Matt Di Carlo didn’t know that the Florida Department of Education would be changing 213 school grades when he posted his data in a Shanker Institute blog post on Friday. A well-respected senior research fellow, Dr. Di Carlo effectively shows that Florida’s school grad formula reveals that a remarkable correlation exists between poverty and of performance. But that it shouldn’t have done so in such an absolute fashion. Consider this from Di Carlo:
In the scatterplot below, each dot is an elementary or middle school (almost 3,000 in total; ratings are pending for any schools that serve high school grades). The vertical axis is the number of points the school received (0-800; these points are sorted into A-F letter grades), while the horizontal axis is the percent of the schools’ students receiving subsidized lunch, a rough proxy for poverty.
This is a fairly strong relationship. You can see that the number of points schools receive tends to decline as poverty increases. That’s not at all surprising, of course – Florida’s system relies heavily on absolute performance, which is correlated with the proportion of students receiving subsidized lunch.
Di Carlo also offers a bar graph of the actual school grades which represents the same correlation between poverty and performance. While its hard to imagine that supplanting 218 of just less than 3000 – about 7 percent – would change the visual impression of Di Carlo’s scatterplot much, it will be useful to plot the 218 in a similar fashion in a before and after. Gerard’s Robinson’s DOE and the members of the State Board of Education have lost credibility. At any rate, it wouldn’t save the formula from being fatally discredited as system to be trusted by Floridians. Di Carlo explains:
So, according to Florida’s system, almost every single low-performing school in the state is located in a higher-poverty area, whereas almost every single school serving low-poverty students is a high performer. This is not plausible. There is a very big difference between being a low-performing school and being a school that happens to serve lower-performing students. Confusing the two serves no one, especially not these students.
What do I mean? Accountability systems can be valuable to the extent that they identify both ineffective schools and well-functioning schools with lower-performing students in need of additional resources and support. But only if the system is capable of distinguishing between the two.
Either type of school might benefit from many types of interventions, such as additional resources or support, for which these ratings can be used. But the grades Florida assigns are also the basis for high-stakes, punitive actions, including closure and restructuring.*
And, for these drastic decisions, it is crucial to avoid conflating student and school performance.
What a bombshell the simple poverty-performance relationship is to education reformers who fancy the “no excuses” mantra. Let alone their “failing schools” meme. While Di Carlo acknowledges that a correlation indeed exists between poverty and performance, he finds the Florida results terribly contradictory:
The short version is that the (Florida) ratings are, to a degree unsurpassed by most other states’ systems, driven by absolute performance measures (how highly students score), rather than growth (whether students make progress). Since more advantaged students tend to score more highly on tests when they enter the school system, schools are largely being judged not on the quality of instruction they provide, but rather on the characteristics of the students they serve.
Jeb Bush is signalling that he wants to bring back controversial parent trigger legislation . Florida’s school grade formula provides the mechanism for schools to be turned over to charter school operators who fund his empire and donate to the campaigns of the legislators who do his bidding. Bush needs the D and F schools the system generates to advance his agenda, while he and his allies continue to tout the school grade formula despite the presence of serious opposition and disturbing evidentiary data.
Bush was quoted in a StateImpact article earlier this summer that he “doesn’t really care” about criticism and he’ll not receive any from a republican legislator in Florida. Not publicly anyway. It’s easy for an appointed state education board member like Bush-designate Akshay Desai to say that the state was able to “fend off attacks” from those, in his view, who are “trying to discredit” testing in Florida.” The realities are far different for a legislator who actually answers to voters.
Will legislators have the stomach for another bloody fight with opposition who successfully defeated Bush’s trigger last time just based on the bill itself? This time they will armed with a widely mistrusted and discredited school grade formula – the very tool with which the parent trigger will be pulled.