Clickable data on D.C. schools
I am, I admit, surrounded by cool technology and young people who know how to use it. I also confess I am, in at least a technical sense, a blogger, knight errant of the Internet age. But you also may have noticed that there isn't much tech stuff in this column. I am a word guy, just barely able to log myself on and click the right icons to get what I have written on the Web.
So it both shocks and pleases me that this weekly column, exclusively online since its birth ten years ago, is revealing today a new Web tool from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS) that many school wonks like me are going to find irresistable.
Its inventor, Jeff Noel, assistant director of school quality at FOCUS, is one of those young people who live for this stuff. He has been working on ways to help kids learn, and help adults understand how to aid them, in several states and for several enterprises. As he sat next to me in our little conference room in the Post's Alexandria bureau, he smiled tolerantly as I yelped in excitement at what this new toy could do.
My children and young colleagues at this point would be asking me to hand them the laptop so they could play. Okay, here are two links to the new school quality data tool designed by Noel for FOCUS, a non-profit organization that promotes charter schools in D.C. They are working on more, but these are good examples of what they are up to.
Here is a set of graphs showing the weakness of the current way of rating schools, using the No Child Left Behind "adequate yearly progress" measures.
Here is the site's School Data Explorer, its central feature, showing not only how schools are doing now, but how they have improved, or not, over time.
............................Oops. Sorry. Got distracted. I was trying out the various features. They are addicting. I can't wait to see what more talented analysts, like the D.C. schools blogger GF Brandenburg, find interesting--or frustrating-- about this approach.
For those of you who don't have time right now to check it out, the data explorer offers a scatterplot of D.C. public schools, both regular and charter,
with the percentage of students who scored proficient in 2009 on the vertical axis and school change from 2006 to 2009 in percent proficient on the horizontal axis.
You can search for individual schools. The Cesar Chavez-Capitol Hill public charter school is in the upper right quadrant, a good place to be, with 2009 proficiency of about 60 percent and improvement of about 25 percentage points, both above the D.C. average. Janney Elementary, a regular school in an affluent part of Northwest D.C., is much higher in proficiency, about 85 percent, but improved by only about 5 percentage points between 2006 and 2009, below the D.C. average. So it is in the upper left quadrant.
Another part of the data explorer presents the growth of various categories of students at each individual school, both charter and regular. Proficiency rates are shown with vertical bars. I looked up Ballou High, one of the lowest-performing of the regular schools. The bars were barely visible in 2006, but as I clicked up the line to 2009, they got higher.
Barnaby Towns, the director of communications for FOCUS, said "this new tool allows us to get at school performance data that has been hard to obtain in D.C. and pinpoint the schools that are registering strong growth in student proficiency as the potential high-performing schools of the future: those doing a good job now which will produce the right results in future."
It matters, he said, "because accountabilty is as important to the health and vitality of the public charter school movement as the autonomy which allows schools the freedom to innovate in their school policies and educational program. D.C.'s public charter school reform introduced the principle that underperforming public schools should lose their right to operate and that no school has an automatic right to operate. The Public Charter School Board rejects two charter applications for every one it approves and has removed the right to operate from one in four charter schools. It should take appropriate action with underperformers."
I have been calling for quicker action to close poorly performing charter schools, as President Obama has asked. But you have to be careful when you do that. This tool can distinguish schools, both charter and regular, that have special missions that affect their test scores.
"A few charters serve disproportionately special needs student populations which, out of fairness to these students and schools, should be compared among each other, rather than with schools that have a more typical and lower proportion of special needs students," Towns said.
Noel has worked with school data systems in Michigan, Ohio, California and Hawaii. He is now assisting both the D.C. Public Charter School Board and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in sorting out the data for both regular and charter schools.
It took him three months to create this tool. Please use the comment function on this column to tell me, and him, how it works for you, and what you think should be added, or changed. There are very few cities that offer such an intriguing look at how their schools are changing. Have some fun with it, and pray that I learn enough from this to risk more discussion of how best to use the Web to help schools.
Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
| January 8, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Trends | Tags: school test score data; D.C. schools; Friends of Choice in Urban Schools; showing how schools change; Jeff Noel; Barnaby Towns; No Child Left Behind;
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