My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


A Little Background

The state released the results of the 3rd Grade Reading CSAP today, and the news is mixed: 74% of the state's 3rd graders read at or above grade level. Now that's, frankly, an abyssmally low number, but it is better than last year's number. So we got that going for us. . .

In the days and weeks you will start to hear the usual suspects weighing in on the matter, I am sure. And the commentary will be fairly predictable: the Left, led by the teachers' unions, will decry the pressure of the tests and the lack of resources to accomplish their mission; the Right will renew their calls for school choice to get students out of "failing" schools, which will be notable in their presence in the news accounts of these results.

What will be missing from the equation, as usual, is any sense of student or home accountability for the student's failure to read. Seriously, by the time a child is done with third grade, not only should the classroom teacher know they can't read, and be doing something about it, in conjunction with a reading specialist, who will know the child can't read, and be doing something about it. But, in addition, the parents of an eight-year old child should know whether or not their student can read. And if they can't, there should also be efforts made at home to rectify the situation.

Unfortunately for everybody involved, the vast majority of these 26% of third graders who cannot read will be passed along to the fourth grade with a notation in their file that they need special help, and off they go. In many cases, between now and next fall, these third graders who cannot read will change schools, and the new school will have to take several weeks at the beginning of the next school year establishing what the child's strengths and weaknesses are so they can provide the proper level of assistance. Of course, in some cases, by the time the new school is able to make that assessment the student will change schools again. And whatever program they were running with to start the year--whether it worked or not--will likely be discarded as they change environments.

A crucial piece of information that is missing from the picture of third grade test scores is how well those students were performing at the end of second grade, and, for that matter, first grade and Kindergarten. I know it seems ridiculous to many out there, but when a student enters Kindergarten not knowing their colors or their alphabet or even how a book works in a mechanical sense, the odds of them being caught up to all of their colleagues by third grade are not especially good. So when you look at a school's third grade numbers by themselves, you may be looking at the result of a wonderful faculty doing great work with sub-par clientele, or you may be looking at an incompetent faculty working with a very strong client base. The point is, there is absolutely no way to tell from one set of numbers, and people who draw conclusions about a school based on those numbers are foolish and short-sighted.

The only way you can look at the numbers and have them mean anything in relation to quality of the faculty is if you look at cohort groups--the performance of the same set of students as they progress from grade to grade. That will tell you if the faculty is doing their job; if a cohort group shows substantial improvement over time, it is a safe assumption that they are improving under the tutelage they are given. It is much like a medical procedure--you don't start giving a drug therapy and at the end of six weeks measure how patients respond; the first step is to measure where they are to begin with. That way you are able to make a judgement about whether the therapy has an effect.

So I would encourage everybody out there not to get too worked up over these first set of numbers. Without historical context, they mean very little; and since Colorado does not test first or second graders, there is no historical context.

Tomorrow I will pose a radical reformation of education and testing procedures that would leave in place accountability for schools and teachers, while shifting a portion of the responsibility to the students and the parents.

We are fond of saying that education is a home/school partnership--I'd like to invite the home to the table. And not simply by giving the home its money back to take their kid somewhere else.


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