Thursday, October 12, 2006

Adequate Yearly Progress mandate: every public school in Massachusetts must match Boston Latin's MCAS scores

Boston Latin is an exceptional school. It screens potential students with an exam and only accepts the highest scoring kids from across Boston.

Boston Latin is also one of the few schools in Massachusetts to approach the "100% proficient" level mandated by No Child Left Behind. All schools must reach 100% "proficiency" by 2014, or they are subjected to sanctions.

I asked the Department of Education how many schools across the state had reached the test scores mandated for 2014, and did not get a reply. So I decided to review the data myself, looking at the state's spreadsheet , and following the advice the DOE gave me, to read this document to learn how Massachussetts implements its AYP

I sorted schools based on their Math and English Language Arts (ELA) CPI data - this is the score that has to eventually reach "100%". And there, at the top of the list, was Boston Latin - one of a handful of schools across the state to come close to 100% proficient in both English Language Arts and Math scores.

The state allows an "error band" that means schools will only need to achieve proficiency somewhere between 95.5% and 97.5% proficient, but even allowing for that error band, only about two out of every 100 subgroups tested scored as high as 95.5% proficient for either Math or ELA. A school can fail if any subgroup does not reach the mandated proficiency level - subgroups include low income, special ed, black, hispanic, white, and asian. I didn't bother to try to calculate how many schools could pass the whole gamut of subgroups, but I'd say a reasonable first approximation is to guess that each group cuts the odds of making the grade in half. So if a school is over the 95th percentile for one of Math or English in aggregate, and it has three subgroups, guess something like 2% divided by 2 to the 4th, or say 2/16th of one percent of schools that the state would label as "adequate", if the standards that will be mandated in 2014 were applied to 2005 test data.

Oops. Boston Latin composite for ELA was 98.4, and their group size was big enough for the 2.5% error band. I guess even Boston Latin is an inadequate school, according to the state and federal mandates.

The state and federal government mandate that every school across the state of Massachusetts must achieve standardized test scores that will be difficult even for the best schools in the state, and applies sanctions to any schools that fail to do so.

Everyone would like that to be possible, and to strive towards that goal, but as a mandate that labels any school that fails to do so "inadequate" and applies radical sanctions - transferring control over local schools to state and federal bureaucrats - Houston, we have a problem.


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