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Fixing Errors (Not Mine, Of Course)

At the Struggle, we like to be accurate. Although when we do corrections we try to dig into them and not to be as boring as those little items on page A2 of the Post. Here is a complaint one of the Struggle's most persistent readers, known as efavorite, sent me about a recent statement by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee on a Q and A Sept. 29:

Efavorite: I think a correction should be made about the Shaw score information, just as John Merrow did on the PBS "Learning Matters" website after it aired the same inaccurate information about Shaw back in August. Rhee said in the Q and A:

“Shaw was a failing middle school that needed to be restructured. Anyone who has been in the school under the new leadership can attest to the fact that the school's culture and environment has improved radically. The test scores stayed pretty level this year (not uncommon for the first year of a turn around) and we expect to see greater gains in the years to come. I'm excited by what Principal Betts, the staff and students have done there!”

That's not accurate. As you reported in your Sept. 28 column:
"Shaw dropped from 38.7 to 30.5 in the percent of students scoring at least proficient in reading, and from 32.7 to 29.2 in math."

Me: I think efavorite is right. We stand corrected. But efavorite overlooks the more important issue of what those score drops mean. My column also said that only 17 percent of those 2009 Shaw students were at the school in 2008. It is mostly an apples and oranges not-so-useful comparison. As I said, if you compare the scores of just the 44 students who were there both years, the result is different: "The students’ decline in reading was somewhat smaller; it went from 34.5 to 29.7. Their math scores actually increased a bit, from 26.2 to 29.5” That is closer to Rhee's view that the test scores stayed pretty level. But a very low level, as I said.

Jay - Speaking of apples and oranges, the -4 and -9 numbers are the ones under discussion, not other un-verified data only mentioned in your column as a result of what sounds like a private conversation with the chancellor. I disagree that I’m “overlooking a more important issue.” I can’t overlook something that’s not visible. How deep do I have to look to find that other data, or is it even available for the public to peruse? How do I know it actually exists? Shaw’s standing is based on the same official, publicly available “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) data used for all the schools, so it’s incredibly disingenuous for Chancellor Rhee to use different data when discussing Shaw’s scores. This is apples and oranges writ large, with fingers crossed behind her back.

Besides, if Shaw had experienced an increase of 4 and 9 using the standard data, I doubt if you or Chancellor Rhee would have said the scores "stayed pretty level." You’d simply say “increased.” Children first, Jay. You and the Chancellor should set a good example. Second graders can see that -4 and -9 are declines. And they know the difference between a fact and a self-serving distortion.

One more fix:

Christopher Childs complained in my Sept. 18 column that he couldn't get a Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Bowie State without quitting his job at a D.C. private school, because Bowie State required an internship. I asked Bowie State about this, but they didn't get back to me until after the column ran. They said Childs could do the internship at his school, National Cathedral, and would not have to quit. Childs read the Bowie State materials again and acknowledged that they were right.

By Jay Mathews  | October 9, 2009; 4:24 PM ET
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It seems quite unfair to suggest that as you look at these scores you must consider only the students who remained at the school from the previous year. I agree that it makes a lot more sense to only consider those students who have benefited from the teaching at any given school. However, NCLB does not work that way. A school whose population remains constant year after year is treated no differently from a school with a 40% mobility rate. It is disingenuous to suggest to readers that it is reasonable to consider only returning students in some instances but all students in other instances.

Posted by: Jenny04 | October 11, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad efavorite and Jay discussed the question I put to Mrs. Rhee.
I had another one answered, the one regarding the foundation money for teacher raises and bonuses.

Posted by: edlharris | October 12, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

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