New York

Improvement in progress report grades: real or random?

Last year, the first round of progress reports attracted anger and ridicule. Perhaps because far fewer schools received low grades, the response this year has been more muted, making room for measured, evidence-based discussion of the DOE’s methodology in constructing the reports.

Over at Eduwonkette, Harvard education professor Daniel Koretz offers a lengthy critique of the progress report methodology. He notes that test scores alone are not a legitimate way to evaluate schools; New York State’s tests were not designed to be used in “value-added” analysis like that behind the progress reports; and the progress reports, like all accountability systems, place pressure on school administrators that likely leads to score inflation. In addition, he writes that the DOE’s formula does not take into account “interval scaling,” or the reality that different amounts of “value” are required to move students from one proficiency level to the next at different points on the proficiency spectrum. (In June, I wrote about how interval scaling might contribute to the finding that No Child Left Behind has helped high-performing students less than their low-performing peers.)

But those problems exist in many test-based, value-added accountability systems — Koretz writes that New York’s progress report system has its own set of errors. The tremendous variation in schools’ grades from last year to this year probably has less to do with school improvement than sampling and measurement error, he writes.

Here’s an illustration of the effect of error. I first calculated the variation in schools’ grades between last year and this year and then graphed it against their enrollments. It’s obvious that larger schools were less likely to see sizable changes in their grades than smaller ones. No school with more than 1,500 students went up or down more than one grade, while all schools whose grades changed the maximum amount possible had fewer than 1,000 students; most of those that increased by that amount had 500 students or fewer.

A substantive explanation for this distribution might be that large schools don’t do a good job moving their students forward, and smaller schools can give more attention to each student’s individual needs. But I’m with Koretz that correct explanation is more likely to be methodological — and rooted in error. A school with 400 students sounds like it would produce stable results. But consider that elementary progress reports only look at two grades’ worth of students — those with two years of test scores. The progress report grade for a school with 400 students could depend on just 100 students’ test scores — hardly a sample that allows chance differences among students, and in each student’s year-to-year test experiences, to wash out.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.