Thursday, August 16, 2012

AMO: WT ...?

I would have said it was impossible to come up with a more convoluted school rating system than the AYP measure created by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Then I saw the AMO system North Carolina has created to replace it.  My immediate reaction was another acronym, which young texters use to express the concept of  "What the ...."

No Child Left Behind set an ever-changing series of proficiency goals,  which had to be calculated for a long list of  "subgroups"  (racial, income, disability, language status).  If any group fell short,  the school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress  --  unless,  of course,  it squeaked through under various "wiggle room"  formulas.  Failing to make AYP had no consequences, unless a school got Title I aid for high-poverty schools,  in which case it could be forced to offer transfers,  get rid of staff and take other measures.

In the beginning,  I devoted barrels of ink to explaining this system.  The big goal,  making sure all groups of students got the attention and help they needed,  seemed worthy.  But over the years,  I concluded that making or failing AYP told the public virtually nothing useful about a school.  So I phased it out of my coverage.

The goal of all those changing targets was to move all states toward 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014.  Another admirable goal.  But over the years,  it also became clear that setting a target didn't make it a reality.  Faced with the prospect of virtually all schools "failing,"  federal officials backed down from No Child Left Behind,  and this year North Carolina was among the states grated a waiver.

But the state had to create a substitute, which brings us to Annual Measurable Objectives.  Now, instead of moving toward 100 percent by 2014,  North Carolina is trying to "reduce the percentage of non-proficient students by one-half" by 2017.  I had no idea what that meant until Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff explained it to the school board on Wednesday. (Go to the presentation and start on page 32 to see for yourself. A reminder: CMS did not create this system.)

The new AMO targets vary by group. For elementary and middle school reading, the 2012 target was 83.2 percent of white students reading on grade level,  80.8 percent of Asians,  61.4 percent of low-income students,  57.8 percent of African Americans and 44.5 percent of students with disabilities.

Lower targets based on race and circumstance?  Does anyone else find that deeply disturbing?

You could argue that it's based on reality:  Those groups,  on average,  have logged lower pass rates for years.  Slow,  steady progress is better than none.

But remember the lesson of No Child Left Behind:  A target is not the same as a result. It's not even a strategy.  It's just a number to aspire to.  Heck, if we're doing that,  why not go back to the version where we're two years from educational utopia?

There are no rewards for making AMOs and no penalties for failing.  Just another set of numbers:  In 2012, 44.8 percent of CMS schools met all AMOs.

On Wednesday, board member Tom Tate complained about how difficult it can be to tease meaning out of education data.  Superintendent Heath Morrison,  a former high school principal,  concurred.  He launched into a rapid-fire riff on the kind of discussion that ensued once families started delving into all the results posted on websites:

"They'd say, 'Well, were you successful?'  Absolutely.  We made AYP by meeting and exceeding the AMO.  We needed the confidence interval over here,  safe harbor over here.  ACT scores are up,  ACT scores are down," he rattled off  (thank you, iRecorder). "Parents just looked at us and they'd say, 'Huh?' "

Exactly.  "Huh?" strikes me as a polite response to this new set of ratings.  I don't plan to spend much energy reporting on them.

Unless families start demanding to know why "Our school met its AMOs"  can translate to  "40 percent of our black students aren't reading on grade level."


Anonymous said...

Welcome to Education in 2012. Its a football game with a endlessly moving end zone and constantly changing rules of play.

Anonymous said...

Allow me to paraphrase Francis Fukuyama: When we cannot measure that which is important, we will make important that which can be measured.

Anonymous said...

If the state wants to put new systems in place great. Fund the programs then especially since Mecklenburg is their largest client in the relm of tax revenues produced. I dont need a AMO and I dont need some dude named Frank for 190k annually.

Anonymous said...

Lower targets based on economics and race...yes it is disturbing, but not new. Remember when people objected to the junk food lunches served at schools and the answer was if you serve them healthy food they will not eat it. Same faulty thinking...just lower the standards if the challenge is too hard.

Christine Mast said...

Don't forget that the BOE is considering revisions to the graduation requirements. They held a public hearing on it last night, and I was the only one that spoke up.

Bottom line, they're wanting to reduce the graduation requirements from 28 credits, down to 24.

I voiced my objection to this dumbing-down of the entire system, and no one seemed to bat an eye.,%202012

Ann Doss Helms said...

Christine, they took that vote in 2009. All the high schoolers in 2012-13 will already be under the 24-credit plan. I was told the latest round of changes is mostly to bring the CMS requirements in line with some state changes. BUT ... since they are looking at a revised 24-credit list and since there's a new superintendent, it does seem like a logical time to revive the question.

Bill Stevens said...

Don't forget now when high profile articles will be written in education magazines and presidents and secretary of educations report huge improvements proving that private public partnerships are the answer to urban schools.

Anonymous said...

Christine, when a student will not even go to the effort to put their name on the test to get just 50% and pass, we all know where public education is headed.

Pamela Grundy said...

I think the young texters have it right.

Wiley Coyote said...

The new AMO targets vary by group. For elementary and middle school reading, the 2012 target was 83.2 percent of white students reading on grade level, 80.8 percent of Asians, 61.4 percent of low-income students, 57.8 percent of African Americans and 44.5 percent of students with disabilities.

In the middle of the paragraph above is the problem, the whole problem and nothing but the problem; 61.4% of low income students.

Ok, which are they first? Low income or skin color (race)?

I'll yell it again: Why did 200 African Americans graduate from West Charlotte and 173 did not? What are the differences between the two groups?

Educrats can't see the trees or the forest because their collective heads are stuck in the sand.

By the way. Chritine, this is 2012.

Also, the state only requires 20 to graduate plus any others that LEAs toss on top.

Anonymous said...

Pamela, ??????????????

Anonymous said...

Wiley, Wiley, Wiley! What you are asking for is a root cause analysis that would pin the target of remedial action.

The problem that does is it actually identifies the where the effort/money should go and that would be auditable. Instead they will fight against this accountability so the slush money can keep coming and skimmed off for their "buddies".

BolynMcClung said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"WTF" was Tom Cruise in Risky Business. To bad we dont have many entrepreneurs like him. Not when you can get $100,000 + salaries in CMeS to move the deck chairs around from EOC to AYP to the next educational jargon. Top that off with a $17,000 raise and you ARE in educational eutopia. WTF

Anonymous said...

Here is the solution:
Get the AfroAmerican Studies guy who just left UNC to come in and design a program for the RFL crowd and we can get 100% graduating within a year or two. Then Clark, E E-S, the new guy and the AAStudies guy can all write clever articles of how wondrful it is that the achievement gap has been closed. Other school boards will clamor for their "knowledge" and will hire them away.
Maybe then we can break into 3 districts, get control back and really EDUCATE kids, not just work the numbers.

Christine Mast said...

WC, so what?

I understand the vote was taken in 2009, but that doesn't mean they can't change the policy AGAIN. Whatever the State is mandating, I'd want to automatically add at least 5 or 6 credits. I don't put much stock into what the State thinks is appropriate for education.

I'm disgusted by the very IDEA to reduce graduation requirements. Makes me feel like NC isn't satisfied with being #4x in the nation for education... we must be striving to be #50.

Jeff Wise said...

The minimum credit requirement is based on the concept of what subjects a student will need to pass in order to be a functioning adult in society.

I don't care if the minimum was 10 credits or 100 credits, if the students graduating are prepared to be successful in the workplace, the number of credits they need are irrelevant.

The quality of those credits however are what's important.

Don't get lost in the debate that going from 28 to 24 or even to the state level of 20 is dumbing down education, rather look at what the student must achieve in order to gain those credits.

If those 20-some credits do not properly prepare the student to be a responsible adult, then what's the point?

Furthermore, all these various statistics and numbers are essentially meaningless, but they do fill the gaps that administrators feel pressured to address because the public wants to see instant results.

Why does it matter if a student matriculates through high school in 4 years or 5 years, or 3 years for that matter? It doesn't.

What matters is the ability of that student to be graduate high school prepared for the marketplace.

Wiley's dead on - what's the difference between those 200 in WC that did graduate and those 173 that didn't? That's the kind of issue that needs a spotlight, not AYP or AMO or AOL or whatever.

Anonymous said...

You dag gone right it matters if a student graduates in 5 years at West Charlotte. That is another $14,000 being spent by the taxpayers. If the student then drops out and goes onto jail, it is another $30,000 plus spent per year by the taxpayers for their incarceration.

A black hole of lost revenue.

Anonymous said...

After talking with teachers today it appears to be a different grading policy in EVERY school. Some have a 0 and some have 50.


Jeff Wise said...

Anonymous 9:17, you pretty much made my point.

I'd rather spend $14k to educate that student for another year and have them graduate and be ready to be an adult, than to pay $30k to incarcerate them.

Pay a little now or pay a lot later.

Anonymous said...

9:17, the only expenditure that will solve the problem as you have stated it, is mandated abortions for those on welfare, not high school graduated, and so on when they get pregnant.

You want to put that proposal on the table?

Bill Stevens said...

Jeff and Christine, it is exactly as proposed that reducing the graduation requirements is for the sole purpose of increasing the graduation rate. No students are willing to stay in high school 5 years. Thus when there was no more time in school with 8 possible credits per year to make the 28 credit requirement in 4 years, the slope became much steeper to keep the kids in school. If you will recall, a year or so ago, West Charlotte did a sweep of student who had been in high school 3 years yet did not have the credits to be classified as sophomores. The attempt was to move them out to an alternative school and thus off West Charlotte's ABC performance scores.

Now recall, state law says we have to attempt to continue to educate these students till they are 22 years old. Can you imagine having a 21 year old in a class with 14, 15 year olds coming into high school? Luckily, most either dropout at 16 or just quit coming. But sadly, they stay on the books and thus cause violations in the state testing rules.

Now also recall that every principal at West Charlotte identified his biggest challenge was the incoming 8th graders that did not belong there. That could not do the work. Heck they probably could not do 5th grade work yet.

Bill Stevens said...

Jeff, think about one other taxpayer expenditure. More than likely, we the taxpayers have been paying welfare and food stamps and WIC and whatever else of the multitude of programs. So paying 30k in prison may actually be a savings to the taxpayer.

Think about it.

Anonymous said...

OMG, measurable objectives? That was the buzz word in the 70s when I was teaching HS. If we can't invent new words, let's pull out some old ones. Won't matter anyway, 20 credits, 28. Most students are unprepared for work, let alone college. Glad I don't need to hire these folks for a business.

Jeff Wise said...


Sure, let's think about it with numbers. To make nice round numbers, let's ay the average CMS student costs $10k a year to taxpayers.

Now, let's say a student comes back for a 5th year of high school at another $10k and another student drops out after 4 years and is subsequently incarcerated at $30k a year.

Difference in $20k a year. No way a single student receives $1,666 a month in government aid. That student's family might get that much, but not that specific student.

Also, that student who sticks out their 5th year and masters skills such that they can earn a decent living after high school will pay taxes into the system and contribute to the welfare of society.

If we don't afford CMS and public education the flexibility to reach every student, then these social programs that many of you are whining about will only perpetuate.