Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More Evidence of Grade Inflation

I previously described how our students’ classroom grades appeared to greatly exceed the state’s assessments (see Grade Inflation). I also explained that New Jersey State considers anything above 50% to be proficient. What I failed to mention, however, was that even the state assessments are exaggerated. To get a true picture of how our students are doing, we need to look nationally and internationally. It’s not a pretty picture.

When the No Child Left Behind Act was first developed, there was sharp disagreement among Republicans whether the federal government had any proper role in education, a fundamentally state issue. The compromise was the federal government would set the standards for reporting and funding but that each state could devise its own testing methods. The concession inadvertently gave states the perverse incentive to reap federal funds by lowering testing standards.

Among students taking the New Jersey GEPA (8th grade) exams, 74% were graded proficient in language arts, 68% in math, and 79% in science. On the federal NAEP tests, however, New Jerseyans were only 56% proficient in writing, 39% in reading, 40% in math, and 33% in science. By extrapolation, under federal standards, less than half of our students are proficient in any of the major disciplines. Less than half.

Another means to measure our students nationally is via SAT scores. If our students were comparable to the general population, our average SAT score should be around the 50th percentile. Instead, our district’s average SAT score of 1414 is only in the 38th percentile.

What of the argument that our district is “socio-economically” diverse? If we look at just the top 25% of our district, the best of our students, the outlook is even more depressing. Again, if our top students were comparable to the rest of the nation, the top quarter of students should be scoring at or above the 75th percentile. Instead, with a cutoff score of 1590, they only crack the 60th percentile. For math (56th percentile) and English (55th percentile), our best students were barely above the national average.

Meanwhile, it’s widely recognized that among developed and developing countries, the United States lags the rest of the world in pre-college education. On the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States ranked 29th in science and 35th in math out of 57 countries/regions. Just to be middling globally, our students would need to be above average nationally.

So, the United States is well below average among PISA participating countries and our district is well below average in the United States. Yet, our school board’s only plan to prepare our students for a global economy is to get another 10% of our students across the halfway mark on a state assessment exam.

Prior to the recent school board elections, the board’s goal, as stated in the superintendent’s contract, was to “raise student performance in order to place in the top 25% in state testing within the District Factor Group.” Following the election, the board revised its goal to “By the end of the 08-09 school year, 10% of the partial proficient students will achieve proficiency on the state assessments while maintaining our advanced proficient student percentages.” Yes, elections do matter.

Our students are underperforming at all levels, not just the “socio-economically diverse” kids. We have a board whose goal is to meet the barest legal minimum requirements to prevent loss of funding. What’s a parent to do? Focus on the nationally recognized exams. Until Matawan-Aberdeen changes course, the nationally recognized exams are the only ones we can trust.
>>> Read more!


brianinthebeach said...

It is sad to see, I stated earlier that is why our children go to Brookdale. They go because they can not get into better colleges or universities, not because they choose to stay local.

The truth is the school system is letting us down, as well as, some of the parents. We can not put the full blame on the teachers and school system. We as parents must take some of the hit. That being said, we can't pretend that there is not a problem here.

Mim Song said...

I've looked through the stats on the page you link to, and I don't see the "crisis" Aberdeener is so hysterical about. We have better than average graduation rates and college attendance -- those are the outcomes of our whole system, not intervening factors like standardized test results.

I agree with brianinthebeach about parental responsibility. If every parent spent an additional 30 minutes a week tracking academics, even helping with homework, students would get the message that academic performance is important. The district can help with that by improving the school-home communication channel. And there are lots of low-cost ways to do that.

As always, it's a lot easier to complain about politics than to step in and help in a practical matter, especially if there is a hidden agenda.

Aberdeener said...

Mim Song,

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one reviewing the stats.

Regarding the graduation rates, I've previously written (see "Grade Inflation") that I believe those rates are suspiciously high.

Fewer than half of our graduates intend to purse 4-year colleges. Please compare that to the other districts in Monmouth County within our district factor group (DFG). Ocean Twp. - 68%, Red Bank - 63%. (I don't know what the average is for our DFG.)

As for helping in a practical matter, I'd be interested in hearing your suggestions.

Mim Song said...

Thanks for your reply, Aberdeener.

I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but one of the best methods to communicate between home and school is via some online channel. At least email! I've had only mixed success communicating with teachers via email.

The new District website is actually a powerful and well-designed content management system, but it's terribly underutilized. A few teachers use it creatively and effectively, but most do nothing with it.

I think the District did a survey a year or two back on how wired our students are at home. I don't remember seeing the results published, but I'm sure the number of tech-savvy homes is greater than 50%. With numbers like that, why not let parents choose an all-IT communication plan? It'd reduce printing costs, speed things up, and improve the level of two-way communication..

Aberdeener said...

Mim Song,

I think you're right on target but you're also hitting a sore spot. The school website has become a prime example of a great idea terribly implemented.

First, there are many web "experts" in the neighborhood, including myself, that would have volunteered their time to help design the website. Instead, the board chose a cookie cutter design with minimal input from the stakeholders - teachers, students, and parents.

They then spent thousands of dollars to train teachers to use the website without actually mandating it be used. As you've noticed, a few teachers have posted some great material on the website but most have ignored it.

Then, in the clearest indication that the district doesn't care whether the website succeeds or not, they've chosen to not track site usage. The district has no idea how much the site is being used or what parts are being used at all.

Remember the school website blog? It was last updated in October. When the site was first posted, they didn't realize that the board members weren't receiving email from their school email addresses.

The website should be a vehicle for communication. Instead, it's underutilized and always will be until the district invites some volunteer "professionals" to help design it for success.