Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Image and Appearance… Education’s top priority?

I repeatedly hear parents in suburban communities brag about their schools.

“It’s the reason I moved to this area”, they say.

“I agree they’re good, but why do YOU think they’re good?” I ask.

The responses almost always point to test scores.

The problem is that in most cases people don’t understand what the scores really mean. It’s not that they are incapable of understanding… it’s that schools rarely provide enough meaningful information.

I wrote about this in an article here:

Detroit News: Many students aren't ready for college (09/10/08)

Schools (and the state) report test scores, but don’t really help parents to interpret them. Oftentimes they’ll report their relative rankings, comparing themselves to neighboring schools, county averages and state averages.

While being “above average” or “among the best” might be an accomplishment, it really says nothing about whether a school is preparing kids for college and it’s really not a meaningful goal.

What it does do is present a positive image. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that… unless it’s the ONLY thing presented. Image might be everything in Hollywood, but it should be secondary in education.

Parents can be excused for not understanding how to parse and interpret the data, but school boards cannot. Schools have an obligation to be candid with parents. And sharing the data – good or bad – creates an opportunity to start (or continue!) a dialog with parents.

It’s a chance to explain the importance of rigor, and relevance of taking challenging classes. It's an opportunity to reinforce the importance of engaging in their child's education.

School boards have – or should have – data on the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, and identify specific ways to increase the percentage of students that meet the benchmarks. Establishing those types of goals, and reporting progress on them would be much more helpful to parents than knowing whether they are “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Also, for clarification, it appears that I incorrectly associated the ACT with The College Board in the print edition when I said, “According to the College Board…” That quotes that followed came from ACT’s material. The College Board is responsible for Advanced Placement courses, which I frequently write about, and they are not associated with the ACT. It was corrected online. Sorry to both organizations!


Here is the full article in case the link doesn't work:

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Many students aren't ready for college
Make it easier for parents, taxpayers to gauge whether kids are prepared
Mike Reno

The results are in for the Michigan Merit Exam, which includes the ACT -- a national college entrance exam that's considered a reliable predictor of college success. Rather than take a comprehensive look at the results, most high schools will spend the next month reassuring the public that they're doing a splendid job.

Oftentimes it's an illusion, inviting rebuttal and reinforcing the growing concern that schools are out of touch with reality.

Schools need support. But also they need to admit -- to themselves and to parents -- that there's much to do.

The common approach presents parents with their school's average scores and rankings, and offers no explanation of how to interpret them. Schools atop the rankings are dubbed "high-performing," while everyone else will be reassured their district is "above the state average." These comforting descriptions are designed to make parents feel secure that all is well.

Any mention of disappointing results will include official comments about the difficulty of the test and how parents need to be patient because the test is new. "This is only our second year" or "We need more time" are the usual rallying cries -- as if the idea of preparing kids for college is new.

And no education press release will be complete without the "inadequate funding" potshot aimed at Lansing.

This posturing does nothing to drive school improvement or help our children.

Consider the 299 schools that can boast that their average ACT composite score beats the state average of 18.9. Does that mean those schools are doing a good job of preparing students for college? Who knows? Beating the state average has little bearing -- if any -- on college admission or success.

Knowing how many students met the nationwide average ACT score for incoming college freshmen would be more meaningful. The average freshman score for many universities in Michigan is between 21 to 23 with the highly selective universities accepting freshmen with averages pushing 28 to 30.

Just 60 high schools in Michigan -- out of 722 -- saw their average student achieve a score of 21 or higher.



Another meaningful goal might focus on the ACT college readiness benchmarks. According to the ACT folks, they represent "the minimum ACT test scores required for students to have a high probability of success in ... college courses," such as math, science and English." They are "empirically derived based on the actual performance of students in college."

Mind you, a "high probability of success" means earning a "C" or better in an entry-level college class. Few schools find their average student meeting these benchmarks.

Increasing the percentage able to perform to these minimum levels would be a great goal.

Unfortunately, the state doesn't report the percentage of students meeting these benchmarks. Knowing that data -- especially knowing how many students meet all four benchmarks in English composition, college algebra, biology and the social sciences -- would help parents better evaluate their schools.

Consider that Rochester Community Schools ranks among the top in the state by many measures, and 95 percent of its graduates are college-bound. Yet less than half meet all four benchmarks.

That may mean remedial courses in some subjects -- at the going college tuition rate -- or disappointing outcomes for students who aren't prepared for the rigor of college coursework even though they're admitted.

Really, aside from being self-serving, there's little value in trumpeting the fact that a school is "above the state average" or "top tier."

In fact, such public relations tactics can be harmful because some parents may easily be lulled into complacency.

Parents instead need a wake-up call from their schools. Transparent and informative achievement reporting could be an effective way to get parents more involved in their children's education.

The leadership needs to start with local school boards, which tend to set weak goals and have shallow communications. This is unlikely to change until parents and taxpayers demand candid assessments from these boards and hold them accountable for the results.



3 comments:

Anonymous said...

How can I find out these College Readiness Benchmarks for my school?

Mike Reno said...

Your school district has the numbers, and SHOULD be willing to share them.

In Rochester, where I serve as a trustee, the district is fortunate to have a superintendent who has been open to sharing the numbers.

Send your district an email and simply ask for the numbers.

Here is a link where you can learn more about these benchmarks. I'll also put one in the article, and on the blog.

http://www.act.org/news/data/08/benchmarks.html

Miss Scarlet said...

‘…Unfortunately, the state doesn't report the percentage of students meeting these benchmarks. Knowing that data -- especially knowing how many students meet all four benchmarks in English composition, college algebra, biology and the social sciences -- would help parents better evaluate their schools.


Consider that Rochester Community Schools ranks among the top in the state by many measures, and 95 percent of its graduates are college-bound. Yet less than half meet all four benchmarks. …’


Dear Mr. Reno,

Get real.

A close reading of Rochester’s website explains everything you need to know about parent / taxpayer confusion.

One of the “top” districts (by some measures) – no longer talks about its percentage of COLLEGE-BOUND graduates.

Instead, their "Points of Pride" boasts: 95% of our graduates attend “post-secondary schools”.

Interesting word choice, given Governess Granholm’s goal of doubling the number of COLLEGE graduates so as to insure that Michigan has “the most educated work force in the nation”.

Rochester doesn’t talk about COLLEGE-READINESS or COLLEGE-BOUND statistics, preferring instead the much softer-landing into the competitive real-world offered by "POST-SECONDARY SCHOOLS", where ACT scores don’t matter.