Sep 23 2013

Polis Joke

Jared Polis is a Democratic Colorado Congressman.  He recently had this interchange with Randi Weingarten on Twitter about Diane Ravitch.

Though this caused a backlash, he seems to be standing by his comment.  This ordeal has been well documented by Jersey Jazzman and Jonathan Pelto.

Polis is a charter school supporter and has opened a few of his own charter schools, three in Colorado.  Of those three schools, called the New America Schools, two are located in counties just outside of Denver and one is near Vail.  Colorado is one of the states that has been most aggressive about tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations and to school rankings.  They have developed something called The Colorado Growth Model, which is a way of comparing how schools with similar achievement levels have progressed from one year to the next.  So a school can have high test scores, but low growth and, conversely, there can be a school with low test scores but high growth.  The Growth model, as the idea goes, is the great equalizer.

Now I don’t put much stake in these growth models.  Like the New York City ‘progress’ score, a ‘growth’ number like 60 means that the students at that school generally scored better than 60% of the students in the state who had similar scores the previous year.  Though they are not supposed to be biased, I think they are biased against low performing schools, and the graphs below support this belief.  But people who fancy themselves ‘reformers’ like Polis do take these measures very seriously.  So I thought I’d look at the excellent Colorado public data system called SchoolVIEW to see where The New America Schools stand.

The New America Schools, according to their website “empowers new immigrants, English language learners, and academically underserved students with the educational tools and support to maximize their potential and live the American dream.”  Whereas most charters try to avoid English language learners, I appreciate that their mission is to serve such a population.  I will permit them to use this as an ‘excuse’ for low proficiency rates.

But ‘reformers,’ now focus on ‘growth’ so I checked to see how good his schools do on that metric.  From the data I was able to find on the two schools near Denver, they had some of the least ‘growth’ in their districts.

This first set of graphs shows a ‘bubble’ plot (like a scatterplot but the size of the dots depend on how many students are represented by each) is for all the schools in Jefferson County (where I used to teach, actually) for Math, Reading, and Writing.  The schools with lower ‘growth’ will be to the left of schools with higher ‘growth’ on the graphs.  The issue, once again, is not that The New America School has the lowest percent proficiency, but that they also have the lowest ‘growth’ score in the district on each of the tests.

 

The other New America School is in Adams County, and they suffer from the same ‘growth’ issue:

So for the data I was able to get on these schools, they, according to the ‘growth’ models are doing a very poor job getting their students to progress.  One day these low growth numbers could cause these schools to get shut down.  I wonder if Polis will still consider Ravitch ‘evil’ when he has to quote her arguments against these sorts of metrics to save his own schools.

12 Responses

  1. Lisa

    This is fascinating. I hadn’t realized Polis was connected to those school. He’s not currently my representative because they keep changing where our district is when they redraw the political lines, but he has been in the past. What some of the “commentary” has ignored is that while Polis isn’t exactly a public school supporter, he’s still a great deal better than any of the Republicans or random others who’ve ran for that seat. Perhaps a number of people are missing that because they’re in NYC and there seems to be no shortage of Democrats there?

    I’m not defending him because his comment was clearly out of line, but the backlash seems to ignore the fact that far too many of the Republicans in the state are busy lobbying against a state-wide tax increase for schools, in a state where we rank 47th in per-pupil spending when adjusted for income. With that kind of reality, we don’t have the luxury of thinking “compromise” is a dirty word. I’m not a fan of many things that Michael Johnston has done, for example, but he is campaigning for the badly-needed school tax and I can get behind that. I’m not happy with Polis on education, but he is crusading for better fracking laws, and that’s something pretty much no one else will touch here. With something like 25,000 gallons of oil and other crap now leaking into water and farm fields after our widespread flooding, despite the industry’s assurances that they “hadn’t seen any major leaks” (’cause they weren’t looking), someone needs to be doing something.

    Anyhow, I really appreciate your thoughts about the growth scores. We are in Jeffco, and the growth score stuff has confused me for a while. (I’m pretty sure it confuses everyone here, except for a few.) There have been some suggestions that poorly-performing charter schools may be targeted in the 2014 legislative session, so we’ll see what happens.

    As an aside: how cool that you taught in Jeffco! Hope you enjoyed your time here, at least a little.

    • TeachmyclassMrMayor(andyoutooMrMulgrew)

      You mean NY Dems, like Andrew Cuomo, Meryl Tisch, & Christine Quinn? I can go on. NYC might be democratic, but this school reform crap knows no “party loyalties”, Trust me.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I was starting to get hot under the collar about Polis. He is in my district. But you are right. Colorado is very much a purple state that is barely holding onto a Democratic majority. We need every vote we can get to hold off the right wing crazies. Polis may not be my favorite choice, but he sure beats the alternatives.

  2. Ah, we have the same bubble graphs in RI. You know what drives me nuts? That they don’t include historical data. If you wanted to convince people that growth data made sense, letting them look at their local schools’ scores over the past 5 years or so would help quite a bit.

    One thing that’s interesting is breaking down schools and districts by grade level. In RI there is often a 20-30 point spread between grade levels in the same school/district. For example, in my child’s elementary school, the SGP drops from 70 in 4th grade to 37 in 5th. (http://1.usa.gov/1b1xxPk) This may be attributable in part to successful 4th graders leaving for private schools that start in 5th grade. Or teacher quality? Something else?

  3. Educator

    And, all of this growth score info is based on…? One multiple choice exam of about 60 questions? So one school compared to another might have their students get, what, 2 more questions correct than another school with similar scores from the previous year on average?

  4. New America School (NAS) serves almost entirely NEP (non-English-proficient) and LEP (limited English proficiency) students, many of whom are several grade levels behind when they enter NAS.

    Given that the tests are only available in English, the NAS students have a significant disadvantage.

    A primary metric the school uses to demonstrate success is measuring the acquisition of the English language. Many NAS students are 19 or 20 years old, and only have a 6th grade or 8th grade education prior to entering NAS. Sadly in Colorado students “age out” of public education at age 21, and few students can accomplish 4 or 5 years of learning in 1 or 2 years. But even if they don’t earn a diploma, the students gain functional English language literacy.

    This analysis is a good example of why test scores should not be the only criteria used to evaluate schools or teachers. NAS teachers are hard working and dedicated and have literally transformed lives.

    You mention that “Colorado is one of the states that has been most aggressive about tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations and to school rankings. ” but NAS does not use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, nor has any kind of “ranking” hurt the school’s effort to fulfill its mission “to empower new immigrants, English language learners, and academically underserved students with the educational tools and support they need to maximize their potential, succeed and live the American dream.”

    More information at http://www.newamericaschool.org

    And a good video about New America School:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al0KODd13sc

    • Steve M

      I taught for twelve years at a school that was: in the neighborhood with Los Ageles County’s lowest SES; the second largest high school in the nation; had a student body that was 93% LEP/RFEP; 35% undocumented; 14% SpecEd; in the lowest 1% of all California high schools.

      I’ll say that you are likely full of it.

      Producing large RELATIVE gains with a small number of such students is very easy to do…especially when those gains are compared to the growth of the schools that surround you.

      The fact that your schools are not doing so within a couple of years (what Gary’s data shows) is an indication that they have serious internal problems.

    • Kellen Hayes

      Can’t say I disagree with much you’ve said here. I won’t venture into the argument Steve brings up, that large relative gains with such a population is “very easy.” I think a more compelling question your comment brings up is, do you also support the law that ties 50% of CO teacher evaluations to these test score measures? Isn’t that a bit unfair to teachers who work in schools like NAS?

  5. Cosmic Tinkerer

    Too bad you don’t give neighborhood schools the same options that charters have for determining how to evaluate teachers, Jared.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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