Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shearon shares his POV

Dave Shearon (a former MNPS BOE member from 1998 to 2001) made some very helpful observations in two recent posts to the NashvillePTOTalk list. I think they deserve broader publication and he has generously given me permission to post them here as he's no longer including MNPS issues on his blog.

I've been a little confused by MNPS getting "A's" on value-added even though we are losing ground to the state. So, I did a little investigating.

An "A" only means that a school or system is not doing significantly worse at helping students make gains than the state average from 1998. That's right, 1998 is the measuring stick, so it makes perfect sense that, with the vast majority of schools getting better, MNPS could be doing a poorer job of improving and still make A's.

Of course, this means that our students -- at all pre-achievement levels -- are losing ground to their peers across the state. For example, the 25th percentile for 3rd graders in 2002 for MNPS corresponded to the 22nd percentile for the state. Today, those students are at the 16th percentile. Our 50th percentile was the state's 44th, and today it's the 36th. Our 75th used to

Members of the public can only see this data at the system level. Board Members, Dr. Garcia, and anyone to whome he gives a password can see similar data (and much more) for individual schools. Thus, if our leadership wanted to, it is possible for them to report on many additional views of our performance. For example, they could report, if they wanted to, on how zoned schools are doing compared to the academic magnets at helping high-achieving students to gain knowledge and skills in exchange for the time they spend sitting in class. This could be similar to the study I produced in 1999 ( or they might find a better format. But it could be done relatively easily.

There are other interesting results that can be pulled from the online data available to Board members and the administration. For example, they could look at the effect of high concentrations of beginning or ineffective teachers in some feeder patterns. ( When I did my study, it meant requesting paper copies of a thick bundle of school-level reports, entering that data into spreadsheets and doing the anlysis. Today, it's just a password and a few clicks for any Board member.

In fairness, I should note that any Board member who undertook such an effort would open themselves up to attacks on three fronts.

First, they would be accused of not being supportive of the system. Many in the system and many parent and community supporters treat hard but fair questions as "attacking public schools."

Second, although I think access could be given to a Board member only down to the school level, for example, the system available to Dr. Garcia and those he designates (other administrators, principals for their own schools, etc.) goes to the teacher and even the student level. This leaves the Board member as a possible suspect if confidential data becomes public. Note: the kind of performance analysis I am suggesting is not confidential.

Third, some analyses would leave the Board member subject to accusations of mis-placed priorities. This line of attack sounds like "As long as low-achieving students are struggling, how can you be concerned about whether we're wasting the time of those who are already doing well?" For "low-achieving", feel free to substitute "minority", "poor", "ELL", "special-education" or any other categorization. The truth is that ALL parents want their children to be engaged, happy, and learning at school and Board members SHOULD represent ALL parents.

To me, the political risks to Board members are the price of leadership. We should have better information on how ALL our students are doing than we do today, and the fact that we don't is the responsibility of the Board.

David N. Shearon, JD, MAPP
Nashville, TN
Contributing monthly to

and Dave continues in this second post:

I think it is fair to say we have not made the stunning gains that the PR campaign of MNPS has tried to claim and that we have made NO WHERE NEAR the jaw-dropping gains that Dr. Garcia claimed for his former district when he was being recruited.

Further, the data suggests that, at least through 2005 (the last year this study was updated), we weren't helping students learn as much between grades 3 and 8. Now, does this apply to every group of students, or is it weighed down by group differences such as increased ELL. Or, put another way, are early high-achieving, non-FARM students doing as well now as they were in 2008? Impossible for us to determine, but Dr. Garcia or his staff or a Board member could provide the answer.

Yes the state standards for proficiency are weak, and thus AYP under NCLB is weak, though we're not even achieving it. Remeber that AYP is based on a minimum cut score that creates no pressure to be concerned about high-achieving students (or those so far below the system determines they won't make it).

David N. Shearon, JD, MAPP
Nashville, TN
Contributing monthly to

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