Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On the Eve of the Testing Window, Let Us Reconsider The Three Paths to Graduation.

As we all know, Ohio has expanded its graduation requirements to include three paths. These include the ever unpopular and still confusing End of Year Assessment route, the remediation free ACT route, and the WorkKeys Industry Credential route.

If you're unfamiliar, the state's presentation on them can be found here.

When referencing the Three Paths to Graduation, the Ohio Department of Education has taken on a reverent tone as if they are recounting the biblical story of the loaves and the fishes, and many people seem to be buying into this line with all the fervor of religious devotees. Where there was once only a single path to graduation, the legislature has acted in the interest of all Ohio children, and now there are many. Amen.

According to the ODE website, "The transition to multiple options for earning a high school diploma is an exciting one for students who will have more flexibility for success in school and preparing for their future after high school."

I don't know about you, but I'm sick with excitement, and to be fair, more seems better than less. We are Americans, and we want 3 burgers for the price of one. This is the land of plenty, and we should all be so fortunate to share in the bounty of freedom and opportunity, hamburgers, and more standardized testing options than one human being should be able to tolerate without a complete nervous breakdown.

What the ODE is assuming, calling on our blind faith or blind patriotism, is that we're going to believe that the state has created a system that by sheer inclusion of multiple pathways for assessment (I mean graduation) is somehow doing what is right for kids. Except that it isn't. I believe, and I hope I'm not alone, that this system is terribly flawed and could cause a sharp decline in graduation rates at least in the first 5 years, and perhaps beyond.

As I have indicated previously, some Ohio districts had fewer than 50% of their students scoring proficient on last year's Algebra tests (among others). That equates to fewer than the necessary minimum points toward graduation per test (2.57) for more than half of the tested students in those districts. Predictably, these are districts with higher rates of students labeled economically disadvantaged. I understand that the numbers will increase year to year over the next 5-10, but how are these students expected to graduate? Again, you cannot assume every kid who struggles with Math will pull brilliant scores in the other disciplines in order to compensate, and earn the necessary 18 points toward graduation. As a matter of fact, many of the students scoring poorly in Algebra will likely struggle across assessments.

Yes, the tests can be retaken in an attempt to earn a higher score. In this scenario we're assuming those same economically disadvantaged districts are re-testing better than half of their students. We are also expecting, regardless of district, a better score testing a second time despite the fact that those students are no longer enrolled in the courses being tested, and where no remediation programs exist because the assessments themselves are too new.

Sometimes when I mention my concerns regarding the new Ohio high school assessment system to people who would listen me, they concede that I may have a point. There is often a brief look of panic that flashes in their eyes as they consider the ramifications. Unfortunately, after that, many simply walk away toward their quiet place, humming to themselves, wishing they had chosen a career in plastics.

What I'm finding more problematic, however, are those few who stick around, and they are few. They take on a hopeful look, smiling sympathetically, as if to say, "You silly, silly, man. You worry needlessly." Then they explain in earnest... "Perhaps you don't understand. There are THREE paths to graduation."

Of course, forever the skeptic, I interject...

According to The Ohio Education Policy Institute, in analysis of state data, only 15.1% of students scored remediation free on the ACT in districts with greater than 90% economically disadvantaged students. In areas with high rates of poverty, rural or urban, this is not a viable path to graduation. In districts with only 10% economically disadvantaged the percent of students scoring remediation free is only 69%. It's not a foolproof option even in the state's most successful districts.

See that report here.

And if the solution is a vocational certification, a 2014 report by the Fordham Institute indicates that only one in four students in Ohio's Career and Technical Planning Districts earned an industry credential. The data in this report was somewhat limited, but the numbers do not seem promising.

Less than 50% proficiency on new assessments, 15% scoring remediation free on the ACT, 25% earning industry credentials. What does this mean? I believe that we have to assume that students who score poorly on Ohio's End of Year tests will also be unable to achieve a remediation free score on the ACT, and less likely to gain an industry credential combined with a satisfactory score on the WorkKeys assessment. This could be terribly problematic for Ohio's most vulnerable students, those who are economically disadvantaged.

My conclusions here are based upon some educated speculation. I teach in an urban high school whose success on standardized tests has never been guaranteed. I have been conditioned to fear the worst where the Ohio Department of Education is concerned. My school became very successful under the previous system (perhaps necessitating a new system under which we can fail), but it took some time. The work of myself and my colleagues will raise the scores over the next 5-10 years, but what about these kids? Their work deserves a diploma, and the Three Paths to Graduation, as exciting as they are, don't seem to lead there.

To be honest, I hope that my speculation turns out to be a misinterpretation of the data. However, it is the utter lack of dialogue regarding the potential problems that I find so terribly frightening. We cannot simply accept the state's line that this will all work out. They have no evidence to support their claims that this system is better than the last. Worse, they seem to be making this up as they go along. For the sake of my students, I'd prefer to at least begin a discussion prior to a potential crisis. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

More Valuable Data from the 2015 Assessments or The Post Where I Sarcastically Pretend to Be an Uninformed Boob in Order to Make a Point.

The figure above appeared in an article Saturday in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It shows Performance Index scores when correlated with poverty. The article explains, "Performance Index is a composite of test scores across all grades and subjects that summarizes how well kids scored on state tests."

Very simply, the greater the percentage of economically disadvantaged students, the lower the state test scores in a district.

I don't know about you, but my mind is blown. Who would've thought that poor kids would score lower on standardized tests? Maybe we should test ALL of Ohio's students again next month to see if this is a pattern. If it is, wouldn't that mean that a disproportionate number of poor and minority students are being held back in 3rd grade and prevented from graduating from high school? I can't believe that our legislators could, in good conscience, permit such a system to exist.

That was exhausting. 

Students return to testing in a month. I'm going to predict that poor kids struggle, and districts with more of them are labeled as failures. Furthermore, the state will continue to fail to remediate the effects of poverty, praise themselves for raising the academic rigor, and argue that our testing system is providing a fine apples to apples comparison of school districts.

I will continue to teach, and try to direct my rage into something productive.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Numbers Game?

5 American History classes.

146 students.

12 days until Spring Break. I should be pleased at things. The built in breaks enable us to maintain the level of energy and commitment necessary to teach successfully. We have a week and a half off. This should be plenty of time to prep our energy levels for the end of the year.

This year is different. The standardized tests in the state of Ohio are changing again. The sophomores I'm teaching are adjusting to a new assessment system for the second year in a row. This year the tests are in one window, which is great, except that the window occurs after that week and a half off, they are taking brand new assessments no more valid than last year's, and they're still working toward a high-stakes endgame, enough points (18) to graduate.

3 (2.57) is the average score a student needs on each assessment to reach 18.

79% is the highest percentage of students to score 3 or better on a given exam in my school. It was Geometry which was taken by all honors students last year.

Some of the percentages on other tests, like Algebra and American History were far lower. It is difficult to say exactly what this will mean for the prospective graduation of my students, their peers, or others in schools that typically struggle on these assessments (read urban schools with high rates of poverty).

I am trying to be optimistic.

We're all shouldering a great deal of anxiety, and grinding ahead in the interest of our students.

My plan is to wrap up a unit on Civil Rights this week, administer the SGM (another state mandated assessment) next week, and recap the first semester prior to break. A brief review is only reasonable, considering these kids are going to be assessed by the state on some material we haven't mentioned since September, and some from their World History course in 9th grade.

Then, in a leap of blind faith, I am going to hope that the best preparation for brand new assessments on which your graduation depends is to take a week and a half vacation. Then I'll pretend that I believe it's a good idea to assess all students on a variety of computers despite the research that suggests otherwise.

I will not, however, suggest to anyone that I believe this testing system is much better beyond shorter. I also will not be convinced that high-stakes measures like graduation should be tied to any assessment. The federal government doesn't require it. Most states don't either. 

At minimum, Ohio needs further revision of the system going forward or the graduation rates will plummet. For many politicians, education is a numbers game driven by election years. For those of us in the field, it's about these kids looking for a bit of understanding.