Saturday, July 14, 2007

The New York Times: Willful Gullibility in Furtherance of Ideology   posted by TangoMan @ 7/14/2007 02:07:00 PM

You would think that the New York Times reporters on the education beat could write an article without blatantly proclaiming their gullibility or willingness to engage in obfuscation but I see no evidence of any desire to avoid such sins, especially in this article on how school districts are pursuing diversity agendas by parsing students according to socioeconomic status. The Times reports:
The most ambitious effort and the example most often cited as a success is in the city of Raleigh, N.C., and its suburbs.

For seven years the district has sought to cap the proportion of low-income students in each of the county's 143 schools at 40 percent.

To achieve a balance of low- and middle-income children, the district encourages and sometimes requires students to attend schools far from home. Suburban students are attracted to magnet schools in the city; children from the inner city are sometimes bused to middle-class schools at the outer edges of Raleigh and in the suburbs.

The achievement gains have been sharp, and school officials said economic integration was largely responsible. Only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight in Wake County, where Raleigh is located, scored at grade level on state reading tests in 1995. By the spring of 2006, 82 percent did.

What's changed in the education landscape betweeen 1995 and 2006? We've seen the introduction of the NCLB which has created a massive incentive for States to game their achievement tests in order to meet Federal compliance thresholds. Is there any evidence that North Carolina has gamed their achievement tests in order to boost the proportion of students who met proficiency standards? You bet there is. Unlike the achievement tests that states devise the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a uniform measure not subject to "dumbing down." According to this national survey, North Carolina is ranked ninth in 4th grade reading score variance, and third in terms of 8th grade math score variance, between NAEP scores and state developed assessment tests.

If we go directly to the NAEP Reading statistics we see the results for the 4th graders in 1994 was 214 (212 national ave.) and that the 2005 scores were 217 (217 national ave.). The 8th graders 1998 scores were 262 (261 national ave.) and the 2005 score was 258 (260 national ave.) Here we see only miniscule gains across the years and a slippage against national trends. While it's certainly possible that the Raleigh schools are bucking the statewide trend the reporters don't verify that this is indeed the case and simply rely on meaningless statistics offered up in support of the educational fad du jour, that socioeconomic integration will produce the diversity that will finally close the achievement gap.

Instead of touting the success of the Raleigh schools in meeting proficiency standards because of economic integration shouldn't the reporters have verified that they weren't reporting phantom gains attributable to a gaming of the testing regime?