The Washington Post’s education coverage — beginning with columnist Jay Mathews and extending to beat reporters — is generally more faith than reality based. A recent story praising a Montgomery Co., MD school is no exception. Luckily, this time Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler was on the case.
From the WaPo Story:
Roberson and the Rock View faculty are having remarkable success lifting children out of that gap, the achievement gap that separates poor and minority children from other students and represents one of public education’s most intractable problems.
They have done it with an unusual approach. The Kensington school’s 497 students are grouped into classrooms according to reading and math ability for more than half of the instructional day.
Has Rock View Elementary made score gains during the four-year period in question? Absolutely. In 2003, 63 percent of its fifth-graders scored proficient in reading; in 2007, 75 percent passed. But guess what? In that same period, the state of Maryland as a whole recorded very similar gains, going from 66 percent in 2003 to 77 percent in 2007. (Links to all data below.) By the way: Did Maryland’s fifth-graders improve at reading during this period—or did the state’s fifth-grade reading test get easier? We have no way to sort that out. (Other explanations are possible.) But in Grade 5, Rock View’s score gain is not “remarkable” in the way de Vise suggests. It virtually matches the state-wide result.
And uh-oh! The comparison is slightly less flattering for Rock View when it comes to Grade 3 (though the differences here are all trivial). How does the school compare to the state? In 2003, 66 percent of Rock View’s third-graders scored proficient on Maryland’s reading test. In 2007, the school’s passing rate was much higher: 85 percent. But as a w hole, the state of Maryland recorded a larger score gain during this period. In 2003, 58 percent of the state’s third-graders scored proficient in reading. In 2007, it was 80 percent. In Grade 3, Rock View’s score gain wasn’t “remarkable” at all. It was actually smaller than the gain achieved by the state as a whole.
Let’s make sure we’re all semi-clear: This doesn’t make Rock View a bad school, or anything like it. And it doesn’t mean there’ something wrong with the educational changes the school has made. Beyond that, there may be ways Rock View has progressed that somehow exceed the state as a whole,. But we’ll never learn such things from the Post.
This report from Science Daily (unmentioned in the WaPo article) may also be of interest: Grouping Kids By Ability Harms Education, Two Studies Show
Thomas J. Mertz