Friday, July 18

Unpacking Klein-speak in D.C.

Here's a paragraph from Chancellor Joel Klein's testimony yesterday before the House panel on education; below it, some amplification on what the stats really mean, thanks to this handy PowerPoint from the DOE.

"In fourth-grade math, for example, the gap separating our African-American and white students has narrowed by more than 16 points. In eighth-grade math, African-American students have closed the gap with white students by almost 5 points. In fourth-grade reading, the gap between African-American and white students has narrowed by more than 6 points. In eighth-grade reading, the gap has closed by about 4 points."

First, the good news: Overall, nearly 80% of fourth-graders score at or above grade level in math. That's good. The race gap Klein highlights persists but is narrowing. Also good. But the 18-point split between black and white students leaps to 30 points by 8th grade, when math proficiency drops to 59% overall. So closing a gap by 5 points IS progress -- but the gap that remains is six times as wide.

In English Language Arts (ELA), 26 points separate black and white fourth-grade students who score on or above grade level; the gap endures, at 29 points, in eighth grade. But the overall average score plummets in parallel with the math score -- 61% score at or above grade level in fourth grade, but fewer than half, 43%, earn level 3/4 on their eighth grade ELA.

And two items worth the mention, although Klein elected to skip them: This year, grade 5 level 3/4 ELA scores were 69%; grade 6 level 3/4 scores plummeted to 53% -- roughly, a 20% drop. What happened in that transitional year? And top scorers on the Level 4 ELAs represent a very small slice of the New York City pie: Only 5.8% of fourth graders and 2.9% of eighth graders scored Level 4 on these critical standardized exams.

Head spinning yet? The numbers sure are...


Anonymous said...

It seems as if all of the energy is spent on getting as many kids as possible to Level 3, with some very limited success in the early grades and none at all at the middle school level. And that enormous expenditure of energy comes at the expense of the brightest kids, who are not being sufficiently challenged. Surely we would see more Level 4s if they were? Not to mention better middle schools and happier, more engaged kids? My experience watching my own and other kids at the elementary school level is that if the brightest kids are challenged, then all kids benefit because the teachers use the techniques they've learned as a result across the curriculum, with kids working at all levels.

Andy Jacob said...

Regarding your comparison of the 5th and 6th grade ELA scores:

We know we have a lot of work to do in middle school. However, you're comparing two completely different sets of students - this year's 5th graders to this year's 6th graders. It's more instructive to compare the same students as they travel from grade to grade.

If you compare this year's 6th graders to last year's 5th graders - the same group of students - you see a drop of 3 points in reading, not 20. And that's less than the 7 point drop we saw in the scores of last year's 6th graders compared to their 5th grade scores in 2006.

So, while we obviously don't want to see any drop between 5th and 6th grade, there's actually an encouraging trend if you follow the progress of students from grade to grade.

Andy Jacob
Deputy Press Secretary, DOE

helen said...

Andy, appreciate your writing in, thank you. And agree, comparing kids in different grades isn't the same as comparing the same kids a year apart. Even so, that kind of dramatic drop between elementary and middle school is alarming.

We know DOE has made huge investments in elementary and high schools, and also that middle-school reform is on the immediate agenda. But these sixth-graders have only two more years in middle school, and only a few months until their grade-7 tests (which, as you know, can critically influence high school admission). So we think asking about the transition from elementary to middle school is worthwhile.

On another note, do you have any response to the first comment in this string, suggeting that efforts to get more kids to level 3 scores shortchanges high-achievers? Welcome your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 11:36. If the entire class is engaged and kept interested in learning,the learning experience will spill out of the classroom and in the school yard. As the brighter children learn new material the conversations on the playgrounds will change, hopefully stimulating the lust for learning for all students. If the emphasis is merely to have every student achieve a level 3 score than the system fails those who are already at or beyond that level.