Friday, August 27, 2004

Spin me round n' round

Awareness of our nation’s education crisis is fueling market-based reforms, and the National Education Association (NEA) is stepping up efforts to bolster the image of status quo public schools.

The union’s latest effort is a report trumpeting “good news about public schools.” Since such news would be welcome, the report merits a close look. And that close look reveals statistical spin that would make anyone dizzy.

Take one example.

The NEA notes that “reading scores are up” in Washington state schools because “the proportion of 4th graders who scored at the highest two levels in reading in the National Assessment of Educational Progress increased by 22% between 1994 and 2003.”

Sounds good, but statistics can sound just about anything. The NEA’s “fact” is technically true; the conclusion you're supposed to reach isn't.

The NEA derives its “22% increase” from a trend showing that 27% of 4th graders scored "proficient" on the national writing exam in 1994, and 33% scored proficient in 2003. The flipside: 67% are failing to meet standards, down from a 73% failure rate.

Progress? Sure.

Success? No.

The NEA also (conveniently) fails to mention that starting in 1998 schools were allowed to provide some students with “testing accommodations”. Right or wrong, this arbitrarily increases the overall percentage of proficient students and makes a direct trend comparison inaccurate.

On top of that, “proficient” on the reading assessment is defined as a student who scores at least 238 out of 500 points—or 48%. “Advanced” is a score of at least 54%.

Of course we should commend progress. The irony in the NEA’s happy dance is more than just the union’s refusal to acknowledge the true crisis of low student achievement and offer meaningful solutions. It's the union's active and aggressive role in creating and prolonging the problems.


At 3:37 PM, Blogger GullibleCity said...

"Lies, damn lies, and statistics," as Disraeli put it. Is it strangely comforting that some things never change, or not?


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