Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Reactions to RIDE's New School Classifications and Rankings

OK, so we've got RIDE's new post-waiver school classifications. Here are some reactions with a number of throat-clearing caveats.

Caveat #1: I don't really feel like finding and (re-)reading the technical documents explaining this whole process -- it is a summer weekend after all -- so there are a number of question marks here.

Caveat #2: I don't believe ranking schools in a single list is a good idea, period.

Caveat #3: I particularly don't believe that ranking schools based only on test scores and even more easily corrupted graduation rates is a good idea, even if you chop and dice them in lots of different ways to make it look like you're using some kind of "multiple measures."

Caveat #4: Having said that, I have no qualms about poring over this data. This is, I suppose, like explaining to you why "low fat" cookies aren't any better for you right before undertaking an extensive taste-test of Snackwells and reduced fat Oreos.

Caveat #5: Should we be evaluating this as a temporary expedient or a permanent system? For example, should we even consider what should happen after a school goes through a 3-5 year improvement cycle? Is there any reason to think this will survive that long? To be honest, no.

Caveat #6: This is a clear improvement over the original system for designating persistently low-achieving schools, which was a travesty. But it was a travesty of RIDE's own design, and its flaws were obvious all along. So...

A long list of thoughts in no particular order:

  • It seems that we're switching from naming a new 5% of "lowest performing" schools to an ever growing list to every year to just classifying all the schools every year. So hypothetically next year's list won't actually change much. There will probably be fewer new interventions started. This is an improvement from Providence's point of view. Makes the whole thing seem like less of an endless meatgrinder devouring its own tail. On the other hand, I'm not sure that this is literally the case (see Caveat #1). Anyone know?
  • The real comparison here is not so much to NCLB but to SIG. If you wanted to translate this into the old SIG framework, from Providence's point of view, three new tier 1 persistently low performing schools were named for intervention, and nine were tier 2 (as they probably were last year); but now tier 2 schools are also slated for interventions starting next year.
  • The big story in the PPSD is Nathan Bishop Middle School coming out 10th from the bottom in the middle school rankings. This is a school that was re-opened on College Hill three years ago with extensive renovations and a new staff and academic program following extensive organizing and lobbying, particularly by the East Side Public Education Coalition. It has generally been considered a success, particularly in convincing more East Side parents that they don't have to flee to the private schools. Well, until yesterday perhaps. We shall see how that plays out. I don't know how those people think so I won't hazard a guess. I must admit some measure of schadenfreude. Guess those folks don't have all the answers after all.
  • Once you get to this large a proportion of the district, I don't see how this kind of school-by-school system is better than simply developing a coherent district-wide plan. Does anybody really believe this is the right way to do it? Will anyone speak up?
  • If thought that more drastic interventions were better in the PPSD, I'd be really discouraged. Doing this many with a no-layoff clause in effect, a more flexible set of reform options, unfavorable charter law and generally low interest and capacity to start new ones, and the whole union/district management structure for restarts probably means relatively little change.
  • Classical at #1 high school statewide should make one question what is being measured. Same union, pretty much same teachers, same district, etc. Different kids. Totally different results.
  • One good thing about releasing these as rankings is the possibility that these will be seen as the canonical rankings for the state. Whatever their shortcomings, they're more favorable to good diverse urban and rural schools than anything else that's come down the pike from, say, RICAN or GoLocalProv.
  • Congrats to E Cubed for managing a "typical" high school rating. That's a major accomplishment. Really.
  • The use of student growth percentage to evaluate schools is bogus:

    As Briggs explains and as Betebenner originally proposed, SGP is essentially a descriptive tool for evaluating and comparing student growth, including descriptively evaluating growth in the aggregate. But, it is not by any stretch of the imagination designed to estimate the effect of the school or the teacher on that growth.
  • This is actually rather old data, based on tests given in October 2011, which obviously primarily measure learning from the 2010 - 2011 school year and earlier. This is particularly frustrating if you're looking for evidence of dramatic turnarounds. The improvements already made this year at, say, Woods & Young Elementary this year won't show up (at best) until next summer's rankings.
  • Let's recall:

    PROVIDENCE — Making good on her vow to toughen oversight of the state’s 13 publicly funded charter schools and close ones she finds academically lacking, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist recommended Thursday that a popular Providence charter school be granted only a one-year provisional extension.

    She raised the very real possibility that the Highlander Charter School would be shut down after June 2011.

    “I am very concerned about the performance of this school,” Gist told the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education during a work session.

    According to her recommendation, she wants to give the school a year’s grace period “so that families can plan to pursue other educational opportunities,” an alarming sign to the school’s supporters.

    Highlander is now RIDE's #4 middle school in the state based on tests given in October 2011. Good thing they didn't close that June.

  • Also, Gist has got a pending recommendation to close the Academy for Career Exploration charter school, the third highest rated high school in Providence after Classical and Times2.
  • Assuming that hiring, evaluation, pensions, etc. would be off the table since they're all already being reformed, I don't think Providence teachers in general would be opposed to adopting measures used at RI charters like the Learning Community, Cuffee, and Highlander, aside from the fact that it is kind of offensive to be told to do so by administration, especially if you were doing those same things a decade ago before being forced to stop by district administration.
  • Six of the seven schools that first adopted "criterion-based hiring" in the 2009-2010 school year are in "Focus" or "Priority" status (the lowest two). The two schools opened under criterion-based hiring are in Focus status.
  • Of the three schools in "Warning" status in the PPSD, you have one elementary that was consolidated and moved last year into an old brutalist middle school building, another that absorbed a big chunk of low-performing students from other closing elementary schools, and a third that lost its well-regarded principal so she could start another turnaround elsewhere in the district. It is a telling selection of schools on the bubble due to the negative effects of reform and budget meltdown.
  • Congratulations to Lima for being the second highest rated elementary school in the PPSD despite a sudden, unplanned reorganization and severe mold infestation!
  • If I wanted to start nitpicking the formula, I'd look at how the achievement gap calculations play out in segregated districts.

That's all I've got for now...

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