In the first “Correct The Blogger Challenge” email I received, an anonymous individual under the pseudonym “Education Opinions” wrote to me about my article on EastSide Charter School from last week. They wrote:
This is in response to your 3/10 post “The Recipe Behind the ‘Pixie Dust’ at Eastside Charter: Very High Attrition Rates, Part 1.” I want to start by saying that I don’t work at Eastside, I’m not on their board, I don’t have any kids at the school, I don’t work for the DOE, and I am not related to anyone who meets any of those qualifications either. I am just a community member concerned about the way data (for both traditional and charter schools) is sometimes utilized to make points that might not be completely accurate.
In your post, you state, “Governor Jack Markell gave the keynote speech, and left immediately afterwards for another engagement. He spoke about Eastside Charter School’s great job with closing proficiency gaps, and stated “they have gone from only having 15% of their 5th graders scoring proficient in reading to 66% in just three years.” If only this were true…”. You then go on to post the number of students in each K-6 grade from the year 2009 until the current year, citing high attrition as a reason why this proficiency statistic can’t be true.
Before I address the attrition rates themselves, I want to focus on the 5th grade proficiency rating that Governor Markell cites, about which you comment “if only this were true.” If you have additional reason to believe that 5th graders did not go from 15% proficient to 66% proficient in three years then by all means I encourage you to post it. However, if high attrition is the only reason you are citing, I don’t think that is a fair use of data. I’m not sure which 3 year span the governor was referring to, but let’s look at a few sets of 3 year periods (according to the numbers you posted, which I haven’t actually verified but I’m just going to assume they are factual):
2009: Number of 5th graders = 36 (15% proficiency would mean 5.4 students scored proficient)
2012: Number of 5th graders = 49 (66% proficiency rating would mean 32.34 students scored proficient)
2010: Number of 5th graders = 34 (15% proficiency would mean 5.1 students scored proficient)
2013: Number of 5th graders = 29 (66% proficiency rating would mean 19.14 students scored proficient)
2011: Number of 5th graders = 35 (15% proficiency would mean 5.4 students scored proficient)
2014: Number of 5th graders = 53 (66% proficiency rating would mean 34.98 students scored proficient)
The only span where the number of 5th graders was slightly fewer at the end of 3 years than at the beginning was the 2010-2013 span, but even with these numbers the number of actual students (not percentages) scoring proficient was still much higher. I am not saying that attrition from kindergarten-6th grade isn’t potentially a problem (I will address that below), but I don’t see how attrition impacts 5th grade proficiency, particularly when you yourself admit that this school does not engage in cherry picking and admits high numbers of both minorities and special education students. I feel like describing the data in this way is playing into the fact that many of your readers place an inordinate amount of trust in you as a blogger and will take everything you say at face value without thinking more deeply into what is being stated. Again, if you have other reasons to believe that the 15% vs 66% proficiency numbers are untrue, I hope to hear them soon, but if not I don’t think it is fair to cite attrition as a reason the numbers are false.
As far as the K-6 attrition rates themselves, while I agree with you that people should not state that “Students don’t leave Eastside Charter” (because based on your numbers, clearly they do), I would love for you to do some analysis into the number of students who leave other Wilmington schools mid-year or at the end of the year. Something that was brought up a lot at the March 9 panel at the Chase Center as a reason to support consolidating Wilmington school districts was the fact that in traditional district schools, students frequently leave the district for a new district due to family instability, moving, etc. However, actual numbers year to year in district schools don’t seem to drastically change because for all the students moving, other new students are coming in (many school staff spoke of receiving 10s or even 100s of new students throughout the year). I would venture to guess that not many (if any) people begin at charter schools mid-year, and also that compared to districts, not too many come into charters at a random year that other new schools wouldn’t be starting (e.g. not as many coming in at 2nd or 4th grade as compared to kindergarten or 6th grade) so when they lose students they aren’t really getting the replacement students that traditional schools are. Now, I could be completely wrong, it’s possible that Eastside’s attrition really is a problem; however, I don’t think you have presented enough data to make me believe that. I would love to see an analysis of the number of students who LEAVE district schools throughout each year (without factoring in the number of new students that replace them). I think to cite attrition as a reason that Eastside just HAS to be “counseling out” students is making a lot of assumptions without a lot of evidence. I don’t know enough about the numbers to prove whether I am right or you are right, but it seems as though you don’t either.
To summarize, unless you’re withholding additional information, I believe the claim that Eastside’s increased 5th grade proficiency scores are untrue is false. In regards to their high attrition, it could be true but it also could be false, and I think further analysis (and fewer blind assumptions) are needed.
This is the first challenge, and I am honor bound to issue a public challenge and face it. And this challenger is completely right in many aspects. Last week I wrote an article about EastSide Charter School and how Governor Markell cited the school as making incredible gains in reading proficiency. I misread the data, and did send Dr. Lamont Browne an apology. I made the mistake of thinking the gains in proficiency for 5th graders over a three year period were based on students in 5th grade, and then three years later in 8th grade. Operating under my proficiency theory, it would make sense that attrition could contribute to a rise in standardized test scores. But the reality in Markell’s praise was 5th graders in 2011 were at 15.15% in reading proficiency, and in 2014, 5th graders were at 66%. This nearly 50% rise is a remarkable feat. I based my data on similar data I read that a commenter on another blog wrote a few months ago so I had this in mind when I wrote this article.
As well, the numbers I posted in my original article, found here: https://exceptionaldelaware.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/the-recipe-behind-the-pixie-dust-at-eastside-charter-very-high-attrition-rates-part-1/#more-5495 were based on the DOE reported September 30th enrollment numbers, and not on the number of students taking the Spring DCAS. In an attempt to verify with absolute clarity on Markell’s claim, I went to the DOE website and pulled up EastSide’s reading proficiency charts:
They say a picture paints a thousand words, and a picture like this certainly does paint a lot. It clearly shows that Markell’s assertion was absolutely correct. So I owe a very huge apology not only to Dr. Browne but to Governor Markell himself.
With this being said, there is no doubt based on my earlier post this school does have a very high attrition rate, and I do wonder why. Is this the norm for charter schools in Wilmington? It is not at Charter School of Wilmington but they do have a completely different set of students there. Can I say it is based on counseling out? That I do not know. There could be a multitude of factors. One would have to see the actual paperwork concerning these departures to ascertain why these students left. I can say with certainty EastSide had no reported expulsions during these years.
In regards to the proficiency scores, it is very easy to pick one point of data and make it shine. This is exactly what Governor Markell and the DOE did in the case of EastSide Charter. To compare two completely different groups of students is equivalent to comparing apples and oranges. What none of them have publicly stated was that the 66% mark was actually a decrease from the 2013 when 5th graders were at 71.43% proficiency in reading. Even more alarming is what happened to those 5th graders in 2014 because they dropped to 43.59% in 6th grade. The only group of students that rose in scores between 2013 and 2014 was 7th to 8th grade.
Was the 5th grade teacher in 2013 and 2014 a good teacher? While I am not a believer in standardized testing, there were gains during an overall trend. For that I will give EastSide, Dr. Browne and the teacher kudos. What we don’t know is how well these students did on their actual grades, which to me is the foundation for gains or losses, not standardized test scores. Furthermore, the DCAS is not even being used anymore as it was replaced by Smarter Balanced and Markell continues to use the results of a test judged to no longer be effective. I will be very curious to see the results of Smarter Balanced when they come out. Based on the DOE’s claims of the first few years, I expect disastrous results.
In terms of doing analysis on all schools in Wilmington, districts and charters alike, for how many students left mid-year would be a huge feat to accomplish. Which may come down the road, but my original article was meant to debunk Markell’s claim, but it appears the debunker was debunked!