Schools and testing

Here’s the type of dissonance you get with high stakes testing:

  According to the scores, Mission High is among the lowest-performing 5  percent of schools in the country, and it has consistently failed to  meet the ever-rising benchmarks set by the federal No Child Left Behind  Act.  The law mandates universal “proficiency” in math and reading by  2014—a  deadline that weighs heavily on educators around the nation,  since  schools that don’t meet it face stiff penalties.

After a few weeks of talking to   students, I failed to find a single one who didn’t like the school, and   most of the parents I met were happy too. Mission’s student and parent   satisfaction surveys rank among the highest in San Francisco.

One of the most diverse high schools in the country, Mission has  925  students holding 47 different passports. The majority are Latino,   African American, and Asian American, and 72 percent are poor. Yet even   as the school was being placed on the list of lowest-performing  schools,  84 percent of the graduating class went on to college, higher  than the  district average; this year, 88 percent were accepted.  (Nationally, 32  percent of Latino and 38 percent of African American students  go to  college.) That same year, Mission improved Latinos’ test scores  more  than any other school in the district. And while suspensions are   skyrocketing across the nation, they had gone down by 42 percent at   Mission. Guthertz had seen dropout rates fall from 32 percent to 8   percent. Was this what a failing school looked like?

And here’s what happens when the school tests badly:

As a low-performing   school, Mission qualified for additional funding—but only if it agreed   to undergo a major restructuring.  Options included replacing the  principal and either revamping the  curriculum or replacing half the  staff; closing the school; or turning  it into a charter. Guthertz had  been promoted to his job less than two  years earlier, and the district  was allowed to report this change to  the federal government as a  replacement of the principal—a loophole  that bought Mission some time.  But San Francisco’s oldest comprehensive public high school,  founded in  1890, would still have to show dramatic growth in scores by  2014 or face  more interventions, including possible closure.

One of the things to know is that closing schools doesn’t seem to help the students:

Overall, we found few effects, either positive or negative, of school closings on the achievement of displaced students. The lack of a more substantial positive effect of transferring students out of these schools is likely due to the types of receiving schools that students transferred into. Displaced students who enrolled in receiving schools with strong academic quality or with high levels of teacher support had higher learning gains than displaced students who enrolled in other receiving schools. However, the number of displaced students who attended these strong schools was small. Only 6 percent of displaced students enrolled in academically strong schools, while 42 percent of displaced students continued to attend schools with very low levels of academic achievement.

You should also know that today’s students are not doing worse. You’re probably shocked by that given what you see in the news.

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