In a society based on marketing we no longer discuss problems honestly.
The latest California state English and math test scores have been released and today’s (9/27/2017) San Mateo Daily Journal headlines the results with the title “Educators laud test success.”
The scores in our local San Mateo-Foster City School District (which covers grades K-8) showed that 59% of students in English and 54% of students in math scored at or above grade level. The local San Mateo Union High School District scores were 77% in English and 55% in math. State-wide the percent of students at or above grade level was 48% in English and 37% in math.
When basically only one out of two students locally is performing at or above grade level (except in high school English at 77%), it is the height of cynicism to call this “test success,” but every year articles like this appear in multiple news sources around this time. Statewide the numbers in math say that almost 2 out of 3 students are below grade level!
Interpreting test scores is fraught with difficulties, but public schools do themselves absolutely no favor by ladling out this kind of happy talk to the public. It undermines their credibility, causing more harm than good. People read these articles now, and, later, when local libertarians write opposition pieces to public school ballot measures, this kind of incredulous news is inevitably trotted out again in their writings as “proof” that public schools are not doing their jobs.
The raw data can be searched at the state test results website. Entire anonymized data sets can be downloaded from this link. There is also a link to a new science exam, but only a few results have apparently been made public so far .
Unfortunately I did not find a comprehensive report analyzing the results in terms of demographic factors. Releasing test results to the public without an analysis of possible explanations for the scores does more harm than good in my opinion. Parents in well-to-do neighborhoods read news reports like in today’s Daily Journal and think about moving their kids to private schools. Libertarians read these articles and immediately conclude that teachers are not doing their jobs and that tax dollars are being wasted. Ballot measures that are needed to fund the schools end up in defeat because of this kind of “marketing BS.”
I would like to invite local school administrators to address these issues seriously in writing and would be more than happy to post their responses here.
We keep changing tests and curricula in California, so it is very hard to measure long-term trends. This gives rise to a variety of questions that people of various political persuasions have posed:
Have students always done so poorly? Have we simply set our academic expectations too high for “frail human beings?”
Today we try to get everybody ready for college. Is this a realistic goal or should we put greater focus on vocational education?
Are we being overwhelmed locally by students from impoverished backgrounds or from cultures that do not value education? Is this pulling test scores down?
Are teachers simply being lazy and not doing their jobs?!?? Is this due to bad morale caused by low pay or do too many teachers coast simply because union protections make it very difficult to fire non-performing teachers?
Or are teachers actually working very hard and are being pilloried for not solving social problems that are completely out of their control???
Are there problems with the testing methodology itself? Do students even try to do well on tests that do not impact their GPAs?? Perhaps these scores are completely distorted and meaningless??
The state pays a lot of money for these tests. If we don’t make a decent and honest attempt to analyze the results, then at least one thing is crystal clear: this money has been completely wasted.
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NOTE ADDED 9/28/17:
During a meeting with SMUHSD Superintendent Skelly this morning he called my attention to the following academic achievement presentation which will be presented this evening at the SMUHSD Board meeting: