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Scores rise at “Do Not Apply” school – your reaction?

July 3, 2009 pm31 12:54 pm

Back in March, I added PS/MS4 (Crotona Park West) to the Do Not Apply list. The principal was autocratic, mean-spirited, bossy, quick to dock pay, to give U-ratings…

And the response was immediate. The comments section quickly filled with scores of visceral reactions to the school administration and its system of favorites and arbitrariness. In fact, much of the reaction was so emotional that I issued a general warning and request to stay on-topic, then closed comments (I just reopened them.)

But math scores rose. There is this puff piece from the Daily News from last month. The numbers improved.

What do we make of that? What is the relationship between toxic schools and student achievement?

It would be easy if there were clear and direct correlation, ie, happy staff = high scores. It would also be easy, in a very different way, if staff satisfaction had nothing to do with scores.

But the answers must be much more complicated. Bronx Science is a miserable place to work. And its scores remain high. Is it fair to say that scores are completed unrelated to how well a school is run?

But I know a story of two adjoining schools, the older one poorly running, declining scores, unhappy staff, and the newer one with higher and rising scores, well-run, with a satisfied staff. The principal can be tough, but is considered fair. And they draw the same kinds of kids from the same neighborhood. It would be foolish to try to claim that the scores were unrelated to the other problems in the first school or the quality of leadership in the second.

What do you think?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. ade permalink
    July 4, 2009 am31 6:37 am 6:37 am

    Sometimes abusive behavior can yield positive results. Sometimes it doesn’t. If you beat a horse enough, he might actually run faster, jump higher, etc. He might also just buck and you land on your *ss, on the ground. I would prefer more of the latter. :)

  2. ade permalink
    July 4, 2009 am31 7:18 am 7:18 am

    Looking at my post, I see that I didn’t really address your question.

    No amount of abuse will turn bad teachers into good ones–just as beating an amusement park horse using for kiddies rides isn’t going to make it outrun thoroughbreds in their prime. :)

    The same basic analogy applies to students. Abusing a poor math student isn’t going to make him differentiate (in the mathematical sense) faster.

    So perhaps the teachers at PS/MS4 were just really good teachers that responded to abuse with more effort. If (in response to pressure) these teachers started to stress the importance of the exam and built their lessons around the exam, the students will follow this lead. But their performances will not be dramatically different than if the teacher did not “teach to the exam”.

    There are obviously better ways to improve performance from an administrative perspective. But unfortunately, the abusive behavior of administrators is reinforced by good results. The NYCDOE will never remove a principal whose test numbers are up except in extreme circumstances.

    Therefore, principals know that they can do anything short of committing a crime to increase performance because the consequences of abusive behavior are nonexistent.

    But isn’t it interesting to note that if a teacher abused students (but the teacher’s test results were good) that teacher would be fired.

  3. pbpcbs permalink
    July 5, 2009 pm31 7:06 pm 7:06 pm

    As we’ve noted in other threads, many problems exist with the concept of using standardized test scores as a measure of anything. For me, the ultimate reason to give test scores null value is from the scaling. With the 7th grade math test now classifying students able to answer less than half the questions correctly as being at grade level and Algebra I students as qualified to graduate by acquiring around 1/3rd of the possible points, why even bother dignifying these tests with notice?

    (I know, I know. NYS and our current only-value-what-is-directly-measurable culture make these results important…but that *doesn’t* make them meaningful.)

  4. July 9, 2009 am31 10:03 am 10:03 am

    I think there is a fundamentally huge difference between
    1. making a school run well in all its aspects, which is very difficult if teachers are treated badly, and
    2. making a school raise scores, where pushing teachers hard on test prep might move results.

    If you really concentrate on making a school better, there might be a slight effect on scores. But an administration can set up a horrible school that is designed (and well) with the sole goal of pushing up scores.

    These tests are lousy in so many ways, they invite “gaming” — which will look incredibly ugly in many schools.

    So, in the end, I don’t think there is a contradiction, just bad administrators and bad tests and teachers and students who end up on the short end of that stick.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    July 15, 2010 am31 1:12 am 1:12 am

    The principal was finally removed! If you check the school’s website it doesn’t have his name and where his name was it says contact the superintendent. Someone finally did something right for a change. Hope whatever he was finally caught doing sticks to him like glue. Karma!

    Maybe he did something shady to make those scores rise. You never know.

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