Thursday, June 6, 2013

Today Show and CMS spin

Devonshire Elementary got a nice moment of national recognition on the Today Show this morning, but it's too bad NBC education correspondent Rehema Ellis didn't double-check her numbers.

I suspected that might be an issue when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools  emailed an announcement Wednesday saying the east Charlotte school would be featured as a success story in a series on poverty, race and education. That wasn't a shock;  from what I know,  Principal Suzanne Gimenez and her crew have worked hard to make some genuine academic gains over the last five years.

But the numbers in the CMS announcement were incredible. Literally.

"Since a turnaround effort began five years ago,  achievement at Devonshire,  which has more than 95 percent of students who are economically disadvantaged,  has soared.  In 2008,  only 68.4 percent of students were at or above Level III,"  wrote CMS spokeswoman Tahira Stalberte,  referring to the state exam rating that's considered passing.  "Today,  94.8 percent of students are at or above Level III."

If that were true,  I'd have done a front-page story,  as I did with Windsor Park Elementary,  which topped CMS'  high-poverty schools with a 2012 pass rate of 82 percent.  But the state's school report cards show that Devonshire had pass rates of 54.9 percent in reading,  90.5 percent in math and 64.4 percent in fifth-grade science,  for an overall composite of 71.4 percent.

When I asked Stalberte about that,  she sent out a correction:  "The numbers (listed) are the proficiency composites for fifth-grade math,  not the overall proficiency at Devonshire Elementary."

In 2008,  Devonshire's overall proficiency rate was 42.9 percent.  But as I recently told a group of Davidson College students embarking on summer internships with local education groups,  any report that touts big gains since 2008 should set BS detectors pinging.  That's because North Carolina students had one chance to pass or fail the exams in 2008;  starting the next year,  first-time flunkers got a second shot. The result of the rule change was not trivial,  especially at struggling schools.  In 2009,  Devonshire's overall pass rate was 55.1 percent after the first test and 64.2 percent after the retests,  according to CMS reports at the time.

This morning's report featured good interviews with Devonshire faculty and families. Especially touching was a segment in which a student got teary at hearing his father say he's proud of his academic success.

But the numbers?  "The school went from 40 percent to 93 percent of the students performing at grade level," Ellis reported, introducing a whole new set of numbers that don't seem to connect with reality.

CMS leaders and advocates often bemoan the gap between the district's glowing national reputation and local perceptions.  No doubt that's partly because local critics and,  yes,  reporters sometimes latch onto the negatives.  But it's also partly because national reporters,  researchers and advocacy groups sometimes promote an oversimplified view of CMS.  They may not be aware of the testing change that made all sorts of reforms look successful  --  and the new administration has shown no inclination to distance itself from the  "big gains since 2008"  game.

Educators,  students and parents who are working to break the links between poverty and failure deserve our respect and attention.  But no one should fudge numbers to give it to them.

"That's a phenomenal change in that school,"  Matt Lauer said at the end of the segment.  You might even say it's incredible.


Anonymous said...

NBC's Education Nation is about who can get air time. After watching Ms. Ellis do a feed at our school during the DNC with a local videographer, NBC producer in the ubiquitous Suburban, and the satellite truck from NY, one can only wonder how long the CMS BS dept. lobbied the network for this typical distortion. Good call Ann. I'd suggest your readers forward your article to the network as a fact check for Ms. Ellis.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least we have one place where the news isn't being spun to be politically correct.

It's also one of the few places left at CO where people can post anonymously.

I wonder if there's any connection between the two?

If not, then there is sure to be in the future.

Yes, we've all seen how the PR/BS flaks cook the numbers when it comes to "education".

People's careers can take a dramatic leap after such shenanigans, especially those which result in national attention.

And we cannot trust most of the PC media to even check the simple facts and numbers today.

Just as long as they can get their "Race To The Top" PR/BS story out to an uninformed "public".

And they want to censor as many thorns in the sides of the stories that fit their agenda as possible.

And so the dumbing-down continues.

Wiley Coyote said...

Looks like they are going backwards to me when you look at year over year...

Devonshire Elementary School

North Carolina End-of-Grade Tests Results

3rd Grade Reading Scores

2012 44%
2011 43%
2010 49%
2009 42%

5th Grade Reading Scores

2012 61%
2011 62%
2010 73%
2009 59%

Source: Great Schools

Nameless said...

Devonshire got on TV and their kids are happy. Is anything on TV accurate? Their idea of news is to replay YouTube viral video or who is dating a celebrity.
No one in the nation will care about numbers. It was good they got some attention. Move on.

Anonymous said...

1967This is directed to Anonymous at 9:10...
First of all, Mrs. Henry is not in charge of the communications department anymore and hasn't been since the Fall of 2012. So before you start spewing accusations, perhaps you should visit the CMS website and find out who is responsible for this debacle (I think you should follow in Ann's footsteps and check your facts first).

Secondly, Ann, it is past time for someone at higher level or in the media to (without bias) audit what is going on behind CMS's closed doors. Inaccurate data being reported - repeatedly, suspect shenanigans with the task forces and people with no experience (or lack of experience) being tapped (because they are associated with certain foundations or executive staff) to lead high profile projects, efforts and departments that (either partially or entirely) rely upon federal funds to supplement their department's budget. (For some, CMS leadership roles are just a 90K-104K/year 'rest stop' before heading to the 'next great thing' and the district is suffering for it.)

Wouldn't it be great if CMS told the truth and was more 'accountable' (pun intended) to taxpayers, parents and the citizens that support our schools?

Just sayin..

Anonymous said...

Wait until you see the spin on the Common Core MSL results. I reviewed three different couses and approximately 200 students in a CMS non-Title 1 high school. I can literally count on the fingers on both hands how many students would have passed if it was done online in the multi-state format as proposed.

Anonymous said...

Devonshire Elementary is truly a school that has dispelled the myth that children of poverty can not learn. The staff, students and parents have worked hard to ensure the success of all students in the school. Recently, Devonshire has been given a national award and $10,000.00 for high acheivement with boys of color. I am sorry that The Charlotte Observer has chosen this time to slam CMS and Devonshire. The story on the Today Show pictured a real school and the voice of a child. Devonshire welcomes you to come and visit and see the great things that are going on each and evry day.

Anonymous said...

Nameless at 10:08, what's wonderful role model for students you are. You probably think that cheating on tests is acceptable, too. You certainly seem to think that lying is ok. Is your name Heath?

Anonymous said...

Devonshire is a real school with great success. Instead of bashing CMS and the school, why can't the Observer and Ms. Helms celebrate the success of a school of poverty that has created an environment that meets the needs of students?
Thanks Devonshire.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher at Devonshire Elementary I am so proud of the recognition that our students and staff have received for all of their hard work. Please come visit our school to see the amazing things that are happening here!

BolynMcClung said...


They showed-up.
Got it wrong.
Got a 50.

The whole education world is hunting for a Measure of Effective Teaching that is efficient, accurately reports and is useful. Even the detractors realize that not everything is bad about data driven decisions.

But oh how the world today is unable to cope with this powerful tool. As proven today, just having the data does not relieve us from the use of our eyeballs and brains to check...and double check.

It wasn't that long ago that a former CMS employee wiped-out the achievement gap with a data error.

Please! Having data is not a replacement for thinking…….and the ability to reason doesn’t preclude the use of data.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Devonshire Elementary School is a place where teachers focus on the needs of their students, and the expectations for their level of achievement are very high. The success of these students, who work hard and look forward to coming to school every day, should be celebrated.

Wiley Coyote said...

All of you who are upset over using facts to discuss the issue(s) are the main reason why public education continues to be mired in problems.

You want to ignore bonafied issues/data and continue the same status quo that has prevailed for decades.

Everyone wants all kids to succeed as it is in their best interest and for society, but when government from the Feds to the LEAs keep denying, deflecting and spinning data, that causes more problems than facing facts.

When CMS' sample audit of the school lunch program shows 60% of applicants do not qualify based on their responses and they do nothing about because the Federal government threatens to yank $34 million in funding if they do, then poverty numbers don't mean squat.

Poverty numbers make the world go 'round in public education. It is the number one focal point that drives what happens in public schools.

The problem is, no one knows who really qualifies and when over half of the students are designated ED, that translates into millions of $$$$$$$$$$$$$ to CMS with no incentive to change it.

I believe Ann is the only person in this area that keeps CMS as "honest" as it can be...

Anonymous said...

As a teacher at Devonshire I have watched my students grow in their Reading and Math this year to become phenomenal readers and math stars and they are only 5 and 6. The programs that we use in this school are promoting their Reading and Math successes. If you feel any differently, then you need to drag yourself in here and see all the wonderful things we are doing for our children! We are proud of our students who have come from nothing because they CAN learn unlike what people like "you" think!

Anonymous said...

The days when making national news meant that the facts were vetted are long gone.

Yet, the public is still largely unaware of this.

And politicians take that to the bank.

Only those closer to the truth know the truth.

Sad times, indeed.

Ann Doss Helms said...

I hope everyone is reading carefully enough to see that I am NOT trying to disparage any of the folks at Devonshire. I just think it diminishes everyone to play games with numbers to create "miracle" headlines.

Kids across North Carolina just took a whole new batch of exams, without retests. It's likely that the results released in October will be down from prior years. It would be silly to report that as a negative reflection on CMS leaders, teachers and students without making it absolutely clear that the testing changed. All I'm saying is that works both ways.

Anonymous said...

What should be looked at is what is the minimum grades that are given to students. Is it what they have actually achieved or are the minimum grades on tests 50-60? If I only put my name on the test should I get 50 points for that? Also, have the grades been changed in the computer system from what the teacher originally gave by a different teacher/administrator which has happened.

If the kids aren't held accountable for their work, then how can teachers be told that they can't teach? If teachers ability are being held to test grades then I would make sure my kids have good test grades even if they didn't earn it. And if I were a student that didn't have to learn anything to pass the class, I wouldn't learn.

Anonymous said...

I have been a teacher at Devonshire for 13 years. We have always expected our teachers and students to give 100%. Over the pa This year, our teachers planned and taught with the assessments in the forefront using rigorous CCSS to achieve our goals. Our students
from K-5 have become true self-directd learners as readers, mathematicians, and writers.

Anonymous said...

What should be looked at is what is the minimum grades that are given to students. Is it what they have actually achieved or are the minimum grades on tests 50-60? If I only put my name on the test should I get 50 points for that? Also, have the grades been changed in the computer system from what the teacher originally gave by a different teacher/administrator which has happened.

If the kids aren't held accountable for their work, then how can teachers be told that they can't teach? If teachers ability are being held to test grades then I would make sure my kids have good test grades even if they didn't earn it. And if I were a student that didn't have to learn anything to pass the class, I wouldn't learn.

Anonymous said...

I was trying to make sense of the Devonshire principal's glowing 2010-2011 Progress Report.

What EXACTLY does "Disparity between ethnic/racial groups" in math, science, and reading mean in a school which is 1.7% white?

Is "white" the standard against which the disparity in that school is measured?

The same goes for the economically disadvantaged at 97%.

Are they measured against the 3% who AREN'T disadvantaged?

With a total student body of just slightly over 500 kids?

That's less than a half-dozen white kids and also barely more than a dozen economically "non-disadvantaged" kids.

If so why?

Surely, that sample must be a bit small for a valid comparison against other schools with a less lopsided mix of kids.

Nick said...

Ann, I'm disappointed. It's a shame that you chose to chastise a school that is nationally recognized for its over achievements. NBC should have included that those scores were math and not composite results, HOWEVER they needed to show growth over 3 years. Including scores of 3rd graders can not demonstrate growth as those students did not take state tests in K-2. The point was to demonstrate growth over time for the students at that school and that is why they used the 5th grade scores. Sorry the national news beat you to the story, Ann, try not to take it out on the students and teachers showing great success next time.

Shelly said...

I give kudos to anyone who works hard at helping children do better. The MSL's were a joke this year, in that, teachers were given specific curriculum by the state to teach. The MSL's then proceeded to ask questions that were not on that specific curriculum. Then, they expect the high schools to count this test as 25% of a students final grade. We have a horrible system and hopefully, Gov Mayor Pat will get to the bottom of this and help all schools and teachers.

Anonymous said...

So, if the one or two white kids in each grade aren't particularly bright, does that mean the "performance gap" for the minorities looks that much better?

Where's the sanity in that?

Anonymous said...

Please folks, Lets be real. The fact is they are doing great things, look at our high poverty school performing at great heights, data wrong....yes...KIDS LEARNING YES! I am proud our children of color and other minorities are learning, its negative feedback and ongoing attacks on a school system who does truly ultimately want the best for all kids (let the numbers talkplease...THANK YOU PETE GORMAN FOR THE GREAT GROWTH) Data isnt exact...The fact that our kids can read and writing and are learning IS AWESOME! Great work TEACHERS at Devonshire Elem. Teach our kids thats all that counts...How about the touching story of an involved father who was proud of his son! We are no different....THE BIG picture is that there was growth and kids are doing better! Thank you CMS. Not perfect but striving to be.

Anonymous said...

Ms Helms,
Thank you for trying to ruin a very special day for Devonshire Elementary. We are Mrs. Gimenez’s very hardworking staff, not her “crew” and we deserve to referred to in a professional manner. To my recollection, you have never even bothered to visit
Devonshire to see our SUCCESSES as long as I have taught here! Where has your reporting been when our scores have risen SUCCESSFULLY for the past five years? Where was your article congratulating our SUCCESS when we won the COSEBOC, a national award this year? How about giving us credit for our SUCCESSES instead of using your bully pulpit to spout negativity?!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe how Ann has turned the focus from success on a CMS school to how CMS has lied. Isn't the goal to educate our students? Aren't we trying to make sure all of our students learn? This school has made growth. Sorry it's not the growth you wanted, Ann, but they've improved. I hate that you have taken a day of celebration for this school and made it into one of anger for its teachers. They deserve to be recognized for a job well done. They are underpaid, underappreciated, and work harder than most. They have three minutes of glory on national television and you've stolen that excitement from them. I hope you feel good about yourself, Ann.

lisa said...

My son is a 2nd grader and my daughter is a 5th grader at Devonshire. The teachers, principal, and staff at Devonshire go above and beyond. They motivate the children to go above and beyond. My husband and son was asked to do the interview but my husband had to work. My son is one of the little black boys that is enrolled in an all boys class that has benefited from this program.

I am very offended that the Observer would take something so positive and turn it in to something negative.

The kids and staff at Devonshire work hard they deserve the praise.

If you feel like cms is spinning numbers contact cms don't diminish what the school and students are accomplishing.

Wiley Coyote said...


So you're okay with your child possibly getting a sub-standard education as long as you don't know about it and the experience makes you feel good?

Scroll back up and look at the trends I posted earlier.

If you don't care about those numbers then more power to you.

Anonymous said...

Well, Wiley Coyote, you have obviously been planted by Ann Doss Helms' to counteract the public's outrage. Why don't you come to Devonshire to see what is going on here. We are definitely not offering a substandard education, or we would not have made the GROWTH we have! Quit trying to bring educators down. Our job is difficult as it is and we need your support! We could use some good mentors and will welcome your involvement.

Wiley Coyote said...


I can assure you I am no plant and while Ann can speak for herself, I'm pretty sure she doesn't subscribe to many of my views.

Again, there is more to every story, including this one, than "feeling-good" about what is happening in any school.

When you put emotions before facts, you accomplish nothing.

1 - No one here wants any child to fail. That's your perception.

2 - No one here is disparaging teachers at Devonshire. That's your perception.

3 - No one here is trying to take away any accomplishments from any child at Devonshire or any other school. That's your perception.

Perception or feelings doesn't equal facts.

CMS continues to massage and spin data as it has in the past to suit a particular set of needs or talking points.

President Obama is in Mooresville today to unveil universal broadband for every school.

So are we supposed to wait for him to leave before we can ask the question of what will schools do that have no computers or those kids who can't afford computers? That's like giving free gas to all but if you don't have a car to put it in, what good is it?

God forbid we ask pertinent questions before spending billions on a program before getting answers to those questions, especially on a day of local feel-good-photo-ops.

Ta-Rai said...

As a staff member from Devonshire, I am disappointed that the recognition by the Today show was tainted by the article and focused on an alleged hidden agenda by CMS. While we all understand that the whole testing process has its pitfalls, it seems in poor taste to interject those ideas into the celebration of legitimate and hard-earned successes. These insinuations are offensive because it, at the very least, minimizes if not negates, the hard work of the teachers and staff at Devonshire. Come visit our school and watch the hard work of "Suzanne and her crew".

Anonymous said...


Ann's post does NOT devalue the work Devonshire has done, the great piece on the Today Show, the teachers, the students, etc.

Her point is that the CMS Communications department misreported the statistics and sent out press releases that focused on incorrect data and used that as the basis of the pitch. THEIR error is taking away from Devonshire's accomplishment and story.

Don't blame Ann. It is CMS Communications who blew this one.

Anonymous said...

As parents of a student at Devonshire, it's sad to see that grown adults can't celebrate with our kids and support a school with hardworking and dedicated students, teachers and a champion of a Principal. I guess all the hate is because it was not your children's school that was on TV. You'd be singing a different song. Please don't still our children's joy. Way to go Devonshire!

Anonymous said...


In case you haven't noticed, people who regularly post on this blog question all kinds of numbers from CMS.

And a few times they've caught some real whoppers.

This is really no different than many other situations and claims from CMS.

It's just that when the spotlight shines, more people start looking.

Anything that's real in the way of progress at ANY school should be able to stand up to public scrutiny.

Even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

Chris said...

You all should put your feelings away and look at the data.!/test-scores

Devonshire is doing fantastic in math.

your are flat failing at everything else.

even with today's grading standards 64 is still an F

So what are you going to do to get Science Math on level.

44% of your 3rd graders can read at the correct level.

If thats what your so happy about, pick the weather or a horse race to cheer for this is terrible.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the students, staff and Principal of Devonshire! Despite any disparity in reported data, we should all celebrate academic growth and excellence in any grade level and school. I am very glad to hear positive news happening in this East Charlotte Community. The students are succeeding and engaged in their learning. Kudos to Devonshire!!!

Anonymous said...

71.4% is excellence? Glad there is growth, and I'm rooting for them to continue this trajectory. But the numbers shared with the media are misleading.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:50pm.

Sure it's misleading.

They took their highest score (for fifth grade math)and made it sound like their score for everything.

In fact, they are below average on just about everything but math for nearly category measured if you check the EOG's.

They DO have a story to tell about math, though.

Ghoul said...

As a true taxpayer, you know the one they take from so others do not have to have anything taken from them, I am so glad to see 4 posts from Devonshire staff between 10:30AM and 12:30PM, and I am not counting the one from 2:21PM. So good to know my tax dollars are paying you to post on an online forum during working hours. How, pray tell, is any teaching happening while you are pouting online?

Anonymous said...

It's no wonder the students at Devonshire don't do as well at reading as they do at math.

The parents, teachers, and staff who have posted here CLEARLY do not have the reading comprehension skills to see that Ann Doss Helms was not accusing Devonshire of lying or misrepresenting numbers.

She was stating that the Today Show chose to report on 'math improvements' and called them 'overall improvements.'

Everyone is happy for the children's success. Just call it what it is next time -- successful math results, not overall results.

Anonymous said...

People are mad at ANN for calling CMS on more of its blatantly and purposefully incorrect propaganda?? Don't really care about the school, I am sure they are working hard but living in a delusional world of the greatness of their achievement. But the school is not the issue. The school wouldn't have made the news if CMS had not fabricated test scores. But trust me, this is the culture of CMS. Remember, our new superintendent magically raised the graduation rate in Reno by 30 points in a single year....fabrication and manipulation is just the name of the game.

Anonymous said...

Actually Ann student got 3 shots after 2008 to pass an EOC and THEN they could also submit a portfolio for credit rather than the EOC or EOG grade. HOWEVER!!!! Schools inherited the first score each student got not the 2nd or 3rd.....there in lies the rub of CMS.. Schools inherited the first grade yet CMS reported numbers based on the 4 opportunities.

Anonymous said...

You need to write an actual front page story that shows the public how these number crunchers downtown post gains to make their resume look good for the next educational cash cow job they aspire too.... And how those very greedy number crunchers toss the schools to the wolves...

Anonymous said...

Funny how the media seems to miss the double meaning of the word "incredible"...

Or maybe not.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:02 pm.

I guess you must have thought "Race To The Top" was about the students.

Not administrators.

I'm sure nationally recognized "success" stories are real resume enhancers.

Because even if the stores aren't entirely true, they show skill at manipulating the media.

Which is probably just as important as actually educating the kids in today's environment.

For what its worth said...

Ghoul, this is the last week of CMS schools as you know. It would have been a good week to go to any school and see what instruction was going on.

Anonymous said...

A school is nothing more than a reflection of the community is serves.

After listening to a panel of first year Title 1 teachers - on of whom had 14 students roll in and out of her classroom in less than a year - there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Devonshire teachers and administrators are doing their absolute best to ensure a quality education for each and every child at their school. Devonshire's accomplishments and gains are commendable and should be celebrated.

However, the entire point of NCLB with it's excessive focus on standardized testing was to close the achievement gap between poor/minority and wealthier/majority students which simply hasn't happened on any grand scale despite the best efforts and backing put forth by mega-billionaires and some of the best brainpower on the planet.

While Devonshire might be making great strides for the SPECIFIC population of students who attend the school, it is disingenuous and quite harmful (not to mention unethical) to tout numbers that aren't an accurate reflection of student achievement unless we really ARE OK with students being on separate playing fields with expectations and standards that vary according to race, ethnicity and class.

Who's is really being served here? Well meaning adults who want to feel good about themselves or the actual needs of poor and minority children?


Anonymous said...

Because I've actually brought this subject up in my post-bac. teaching licensure program at Belmont Abbey College...

Belmont Abbey College offers two B.A. degrees in Education - "Educational Studies" and "Elementary Education". People in the Adult Degree Program are integrated in with 21-year- old undergraduates - which I think is fantastic.

The majority of students in the Adult Degree Education Program are African-American woman who want to become licensed teachers. I took a couple of pre-requisit classes with this group where I was the minority. Advancing to the next level to become a licensed teacher requires passing the Praxis 1 - which I did. I am now in classes that don't have a single - not ONE - African-American woman in them because most students in the Adult Degree Program who are African-American and want to become licensed teachers can't pass the Praxis 1 exam. So, essentially, Belmont Abbey offers an "Educational Studies" program that primarily serves African-American women who can't pass the Praxis 1 exam and an "Elementary Education" licensure program that primarily serves white undergraduates and adults who can pass the Praxis 1 exam or have acceptable SAT or ACT scores. (I think the minimum ACT score is a 24).

My point? Even at the college level, we seem to have two separate playing fields for blacks and whites which is rather jarring. This certainly isn't Belmont Abbey's fault but a reflection of something that has gone terribly, terribly wrong in our educational system prior to college. I staunchly believe that you don't lower the standards to help more African-Americans who want to become teachers pass the Praxis 1. You help people by helping them rise to meet the standards which I know Belmont Abbey tries to do to the best of it's ability.

Which brings us back to "CMS Spin". Many people - myself included - think it's important to have a teaching force that reflects diverse student populations. This is just simple common sense. So, again, who's best interest is being served when we do a Dog and Pony Show on Good Morning America about the wonderful strides being made at poor/minority schools that really aren't living up to the same standards set at other schools? And yes, you guessed, every Title 1 teacher on the panel I listened to was white.