by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2014) Under current local, state and national educational policy, Clevelanders are being asked to measure their public and charter schools and judge their teaching staffs based on the scores on standardized tests. While the standardized tests may help to compare schools, they do little to help individual students to improve their academic performance. The test results are not available early enough in the school year to be used as a vehicle to identify areas of concern and help students to improve. In addition, the tests are not designed as vehicles for evaluating and improving an individual students’ performance.
This being the case, it is a wonder that Clevelanders allow so much time to be spent, and allow an educational plan to be developed that uses the standardized tests as the be all and end all of educational policy in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. However, when one considers that Clevelanders have been stripped of their power to elect a Board of Education, the citizens of Cleveland, in order to voice their concern, have greater obstacles than most communities in the state of Ohio.
Standardized test scores are used to evaluate individual Cleveland schools. A recent article in The Atlantic by Meredith Broussard, titled Why poor schools can’t win at standardized testing, says “the companies that create the most important state and national exams also publish text books that contain many of the answers. Unfortunately, low-income school districts can’t afford to buy them.”
What do we get from this picture? The Cleveland Transformation Alliance will be evaluating schools based on tests that have little value in improving educational outcome for individual students. Schools are being judged on the outcomes of the tests, yet the school district cannot afford the textbooks that would help students pass the tests. The high stakes tests add incredible stress to the lives of students and teachers, but do little in the way of helping to shape an individual learning plan for students in terms of identifying and addressing areas of academic weakness.
With declining school populations in some neighborhoods, and a school district anxious to fill seats in new schools built in neighborhoods without enough students to fill them, shuffling of students and closing of schools in Cleveland neighborhoods is part of the future agenda tied to the Cleveland Transformation Plan.
Are the school test scores that will help to determine closures meaningful, or are they a reflection of the poverty in the neighborhood and the lack of resources provided to individual schools? Questions such as this should be answered, and serious consideration be given to creating the type of testing that actually benefits students before continuing down the destructive path the school district has thus far chosen.
Parents and community members should examine the record in local schools by the criterion now being used by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and the Transformation Alliance. The test scores will help to give an indication of what the CMSD and the Transformation Alliance are looking at when they ask that students fill seats in the better performing schools. What will happen to the remaining schools? Will the resources promised through the “Investment Schools” chosen in the Cleveland Transformation Plan be sufficient to raise test scores enough to keep these schools open? Or, will these supposed resources be given as an excuse to say, “we tried, but we couldn’t do it” and now the schools will be closed?
As schools open early this academic year so teachers will have more time with students before standardized testing begins, a look at test scores by neighborhood may give parents and community members a sense of what is at stake. The Cleveland Transformation Alliance has printed a booklet titled Choose your School: A Cleveland School Selection Guide. The guide lists all the public and charter schools in the city of Cleveland and offers information on how the student bodies at those schools performed on standardized tests in the 2012-13 school year. Two measures are used featuring letter grades from the Ohio Department of Education: Achievement and Progress. Schools are given a grade from A to F to measure how the student body fared on the tests’ academic scoring and if the students as a group showed a full year of academic progress. For High Schools the graduation rate (4 or 5 years) is used instead of the Progress measurement.
According to the Cleveland Transformation Alliance’s booklet, the Achievement score results are compiled from answering two questions about the school: “How many students passed the state test?” and “How well did the students do on the state test.”
The booklet says the second measure, the Progress score, measures “how many 4th-8th grade students made at least one year’s worth of academic growth. Schools where students made more than one year’s worth of academic growth receive a higher grade. Schools where students made less than one year’s worth of growth receive a lower grade.”
The test scores used by The Cleveland Transformation Alliance are from the 2012-13 school year. So parents should keep in mind that any progress made in the last school year is not reflected in these scores. Data available for childhood poverty rates by neighborhood is even older: it is compiled from the year 1999 as measured by the 2000 census. The source used for child poverty rate data is: the NEO CANDO system, Center on Poverty and Community Development, MSASS, Case Western Reserve University (Http://neocando.case.edu).
While the poverty data is old, only estimates were available on the neighborhood level for years beyond 1999 – the indications are that the 2010 census will show increased poverty levels for children in most Cleveland neighborhoods. It is important to take into consideration poverty when trying to improve student achievement. For example in Bay Village, just west of Cleveland, where the child poverty rate is estimated at less than 3%, there is no talk of using test scores to evaluate teaching staffs and close schools. In a 7/17/14 blog at janresseger.wordpress.com, local educational activist Jan Resseger cites a New Yorker essay where Rachel Aviv quotes educational researcher David Berliner who says, “The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse for doing nothing about poverty.”
In her blog, Resseger is critical of the “portfolio school reform” model chosen by the Cleveland Transformation Plan saying closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools or distributing vouchers will not address issues faced by children living in poverty. To do that, Resseger says “it will be necessary to develop the political will to invest publicly in the schools in communities where poverty seems intractable. We’ll need to provide incentives to attract the best teachers and support teachers instead of blaming them when they cannot overcome such issues on their own. We’ll need to reduce class sizes. We’ll need to provide the kind of wrap-around health and social services embedded in Community Schools. We’ll need to create quality pre-Kindergarten programs to catch children up before the achievement gap gets established prior to their even beginning school. The federal government will need to increase investment in improving the public schools in our poorest communities and find ways to create incentives to ensure that states also increase their investment in quality education for children living in poverty.”
Resseger concludes her blog saying “In short we’ll have to take David Berliner seriously: ‘The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse for doing nothing about poverty.’ There is no excuse for the kind of punitive public education policy our nation is currently practicing.”
School performance and poverty rates in some neighborhoods served by the Plain Press:
Tremont: Child poverty rate in 1999: 55.35%
Buhrer Dual Language School: Achievement C, Progress A
Luis Munoz Marin: Achievement F, Progress F
Scranton: Achievement D, Progress A
Tremont Montessori, Achievement C, Progress A
Northeast Ohio College Preparatory School: Achievement C, Progress A
Ohio City: Child poverty rate in 1999: 49.77%
Orchard STEM: Achievement D, Progress C
Paul L. Dunbar: Achievement D, Progress B
Near West Intergenerational School: Achievement B, Progress C
Arts and Science Preparatory Academy: Achievement D, Progress B
Horizon Science Academy: Achievement D, Progress A
Detroit Shoreway: Child poverty rate in 1999: 49.53%
H. Barbara Booker: Achievement D, Progress D
Joseph M. Gallagher: Achievement D, Progress F
Watterson Lake: Achievement D, Progress C
Waverly: Achievement D, Progress C
Edgewater: Child poverty rate in 1999: 29.16%
Louisa May Alcott Elementary: Achievement B, Progress A
Cudell: Child poverty rate in 1999: 40.82%
Marion C. Seltzer Elementary: Achievement D, Progress F
Madison Community Elementary: Achievement C, Progress C
Northwest Academy: Achievement D, Progress F
West Boulevard: Child poverty rate in 1999: 26.40%
Almira: Achievement D, Progress F
Wilbur Wright School: Achievement D, Progress F
Louis Agassiz School: Achievement D, Progress A
Westside Community School of the Arts: Achievement C, Progress C
Stockyard: Child poverty rate in 1999: 47.64%
Clark School: Achievement C, Progress A
Stockyard Community Elementary: Achievement D, Progress B
Stockyard Community Middle: Achievement D, Progress B
Clark Fulton: Child poverty rate in 1999: 39.83%
Walton School: Achievement D, Progress A
Hope Academy Lincoln Park: Achievement C, Progress A
Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy: NA
Brooklyn Centre: Child poverty rate in 1999: 33.86%
Denison: Achievement D, Progress A
Horizon Science Academy Denison Middle: Achievement D, Progress C
West Side High Schools:
Max Hayes High School: Achievement D, Graduation Rate F (75.2%)
New Tech at Max Hayes: Achievement B, Graduation Rate NA
Garrett Morgan School Science: Achievement C, Graduation Rate: D (84.2%)
Lincoln West High School: Achievement D, Graduation Rate F (50.7%)
James Ford Rhodes High School: Achievement C, Graduation Rate F (65.8%)
John Marshall High School: Achievement D, Graduation Rate F (61.3%)
Bard High School: NA
Lake Erie International High School: NA
Editor’s Note: Additional information of the Cleveland Transformation Alliances’ school ratings can be found by calling 211 or visiting their website at: http://www.clevelandta.org.