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Daily Howler: 27 percent became 92--through the wonder of expedited retakes
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THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MAURY! 27 percent became 92—through the wonder of expedited retakes: // link // print // previous // next //

DOWD DOES IT AGAIN: Because it’s important, we’ll flag it again. Once again, Maureen Dowd is angry at “the Republicans.” Here’s how she starts today’s column:
DOWD (2/8/06): The Republicans succeed because they keep it simple, ruthless and mythic.

In 2000 and 2004, G.O.P. gunslingers played into the Western myth and mined images of manliness, feminizing Al Gore as a Beta Tree-Hugger, John Kerry as a Waffling War Wimp With a Hectoring Wife and John Edwards as his true bride, the Breck Girl.

Now, in the distaff version of Swift-boating, they are casting Hillary Clinton as an Angry Woman, a she-monster melding images of Medea, the Furies, harpies, a knife-wielding Glenn Close in ''Fatal Attraction'' and a snarling Scarlett Johansson in ''Match Point.''

According to Dowd, the Republicans “feminized” all those Big Dems. But who does Dowd forget to mention? Oh yes—she forgets to mention Maureen Dowd! For example, did the Republicans mock Edwards as the Breck Girl—as Kerry’s “true bride?” Did the Republicans cast Teresa Heinz Kerry as the hectoring wife? Here’s the start of Dowd’s typically vacuous column from July 8, 2004:
DOWD (7/8/04): I'm happy for John Kerry.

Long-faced guy, as some Bushies refer to him, finally found somebody to stand at the podium and give him an adoring look.

Heaven knows Teresa was never going to do it. Her attention rarely seems to light on her husband when she's at a microphone with him.

Yes, it was the feminized Edwards who was giving Kerry that “adoring look.” And by the way—this column bore a typical headline: “Breck Girl Takes on Dr. No!” Omigod—it was Maureen Dowd who was “feminizing Edwards” as Kerry’s true bride—as the Breck Girl:
DOWD: Unfortunately for this White House, it is Mr. Edwards's great talent to talk about the class warfare of ''two Americas'' in a sunny way. The Breck Girl is already getting under the Boy King's thin skin.
Dowd went on to say that Edwards had been “nicknamed the Breck Girl by Bush officials.” But as always, the vacuous columnist ran with it hard. She just couldn’t wait to feminize Edwards—just as she’d raced to feminize Gore during Campaign 2000. In December 1999, for example, Dowd savaged Gore and Naomi Wolf in the stupidest possible terms. “[W]hen a man has to pony up a fortune to a woman to teach him how to be a man, that definitely takes the edge off his top-dogginess,” she wrote. Soon, Every Dumb Pundit was out recycling their own top dog’s dumbest-belle quotes.

It’s bad enough that this vacuous scribe presents such crap in so major a forum. But now she pretends that someone else has been doing the deed all along! In the past week, career liberals have actually begun to notice that the RNC does this to every Big Dem (more to come on this dawning realization). But until we start to tell the truth about the people who have really done this, we’re unlikely to stem this tide. This morning, Dowd plays her readers for fools again, slamming past conduct which she herself led. And the mewling boys of the self-dealing career left will again be much too careful to say so. These boys will do what they’ve done all along. They’ll keep their careerist traps shut tight—and play you for fools once again.

One more note on Dowd’s complete fakeness: Today, she complains that the Republicans “feminiz[ed] Gore as a Beta.” But what was the headline of the column from which we took her quote about Wolf? Of course! The headline of that widely-cited piece was “The Alpha-Beta Macarena.” On and on she went in that piece, mocking Gore as a girlie-man Beta (the column was factually inaccurate in several ways, by the by). Dowd “feminized” Gore every step of the way—and “the Republicans” ended up in the White House. But today, again, Slow Mo forgets—and she says the Republicans did it.

MATTHEWS DOES IT AGAIN: Dowd gets one thing right this morning; she notes that John McCain “went over the top again this week in a letter to Senator Obama.” We’ll only quibble with the word “again. In fact, McCain’s bizarre letter is quite unlike the way he normally does business.

But yes, McCain’s letter was crazily “over the top.” So what did the solon do last night? Of course! He ran as fast as he could to Hardball, when he knew a fawning host would recite his campaign slogan for him:

MATTHEWS (2/7/06): Good evening, I`m Chris Matthews—welcome to Hardball.

The biggest political story in Washington tonight is the battle between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. In a blistering letter, Senator McCain accused Obama of, quote, "using the ethics reform issue for self-interested partisan posturing" and apologized for thinking Obama was sincere.

This is the first time any prominent national politician has publicly criticized superstar Obama. Why did Senator McCain go after the freshman senator? We`ll get the straight talk from Senator McCain himself in just a moment, but one of the lessons here might be don`t mess with John McCain.

Try to believe that you live in a world where millionaire “journalists” do this routinely (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/26/06, for two other examples). McCain himself said, two separate times, that his kooky letter was just “straight talk.” But in fact, the great saint doesn’t have to recite his own slogan. America’s laughable millionaire pundits now take turns doing it for him.

LESSONS IN FAWNING: As we noted yesterday, Matthews is in love with the great Saint McCain, as he is with Saint Giuliani. Let’s enjoy a good solid laugh as the host goes belly-up:

MATTHEWS: Do you stand by your letter back to Senator Obama?


MATTHEWS: Well, let`s take a look at it because I think that people will learn a lot from this about—I know you`re being nice now, but the way in which Obama treated you here. (Matthews’ emphasis)

As always, Matthews pimped, fawned and pandered throughout. Our conclusion? Liberals need to be tough and smart as they challenge the spinning of Campaign 08—the absurd spinning which has already started.

COMING SOON: Mainstream pundits routinely erase their own cohort’s conduct. Michael Kinsley did so in this recent column—and three major lib bloggers cheered.

Special report: There’s something about Maury!

PART 3—THROUGH THE WONDER OF EXPEDITED RETAKES: As usual, something didn’t quite seem to make sense about the Maury story. Last Thursday, the low-income Virginia grade school was featured atop the Post’s front page, accompanied by the “smiling-child” photo which always appears with such stories. In the Post’s high-profile report, education scribe Jay Mathews reported an uplifting—but slightly odd—tale. In the spring of 2004, Maury had done miserably on its high-stakes “Standards of Learning” tests—the tests the state of Virginia uses to satisfy requirement of No Child Left Behind. But then, a new principal was sent to the school—an “unusually successful and energetic principal.” Result? In just one year, those worst-in-Alexandria scores became a thing of the past.

Yep—in the spring of 2005, Maury was tested again. “Perhaps the best news was Maury's jump in English scores among third- and fifth-graders,” Mathews wrote. (Those were the only two grade levels tested.) “The percentage of children passing the test shot up from just over 50 percent to 92 percent.” But here was the part that didn’t make sense. That “English” test is actually the state’s “Reading/Language Arts” test—a two-part test of reading and writing—and 92 percent of Maury’s kids had supposedly passed it! But as Mathews describes, Maury still had to go through “a sometimes bewildering statistical exercise” to get itself off the list of schools which “need improvement”—the “federal bad list,” to quote Mathews. Good grief! Why would a school with scores like that have to struggle to get off that list?

And then, we examined Maury’s official “school report card”—and the story really stopped adding up. As we’ve told you often before (links below): These stories of low-income “schools that work” are frequently just a bit phony and fake. And yes, we felt we’d perhaps been chumped again when we puzzled out Maury’s full test scores.

And readers, puzzling out Maury’s scores is no day in the park. Sadly, Virginia publishes “school report cards” which are incoherent in a wide range of ways—a testimonial to the endless bungling state departments of ed can provide us. Maury’s report card is puzzling in various ways (gruesome details tomorrow); we don’t think we could have sorted it out without some of the data from Mathews’ report, data which helped us work through some puzzles. But one thing was clear from the Maury report card. In the spring of 2005, Maury’s third graders hadn’t done well on their high-stakes testing at all. In fact, only 27 percent of Maury’s third-graders passed Virginia’s Reading/Language Arts test during its regular administration. (According to this same report card, 77 percent of Virginia’s third-graders passed this test statewide.) And that performance was just a slight improvement on Maury’s score in the spring of 2004, when 22 percent of the school’s third-graders passed the same R/LA test.

Say what? Only 27 percent of Maury’s third-graders passed the Reading/Language Arts test? Compared to 77 percent of third-graders statewide? Sure enough—you can click here, then scroll down to the chart titled “School Level—Percentage of Students at Each Proficiency Level by Grade and Subgroup” to see the bad news for yourself. And things weren’t much better with third-grade math. According to this chart, only 40 percent of Maury’s third-graders passed the math test in 2005—quite a ways down from the 64 percent who had passed in 2004. (By contrast, 88 percent of Virginia third-graders passed this test in 2005.) In fairness, Maury’s fifth-graders scored much better: In 2005, 83 passed the state Reading/Language Arts test, up from 58 percent in 2004—and 88 percent passed the state math test, up from 61 percent. But let’s review the passing rates for these two groups on last year’s Reading/Language Arts test—and let’s try to figure where that 92 percent passing rate on the English test came from:

Maury Elementary, passing rates, Reading/Language Arts test, spring 2005
Grade 3: 27 percent
Grade 5: 83 percent
So where did Mathews get the idea that 92 percent of Maury’s kids passed the state English test last year? Simple! He got the idea from this same Maury school report card! Look at the chart titled “School Accreditation Ratings and Scores” (up near the top) and you’ll see that pleasing value. Remember: In this report, “English” and “Reading/Language Arts” mean the same thing, although the report nowhere says so.

So if 27 percent of third-graders passed this test, how did the overall passing rate end up being 92 percent? (Remember—only grades 3 and 5 are involved here.) That takes us to something called “expedited retakes”—a measure which seems to have saved Maury’s keister after regular testing went sour. (Note: Maury’s fifth-grade scores are close to state norms. The third-grade scores are the howling problem.)

What are “expedited retakes?” As one fumbles through the Maury report card, these “retakes” seem to be related to something called “adjusted pass rates.” If we strategically click on a link marked “School Accreditation Ratings Descriptions,” we are led to the following puddle of mush. We’ve made two small, selective deletions to avoid complete confusion:

VIRGINIA SCHOOL REPORT CARD: School accreditation ratings...are based on student achievement on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and other tests in English, mathematics, history/social science, and science administered during...or on overall achievement during the three most recent years. The results of tests administered in each subject area are combined to produce overall passing percentages in English, mathematics, history/social science, and science.

Accreditation ratings also reflect adjustments made for schools that successfully remediate students who initially fail reading, writing, or mathematics tests. Adjustments also may be made for students with limited English proficiency and for students who have recently transferred into a Virginia public school. All of these factors are taken into account in calculating adjusted pass rates in each subject area.

Uh-oh! Once you fail, you can still pass—if you’re “successfully remediated.” On another link, we hit this gem—a passage about those key retakes:
Expedited Retakes
Students who pass expedited retakes of SOL tests in reading and mathematics will now be counted as proficient when calculating AYP. An expedited retake is a test taken during the same academic year by a student who, on his first attempt, scored within 25 points of passing.
Did Maury get from 27 percent up to 92 through those “expedited retakes?” We e-mailed the very helpful Alexandria testing director, Monte Dawson—the man who struggled with the suits in Richmond, eventually getting Maury off that bad list (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/7/06). In reply, Dawson sent us the following passage from an unnamed document. Warning: Do not stare directly at the sun—or at this bewildering document:
Remediation Recovery, which started with the 2001 SOLs, is a third reason for apparent score disparities. Students in grades 4, 6, or 9 may retake failed English: Reading/Literature and Research or mathematics tests for grades 3, 5, or 8, respectively, following a Remediation Recovery program. Additionally, students who failed Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II and who are enrolled in a Remediation Recovery program may retake a given EOC mathematics test. Tables 6, 7, 15, 17, and 20 display the number of students who retook the failed SOL, the percentage who passed, the number who passed (Bonus number), and the potential benefit to the school (Recovery Bonus or Unadjusted + Recovery score). In the State's calculations to determine accreditation, the number of students who pass the targeted test following a Remediation Recovery program will be added to the number of students who passed the SOLs in the same content area. For example, a fourth grader’s passing grade 3 mathematics score will be added to that school’s grade 3 mathematics passing scores. At other grade levels, the passing mathematics score will be added to the school’s “collapsed” SOL mathematics scores (for accreditation calculations, all mathematics scores are collapsed or averaged together to create one passing percentage). Remediation Recovery students will be included in the unadjusted number of students who passed, but not in the number of students tested, hence the term Recovery Bonus. Said another way, passing Remediation Recovery students are added to the numerator, but not to the denominator. What this means is that a passing percentage exceeding 100 percent is possible (Note: while this overview reports percentages more than 100 percent, the State caps pass rates at 100 percent).
Good lord! Like you, we don’t understand that classic passage. But so what? Let’s try to summarize:

Maury’s third-graders did miserably last year in the regularly-scheduled Virginia state testing. Only 27 percent passed Reading/Language Arts, compared to 77 percent of third-graders statewide. Only 40 percent passed the state’s math test; 88 percent passed it statewide.

To state the obvious, this performance was awful—the very definition of a low-performing, low-income school. But so what? Through the wonders of “expedited retakes”—or perhaps through a bit of “Remediation Recovery”—Maury’s third-graders turned out to be stars in the end! According to the figure which Mathews cited—a figure straight from the Maury report card—92 percent of Maury’s third- and fifth-graders ended up passing that R/LA test. The school ended up at the top the Post’s page one, with a gorgeous child smiling out at us.

So which is more accurate—27 or 92? Tomorrow, we’ll try to sort that puzzle out—and we’ll revisit that high-minded Post editorial about how great Maury is. But we’ll preview that effort with one tangy note: If this whole thing doesn’t strike you as complete, utter bullroar, you’ve been living on Neptune all these years.

TOMORROW: Part 4—Will the real Maury please stand up!