"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I Lied: I Really DO Care

After reading a Wisconsin State Journal article the first week of June regarding which schools failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), I posted here that I was pretty surprised to see that JC McKenna wasn't on the list. Readers may remember that achieving AYP is required to meet the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). I ranted about liars and statistics and concluded that by 2014 we'll all still be just as stupid as we were in 2001 before the act was implemented. I still believe that but qualify that with a statement that there is plenty of documentation now to tell us the magnitude to which we are ignorant. Unfortunately, that only applies if one believes that the WSAS, an assessment system comprised of the WKCE and the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with disabilities, accurately measures achievement. I don't have any confidence in the assessment, so my qualification is moot.

If any of you follow my byline in the Review, you will have seen my article regarding Superintendent Carvin's happy announcement on June 13th that all buildings in the district achieved AYP. There was no mention in her announcement that JC McKenna achieved it only through the Confidence Interval qualification. When I wrote my first post on June 8, I was well aware of the statistical qualification of Confidence Intervals (CI). What I wasn't aware of was what level of CI is imposed on the data nor was I privy to the data set on which the CI was calculated. In fact, the DPI seems to be the only ones who have this data set, likely due to concerns about the general population misusing the data.

CI calculations are derived on a basis of the standard deviation (sigma) of a data set, assigning the 75th percent confidence level at +/- one sigma, 95% at +/- two sigma and 99% at +/- three sigma. Use of CI assumes data is normally distributed in a bell curve. Typical experimental evaluations are considered robust at the 95th percent confidence level. The lack of access to the data set used makes it impossible for me to assess the statistical treatment of this data. I am very skeptical that these data are normally distributed, however. Also suspect, in my opinion, is the use of the 99th percent confidence level, which results in a confidence interval through which one could drive a very large truck.

Since I did all of the calculations back in April to determine if any Evansville schools were in danger of failing to meet AYP, I knew JC McKenna missed the 2010-11 reading goal for students with disabilities by more than ten percent. What I didn't expect was Confidence Intervals that exceeded ten percent, but there it was. The online reports issued by the DPI do not have qualifiers on the data. I emailed the DPI to ask what the heck was going on with reports that did not have any qualifiers on them. I was told that the upper limit on the confidence interval around this data statistically predicted that JC McKenna's 70.33% reading proficiency index for students with disabilities has an upper limit of 82.9%, well over the 80.5% required target. Furthermore, the online reports "are space limited" and don't include qualifiers. That is so bogus. The report to school say Yes-CI. Are you telling me that the online reports don't have space for three more characters? They just don't want to field questions from people who have enough brains to figure out what the heck they are doing. Talk about baffling them all with bull%^&.

I am the first person to acknowledge that small populations and wide distributions of ability levels naturally lead to large variability in data. This knowledge is accompanied by the added awareness that these statistical techniques may very well be misused. Lack of access to the raw data from which the calculations are derived makes it impossible to really know. I'm sure that's exactly how the DPI wants it to be.

If the standard 95th percent confidence level had been assigned to the go/no go decision, JC McKenna would have failed to meet AYP. Furthermore, and of greater concern, is that JC McKenna data indicated a significant increase in the number of students in the same subgroup performing at basic and minimum in reading, a step backwards and an indicator of trouble brewing. Combine this with the 10.5% increase in math goal and 6.5% increase in reading goal next year and Evansville will likely see our own school included on the "failed to meet AYP" list for 2011-12. I know you're sick of hearing me predict doom and gloom and then being wrong. If this years trends are repeated next year, and NCLB is not modified, that will be the result.

They will be in a lot of good company to be sure. If next year's increase in goals causes the nearly 100% increase in the number of schools failing AYP that was seen this year, over 400 schools will fail to meet AYP. That rate is nearly one for every district in Wisconsin. I'm not trying to pick on Evansville in general or JC McKenna in particular. School districts are not a fault for the data assessment, but must be wary of accepting the blanket statements from the data manipulators. However, it is not my observation that there is sufficient skepticism on the part of the district administration to aggressively pursue solutions proactively before sanctions are implemented.

The dolts in the federal government need to see that what they have in NCLB is more unfunded mandates that schools simply can't afford to maintain anymore. For the pittance in aid received by our district for this program and others for that matter, it seems time to reevaluate participation in such mandates.

School Board Meetings of the Whole Monday June 27 at 6:30 pm

Click on the post to see the agenda for Monday night's School Board Meeting. Please note that the first item on the agenda is an Executive session. If you're a little late, you won't miss anything except the board excusing itself to discuss some personnel issue, as prescribed by law.

However, once underway, this meeting promises to provide a lot of information to those interested in student achievement, projected budget, costs of co-curricular programming, projected enrollment and much much more. Stay tuned here or my byline in the Review for pertinent updates.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

When will the activities die down?

A few days ago, I posted about how I looked forward to the quieter schedule of summer. I'm still waiting a week and a half later. The kids have been going every which way at the same or greater pace since the last day of school. ACT, Graduation ceremony concert, Grad parties for friends, projects for the library, scout merit badge clinics, soccer tournaments, swim team practice, the list seems endless. Add to that the umpteen birthdays in June and our own anniversary yesterday (22!) and the head begins to spin. Tomorrow is Father's day and I hope the day is as fabulous for Bill that Mother's Day was for me. Queen for a day, that's what I was. It doesn't seem like we have had a quiet moment yet, but busy is better than bored. That's like asking for trouble. It's like they have a sixth sense for sensing what the worst idea could be and implementing it.

I'm excited to have my new laptop (thanks to Bill - my anniversary gift!) for work and blogging. Maybe I will have time to catch up on this soon. I don't have to battle the kids to get screen time anymore. I have to write an article on AYP this week, so I will blog the rest of the story on that after the article runs next week. Pray for me that my file transfers go smoothly. I already had to go with an email server I'm less than thrilled with, but I will live. More later.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Sad Day

On Monday night, the board learned that Deb Olsen, district business manager, was losing her battle with cancer. The next morning I learned that she had passed on and I began to reminisce about what a kind and genuinely talented person she was. She always took time to explain budget items to board members; she often burnt the midnight oil to prepare a budget, especially at those crunch times like the end of the fiscal year and audit time. She never thought my questions were dumb or intrusive, and always, always had the patience of Job when dealing with a diverse group of people. My heart goes out to her family and I pray that this remembrance of her kind and thoughtful ways will somehow ease their hearts in this time of loss.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Agenda for June 13 Evansville School Board Business Meeting

Click on the post to view the agenda for Monday's Board Meeting. It looks pretty innocuous. No packet has been made available yet, but should be on the website by tomorrow. Just a reminder that the meetings start at 6:30 P.M. now if you're interested in attending.-M

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

This and that

Holy smokes, it's been a busy spring. School activities take on a life of their own in spring, and I am very relieved to see summer arrive. The Tommy Awards for the EHS spring Musical "Guys and Dolls" were such an honor for so many. Collin Rehfeldt and John Robinson won Outstanding Supporting Awards, Bob Mentele won for Outstanding Lighting, Anna Bisch and Wolly Wollinger won Honorable Mention for their Lead Roles and, not surprising to anybody involved in an EHS production, the cast won for Outstanding Musical. I went to the ceremony and saw such fabulous talent, it took my breath away. I would not be surprised at all to see some of those kids make it in show business.

Every Wednesday since May 1st has been a veritable smorgasbord of awards for excellence. This is the first Wednesday I have been home in a month. My daughter had to miss getting her award for excellence in English because, ironically, she was buried in homework (not English, btw).

Graduation is upon us this Saturday, right after the ACT test at EHS. Sarah will go directly from the test to performing at graduation as she sings in her last graduation (since she will be walking down that revered aisle next year). Where did my little girl go?

As we seem to have the popular 3 years between all of our kids, I once again attended Holly's 8th grade graduation, or "recognition" on Monday. Tuesday was 5th grade graduation for our baby, Mr. Will. Last time I was in this situation, I vaguely recall that both of the ceremonies were on the same day. Thank goodness they changed that. I was a bit verklempt with all of this honoring of passages going on. One will be a Senior next year, one enters high school and one enters middle school all at the same time. My babies grew up in a blink of an eye. Hello young ladies and young man. Welcome, fasten you seat belts and enjoy the ride!

There are still several years for my younger kids to be in public school. I hope the big changes coming in education will be positive for them but I'm not going to hold my breath. The challenges will be myriad unless something is done about NCLB. Did you see this morning's Wisconsin State Journal article about Madison facing sanctions? Six districts in the state failed to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). 228 individual schools failed to meet AYP as defined in the law. Nearly double the 140 that failed last year. I predicted this from the get go. It does not make me feel good that my prediction came to pass. But one test score in time comparing one 4th grade class to the one the year before does not tell you how much those kids learned.

On the upside, completely against calculations, JC McKenna met AYP. With the WKCE scores they posted, this was simply not feasible using the straight numbers provided on the WINSS system. Which begs the question as to what the heck kind of magic schools do with the numbers to "meet" AYP. There is supposed to be some 2% of students that can be excluded from "counting," yet an alternate assessment is given in the calculations for various demographics. As with the infamous "Safe Harbor" calculation, there is another factor of which I am unaware and frankly, don't even care about anymore. It seems that in their fury about the ^&&)* NCLB, the bean counters for schools have developed any number of shell games to show "progress." Meanwhile, education goes to hell in a hand basket trying to meet all these stupid testing protocols. So, when all those schools show 100% proficient or advanced students in 2014, just remember some wizadry is involved and we're just as stupid as we were in 2001. Probably more so. But we have numbers to debunk it, so we must be brilliant. Another case of dangerous use of statistics. Blinking bureaucrats.

My rant is done. I am glad JC McKenna met AYP. I fear it is on a house of cards and when the goals increase by 9 and 12.5% again next year, it will all come tumbling down. But I am confident that some bean counter will come up with a formula that will prove all is well. Kudos to Evansville and once again, I must apologize for my premature predictions of AYP failure. Ah, well, for that you must turn in your calculator, missy!