“Closing the gap” should NOT be the goal

Today, the State of Michigan released a new list of “focus” schools meant to punish those schools whose top 30% of students greatly outperform their lowest 30% of students on the official state standardized test.

Let’s think about the absurdity of that for a moment:

  1. Schools with diverse student populations, especially socioeconomically, will be overrepresented in this list.
  2. Schools that do a great job of teaching gifted/talented students will be punished for their efforts, as those inordinately high scores will increase the gap between the top 30% and bottom 30%.
  3. Schools will be rewarded for getting their high-scoring students to do WORSE, thus decreasing the gap.

Let’s simplify this down to a pool of just 10 students and their respective percentile scores on a standardized test:

School A’s students are in the 99th, 99th, 99th, 98th, 97th, 97th, 91st, 64th, 57th, and 56th percentile on the state test.

School B’s students are in the 21st, 20th, 19th, 19th, 18th, 16th, 16th, 14th, 13th, and 12th percentile on the state test.

The “gap” for school A is 40 points — that is, the average of the top 30% of its students (99) is 40 points higher than the average of its bottom 30% (59).  The “gap” for school B just 7 points (20 to 13).  But does that really mean school B is doing a better job?  To which school would you prefer to send your child?

This is one of the fundamental flaws of the standardized teaching movement: that it seeks as its ultimate goal having all students be the same.  Having students who excel has never been celebrated in the past by the powers that be; now, it will no longer even be tolerated.

5 thoughts on ““Closing the gap” should NOT be the goal

  1. That is an excellent point. Statistics are often abused, and misunderstood.
    On a more philosophical level, I prefer a system which tries to open the way to the top to as many students as possible. In other words, build ladders through gaps, but never think in terms of closing them. This is a global issue (I live in Argentina, although I spent most of my life in the states), unfortunately, the global trend is to close as many gaps as possible. This often results in educational system that cater to the lowest denominator. I don’t believe that any student benefits from this..

  2. I understand your point here, and I would agree with your conclusion if the sole metric that administrators were using to evaluate schools was the gap between the highest and lowest performing students.

    But it’s not. There’s an important principle which this particular standard seeks to address. As you point out, some kids are more difficult to teach than others. If there is no consideration of the gap between the highest and lowest performers, schools are encouraged to focus efforts on those kids who are coming from stable socioeconomic backgrounds while ignoring those kids who are living in more challenging circumstances.

    This standard isn’t going to turn the School A in your example to School B. Were that to happen, that school would see it’s evaluation plummet as is mean test scores declined.

    This standard – if appropriately and intelligently implemented – does not have the goal of “having all students be the same.” The driver for this standard is one that we should support in public education – the idea that our schools should be be dedicated to teaching all of our kids, not just the privileged ones.

    I say that as a parent of kids who be any reasonable standard fall into that “privileged” category, and who celebrates excellence. We’ll see if Michigan does a good job of implementing this rule, but I strongly believe that our country is better served if every kid has equal opportunity for a great education.

  3. An excellent point of view. In my state, schools get letter grades so that our public will know which schools are failing our kids. The emphasis is “those failing schools”. Our legislators were applauded for passing this legislation by their peers and by the advocacy groups pushing for more rigor in their schools. What this policy has done is to show the disconnect of those writing educational policy from reality. The policy makers are so out of touch they can’t see how their arrogant ideology hurts students, teachers, and communities. What is the outcome of their great wisdom? If you live in an agricultural area of the state or a higher percentage of poverty, your school received a D or F. Surprising, if you lived in the affluent regions of our state your school was graded A with very few B’s. The two legislators that were seen as champions, just happen to represent the most affluent regions in our state and their schools are rated very high. Demeaning to our teachers and communities that value their students and do all they can to move them forward in their learning. A teacher can take a student and show 2yrs growth but not meet standard. That teacher would be seen as a failure to get kids to standard…..what a mess!

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