FACTS EMERGE! Omigod! Our original understanding of Virginias retesting turned out to be correct: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MARCH 16, 2006
TELL THEM MAYOR BROWN IS HERE: Today, we offer a slightly truncated post because were off on special assignment; were off to DC (well, actually, Rockville) to say hello to our fave, Willie Brown, as he broadcasts his transplendent radio show from the DC area. Each morning, The Mayor teams up with comedian Will Durst (our long-time pal) and—of course—with third amigo Paul Wells on the Will & Willie show, broadcast on 960 The Quake, right there in San Francisco. We do a spot by phone each Thursday. This morning, with The Mayor in town, well be doing it live. Live from Rockville!
Whats not to like about Mayor Brown? For audio and podcasts, click here.
SLOWLY, FACTS EMERGE: We wont post a full report today because of our session with Mayor Brown. But yesterday, some basic facts emerged, at last, about those puzzling Virginia test scores—and, as things occasionally happen, our original understanding turned out to be right. Heres how Virginias retesting has worked: If third-graders failed the third-grade test, they would retake the third-grade test a year later, in the spring of their fourth-grade year. If they passed that third-grade test, they would get lumped in with the actual third-graders who had passed the test that year. This helped produce pleasing passing rates—and a giant scam on the public. (Basic links to past reporting will be found below.)
To be specific, lets explain how this worked at Maury Elementary (Alexandria, Virginia) last spring, the spring of 2005. As we have noted, Maurys 19 third-graders took the third-grade reading test—and only 5 of the 19 passed. But at the same time, an indeterminate number of fourth-grade students were given this same third-grade reading test. (Lets repeat—these were fourth-grade Maury students, nearing the end of their fourth-grade year. They were taking this test in the spring of 2005, at the same time the third-graders were taking it.) Twelve of those fourth-grade students passed—and that number was added to the total of third-grade students who had passed the reading test. Incredibly, Maury ended up reporting that seventeen out of 19 third-graders had passed—an astounding departure from reality. (These are the raw data which helped produce Maurys 92 percent passing rate for grades 3 and 5 combined.) At Maury, twelve of the seventeen students who passed the third-grade test were, as a matter of fact, fourth-graders. As weve said, only 5 out of 19 third-graders passed. But the public was told 17.
Its hard to find words to express the depth of misinformation involved in this procedure. But well discuss that more tomorrow. For today, lets offer more info.
Three important things happened yesterday, two of which helped settle the basic facts of this matter:
First, Virginias school report cards became accessible again at the states web site. The link went back up in the afternoon. To use it, you can simply click here.
Second, and much more important: We heard from public school activist Mickey VanDerwerker, a mother of three and a public school teacher who has been pursuing issues like this in Virginia since 1998. We spoke with VanDerwerker by phone, and she linked us to the web site maintained by her group, Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs. For those who want to move ahead quickly, heres the link to a report about the issues weve been discussing. Meanwhile, VanDerwerker gave us the link to a second site which has dealt with these issues. Well allow you to click there tomorrow.
For the record, we dont necessarily agree with VanDerwerkers group on every possible testing issue. But we found her to be very knowledgeable and quite fair-and-balanced. We suspect you can learn from her site.
Third, also quite important: Charles Pyle of the Virginia Department of Ed sent us a detailed, informative letter explaining the way this program has worked. Well post the letter below; we think youll see that it describes the facts as we originally understood them—just as Monte Dawson, Alexandria testing director, had seemed to explain them last month. VanDerwerker and the state DOE come down on different sides of many issues. But we think youll see that VanDerwerker and Pyle agree on the basic facts about how this program has worked. (Pyle also explains the technical problems which had school report cards off-line these past weeks.)
Finally, VanDerwerker spoke with us about her attempts to get news orgs to report on this matter in the past several years. (Virginias Remediated Recovery program went into effect in 2001.) Well discuss that more tomorrow. Since were talking about a public information program, this is an important part of this story. She also discussed the role of Virginia pols in the continuing existence of this program.
Do people deserve to get basic facts about achievement rates in their public schools? As weve seen, the public has been grossly misled about those passing rates at Maury. But then, this retesting procedure has inflated passing rates all across the state of Virginia. Much more on this tomorrow.
By the way, one last key point: Maury was following state procedures when it produced that high passing rate. Yes, we think Maurys parents were clearly misled when they were handed that high passing rate. But this was part of a statewide program. This wasnt something that Maury Elementary or the Alexandria system dreamed up.
WE GET LETTERS: As noted, Virginia DOE spokesman Charles Pyle sent us an informative e-mail about the way this program has worked. It follows below, reprinted in full. We think youll see that this letter describes the basic facts as we understood Dawson to have explained them. As you can see, the program will be changing in some ways this year; Virginia will now be testing on all elementary and middle school levels, from grade 3 through grade 8. (Fourth- and sixth-graders will have statewide test of their own.) That in mind, note the passage we highlight below. It would seem that confusion will continue:
E-MAIL FROM CHARLES PYLE (3/15/06):As noted, this is very informative. We think this program was an awful idea. But we obviously thank Mr. Pyle for passing on this information.
BASIC LINKS: On February 2, Maury Elementary hit the top of the Posts front page. You know what to do—just click here.
We questioned this story the following week. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/6/06, then click forward from there.
Post reporter Jay Mathews followed up on February 28. Click here to read every word.
We responded all last week. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/06, for our first installment.
For the full text of Monte Dawsons two e-mails, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/8/06.
For a link to access Virginias school report cards, you can, at long last, just click here.