When Is a School Not a School? When It’s a Program.

While we’re on the subject of gaming the Standard of Learning (SOL) scores (see previous two posts), Cranky, also known as John Butcher, reminds us how Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, one of the top-rated public high schools in the country and former haunt of Bacon’s Rebellion‘s own Les Schreiber, is not counted as a school for purposes of SOL tracking. Scores of its students, drawn from 12 districts in Central Virginia, are credited to high schools in their home districts.

While the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia is counted as a “school” for purposes of reporting SOL scores, Maggie Walker is not — it’s a “program” in Virginia Department of Education-speak.

Asks Cranky: “Do you care that VDOE brokered this corrupt deal so the local superintendents would let their bright kids go to MLW without lowering the SOLs of the local high schools?”

How many other ways have school officials gamed the system to look better under the SOL scoring regimen? How much faith can we put in the SOLs as a tool for measuring progress in school and school districts?

— JAB

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8 responses to “When Is a School Not a School? When It’s a Program.

  1. Dear Jim,

    Good call on the language fraud. And, when is a war not a war? When it’s a “conflict,” a “police action,” or a “surgical strike.” When is discrimination not discrimination? When it’s “affirmative action.” When is a hate crime not a hate crime? When it’s “crime.” When is election fraud not election fraud? When it’s illegals voting. When is censorship not censorship? When something is squelched for being “controversial” and “offensive.” This list could be lengthened considerably…feel free.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  2. At least they were counted somewhere. And, presumably, the scores of all the schools involved could be recalculated, and a score for the “program” created, if necessary. Yes?

  3. Acbar apparently never met anything he didn’t like about the public schools. I exaggerate of course. I am surprised, though, that he didn’t say, “It’s perfectly legal for them to count the Maggie Walker kids in their home jurisdiction.”

    Andrew, I am frequently reminded of that wonderful phrase, now almost 150 yrs old, from Lewis Carroll when I look at the language fraud you mention.

    “When I use a word, said Humpty Dumpty in a rather scornful tone, “It means exactly what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less”

    This stuff now permeates our culture. “Global contingency operation” (war on terror), “Workplace violence” (attack on Fort Hood) and on and on. But it’s not entirely new.

  4. I don’t see anything wrong with this, as long as the students are counted somewhere. The desire of the locality to keep the high flyers on their own score sheet is entirely logical given the incredible weight now given to these all-but-useless tests. My kids got through before them, my wife fled public education just as they began to consume the entire enterprise, and these other recent examples of fraud demonstrate they have corrupted the process. But counting the Maggie Walker students in their home school districts is not the same as 1) flunking kids intentionally or 2) pressuring parents to opt out of the tests to game them.

    The examples of blatant manipulation are distressing, but it is equally distressing that the most important process in the first two decades of a person’s life is distilled into a handful of standardized tests, and teachers and parents are told those tests are the ultimate mark of success or failure. To the extent students are successful the whole two decade-long process matters.

    • “I don’t see anything wrong with this, as long as the students are counted somewhere. …these other recent examples of fraud demonstrate they have corrupted the process. But counting the Maggie Walker students in their home school districts is not the same as 1) flunking kids intentionally or 2) pressuring parents to opt out of the tests to game them.”

      I think I get it. There’s nothing wrong with it, or… well, ok, it’s a corrupt process, but just not as bad as gaming the system. What should we call it if not gaming the system? Clearly, the home district wasn’t the one who produced the good result–Maggie Walker produced the good result. So tell me again: Why is it ok for the home district to count the “high flyer” in the home district results?

      If I’m reading you right, it’s ok because the system is corrupt along with most of those in it. The old bad behavior justifies this new bad behavior.

      In the words of my favorite salesman of toe nail fungus remedies, “You cannot be serious.”

    • You make excellent points. Your last paragraph particularly resonates. I take these issues personally.

      As I’ve alluded to here in the past, at the end of my 5th grade I was given a spelling test. I could spell only one word. That word was “it.”

      Nor could I read English (or any thing else) beyond the See Spot Run level or write anything beyond a sentence or two in anything beyond the most rudimentary scribbles, and I was on my way from Virginia Beach to Naples Italy for two years.

      My education between the 6th and 8th grade came down to my mother’s endless tutoring that was later reinforced by a single extraordinary wild man Jesuit priest in DC by the name of Quin from Scanton PA in the 9th grade.

      From there a recent UVA history major graduate taught me single-handedly at night in his room after class in the 11th and 12th grades of a military boarding school. This remarkable learning experience started with my reading Red Star over China by Edgar Snow, and our first nightly discussion and analysis of that book and many others under his close supervision and it roared off from there to my great benefit and advantage in nearly endless ways.

      Thus, for reasons that amazed and confounded all concerned but this single teacher, I had excellent SATs scores that he then rammed home by his personal intervention at all four Universities to which I applied under his guidance and was accepted by.

      All this help by this wondrous high teacher was conditioned on only one thing, that I join him at his old UVA fraternity to party before I made my final choice of Universities.

      Even then the first math test I passed after the 4th grade was Matrices and Vectors in my senior year at UVA, a requirement of graduation. There I got an A in the course without going to single class- thanks to a single math graduate student I visited daily for a week of tutoring in late April 1967.

      From there the 1970s invention of the Hewitt Packard Financial Hand held calculator later remedied my chronic inability to process more than 3 or 4 numbers in a row without errors. By the time my secretary discovered that my problem was dyslexia I was 38 years old, the president of a DC law firm who had to dictate documents and briefs because he could not write them out by hand without endless rewrites. Her diagnosis was announced to me after I couldn’t dial a phone number using a new fangled system I’d ordered that added a three digit billing code to all the firms outgoing calls.

      Simply put, insofar as my education went, its success or abject failure, came down to my mother and two teachers, one in the 9th grade, the other in 11th and 12 grades, plus a week of tutoring by a grad student my senior year in college, and my secretary’s wisdom in my law firm during the 1970s.

      I suspect my experience is not that unusual, particularly for many boys. And I also suspect the education by and large comes down to a hand full of of devoted teachers and determined support at home for most every kid in America.

  5. My wife reminded me that our daughter did have to take the SOL test her final year in high school but it was right before the tests actually counted. My daughter came home from the history test and complained “why do I need to know about William Henry Harrison!” and my wife claims I blurted out “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” No SOL prep taught me that! I just like good campaign slogans! But in reality, knowing a little fact about a Virginia-born president didn’t get her those two graduate degrees she now has.

  6. re; “… he first two decades of a person’s life is distilled into a handful of standardized tests, and teachers and parents are told those tests are the ultimate mark of success or failure. To the extent students are successful the whole two decade-long process matters.”

    Steve what would you do instead of standardized tests? How about your wife – what does she say?

    Are you “okay” with no testing ? how would you have accountability or do you think that’s a cure worse than the disease?

    thanks..

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