31 July 2007

Unsurprising CSAP Results

The CSAP, like all tests, basically measures academic ability. Unsuprisingly, several years of doing basically the same thing to teach our kids academics is not making them any more or less academically able than last year's crop of kids. As the Denver Post notes: "Ritter called the changes 'statistically insignificant.'"

Equally unsurprising is the "discovery" that kids who did poorly once on the CSAPs tend to continue to do so, while kids who do well likewise tend to continue to do well.

For the first time, the Department of Education provided data that showed how students have performed over time, from 2005 to 2007. Those statistics show most students failed to progress as they moved through grades.

"As you come to us, three years into it, there you are," said Jo O'Brien, head of the state Department of Education's Office of Learning and Results.

The Rocky was slightly more clear in explaining the data, so I'll quote them:

Two-thirds of the third-graders who scored "unsatisfactory" — the lowest level — in reading in 2005 are still at that level, the data show. And more than 20 percent of students who were partially proficient — the step just above unsatisfactory — in 2005 slipped down to unsatisfactory this year.

Only 6 percent of the unsatisfactory students made it to "proficient," the goal under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. That's just 227 kids out of 3,810 unsatisfactory third-graders in 2005.

In sixth-grade math, 84 percent of the unsatisfactory students in 2005 are still at that level. . . .

Anglo and Asian kids were more likely to move up than Hispanic, black or Indian students. Results did not vary significantly by the size of the district. . . .

Only 12.9 percent of third graders slipped from advanced or proficient to a failing level.

In the entire state, only 16 kids went from advanced to unsatisfactory. Not a single child went the other way, from unsatisfactory to advanced.

And, again, unsurprisingly, there is, once again, a large and persistent achievement gap between whites and Asians on one hand, and blacks and Latinos on the other, and also between students who do and do not qualify for free or reduced price lunches. The slight gender gaps with boys doing a bit better in math and science, while girls do a bit better in reading is also long standing.

In short, the CSAPs aren't telling us anything we didn't already know. They have limited use as a tracking device, if you believe that tracking has educational value. But, they tell us very little about the schools in question other than their relative demographics.

I'm agnostic over whether a dramatic change in educational approaches could change CSAP results dramatically, but I'm pretty sure that modest changes will leave us with about the same results, year after year.

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