Saturday, November 7, 2009

AYP means Are You Phooling?

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, last year, about half of Minnesota's schools were not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress, an arbitrary cut score based measurement established by politicians. This year, the actual scores of real students improved slightly in most cases. But even more schools will be designated as not making adequate yearly progress, because every year, the State raises the standard for success. Better isn't good enough. Better, in NCLB is worse, because NCLB is based on the premise that all students will reach perfection by the year 2014. And each year, until 2014, more schools will be designated in "AYP" until by 2014 virtually no school in Minnesota will qualify as making adequate yearly progress. In a past post, I compared this Utopian idea to the belief of communists that right-thinking government could bring about utopia and cause all people to reach perfection.

Now here is a puzzling fact. Kids in Minnesota are doing just about as well as kids in Wisconsin, but over the last several years, many more schools in Minnesota have been designated as failing, that is not making AYP, than in Wisconsin. And kid s in Alabama are doing way worse than either Wisconsin or Minnesota, but fewer Alabama schools are rated as not making AYP. What in the world is going on. Are you phooling me, or something.

The answer is found in the way that the No Child Left Behind Law works (or should I say doesn't work). In order to understand this strange phenomenon, you need to understand a few basic facts about NCLB. Let's take a look at the reason why, because its another window on the strange operation of No Child Left Behind. The two charts below compare the path chosen by Minnesota and Wisconsin to reach the magic proficiency perfection goal in 2014. Both States are required by NCLB to increase the number of students scoring at the state-defined proficiency level until all of the students in every school and every classroom are scoring at or above proficiency. But the two states have chosen different paths. Notice that Wisconsin chose to set modest goals during the first six years, and save most of the improvement until the last four From 2004 to 2010, Wisconsin schools were expected to improve the number of students scoring at the proficient level from 62% to 74% or 2% per year, leaving Wisconsin schools another 25% to go, to get to 100%. That means that in the last four years, Wisconsin schools will have to make up the difference at the rate of 6% per year.

Why would Wisconsin try to make so little ground in the first six years, and leave all the work for the last four? Could the answer be that Wisconsin knew that it was going to be impossible to get all students to 100 percent, and wanted to put off the day of reckoning? Take a look at the AYP path to proficiency for mathematics planned by Wisconsin and Minnesota respectively Wisconsin planned to get only 58% of its students to proficiency by 2010, and then to make up the rest of the way to 100% at the rate of 15% per year for the last four years. I've taken the information from a Liberal thinktank, called Minnesota 2020, and conservative think-tank, called The Education Sector. Both point out that there's a whole lot of manipulating going on in NCLB. I think that the reason is that everyone is beating around the bush: they don't want to admit that the fundamental flaw in NCLB is the mistaken belief that all children are exactly alike and that its just a matter of politicians decreeing that they'll all be the same by 2014.

This is another example of the hocus pocus that is No Child Left Behind.

  • The underlying assumption of the NCLB law is that all children can reach an arbitrarily set standard of proficiency by 2014. When I say, all, I mean all. Think back to your high school math class--say first year algebra. Many of you were in tracked mathematics in those days. If you were in algebra, there were probably a slew of other kids in your class that were diverted into consumer math, or some other math track. NCLB says, that those kids that were in the slow track for mathematics need to be put in algebra with everyone else. In Minnesota, under our approach to NCLB, all of those kids are not only supposed to pass Algebra I, but they are also supposed to pass on to Algebra II (binomial theorem, multi-variate equations, graphing of geometric shapes and equations, and so on.) And, under NCLB, as interpreted in Minnesota, all those kids must pass Algebra II at a proficiency level set arbitrarily. By arbitrary, I mean that there is no research to show that this is possible.
  • The Second NCLB fact is that each state can set the arbitrary proficiency standard where it sees fit. Different states have different levels of proficiency. I posted on the vast difference established by various states in a previous blog post, called
    Problems with Proficiency Cut Score System. There, I displayed graphs showing that some states have very high proficiency cut scores, and other states have very low cut scores. In other words, some states have decided that none of their students can reach the very high proficiency cut scores attained in the most demanding states (like Massachussets and South Carolina). Yet, strangely, all states have decided that all students within the same state can reach the same cut score. If you are born in Massachussets, you can reach a high level of proficiency, but if you are born in Alabama you, evidently can reach only a very low level of proficiency. We recognize individual differences across state lines, but not within the same state.
  • The third fact is that each year, the percentage of students who must reach proficiency increases until eventually the percentage is 100 percent. By way of example, in Minnesota, a school was deemed to be making appropriate progress in 2007-2008 if 77% of its students pass the reading test at the Minnesota proficiency cut score, but in the next year, 2008-2009, the school must pass 81 percent of its students. The same pass rate is established for all schools, no matter whether the school has a lot of educationally challenged students, or virtually none, and each year, the percentage of students who must reach proficiency goes up, until in 2014, it is 100%..
  • The fourth and final fact is that there is no research--not a scintilla of research to support the belief that all students can reach the prescribed levels of proficiency. Public school students, home schooled students, private school students, charter school students, you name it, nobody has demonstrated that you can take a group of students who match the general population and put them in any kind of school, and have them come out at the end reaching the NCLB prescribed level 100% proficiency. It has never been done and there is nothing to support the contention that it can be done. It a wishful invention akin to the claim that the naked Emporer is wearing clothes.
Here is what is going on. While all students in every state must reach proficiency by 2014, the states were free to choose the rate at which they would get there. Some states, like Minnesota decided that every school would have to make the same progress (regardless of the composition of its students) at the same rate each year between 2003 and 2014. You can see the plan for Minnesota schools on the charts above, as I have said.. The target goes up 4 percent every year in Minnesota, but Wisconsin knew that rate of increase was humanly impossible to attain. It put off the day of reckoning until later, hoping that the politicians would eventually wise up to what they had done.

The leadership in Wisconsin.knew that it was going to be impossible to make it to 100%. Not because their schools are worse than other schools, but because children are different. They knew that there was no research support for NCLB and that eventually all schools were going to fail, if getting all students to perfection was the goal. They might have done what some other states did: they might have established a really low proficiency standard. But that would have lowered the standard for all students. The problem with setting one standard for all students is that it forces you to pick a very low standard for everyone, or it forces you to create a standard that will cause a significant number of students to fail to pass the standard. Wisconsin adopted the clever strategy of waiting until very near the end before they ramped up the AYP requirements. They wanted their schools to look as good as they could as long as they could. They knew that the NCLB law had to be renewed in 2009, and they believed that by that time, people would wake up and realize that the NCLB was not based on reality. By posponing most of the increases until after 2009, they hoped to keep their schools protected from the penalty sanctions.

But the leadership in Minnesota had a different point of view. Some people believe that's because the Commissioner at the time was a proponent of vouchers and wanted public schools to look like they were failing as soon as possible. In any event, as every year passes, more schools "fail" because NCLB says that more and more students have to reach the proficiency standard, and frankly, they can't. But we are undeterred. Even though more students are doing better, the NCLB standard goes up even faster, and still nobody speaks out and says--maybe children aren't all the same:

"Sixty percent will never be good enough," said Chas Anderson, Minnesota's Deputy Education Commissioner. "It won't be good enough until we hit 100 percent proficiency, and those are our benchmarks and that's what we want to reach. "What we're pleased about is we've made really good progress from 2006-2009 with all students. We feel we're on the right track as it relates to math." Last year, about half of Minnesota's schools were not meeting AYP. Even though scores improved slightly in most cases this year, state officials say they didn't improve at the rate needed to keep up with AYP demands and that's why the state expects even more schools to make that dreaded list, come August."

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