Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On another list . . .

It seems like we end up on a lot of lists for the work that we do and for the accomplishments of our students and staff such as this one where Mike Jackson, high school teacher, is honored with the King County 2012 Earth Hero at School award for his work with our technology students.  Unfortunately, this past week we also ended up on a list of four, only this was not a list we aspired to or that we believe deserve.  The list was identified in this Seattle Times article where four districts in the state were identified as potentially cheating on state tests.  Since that time Dawn Wakeley our testing coordinator has been researching and studying the methodology used by an Atlanta newspaper to compile a national list of potential cheaters.  This is on the heels of the Atlanta testting scandal that surfaced last year. 

I asked Dawn to share what she has learned thus far in the guest post that follows.  Unfortunately, we have not seen the last of this as there will be a follow-up article this week end in the Atlanta newspaper.

You have got to be kidding!?! This was my first response to the article recently posted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) and it continues to be my response after about 60 hours of analysis; poring over our data to see if there are any concerning trends when examining our data by cohort grouping over the last 7 years.

In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution study, they identified an “approximate cohort class” of students as a group of students in the same school from one year to the next. In the Tahoma system this translates into cohort classes identified at the building level for grade 3  4, grade 4  5, and grade 6 7 for both reading and math. Data for cohorts where a grade transition moves them to a new school building were not analyzed in the Journal-Constitution study. Districts with fewer than 20 cohort classes in a school year were not included in the study. Tahoma has exactly 20 cohort classes of students that met the criteria.

So, what does this mean? In the Journal-Constitution study they flagged cohort classes that performed outside the norm. According to the study, in any year a typical district might expect to have about 5% of its classes flagged for unusually high or low performance relative to that group’s performance the previous year. In Tahoma 5% equates to 1 cohort class because we only have 20 classes that fit the parameters in their study.

Our testing practices are tight and haven’t changed over the last 7 years. All of our staff take to heart the expectations the state and district have established for annual proctor training, documented chain of custody for all secure testing materials, locked storage of all testing booklets, and proper test administration procedures.

A constraint in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution study has them examining only two adjacent years for a cohort and then comparing that to the regression model for all the cohorts in the state, looking for outliers to flag. To illustrate this, the following charts show a cohort that was the biggest outlier for Tahoma in their study.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution study also has no context for what is actually happening instructionally with the cohort groups in each school building. We know that a highly successful teacher in the classroom delivering quality instruction every day is the biggest determiner for student success. Research that informs our Classroom 10 model and our focus on key content demonstrates highly successful teachers can get gains of up to 1 ½ years of learning in 1 year. We are committed to increasing consistent implementation of best instructional practices. We have also put into place, over the last 7 years, an increasing number of interventions and programs where there is shared responsibility for student learning. Successful academic interventions occur across our system, varying year to year based on what the data indicates is a cohort group’s highest need and what our staffing and budget allows us to put into place.

The gains we see as a system are made classroom by classroom, student by student, where high performing and dedicated staff deliver quality instruction every day. To indicate that Tahoma teachers aren’t committed and do not practice the highest standards of ethical conduct in testing just isn’t substantiated by the data. I’m appalled that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gets to make the sweeping judgments they have made. We have teachers and other staff that are so incredibly dedicated to students and the work they do here in our system and any stain

1 comment:

Ms. Morlock said...

Dawn, I am with you. Seriously??? Is the only word that comes to my mind. Is it so difficult for the world out there to believe that a system can maintain or make gains that instead we call them cheaters? Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't we supposed to help children learn and make gains? How about instead of calling us cheaters you ask, "Hey Tahoma what is it that you are doing to get consistent test scores?" Oh and to those at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution it seems that maybe your math skills are a little off, maybe you should attend school in the Tahoma School District. Apparently I get a little sassy when you call me a cheater.