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Isaac Young Math Department Chairman Struggles with Basic Calculations

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Isaac Young Math Department Chairman Struggles with Basic Calculations

October 30, 2008 - 14:10

I thought I had seen it all at these through the looking glass school board meetings but Mr. Bongo, the principal at Isaac Young saved the best (i.e., worst) for last night when he presented Michael Galland who is, believe it or not, the Chairperson for Math & Technology at Isaac Young Middle School. Word is that this person is paid over a $100,000 a year to run the math program. I think the tax payers are getting taken for a ride with this guy.

Given his obvious lack of basic math skills the massive improvement in math performance for black and hispanic students at IEYMS described last night is even more incredible.

I have FOIL'd this particular slide so will soon have the actual slide but I can recreate it in a text version here. I do not know how to make tables in HTML so bear with me.

Mr. Galland covered this chart at length with the board. He ended by concluding the following: while the growth rate has not been as high as one might hope, the good news is that a level of about 25% over three years shows nice, steady, sustainable growth.

See if you can tell why Mr. Galland's is being way too "modest" and why his conclusions are flawed.

Percentage of Students at Level 3, 4 on Math Test

05-06 | 06-07 | 08-09 | 3 Year Growth

Black | 46% | 53% | 71% | 25%

Hispanic | 52% | 64% | 75% | 23%

White | 71% | 72% | 77% | 6%

Problems with this chart?

1) Let's start with the obvious, there is no 07-08 data. He skipped a year. Let's assume that where he put 08-09 he meant 07-08. I confirmed this with Galland afterwards but counting from 2005-06 to 2008-09 might help explain the next problem...

2) Adjusting the dates in the third column, we have three years of data but the growth is measured from Year 1 (2005-06) to Year 3 (2007-08). Folks will recall that 8 minus 6 equals 2, right? So, the growth is over a TWO year period not a THREE year period.

3) Growth is a rate of change which is calculated by measuring change over time from some base number to some some later number. For black students, for example, this means growth from a base of 46 in Year 1 to 71 in Year 3. The way you calculate this growth rate is subtract 46 from 71 and then divide the result (25) by the base rate (46) like this:

(71-46)/46 = 25/46 = 54%

Similarly, for hispanic students the calculation should be:

(75-52)/52 = 23/52 = 44%

For white students that should be:

(77-71)/71 - 6/71 = 9%

With me so far?

If so, you are doing better than the head of the IEYMS Math Department because apparently, Mr. Galland thought growth rate could be determined by simply subtracting Year 3 from Year 1 which is how he managed to come up with 25%, 23% and 6% respectively. I spoke with Mr. Galland afterwards and he said "I always have trouble with growth". Well, why bother to check your work when you are presenting it to the people who must approve all hiring and firing decisions in the District?

This is not just a math error. The conclusion Mr. Galland drew from his incorrect calculations was that the growth rate was steady and sustainable. This is true for white students but the growth rates for black and hispanic students are, if the underlying numbers are to be believed, gigantic and unsustainable by definition (you can't keep increasing at 54% every two years starting from a base of 46).

Even after I explained this all to him he still seemed confused on how the CORRECTLY CALCULATED GROWTH RATES undercut the conclusions he offered to the board. I explained to him that the growth rate was TWICE as high as he said for ONE-THIRD less time which translates into being about 350% higher than he claimed. I am not sure he understood the implications of that or perhaps did not want to understand.

What makes all of this more mystifying is why IEYMS administrators would present a report that so significantly UNDERSTATED the growth rate from 05-06 to 07-08 when they are trying to showcase their "success" to the school board and IEYMS parents (if more than a handful had shown up). Their goal is to achieve the best possible results, right? So, why hide their light under a bushel?

One possibility is that the data itself was as poorly tabulated as it was calculated.

Still another is that the data is fabricated.

Yet another is that the test scores themselves have been manipulated.

Of course looking beyond Mr. Galland's patter would have required asking some tough questions. For example...

...how does either Mr. Galland or Mr. Bongo account for the remarkable growth rate of 34% in one year for black students at IEYMS? Did they switch the kids to soy milk? Weight training? Wheat germ?

...why is the growth rate for white students close to zero between 2005-06 and 2006-07 and less than 5% a year over the two year period when black and hispanic students are about 150% higher?

...how is it that just at the time school is under fire for the low performance of black and hispanic students, these same "at risk" students somehow turn in these incredible growth rates in performance

...how is that after many, many years of poor performance by black and hispanic students the net result of this two year spurt in performance is that these low achieving students are suddenly pretty much on par with white students?

...as noted in the other post about this meeting, how can these high growth rates only exist for black and hispanic students when the slides in Dr. Korostoff's presentation made just moments before included charts that showed that average test scores in New York were rising for ALL students in New Rochelle and New York State during this period - rising across the board for every racial and ethnic group and in the aggregate not just for black and hispanic students. Rising scores across the board indicate either the test is getting easier or that teachers are getting better teaching the material or a combination. What it does not suggest that the rise in test scores is unique to black or hispanic students as Michael Galland claimed.

If this performance is to be believed Mr. Bongo doesn't deserve a raise, he deserves a Nobel Prize.

Sadly, the board appears more than willing to blindly accepted such questionable data presented by people who cannot do fifth grade math but are paid a lot of money to teach math to sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

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