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Test scores in motion

I expected tonight’s OUSD test score wrap-up to be another dry Power Point of weeks-old news. I did not anticipate the “motion chart.”

Don’t know what that is? I didn’t either, but you can see for yourself.

If you want to see six or seven years worth of Oakland Unified test score trends by school or by grade-level, and subject, and if you want to see how Oakland kids have measured up to their peers statewide on the tests, click one of the above links, check the boxes of interest and hit play.

Yes, play.

Ingrid Roberson, who heads the district’s assessment and data department, just finished showing us the data. (Yes, the school board’s meeting tonight for some reason because Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday.) Roberson noted that, district wide, math scores in grades 2 and 5 have surpassed state levels.

Superintendent Tony Smith said this information will give parents and other people the opportunity to spot trends and ask questions about what’s working and what’s not. He said he eventually wants to publish student-level data (without names, presumably).

“We need to use every tool at our disposal,” Smith said. “I’d be hard-pressed to find another district that would present its data this way.”

What questions or observations do you have, after seeing this chart?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Cranky Teacher

    More expensive data toys displaying the crude measurement tools which are only loosely and symptomatically linked to actual education.

    I remember when I was a new parent and not a teacher and believed these test scores were helpful in understanding the quality of a school or its teaching.

    Now I know that they measure primarily socioeconomic status of the children who attend and the emphasis or lack thereof of focus on test-taking skills and drilling on state standards.

    If you want to know what your child’s peers are going to be like, look at the test scores. If you want to know what the school is really like, however, you are going to have to talk to parents, students and children, and sit in on classes, at lunch and on the playground.

    Are test-taking skills and drilling on the state standards useless? Not entirely, although many of the standards, available online, are astonishingly anti-critical thinking, based on rote memorization of pre-digested factoids.

    However, the real problem with the test-taking mania is that the value of the results is so hopelessly overestimated. Here is what is being measured by the little dots bobbing up and down on that time graph Katy linked to: Tiny percentage point dips and bumps of DIFFERENT crops of kids (this year’s 8th grade measured versus last year’s 8th grade). When you factor in that the dominant, by far, factors in the overall score is socioeconomic background, parents education level, and family support/cohesiveness, these little shifts in points become even less relevant as measures of teaching/admin quality at the respective school site.

    Are they OK to use as ONE measure of quality (along with graduation rates, behavior, parent and student surveys, teacher and district-created benchmark testing, etc.? Yes, sure. But instead they have become holy numbers, magical numbers, awaited each Spring with bated breath by an entire, clueless society.

    Why? Because numbers are hard and clear, and we are a country that likes numbers. And test-giving is both relatively cheap, simple and, yes, even profitable for the private companies and consultants that contract around them.

    Never mind that they are easily gamed, cause immense stress for young students (I’ve seen elementary school kids get panic attacks on test day because all the adults said the school’s future depended on them), and encourage schools and districts to drive out weak students, they have become as beloved as batting averages for teen baseball fanatics.

    I understand the government falling for this racket, but to think I did, too, before becoming a teacher is embarrassing.

  • J.R.

    Tests or no tests, big numbers of kids are falling through gaping chasms(some districts are far,far worse than others). We have functionally illiterate, woeful basic math skills being pumped out of this system and they are consequently unemployable at anywhere near a living wage. And yet you want taxpayers to just keep dumping the money in while asking no questions? If all we needed are babysitters then lets just save some money, and pay babysitter wages.Look at the true costs involved, and the children pay an even higher price.

    http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11432

  • Pepe

    Don’t trust anything the Cato Institute puts out on public school education.

  • Tony

    Old news. This was on the Oak Book a week ago: http://www.theoakbook.com/Category.aspx?Catid=11

    Keep up Murphy!

  • Katy Murphy

    Oops. Well, I guess you can’t always be first! Cool screenshot, too.

  • J.R.

    Pepe,
    I trust what I see with my own eyes, and this system is broken(and has been for decades), and our kids are not getting the best education for the money(or anywhere close to it), its going down a big black hole of bureaucratic waste and excess.

  • Jesse James

    I couldn’t figure it out–what does it shows scores go up and down. Lots of money I bet went into the program, inputting the data, etc. This reminds me that the Use Your Voice survey data has yet to be released yet another time and money waster. Do you have any idea what happened to Use Your Voice?
    Thanks!

  • TheTruthHurts

    Cranky, you make good points about testing, but you should CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS about “More expensive data toys.”

    Try FREE

    http://code.google.com/apis/visualization/documentation/gallery/motionchart.html