Monday, July 19, 2010

Texas Projection Measure: Wanted Dead, But Alive

Where else but in Texas can you have it where a program’s flaws have been so seriously exposed, even in the press, but its consequence will remain, and is expected to remain, for yet another year to come?

But that is the nature of how things work in the public sector. The flaws of any given system in the public sector can be exposed to the extent of doing real damage to institutions and to individuals, but the program itself is allowed to stand.

In less than 2 weeks time, the TEA will release its campus and district accountability ratings, ratings that are in large part based on the high-stakes test known as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. And included in that system of campus ratings and accountability is the newly applied Texas Projection Measure or TPM. Newly applied as in new to the ratings of campuses and districts in the 2008-2009 school year.

The 2008-09 school year is a year that saw a jump in the numbers of campuses and districts rated as Exemplary, the grand majority of these higher ratings were based on the newly instituted TPM.

A predictive program that has been exposed in a recent State House committee meeting, as described in Houston Chronicle pieces by Rick Casey, as one that is less about prediction and more about wishful thinking.

Several pieces on the TPM have appeared in the Dallas Morning News within the last 24 hours. Some of them refer to others of them. But together they weave a story that is truly unnerving to those of us who worry about things like school accountability and the public’s perception of whether the Texas Education Agency is stacking the deck in their favor.

This story reveals that the TPM will be used in the state’s campus ratings system again this year, but that Education Commissioner Robert Scott is now mulling over whether it should be eliminated in the future.

This related blog then speculates on what will happen in 2011 when the TPM, applied to the ratings of Texas campuses for 2 straight years, is dumped. Should that happen they speculate, expect campus ratings in Texas to drop precipitously in 2011 (unless, that is, they dredge up something else to prop up sagging ratings).

This article highlights an elementary school campus in the Frisco area that benefited from TPM ratings “bump” and illustrates how, using Pearson Education’s TPM calculator, a 3rd grade student can fail the TAKS math test by answering 4 less than the minimum (55% correct) to pass (26 out of 40 or 65% correct) and fail the reading test by one question (again scoring 55% correct), yet be scored by the TPM as having passed the math test.

And finally, we see this article where a fair-minded person who acknowledges what the TPM is trying to do, document growth, challenges the notion that the TPM is the vehicle to accomplish that. The ideas of a former Dallas school board member are cited as a possible replacement for the TPM: “We should perhaps see how many students a school is moving toward being "proficient" in a subject, which means they are getting closer to mastering it in a way that prepares them for college.”

To this last idea I have to cry foul. This is nothing more than the flavor of the day writ large. Guess what high schools are required to do now according to state law? High schools are required to certify that Student A is certified to be successful in an institute of higher learning. How one is able to figure that out is anyone’s guess. But now we see an extension of this idea, that a state accountability ratings system isn’t just to measure whether a student can pass minimum standards, something you can measure by having a test which has a passing minimum standard, but now maybe the system is to measure learning in a way that is “getting closer to mastering it in a way that prepares them for college.”

And I have to ask this as well. Isn’t this a measurement that concentrates on the higher end of the student population rather than the lower end? Isn’t this just another way to inflate the ratings by emphasizing success rather than failure to succeed?

Believe me, I am no fan of campus ratings systems, especially when they are based on standardized multiple-choice tests of questionable value and validity. But at this point aren’t we just trying to game the system all in the name of fairness?

And fairness to whom?

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