Fake Accountability
Dr. Bill Conrad
January 9th, 2018

It is truly surreal to see the Federal Department of Education under the mendacious Trump administration call out the California State Board of Education for significant and accurate flaws in its State’s Accountability Plan for K-12 schools.   The primary responsibility of our school districts and schools is to ensure that all students are academically prepared for college and career when they graduate from the system.  The new State Accountability Dashboard only contributes to the fog of education.

The state adopted rigorous Common Core State Standards in ELA and Math that identify what students should know and be able to do at grades 3-8 and 11 to be on track for college and career by the end of 12th grade.  The state also participated in the development and implementation of a high-quality assessment called the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA) to gauge whether or not students meet or exceed these standards.  The state crafted an academic indicator for its Accountability Dashboard that is more about protecting the adults in the education system than it about clearly holding school districts and schools accountable for student academic performance.

Rather than link school and district accountability to the percentage of student overall and subgroup performance at these bands, the state devised a system that obfuscates actual student performance. The state academic indicator gambit works like this.  Students achieve scale score points on the ELA and Math state tests. The scale score is assigned a proficiency level based on where it falls within four proficiency bands.  Students are expected to score at the Meets or Exceeds proficiency bands.   The system subtracts individual student scale scores from the low-end scale score in the Meets Standards proficiency band.  These subtracted values are then added and divided by the number of scores to produce an Accountability value.  A color and ranking is then assigned to the derived value.

For ease of explanation, let’s say that the range for Meets Standards on the 5th grade Math test is between 100 and 150 Scale score points.  Imagine that Student A scores 90 points (Below Proficiency); Student B scores 110 points; and Student C scores 115 points.  The state system would then subtract each student score from the low value of 100 scale score points) for the Meets Standards proficiency level resulting in derived values of -10, +10, and +15.  The system then adds these values and divides by 3 resulting in a derived value of +5.  This +5 value would receive a green color or highly proficient on the state accountability system.

This system masks the performance of low performing students by redistributing “excess” scale score points of high performing students.  Unfortunately, Students B and C will probably not be able to accompany Student A to college to provide their excess test scoring capacities.  Additionally, the state does not include the 11th graders in this system presumably because there are not enough scale scores to spread around!  Rather than an innovation as David Plank suggests in the article, the state system is a subterfuge designed to protect the adults in the education system rather than the students, parents, and community.

In their Local School Accountability (LCAP) report, San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD)reports that overall academic progress as Green or High.  I wrote a Python script that comprehensively and clearly visualizes San Jose Unified School District performance on the state Math test by grade and by year as well as by year and by grade.  Please take a look at this report.  As you can easily see from the overall performance, fewer than ½ of all students meet or exceed Math standards and slightly more than 1/3 of eleventh graders meet or exceed Math standards.  The state allows SJUD the ability to claim a High Academic Performance. For Students with Disabilities, SJUSD reports an orange color (Medium) with no values.  But my table shows a continuous drop in the Math performance of Students with Disabilities across grades with only 5% of 11th grade Students with Disabilities Meeting or Exceeding Standards in 2016-17, an increase of 1 percentage point from the previous year.

Obviously, there is a big disconnect between the color-coded state academic indicator and actual student performance on the state Math Test.  The State Academic Dashboard is truly Fake Accountability and as our mendacious president might say: So, Sad!  There are real consequences as well.  The community thinks that student academic performance is satisfactory when it really is not!  The result of course is that almost 40% of California students enrolling into the California State College system require remediation.  The parents and students want and expect that their schools and school districts prepare all students for college and career. Parents and students have filed a lawsuit against the state to seek redress to their very legitimate grievance.  Yet the state continues to contribute to the fog of education by building an accountability system that is contrived to make the adults look good at all costs.

Enough is enough.  If you would like to see comprehensive pictures of how your school district performs in Math on the state test, please visit http://sipbigpicture.com.  Share these data visualizations with your District and School leaders.  Ask your leaders to set up posters of these one-page data visualizations within the District and schools.  Use the data visualizations to advocate for the improvement in curriculum, professional practices, and assessments. Please send me a comment on my web site if you want me to build a visualization tor your school or district.  Let’s get active. Let’s truly hold our educational leaders accountable with real data.

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