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.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.
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.
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.
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