Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Public School grades curving, more defense

Almost a month ago to the day, Governor Susana Martinez and Public Education Department Secretary Hanna Skandera rolled out their grades for public schools, link.

It was the same day I asked Skandera to explain, in words any middle school student could understand, why the grades were not only curved, but curved so much.

It can be explained to the average citizen, that the grades were "curved", they understand how grades can be curved. But the assumption upon which they base their evaluation of public schools does not include the possibility that the grades have in fact, been curved. KRQE interviewed a few parents and students, link, and they were clearly taken by surprise.

It is clear from watching KRQE's interview, that Skandera still has not figured out how to explain in plain English, the justification and magnitude of the curving; failure drops from 59 to 37%.

Skandera said; “I know what an ‘A’ means. I know what a ‘B’ means. I know what a ‘C,’ I know what a ‘D,’ and an ‘F’ means.” But if you asked stakeholders if they know what "A" means, there is wild disparity.

To Skandera;

A 75-100%
B 60- 74.9%
C 50-59.9%
D 37.5-49.9%
F < 37.5%
To everyone else, and I mean everyone else;
A 90 100%
B 80-89 %
C 70-79%
D 60-69%
F 0-59%
Her justification bears scrutiny; the
state needed to set a benchmark,
and grading on the curve was
the best way to do it

In other words,

the state needed to set a standard
of excellence, and putting
deliberately misleading spin on how
well we are doing, was the best way
to do it.

There are two frames of reference for measuring educational outcomes; criterion referencing and norm referencing; comparison to set standards, or comparison to everyone else's efforts to meet those same standards.

Norm referencing looks better for people like Skandera whose toes are being held to the fire, than comparison to actual, intellectually and philosophically determined goals; in particular if most schools aren't even coming close to reaching them.

Skandera argues, the top ten percent of schools deserve a politically correct "A", even if they only earned an intellectually justifiable "C". She is entitled to an opinion.

Her argument becomes jumbled when she expresses her aspiration that "... every single one of our schools is in the top 10 percent” a concept that is mathematically impossible if grades are curved. Only when measured against specific criteria, can every single one of our schools be in the top 10%. It could be argued, only when students have to meet meaningful criteria in order to earn an "A", will every school be in the top 10%.

Some parents apparently do grasp what Skandera is doing, and approve. "
Jessi Allen, president of the elementary school’s parent-teacher organization, said that although the new grading system is confusing, she understood why the state graded on the curve.

“This was the very first time the grades came out,” Allen said. “And I would think they didn’t want everybody to just throw in the towel. I certainly would have been devastated if a 67 percent would have said that Marie Hughes was at a ‘D.’ ”
People who "protect other people" from the truth are misguided.

Human beings have a right to autonomous decision-making.
Knowing the truth is fundamental to autonomous decision-making. Skandera and Allen advocate "protecting" us from the inconvenient truth, and in so doing prevent interest holders from participating meaningfully in decision-making that affects their interests.

They might want to spend tax dollars differently if the were told most public schools are failing, than if told most public schools are doing just fine (when compared to all other schools failing just as badly).

Half of our kids leave high school undereducated and unemployable. It doesn't make any difference that most other public schools aren't doing very much better.

One cannot solve problems while at the same time hiding them.

Skandera said the grading curve will once again be used in June when the official grade report is released.

It would appear that she will.

Skandera's PIO, Larry Behrens has not responded to two follow-up emails on the issues of the grade curving and the PED's release of Skandera's Advisory Council's, link, product; raising again the question;
do pios work for the people or the public servant?

photos Mark Bralley

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