Paul R. Lehman, Flawed School evaluation formula uses race in assessing achievement gaps.December 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Posted in discrimination, equality, European American, minority, Oklahoma education, Race in America, socioeconomics, The Oklahoman, whites | Leave a comment
Tags: A-F letter grading formula, Charles Murray, class differences, Coming Apart, demographics, ethnic minorities, Harvard University, Janet Barresi, Kim Archer, letter grades, Megan Cliford, Oklahoma Department of Education, Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma University, school performance, University of Oklahoma
Researchers at Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University did an analysis relative to the grading of schools in an A-F system and found that system was flawed for a variety of reasons. This analysis was supported by a number of teacher and educational organizations in recognizing the failure of the A-F system to give an accurate assessment of the schools. According to an article in The Oklahoman, “Education Department criticizes grades study,” (12/1/13) the Oklahoma State Department of Education had some concerns with the analysis by the two Oklahoma Universities.
The writer of the article, Kim Archer, gave more specific information about the study:
In mid-October, researchers from the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Education Policy and Oklahoma State University’s Center for Educational Research and Evaluation released an analysis of the A-F school grading formula that concluded Oklahoma’s school evaluation system has fundamental flaws that make letter grades virtually meaningless and ineffective for judging school performance.
The analysis of the grading system has been questioned by “Megan Clifford, a Harvard University strategic data fellow ‘on loan’ to the state Education Department for the next two years, [she] conducted her own analysis of the system with input from her Harvard professors.” Clifford stated that one problem with the OU/OSU analysis was “that it relied on a ‘small, nonrepresentative sample of state data.” Consequently, the article continued, “State Superintendent Janet Barresi asked Clifford to see if she could replicate the OU/OSU research findings to determine how to use results from the critiquing study.”
As a result of the request, the department decided to look at three primary concerns of the A-F grading system from the OU/OSU analysis. First, the analysis indicated that “Differences between predicted A-F letter grades are small and effectively meaningless;” next, the analysis found that “Summarizing a school’s test performance on math, reading and science is neither a clear nor reliable indicator of school performance;” and finally, that “letter grades mask achievement gaps between poor and minority children and their wealthier, nonminority peers.”
In her response to these three concerns of the OU/OSU analysis, Clifford found for the first concern, that the “differences between ‘A’ and ‘F’ schools were much greater” than the analysis suggested. Her response to the second concern relative to performance grades, she stated that “It definitely is accurate in telling everyone what percentage of students at the school are proficient in” course and levels from low to high achievement levels. Her final response relative to gaps between poor minority children and their wealthy peer, was that “there is an achievement gap based on race, but that poor students in an A school did better than a poor student in an F school.”
While these concerns might appear to be logical and appropriate with respect to criticism of the OU/OSU study, they in effect support the conclusion of that report. In essence, the idea of a fair and accurate A-F letter grading formula must first of all take into consideration the specific demographics of each school. Once that is done, the value of each letter grade must be established based on the demographic information of especially the social, economic and educational levels of the communities in which the schools are located. In no manner should all the schools be assessed by the same standards, because they are generally, all different.
In his book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray talked about the problems we face in America today based on class structure. The problems have some influences on collecting data. From his book we learn that “a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship.” Based on five decades of statistics and research, he added that “divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.” With this information in mind, an A-F letter grading formula would favor one group while it discriminates against another if the standards for the evaluation are based on one group, the upper class.
In addition, Murray noted that
The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.
So, regardless of the approach taken to assess each school with a letter grade, consideration must be given to the uniqueness of each school and the children attending those schools. If these concerns are not taken seriously, then the results of any evaluation will be faulty and unreliable.
Clifford’s assessment of the achievement gaps associated with race is of concern when race is never defined, but assumed. We would have to examine the data from the schools to determine how race is identified and used relative to the students. Since the concept of race defined by color or some other method is defective, one wonders just how the results from unreliable information can accurately reflect student or school performance. If the objective for evaluating each school is to discover what areas need addressing, then an accurate assessment that takes into consideration the basic demographics and other relative information must be brought into the equation-one size does not fit all.
The assessment by the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University were accurate when they indicated that the A-F school grading formula was flawed and made “letter grades virtually meaningless and ineffective for judging school performance.” We would hope that Clifford takes another look at the data in an effort to recognize what is best for the schools and their students. Whether it was meant to serve as a reward/punishment system, the A-F grading formula does just that when it passes judgment on the schools and the students representing those schools. We can do a better job in addressing the needs of our schools through evaluations