Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jeb Bush's Florida Miracle

Here are two quotes from that WashPost article that I found informative:
In his first term, most of Jeb Bush’s efforts in education came in three areas: test-based accountability, private-school vouchers, and support for improved reading instruction. In 1999, Bush signed legislation that required annual testing of all children in grades 3-10, tied test scores to annual “A” through “F” labels assigned to local public and charter schools, and required retention of children in third grade if they did not meet critical scores in the state reading test or provide other evidence of reading skill. In the same year, the Florida legislature created two voucher programs, one tied to the state labeling of local public schools and the other available to children with disabilities. Bush also created the Florida Center for Reading Research in 1999, which used both state and federal funding to support classroom teachers and reading coaches.
 and this one:
Governor Bush and his allies generally point to fourth-grade reading as the most important story, and that is where one can see large increases in average scale scores, not only across cohorts of fourth-grade students but in comparison with the national sample of fourth-grade students. Between 1998 and 2013, Florida’s fourth graders rose from being quite a bit below the national average on the NAEP testing program to being well above the national average. You can quibble with testing samples and comparison issues, but this is an unambiguous good.
To which I say, "Really?"

Let me pull out one phrase from that first paragraph. "and required retention of children in third grade if they did not meet critical scores in the state reading test".

I sure can quibble with testing samples, especially when you throw a whopper of a lipstick-covered pig out there and pretend it's a gold-plated truffle.

I am not surprised that his fourth-grade scores rose after he retained kids in third grade if they weren't up to snuff. Every kid at that age will do better with one more year of reading training (and that FCRR was definitely a good idea) and one more year of maturity. Remember that, too, many of these retained kids were probably on the young side of the cut-off to enter first grade.

Later in the article, the researcher, Sherman Dorn, admits, "NAEP reading scores for Florida eighth graders slowly converged to the national average, with large bounces up and down across the years."

What bothers me is this line:
"The bottom line: Bush is correct that Florida’s children benefited from his time in office if children graduated high school at the end of fourth grade, and only evidence of general reading skills mattered. For most other independent test-score measures, the picture is less impressive."
 "Benefited from his time in office." And yet he immediately qualified it. Then there was this Q & A:
Q) So what was responsible for the fourth-grade rise in reading?
A) The most likely explanation is a combination of reading coaches hired in the boom years in Florida and the creation of the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR)."

To me, the evidence points to retention as a much larger factor. To the credit of the article author, she does add an important caveat in the last paragraph:
An important caveat: Looking at achievement gaps in NAEP and changes in those gaps is harder than you might think because some category definitions change, the demographics of children change (a higher proportion of children are eligible for free and reduced lunches than in the late 1990s), and once you look at differences in scores (gaps) and changes in those differences, the standard errors of those measures expand from the standard errors in the mean scale scores. The numbers above are far less precise than one might assume; for example, while the changes in achievement gaps by lunch-program eligibility and disability status are meaningful, take the specific numbers with more than a few grains of salt.
Especially when the demographics change by "force", eliminating all of those below a 3rd grade cut-off point.

Here are a couple of graphs from the article:

Here you see the immediate effect of retention policies and the long-term effect of the FCRR.

Math scores, grade 8

After all is said and done, the change in teacher-training and the change in retention rules ... 12th graders (18year-olds) are pretty much the same as they ever were.

How did that slip in there?