EXTRAORDINARY RESULTS: Achievement gaps are real, Green says!


How many kids were excluded?
Acolytes, riddle us this:

Just how "extraordinary" were the "results" from that "first set of district assessments?"

We refer to the first set of "test scores" to emerge from Akron's new I Promise School. The school is being substantially funded by NBA star LeBron James.

That said, how extraordinary were the first test scores to emerge from the school? At that start of a recent front-page report in the New York Times, education reporter Erica Green set the stage for our exploration in the manner shown below.

Below, you see Green's nugget presentation. For today, we'll highlight a point we haven't discussed in the past:
GREEN (4/13/19): This time last year, the students at the school—Mr. James’s biggest foray into educational philanthropy—were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and branded with behavioral problems. Some as young as 8 were considered at risk of not graduating.

Now, they are helping close the achievement gap in Akron.

The academic results are early, and at 240, the sample size of students is small, but the inaugural classes of third and fourth graders at I Promise posted extraordinary results in their first set of district assessments. Ninety percent met or exceeded individual growth goals in reading and math, outpacing their peers across the district.
So cool! This time last year, the kids who now attend I Promise School "were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools," Green falsely reported.

But so what? "Now, they are helping close the achievement gap in Akron!"

Right at the start of her front-page report, Green outlined a heartwarming story. We'll discuss that last remark in passing—her remark about the achievement gap—while making a valuable point:

Just a few weeks ago, the New York Times seemed to be saying that the giant achievement gaps in New York City's public schools were mere illusions. They were artifacts of "test prep" and test "awareness" and of nothing else.

Enabled by NPR's Ailsa Chang, education reporter Eliza Shapiro spewed that nonsense on All Things Considered. Times board member Mara Gay was aggressively pimping the same ideas, repeatedly slandering Gotham's Asian community as she did.

In a slightly more rational world, Shapiro and Gay—and Shapiro's hapless editors—would have been frog-marched out of the New York Times Building and told they should never return. Unfortunately, this is the world of the New York Times, where "reporting" about public schools is narrative all the way down.

And so, of course—how typical! The achievement gap wasn't real in New York City, but it exists in Akron! So it goes when this fraudulent newspaper pretends to discuss public schools.

Earlier nonsense to the side, "achievement gaps" do seem to exist within the Akron schools. The state of Ohio's reporting system is almost wholly indecipherable, but it looks to us like 76.8% of Akron's white kids in grades 3-8 passed their grade's annual statewide math test last year, as compared to 52.8% of Akron's black kids.

(Just click here, then click "Math" above "Performance Index by Subgroup." You're on your own from there.)

We haven't been able to find comparable statewide data. We haven't been able to find comparable data for particular grades within the Akron system.

We aren't even entirely sure that we're interpreting the data from Akron's "Gap Closing" page correctly, so incoherent is the bulk of the state's reporting system. More on that matter to come.

That said, we do congratulate the New York Times for suggesting that the nation's achievement gaps are real, at least in the state of Ohio. That highlighted sentence from Green's report represents a reversal for the Times—a return to an important part of the actual public school world.

Green seemed to say that achievement gaps really do exist! On the brighter side, The Bad News Bears of the I Promise School were helping wipe them out!

That said, Green's claim that the I Promise students had been "identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools" turned out to be blatantly false. Or at least, so it seemed if you read all the way to paragraph 23 of her persistently novelized "news report:"
GREEN: I Promise students were among those identified by the district as performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments. They were then admitted through a lottery.
Based on that passage, it seems that the I Promise students weren't the "worst performers" after all! Kids who scored below the tenth percentile had been excluded from the lottery from which the I Promise kids were selected. Or at least, so it seems from that part of Green's report, which seems to contradict the pleasing claim she made at the start of her report.

We mention this again for a reason. Last week, we may have misunderstood the meaning of the paragraph we've just posted. We wanted to set the record straight before we continued this week.

What did Green mean when she said that the I Promise kids had been "identified as performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments?" Last week, we assumed she meant that they had scored in the 10th to 25th percentile among all kids in Akron.

That would have meant that roughly ten percent of Akron kids were excluded from the I Promise lottery on the basis of low academic performance. Kevin Drum even followed us down this road to perdition when he lowered the boom on Green's report.

For the record, would there be something wrong with excluding Akron's "worst performers" from this experimental new school? In our view, no—not at all.

In principle, we applaud James and his associates for attempting a new approach, in which an entire school focuses on a relatively narrow range of lower performers. This might provide certain instructional advantages within this new school's classrooms. In principle, we favor giving such novel approaches a try.

Having said that, we also favor accuracy in news reporting, and we favor clarity. For that reason, we'll offer a second possible reading of what Green reported.

Did the kids at the I Promise School score in the 10th to 25th percentile among all kids in Akron? Or did they score in the 10th to 25th percentile as compared to all kids nationwide?

Last week, we assumed she meant that they were in those percentiles among all kids in Akron. This would have meant that Akron's lowest-performing ten percent were excluded from the new school.

Later, it occurred to us that she probably meant that these kids had scored in the 10th to 25th percentile as compared to all kids nationwide on some national measure. This could mean that something like Akron's lowest-performing twenty percent were excluded from the lottery.

Here's why:

In an average school system, roughly ten percent of the system's kids will score below the tenth percentile. In a low-performing school system, more than ten percent of the kids will perform at those lower levels.

Since Akron is a lower-performing school district, we'll guess that something like the lowest-performing twenty percent were excluded from this new school. In our view, there's nothing "wrong" with adopting that approach, but it means that a substantial chunk of the system's "worst performers" were excluded this school, Green's representations notwithstanding.

Green should have explained what she meant with appropriate specificity. Also, the sun should start to rise in the west, at least on alternate Wednesdays.

At any rate, achievement gaps in Akron are real! It's also true that a substantial slice of Akron's "worst performers" were apparently excluded from this new school, Green's instant false statement notwithstanding.

That said, how extraordinary were the results when this new school's kids took their first assessments?

Tomorrow, we'll run through everything Green reported. Novelization to the side, prepare to be underwhelmed.

Tomorrow: There's no way to know what this means


  1. Warning -- hairs are being split!

    Somerby knows nothing about psychology, so he glides right by the second half of the sentence about performance, the part that mentions behavioral problems. These tend to be independent of learning ability but do affect test performance. But behavioral problems might be more strongly affected by placement in a special school and especially by attention from LeBron James.

    Beginning psychology students learn about the Hawthorne Effect. It is named for the manufacturing plant where a number of changes were instituted and ALL, every single one of them, resulted in improved worker performance. In fact, changing anything about a work environment tends to temporarily increase performance. Schools work the same way. Any kind of change or intervention is likely to produce a temporary improvement in academic performance.

    But who gives a damn about psychology -- not Somerby.

    Somerby is very busy attributing higher performance among Asian American students to an achievement gap, similar to the one that exists between black and white students. He doesn't give any thought to whether the reasons for the higher Asian performance might be different than the reasons for higher white performance compared to black students. He doesn't want to talk about different home environments, parental expectations, extra tutoring, the positive racial stereotype for Asians (model minority) compared to the negative racial stereotype for blacks, and such stuff. He considers even "test prep" to be sliming Asians, rather than explaining why they do better on the test that they have prepped for. As if accusing parents of helping their kids were "sliming" of some sort.

    Somerby is a major asshole. He doesn't actually care about kids. I doubt if he cares about anything except venting spleen all over his target of the day. Today, he expects an article aimed at the general public to explain technical intricacies of school admissions, as if any reader wouldn't skip right over such an explanation, preferring to find out whether the kids actually get to meet LeBron or not.

    The more time I spend here, the more I dislike Somerby.

    1. @12:11 perhaps you are young. Today's positive racial stereotype for Asians was not always there. When I was young, Asians were looked down upon as coolies, being able to function only as pool boys or gardeners. At best, they might be able to operate a small Chinese laundry.

      Today's positive racial stereotype for Asians was earned by positive performance and good behavior.

    2. 1:29,
      Asians > whites, for sure. A million times, if based on positive performance and good behavior.
      "Illegal immigrants" also lap whitey, using the same criteria.

  2. “In principle, we applaud James and his associates for attempting a new approach, in which an entire school focuses on a relatively narrow range of lower performers. This might provide certain instructional advantages within this new school's classrooms. In principle, we favor giving such novel approaches a try.”

    I appreciate this statement from Somerby. It brings clarity to his discussion.

    Having said that, I found the article interesting and informative about the ways in which the school is trying to help both students and parents. I can acknowledge the potential misstatements made by the author (“the worst performers”, although that’s something of a quibble), and admit there is some confusion in the description of the selection process (“performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments” but that is presumably a different assessment than the NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress assessment, which shows student progress). Those details were less interesting to me than the approach that is being described. The enthusiasm expressed by the people involved with the school is understandable; people (including liberals, Bob) are desperate for something that can help these kids.

    At any rate, the author cautions readers not to expect too much, since the students haven’t taken the statewide assessments yet. Hopefully, she will revisit the school from time to time to check on its progress.

  3. Somerby does not discuss the negative factors in black kids lives, like single parent families.

    1. Why do you think that is? (If you need one to come up with the answer, I'll give you a hint.)

    2. Because Somerby doesn’t care about black kids. He just cares about the reporting.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. 2:52 PM,

      Spreading your feathers at every opportunity doesn't make you woke, it makes you a wannabe peacock.

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