Sunday, November 2, 2014

Test Scores. What Do They Really Suggest?

A recent article by The Peoria Journal Star's Pam Adams, displays the result of the most recent round of ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test) scores. The ISAT has been the measurement by which educational success of students and schools are assessed within Illinois. 
The term "meet or exceeds adequate yearly progress" or AYP, which is not required when assessing private schools, is a term, deemed by the former Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind policy, to be the level at which all schools and the District itself should perform when it comes to closing the gap in educational achievement and success of all students. 

Although much can be said about "No Child Left Behind" and even more for the new "Common Core Curriculum" requirements, the point of her article was that Charter Oak school (down 47% from the previous testing year) and ultimately District 150 (down 6.2% as a whole from the previous year) as a whole failed to meet AYP and that many schools within the District severely reversed their previous or prior years AYP numbers leading one to question the quality of education not only in the affected schools, but in District 150 as a whole. 

While those criticisms may be in order, it is good to look further at what the numbers may reveal regarding District 150 that make it ripe for more resources and attention than what has been directed towards it in the past. 

What The Numbers Reveal

CCIRB Comparison Of Economic Data
The numbers reveal that nearly 75% of District 150 students are "low income". According to the US Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, low income is defined as a family of three with annual earnings less than $49,100 in Illinois.

Now that may be true for the Dept. of Housing & Urban development but according to a Sunday Nov. 2nd article in the Peoria Journal Star, the term "low income" in education refers to

"students and families receiving public aid, free or reduced lunches, living in institutions for neglected or delinquent children or in foster homes supported with public funds"
The latter definition makes much more sense when evaluating the results.

Please note however, that what the numbers do not say is that the families and children of some schools themselves are much worse economic condition than the district avg. 

For example, Roosevelt School, which sits in the heart of economically blighted 61605 zip code, who's poverty and unemployment numbers are well above both state and national averages, has a 90% low income rate and demonstrates a 19% proficiency on ISAT scores. Those numbers are consistent with other schools sharing the same zip code, such as Harrison with a 91% low income student population and a 13% ISAT proficiency rating and Trewyn which has a 92% low income student population demonstrating a 15% ISAT proficiency rating. 

The previous numbers can be compared to schools outside of the 61605 "poverty zone" such as Calvin Coolidge (61604) with a 79% low income rate but a student ISAT proficiency of 32%, and Mark Bills (61615) with a 62% low income rate and a 48% ISAT proficiency.

Performance is in nearly every case associated with economics and economic opportunity. 73% of the nearly 14,000 students of District 150 are low income, as compared to 51% on state average. ISAT scores in the range of 30% proficiency (32.1% District 150) are consistent with the economic condition of students across the state likewise situated. 

To suggest that moving a Principal who does not teach a class, nor administers or prepares students for standardized tests, is the reason for low test scores, is not only a silly notion, it is down right deceptive. No student under-performs on an ISAT or other standardized test because the Principal is not in their office. Further, most students have no dealings with the Supt., and when they do it is generally positive within the school environment. So to blame the person of the Supt, is misplaced as well. If "policies" are to blame, one must first make the distinction between what is required by law and what is implemented as a District practice. 

I believe like many that certain legal requirements which schools are bound by are not good and do not facilitate best outcomes for our students. However, even in those cases, one is hard pressed to make a link that a particular policy has damaged or directly effected or lowered test scores.    

Economic Emergency

The numbers reveal that there is an economic emergency in a District whose primary constituents are Minority and poor.  Last year, the group 'change 150' duped the public into believing that voting for the 1% sales tax increase was a vote against an out of control school administration and a public mandate to change school leadership. While I am not debating the details over the implementation of the proposed tax, I am suggesting that the public was deceived in confusing 2 issues believing that they were one. 

First, as stated, neither the Supt. nor a Principal teaches a single class in this district. Neither do either of them administer a single standardized test. Whatever issues that the public may have with the Supt. or her leadership are best handled in the appropriate forums. Employees have Unions and pay Union dues. If there are issues, the Unions should be FORCED to stand up and address them one by one until the constituents of the union are satisfied. 

Secondly, and most importantly, to confuse any of the aforementioned employee/Supt issues with opportunities for our children incenses me to no no end, and only displays evil and insensitive hearts towards the real issues. The real issues are our children and their welfare, education and success which leads to their contribution to society; not the comfort of some Principal whose salary is more than twice that of the low income families that they serve within their schools. As long as individuals and organizations intentionally confuse those issues then other individuals and organizations will continue to rise to combat their ignorance, grandstanding and absurd notions. 

Necessary Upgrades

What is necessary is the continued access to resources for students and teachers and the support of those individuals both by continually encouraging them to develop lesson plans that wisely use school resources and explore opportunities to reach the students in the seats. 

The complete process of education must be relevant to the needs of the individuals being taught. A 1920 or 1930 model of education is wholly inadequate to meet a 2014 or modern education need of our students and families and no longer will we allow technology to simply be used as a method of babysitting in the classroom. Classroom education needs to be vibrant and active and must begin long before the doors are open to a student.

Above A Union Contract 

Teachers must be encouraged to go above and beyond the constraints of a Union contract or Title One reimbursement dollars in order to make a difference. In fact, following the low ebb of contracts, in most cases, assures failure of our students and will more than likely facilitate failure of everyone in this modern, and ever changing environment.

Children need broad base educational access and teachers full of dreams, not fear, because poverty always pulls dreams down, lowers expectations and creates fear and apprehension.

To address these and other issues, programs such as Dreambuilders are programs that teachers must have access to in order to prepare themselves to make a difference in the class and regain their education time. The language gap must be bridged and stereotypes removed along with the view of mass incarceration which is displayed in the schools through the process of mass discipline. The teacher must know each child well before the first day of class and know what associations and relationships exist that will make education pertinent and profitable to each child under their care. 
Dream Builders 1 Seminar snapshot
The handling and implementation of IEP's (Individualized Education Plans) for those students who qualify, must be of priority both in funding and implementation so that the education process within the classroom can flow more smoothly and efficiently. Facilities must be updated so that the best possible experiences within the class environment can occur. Who can teach in 110 degree buildings closed due to fear of neighborhood unrest, which most schools suffer from today? What can a student learn in such an environment? To see students and teachers subjected to this type of treatment in 2014 is a shame upon the community itself, yet individuals want us to believe that to vote against facilities improvements is a good thing??? They and their notions are beyond credulity and only prove to be self serving in nature. 

Peoria Business Please Step Up!

Woodruff Vo-Tech Tour
(L to R)Pastor H. Burnett, Lt. Gov. Paul Vallas,
Supt. Dr. G. Lathan, Larry Ivory Illinois Blk, Chamber CEO
The Peoria Black Chamber has made very valuable strides to support the progress of Peoria education, emphasizing the value of many new District 150 programs and approaches to our students. However, with that said, we are still mindful that there must be a concerted effort from the entire business community to find and provide resources to help facilitate school and public education success. 

The companies doing construction on District projects or providing HVAC services from ultimately taxpayer funds, should be made to have both apprenticeship and hiring standards and goals involving District 150 students. Why should those companies earn millions of tax payer dollars without a commitment to economically impact the student population in the area where they themselves do business? 

That may be the "old" way that things are done in Peoria, but God help us if those ways continue, because they only display a lack of concern for the future of the community itself.  


In summary, I say that the test scores suggest many things about Peoria, its population and the people that make decisions within it. It says that may folk are simply disconnected from the real issues and only want to waive a "magic wand" of some sorts to make all their "troubles" go away. Unfortunately for all of us, that is not how it works. 

If we want change in the streets, we must, by virtue of that sentiment, demand a strong education system where there are resources that are used and managed for the benefit of our children and where their are environments that suit and meet the needs of modern education. We must also demand that education be made pertinent to the demographic of students that are served by updating education and lesson plans and approaches to student behavior and discipline that eliminate the feeling of incarceration from education, but that recreates the feeling of family and community. 

These are things we CAN do and that we CAN change, but will we? Or will we simply seek to blame all failures and lack of success on other people? From what many tell our children at school level, to blame others is to not see your actions or to take responsibility for your part in it...What could YOU have done better to avoid this? How will you make it better?

I think in this case, those questions may be in order...       

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