school rankings

My question in NonDoc about how we should respond to’s ranking of 10 Oklahoma schools in its list of the nation’s 100 “worst” is getting some answers.

I worry about the responses reported by Andrea Eger in Tulsa. She cites Jody Parsons, the principal of the low-ranked Hale Junior High School, who said, “What frustrates me is it discounts the hard work that we do, and it doesn’t account for growth. We’re constantly — daily, weekly, monthly — monitoring growth.”

The best response in regard to NeighborhoodScout’s methodology came from a private discussion with a nationally respected expert. The big problem is its reliance on proficiency cut points as opposed to scale scores. The rankings seem to be biased against states (like Oklahoma) that have a big difference between average proficiency on state tests and average proficiency on NAEP. The NeighborhoodScout model makes low-performing schools in those states look even worse.

The ratings are thus biased against the lowest-performing schools in states with the lowest cut scores in comparison to low-performing schools in other states. Clearly, the rankings don’t meet academic quality standards, but if schools are low-performing enough that they have few students meeting the lowest of the low proficiency standards, how much does that matter to patrons and business people?

The problem is bigger than ratings

But why not address the bigger problem, such as the effort Tulsa expended when implementing its invalid and unreliable test score-growth model for teacher evaluations? It’s unlikely that high-poverty schools like Hale will improve until educators are freed to ignore test-score outcomes. When we adults were students, would we have wanted to attend a school where our bubble-in scores were constantly monitored?

Stanford University’s Sean Reardon conducted the best analysis of outcomes (as measured by test scores). His analysis estimates that the average OKCPS student is 1.65 grades behind, and OKCPS students’ performance falls behind by 22 percent during the school year. On the other hand, when controlled for social and economic factors, OKCPS students progress at almost the same rate as their counterparts in Millwood and Crooked Oak.

As a scattergram shows, Tulsa’s secondary school-growth outcomes correlate with poverty but probably not the quality of instruction.

Being an Oklahoma Cityan, however, I’ll focus on what the most reliable national data say about our school system and the challenges faced by our lowest-ranked school, Moon Elementary.

Demographics to consider when evaluating Moon

Realtors’ rankings, like the A-F grade card, are facts of life. They generate headlines that can be used to step up the blame game or that can inform conversations about school-improvement strategies. Realtors don’t ask the research questions necessary for evaluating policies or personnel, but includes the demographic data that school systems should consult when setting priorities.

NeighborhoodScout reports that the Moon neighborhood has a per capita income below $12,000, which is only 40 percent of the nation’s average (and less than the per capita income of 99 percent of America’s neighborhoods.) Moreover, the chances of being the victim of a violent crime in the area are 11 times greater than those in the rest of Oklahoma.

These numbers should be read in conjunction with the Lynn Lifestyle Summary of Northeast Oklahoma City, 2016. The highly respected Lynn Institute shows that the 73117 zip code (which includes Moon) has a hypertension rate that is nearly 11 times the national average, and a gun mortality rate that is nearly 27 times greater than the nation’s. Its rate of mental health visits are 10 times greater than the Oklahoma County rate.

The zip code has a 69 percent poverty rate for children below the age of 5. But, there are only three child care centers with a (high) quality ranking of 3, in contrast with its six centers that have a ranking below 2.

Given the data, schools should anticipate large numbers of students who have survived multiple adverse childhood experiences. Not only will those multiple traumas undermine the abilities of student to concentrate in class, but they will contribute to chronic absenteeism. The four east-side elementary schools, including the two who were listed in the worst 20, had a total of 1,595 students, and about 17 percent of them were chronically absent.

Read the headline, then take action

What if we focused on solutions and invested in an early warning attendance system to identify and assist the 263 children who didn’t attend school regularly? What if the OKCPS partnered with the Potts Foundation and 25 by 25 early education coalition members, as well as the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health, to help children deal with the effects of trauma?

And that is why I see the dubious NeighborhoodScout rankings and its other data as an opportunity. A shocking headline is a terrible thing to waste. Now, let’s get into the weeds of the matter and devise a plan that is up to the challenges faced in our highest-poverty schools.