the vast majority of students in this school. Yet my school is labeled a Focus School.

I am outraged that the State Superintendent would try and defend a system that clearly punishes schools that have high achievers. Does Mr. Flanagan want me to get off the Focus List by becoming like this school?

I refuse to do that. I will continue to help every student be successful. As a result we will continue to have gaps in my school.

Our goals in Novi are to ensure that all students will make a year's growth in a year's time and that all students achieve at a high level. What is a "high level?" It starts with proficiency. I want all students to be proficient. We are close to achieving that goal. Then we need to make sure that every student makes progress every year. That's our focus! I think it is the appropriate focus.

Mr. Flanagan I respectfully request that you come visit my district to see what we are doing to ensure that all students - every single student - has the opportunity to succeed.

1 comment:

  1. As a teacher in the Novi district for 28 years, I want to personally thank Dr. Matthews for taking a strong stand and speaking out against the propoganda being spewed by the powers that be in Lansing! We are NOVI and we continue to work each and every day for ALL student s to reach their highest potential!