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Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

All For One

Posted Tuesday, September 4, 2012, at 11:38 AM

Who was the greatest Quarterback of all time? What is the greatest movie ever? What is the most effective diet? Everyone has an opinion and most back up the opinion with data.

Education is the same. What is the best University? What is the best school? The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind. (Possibly the greatest song ever? Dylan or the Peter, Paul and Mary cover?) We have become obsessed with data and accountability. Honorable numbers that they are, we can interpret them to make our point whatever it may be. A consensus will never be reached and negative feelings will rise from the ashes left from the burning government "lists" and reports; reports generated by statisticians who rarely if ever taught in a public school setting.

Yet, we believe, and we join in the fray. Neighbor is pitted against neighbor as to who has the best school, the best teacher, the best class and the best kid. Everyone has an excuse; that is everyone except those on the "good" lists. All those not on the "good" lists spend more time in defamation of those on the list than they spend trying to get on the "good" list themselves.

Can we change the landscape? After all, this is not your favorite sports team or movie, these are our kids and they are all ours. Every child, gifted or challenged, rich or poor, regardless of race, culture, family or religion, they are all ours. And we all suffer when any one of them does not reach their full potential.

In our community many of today's Choctaws will marry Trojans. They will go to Universities together and work side by side. They will argue over the greatest movie and if Peyton Manning was a better quarterback than Bret Farve. Whatever the case we need them to reach their full potential. We need to help them all to become successful.

Let's get beyond the data gridlock and do what is best for children. Let's not get so absorbed in the numbers that we forget our mission; to provide a safe, positive environment where all children can reach their full potential. Let's not let our best teachers become discouraged because a statnocrate chose unfavorable data to pass judgment on our careers.

Feel free to take an independent new look at the data from last year to see where we stand. This is all real data from real schools for our comparison.

Let us look at the 3rd grade benchmark data from last year's 8th graders from three systems.

Class of 2016
System A25th percentile50th percentile75 th percentile
3rd grade Math215074
3rd grade ELA234468
3rd grade Science264770
3rd grade Social Studies274766
Class of 201625th percentile50th percentile75 th percentile
System B
3rd grade Math285783
3rd grade ELA325677
3rd grade Science385881
3rd grade Social Studies325481
Class of 201625th percentile50th percentile75 th percentile
System C
3rd grade Math122550
3rd grade ELA92544
3rd grade Science102342
3rd grade Social Studies82038

Now a simple question, which system would you chose to enroll your child?

Students in System A have their lowest achieving 25% right at the state average with scores of 21 in Math, 23 in ELA, 26 in science and 27 in Social Studies. All are close to the state averages. They are slightly lower in the middle group and even a little lower in the higher achieving 75th percentile, but close to average.

The numbers show that Students in System B above the average benchmark in all levels and System C in considerably below in all areas.

The answer to the simple question seems self-evident. The answer should be that you do not know yet. 3rd grade benchmark scores tell you where a child begins. It shows nothing of measured growth or gains. That is why the state produces the growth measures from the students who were 3rd graders in 2007 and compare them to their 8th grade scores in 2012. The same students are tested 5 years later to see how they have advanced.

Now let's look at the same students, same benchmarks and the growth they attained.

Class of 201625th percentile50th percentile75 th percentile
System A
3rd grade Math215074
3rd grade ELA234468
3rd grade Science264770
3rd grade Social Studies274766
8th grade Math476683
8th grade ELA224566
8th grade Science345776
8th grade Social Studies194169
difference from 3rd to 8th
Math26169
ELA-11-2
Science8106
Social Studies-8-63
Gross % difference62
Class of 201625th percentile50th percentile75 th percentile
System B
3rd grade Math285783
3rd grade ELA325677
3rd grade Science385881
3rd grade Social Studies325481
8th grade Math285269
8th grade ELA285373
8th grade Science345779
8th grade Social Studies315075
difference from 3rd to 8th
Math0-5-14
ELA-4-3-4
Science-4-1-2
Social Studies-1-4-6
Gross % difference-48
Class of 2016
System C25th percentile50th percentile75 th percentile
3rd grade Math122550
3rd grade ELA92544
3rd grade Science102342
3rd grade Social Studies82038
8th grade Math244772
8th grade ELA243963
8th grade Science315772
8th grade Social Studies193859
difference from 3rd to 8th
Math122222
ELA151419
Science213430
Social Studies111821
Gross % difference239

System A grew in 8 areas lost in 4, and made an overall gain of 64 percentage points.

System B stayed equal in one but lost in 11 areas for an overall loss of 46 percentage points.

System C made amazing gains in every measured field. They started out very, very low but grew to become close to the state average in all fields. Their overall gain was 239 percentage points.

Which system did the best to academically grow children? Were the students in system C so low that they had nowhere to go but up? Were the students in system B so high that they were destined to fall?

The overall average of system A has caught system B but system C is catching up quickly.

So where are we now? Which system would you enroll your child?

Who is the greatest quarterback of all time? The one with the most passing yards or most touchdown passes. Perhaps the one with the most victories or maybe most Super Bowl rings. I guess the greatest quarterback depends on what you measure. The state has their formula for success. This formula determines the Exemplary list and the Reward schools along with Focus and Priority schools. The state uses their formula, different from what others value to measure success. In the eyes of the state, schools in system B are Reward schools while schools in A and C are on punitive lists.

As stated earlier, there is an abundance of information to use when making these decisions. The data presented is not to make a stand against system B. They have students above the state average. The state just chose to measure success in a different way. There will be as many ways to measure success as there are people arguing over who is the greatest quarterback. I am just really having a hard time not calling system C a reward school considering the growth they incurred. (By the way, Dyersburg is not system C.)

We chose to measure our success by the final score. In public education the final score comes from ACT data and college readiness. ACT scores are instrumental in college applications and scholarships. Dyersburg City Schools awarded about $8 mil in scholarships last year.

To prepare our students we provide a rigorous curriculum for our High School students and challenge them in class. Our ACT scores are above the state average. 23% of our students are college ready while the state average in 16%. We are reluctant to send up a flag over this data. Although significantly above the state average, less than of our graduates are ready for college. This is unacceptable.

We also offer a large number of dual credit, dual enrollment and AP courses. Our students who take these courses do not count on our state data. The state will not allow students who take AP or Dual credit tests to take EOC's in addition to the college level exams. There are loopholes to get around this but that is not what we determine to be best for the students. We refuse to play the game; therefore over 170 of our highest achieving academic students will not count in state data.

In the same way, about of our 8th grade class took Algebra I as a part of our rigorous Middle School curriculum. All 39 scored advanced on the EOC. None of the Middle School EOC data counts toward the system's Algebra I scores. If they had waited to take Algebra I in High School, then they would have counted on the system data. The state asks us to increase the rigor of our students but then punishes us for offering duel credit, AP and Algebra I to 8th graders. Their data does not fully count when the state compiles the scores.

Small schools are also rewarded by not having a large enough student population to have sub-groups. Sometimes their percentages of the subgroups are higher but they do not reach the threshold in total numbers to have measurable accountability for their sub-groups. Case in point:

There are 21 school systems in the state recognized as Exemplary. Of those systems:

4 school systems are only K-8

18 have less than the state average student population

4 have less than 750 students and 9 less than 1500

3 have the more or average African America population

6 have state average or more of SPED students

Nine of the 21 Exemplary Systems have schools on the Focus list

Two systems only have 3 schools and 2 of them are Focus schools

One system only has 2 schools and 1 is a Focus school

One system has 5 of 13 schools on the Focus list

9 of the systems on the Exemplary list have no Reward schools

5 of the systems on the Exemplary list have one Reward school

4 of the systems on the Exemplary list have two Reward schools

Of the 21 systems on the Exemplary list there are a total of 18 Focus schools and 24 Reward schools.

In conclusion, congratulations to schools that make the "good" lists as determined by the state. They are good schools that deserve recognition. To some of the others schools I also say congratulations. By other analysis you are greatly successful. To all good teachers I say, do your best, do what is right for students. Take your student data very seriously. It is great information and will give you the information you need to be effective. It will give you the tools to understand your unique situation. Take the school data for what it is: an opportunity to identify areas that need improvement.

To all I say, work hard, make a difference and remain focused on your goals to provide a safe, positive environment where all students can reach their full potential. And by the way, Bart Star, Casablanca, and I never met a diet worth being on.



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Neel Durbin
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