Education: August 2007 Archives

I'm stunned by today's banner headline article on the front page of today's Whirled. Here's the headline:

Test results spike after change

The story breathlessly tells of "remarkable results":

The statistical leaps being reported by area districts in the percentage of students deemed proficient in Algebra I are staggering -- up 51 percentage points in Glenpool, more than 60 percentage points in Sapulpa and 44 percentage points in Broken Arrow.

In Tulsa Public Schools, the percentage of students deemed proficient in Algebra I at Washington High School jumped from 17 to 86 percent, and Memorial High School's numbers went from 9 to 50 percent.

What change caused these results? A return to traditional methods of instruction? Better control of classroom behavior?

Nope. They just lowered the passing grade. Instead of needing to answer 41 questions out of 55 to be deemed proficient, now students only need to answer 26 out of 55 questions. In percentages, the passing grade was dropped from 75% correct to 47% correct. A student who gets as many answers wrong as right still is deemed proficient in Algebra.

What might be motivating this change in standards?

End-of-instruction exams are given to secondary students in Oklahoma in four subject areas, but only the results for the Algebra I and English II tests are used to gauge overall student achievement under state and federal school accountability systems.

They lower the standard and more students are able to meet the lowered standard. I'm just amazed that the Whirled would think that's worth a banner headline.


Retired algebra teacher Michael Phillips comments on the Whirled website about the use of competency tests:

I am a retired Tulsa Public Schools teacher, who taught mostly algebra through out my career. I dreamed of someday seeing end-of-instruction exams in my classroom. There was a time in the mid 80s when Tulsa had a version of this. We were required to give what we called Competency Tests to each student in any high school level math class. Those students who passed were given the grade the teacher believed they earned through their course work. Those who failed the Competency Test failed the course. This system worked out well for those teachers who were demanding of their students. It was disaster for those teachers who offered little or no instruction and things were even worse for the students in their classes. The Tulsa Board of Education did away with these tests after a few years because too many parents were complaining about their children, who appeared to be doing well all year long and then suddenly failed their algebra course. I was of the opinion that they should have gotten rid of the do-nothing teachers, and kept the tests.

Much easier to fudge the numbers than to fix the problems that the numbers are revealing. It's like taking your child's temperature, finding out he's running a 102° fever, and instead of taking him to the doctor, re-marking the thermometer so it reads 98.6.

TRACKBACK: Stan Geiger says it's an example of the "media leg of the political-educational complex at work."

Our great "heroes of the classroom" have moved to increase the number of passing students by lowering the bar. And one of the biggest newspapers in the state offers no criticism. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The way this story is written and its placement on the page are worth scrutiny. While the facts that reveal the number-fudging are in the story, they aren't called to the reader's attention in the headline or lead. The skimming reader may come away with the impression that Commissar Sandy Garrett has worked an educational miracle.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Education category from August 2007.

Education: November 2006 is the previous archive.

Education: September 2007 is the next archive.

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