Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How records are made

The MCPS press release was straight to the point.  The results were nothing short of miraculous:

Students in the Montgomery County Public Schools Class of 2010 produced the district’s highest-ever composite score on the SAT and dramatically outperformed their state and national peers, according to data released today by the College Board...

...African-American and Hispanic test-takers posted the strongest gains in MCPS, improving on last year’s average composite scores by 49 and 54 points, respectively. Those increases outpaced the growth in scores for Asian students (up 21 points) and White students (up 15 points), and further narrowed the district’s racial and ethnic gap in SAT performance.
It was an exclamation point on the tenure of Superintendent Jerry Weast.   What was at one time falling SAT scores, had turned on a dime, and turned hard.   The proof was in the preverbial pudding.   The accountability department published the remarkable data.   

The achievement gap was closing on perhaps the most educationally important data point there was, the SAT.   But what was the cause?

Was it excellent teaching?   Fierce Leadership?   I was skeptical.  My search started with the discovery of the  lowest participation rate in ten years, but that would just be the beginning.   It was even more important to figure out who did not participate.   The answer I found was unfortunately, not surprising.   In statistics circles it is well known that as participation increases, averages tend to fall, and vice versa.  

Fantastic rises in achievement were accompanied by equally fantastic decreases in SAT participation.   African American and Hispanic sub-groups led the decline in particpation.   The accountability office said it this way:

Examination of trends in SAT participation and performance provide evidence that MCPS is making progress toward the strategic plan of ensuring success for every student.
I suppose I saw it differently. What I saw as a problem, MCPS saw as evidence of success. Jerry Weast was no different

Superintendent Jerry D. Weast credits the record-breaking SAT results to talented teachers, committed staff, and motivated students as well as to the reform plan implemented 11 years ago.

“We believe in high standards, high expectations and high performance,” Weast said. “We’ve followed a clear path that works and produces exceptional results for our students at every level.  These SAT scores are extraordinary and are something that our entire community should take pride in."

 The participation data was even more disconcerting when disaggregated by service group.

Records were indeed set in 2010.   I'm just not sure they were the kind of records that should be making headlines.   And if this is how "records" were made in Montgomery County- we needed to do some real and honest soul-searching.

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