The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, May 21, 2007

Independent evaluation in the real world

I mentioned having a couple of thoughtful responses recently; the other one concerns independent evaluation, something I’ve been thinking more about quite a bit. The comment was in response to a post entitled "He said, she said"; rather than interspersing my comments, I’ll just post my notes after presenting the entire thing.

Thank you for raising this topic. A group of parents, community members and educators were discussing a topic very similar to this past Thursday evening. One concern is our school district has academic magnet schools with minimum entrance requirements. The challenge is an 85 gpa needed to qualify for the lottery (minimum B) from one school is not the same as another school. Consequently with grade inflation or whatever you want to call it there are students who are "qualified" and get in the school but are ill-prepared once they start 5th, 7th or 9th grade work (depends upon which school you attend as to what grade you enter).

So...how does one ensure that an 85 is an 85 is an 85 and that all children who are "qualified" are truly qualified? Without this the academic magnet schools will sink to the level of the comprehensive high schools (rather than being the benchmark toward which the comprehensive high schools need to move). Two of our academic magnet high schools are top 50 schools based upon the number of AP classes/tests taken by their seniors or whatever the measure is. However, even without this flawed measure they would be a top high school (public or private) in the country.

We are concerned about maintaining the quality of these schools and want to increase the academic requirements for entrance to do this. However, with grade inflation, teacher-to-teacher discretion for grading, the ability to determine the foundation of the kids who "qualify" are receiving is next to impossible without testing them. Maybe this is the answer -- there is another screening test before the kids can get placed in the lottery. This would be in addition to their third grade TCAP scores having to be "advanced" in both reading and math.

Any thoughts on how to get conformity in grading would be most beneficial. This is a much bigger issue than just those kids that qualify for the academic magnets. This goes to the basics of how well prepared are second graders to move to third grade, third graders to fourth grade, etc.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

I do believe many more children should be failed than are today. However, there is such a stigma on holding students back a year to give them the extra help they need.

Well...we need a T-1/pre-first program, we need kids to start kindergarten at age 6, we need to be able to hold students back for social immaturity, etc.

Thanks -- I look forward to reading your response.

This is an excellent example of the real-world issue of grade inflation. Students have to clear a bar in order to apply for these magnet schools – but if the bar is set at different heights for different students, based on variations in rigor and subjectivity in assessment, how can the district know which students are qualified and which are not?

Under the current system, there’s no way that they can. There’s no way to know that an 85 from School A is the same as an 85 from School B, and there are any number of reasons for that, and any number of potential culprits involved. (As mentioned before, it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that it’s the teacher’s doing, but it could just as well be an administrator or parent pushing for revised grading.)

There are really only two solutions in this case. The first is to institute system-wide independent assessment, with a third-party evaluation conducted to verify academic achievement. This could be an independent written test or board-evaluated portfolio model – the format doesn’t matter as much as the independence and expertise of the reviewers. That way, the admissions people at this magnet school have a reason to trust the validity of the data and know that it's comparable from source school to source school.

Failing that (it is a monumental shift, and will either never happen or will happen very, very slowly), the only recourse available to the district and magnet schools is to require their own independent evaluation of student preparedness as part of the admissions process. If we can’t trust the data coming in with the students, we need to generate data that we can trust, whether that involves additional assessments, personal interviews, essays, or portfolios (or all of these and other options).

But at some point along this path we need to find data that is not compromised by subjectivity and self-interest. It’s the only way to know what you need to know in order to make effective decisions.

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