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Isaac Young Board Meeting, Failure Every Which Way But Loose

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Isaac Young Board Meeting, Failure Every Which Way But Loose

October 30, 2008 - 16:19

Only in the bizarro planet world that is the City School District of New Rochelle could school board members applaud presenters who spent two hours misstating basic facts, torturing data to put forward conclusions diametrically opposed to reality and otherwise misleading the board and an audience compromised primarily of district apparatchiks and assorted hangers on. I have been to quite a few board meetings lately but this one really took the cake.

The School Board periodically takes their show on the road with what I call the Home On The Range Tour (so-named because "seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day"). This week it was Isaac Young Middle School's turn. Faced with a deepening financial crisis, collapsing home values, and a massive state budget deficit, the board spent most of its time last night whistling a happy tune while giving out "recognition awards" and staring blankly at a parade of ill-conceived "dog and pony" shows from unprepared district employees who seemed unfamiliar with their own charts and graphs.

The supposed purpose for holding board meetings at local schools is so administrators from that school can do their required annual board presentation in front of the parents from that school. If that's the case then this meeting was a colossal failure. I was able to count on one hand the number of Isaac parents who showed up including those on the board. Only one Isaac parent asked a question.

Most of the meeting was taken up by district personnel giving PowerPoint presentations where presenters were apparently engaged in a competition to see who could best invert the meaning of a particular set of data in order to present bad news as good news.

The winner was Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Korostoff with his fantastical "Narrowing the Achievement Gap", an analysis of Grades 6-8 New York State Assessment Results. Dr. Korostoff displayed a series of slides showing comparative ELA and Math test score from 2006, 2007 and 2008 where he compared New York State scores with City School District of New Rochelle scores, in aggregate and by race. I have FOIL'd the actual slides and will post them here next week but here is a text version of the data presented last night by Dr. Korostoff.

First, here is the data from each slide...

Slide 1: ELA - Aggregate

2006 NYS 55
2006 CSDNR 62

2007 NYS 59
2007 CSDNR 65

2008 NYS 64
2008 CSDNR 67

Slide 2: ELA - Black

2006 NYS 35
2006 CSDNR 51

2007 NYS 39
2007 CSDNR 55

2008 NYS 47
2008 CSDNR 58

Slide 3: ELA - Hispanic

2006 NYS 38
2006 CSDNR 51

2007 NYS 41
2007 CSDNR 54

2008 NYS 47
2008 CSDNR 58

Slide 4: ELA - White

2006 NYS 67
2006 CSDNR 79

2007 NYS 72
2007 CSDNR 81

2008 NYS 79
2008 CSDNR 83

Slide 5: MATH - Aggregate

2006 NYS 56
2006 CSDNR 64

2007 NYS 65
2007 CSDNR 70

2008 NYS 76
2008 CSDNR 79

Slide 6: MATH - Black

2006 NYS 33
2006 CSDNR 50

2007 NYS 43
2007 CSDNR 58

2008 NYS 56
2008 CSDNR 70

Slide 7: MATH - Hispanic

2006 NYS 39
2006 CSDNR 52

2007 NYS 50
2007 CSDNR 64

2008 NYS 63
2008 CSDNR 76

Slide 8: MATH - White

2006 NYS 65
2006 CSDNR 81

2007 NYS 77
2007 CSDNR 84

2008 NYS 88
2008 CSDNR 89

See a problem?

Go back and note that in each category the New Rochelle School District is AHEAD of the New York State average. So what does that tell us? In the rest of the universe, if you are ahead that means you are "winning" and when your lead starts to shrink that is a bad thing. It means you are losing your lead and that if the trend continues you will simply be losing. Fortunately, we live in New Rochelle where losing means your winning. Why? Well because Dr. Korostoff says so and who is the school board to ask pesky questions like, doesn't this data suggest our relative advantage over the rest of New York State is in decline?

Still confused? Maybe this will help. Let's convert the data into a measure of the relative difference between New York State students and New Rochelle students.

Slide 1: ELA - Aggregate

2006 CSDNR +7
2007 CSDNR +6
2008 CSDNR +3

Result: New Rochelle has LOST 4 points on its lead over NYS.

Slide 2: ELA - Black

2006 CSDNR +16
2007 CSDNR +16
2008 CSDNR +11

Result: New Rochelle has LOST 5 points on its lead over NYS.

Slide 3: ELA - Hispanic

2006 CSDNR +13
2007 CSDNR +13
2008 CSDNR +11

Result: New Rochelle has LOST 2 points on its lead over NYS.

Slide 4: ELA - White

2006 CSDNR +12
2007 CSDNR +9
2008 CSDNR +4

Result: New Rochelle has LOST 8 points on its lead over NYS.

Slide 5: MATH - Aggregate

2006 CSDNR +8
2007 CSDNR +5
2008 CSDNR +3

Result: New Rochelle has LOST 5 points on its lead over NYS.

Slide 6: MATH - Black

2006 CSDNR +17
2007 CSDNR +15
2008 CSDNR +14

Result: New Rochelle has LOST 3 points on its lead over NYS.

Slide 7: MATH - Hispanic

2006 CSDNR +13
2007 CSDNR +14
2008 CSDNR +13

Result: New Rochelle has maintained its lead over NYS.

Slide 8: MATH - White

2006 CSDNR +16
2007 CSDNR +7
2008 CSDNR +1

Result: New Rochelle has LOST 15 points on its lead over NYS.

Get it?

In other words, the performance of New Rochelle students has shown a significant erosion in its lead over New York State students taken as a whole over the past 2 years. Yet somehow this was presented as "good news" and the board swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

Please note that the average scores are going up significantly across the board for every racial and ethnic group and in the aggregate. This suggests either that the test is getting easier or that teachers are getting better teaching the material. What it does not suggest that the rise in test scores is not unique to black or hispanic students but is across the aboard for all subgroups as will become relevant when we talk about Michael Galland's presentation.

But Korostoff was not done. A few slides later he showed a chart which claimed to show that Albert Leonard and Isaac Young had achieved parity based on Grade 8 Regents Exams:

Slide 1: Grade 8 Integrated Algebra Regents Exam

ALMS=100%
IEYMS=100%

Slide 2: Grade 8 Living Environment Regents Exam

ALMS=100%
IEYMS=99%

Wow! That sounds like great news! Right?

Not so fast.

First, this is a measure of how many students in these two advanced courses took and passed the regents with a 65 and above. In others none of the students in advanced math failed the test and one student in the advanced science failed the test. In New Rochelle, "not failing" is now considered "succeeding", noting get an F is the district's benchmark of "success" for students.

Second, the percentages are masking two different population sizes.

Much to my shock and surprise, one of the board members actually asked a critical question: how many students were represented in the chart? This was the first time I have ever seen a board member ask a question which in any way challenged a presenter at a board meeting - unless, of course, it was a parent speaking during the public comment period in which case I have seen parents heckled, jeered, interrupted and cut off by board members. For those who have never seen it the normal pattern is for the board to sit mute for a presenter and then when they are done two board members speak. The first is almost always board president Cindy Babcock-Deutsch who says something like "your presentation was so wonderful that it is an example of what makes me so proud of the New Rochelle school district". The second person, and it varies each time, will second the board president and add some rhetorical flourish such as "that part where you said X made me tingle all over" or something to that effect.

When Board member Martin Sanchez asked Korostoff how many students were represented by the percentages, Korostoff fumbled with his notes, hemmed and hawed and stared at his shoes. He was finally rescued by a woman seated behind the board but not visible to me, speaking just above a whisper; she said the chart for math was based on 143 ALMS students and 43 IEYMS students.

In other words, what the data showed actually shows it that about 300% more students at ALMS were in advanced math and science classes. Not exactly the sort of "parity" or "equity" Korostoff was asserting.

I am not clear where those numbers even come from because the Comprehensive Information Report for ALMS and IEYMS only have Regents test scores for science not math. All I see are scores for Living Environment for ALMS and Living Environment for IEYMS.

Looking at the data that I was able to find, let me suggest another way to interpret the data:

Grade 8 Living Environment Regents Exam

ALMS = # Students Taking Test = 159, Percentage scoring 85+ 67%
IEYMS = # Students Taking Test = 68, Percentage scoring 85+ 31%

A genuine attempt to measure parity might have considered that ALMS has more than twice as many kids in advanced science classes and those students do twice as well on the test if your measure is "succeeding" (85+) rather than "not failing (65+). Of all the different ways the data could be sliced and diced the only way to present charts that showed "parity" was to use the misleading figures presented by Korostoff. Even those numbers were shown to give ALMS a three to one advantage over IEYMS once Mr. Sanchez pierced the veil of ineptitude by asking a rather simple question. Just imagine what would have happened if board members had asked some similar questions of each presenter.

In an unexpected and quite hilarious dash of irony, Korostoff closed by saying "this shows the excellence in equity which is part of our school programming". Talk about bizarro world!

The last speaker, the head of the Math and IT department at IEYMS, presented such an absolutely absurd chart that he was in a class all by himself and deserves special mention in his own post.

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