Thursday, October 09, 2008

Where should gifted students' test scores be counted?

It's no secret that gifted kids tend to score very high on grade level standardized tests. It's also no secret in this era of No Child Left Behind that schools like to include gifted students' scores in their averages!

This is a problem for two reasons. First, it creates an incentive against specialized magnet programs, since these pull gifted kids out of their home schools. These kids' high test scores (which they might have achieved at any school) are now counted to the magnet school, rather than the home school. It also creates an incentive against acceleration. If a 9-year-old scores at the 99th percentile on 4th and 5th grade tests, but at the 75th on 6th grade tests, 6th grade is probably the right place for her. But the school would much prefer to have a 99 than a 75 included in its average.

So I was intrigued to see a plan announced by the East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana to "re-route" gifted kids' test scores. According to this article from the Associated Press, this plan will "help schools' performance by counting test scores from gifted students who live nearby but attend magnet programs and schools elsewhere."

Needless to say, various watchdog groups have cried foul. Per the article, the State Department of Education spokeswoman Rene Greer said, "The department is extremely concerned and plans to investigate" ways to address it.

A group called the Council for a Better Louisiana published a commentary saying that re-routing "should be called deception," and Stephanie Desselle, a senior vice president with the group, told the AP that "School accountability is not about fooling around with scores to make things look better than they are...The heart of the accountability system is to tell us how each school is doing."

But...while it may be a bit deceptive, it does remove the incentives principles currently have to oppose magnet programs for gifted students. I've become more and more convinced that we'd do better off with a uniform national test like the NAEP that is not so targeted to one grade level. Then you should compare scores of all 10-year-olds in your school, rather than all 4th graders. It's a subtle difference, but it removes the other disincentive -- that schools have toward acceleration. Even if you use grade level tests, they should be re-branded as "age-level" tests. A 9-year-old who's in 6th grade can sit for the 9-year-old test. It will be a waste of a day for him, but better than waste a whole year in 4th grade, which is what some educators currently like to see happen.

I'm curious to know what readers think about re-routing scores, or doing them by age rather than grade, or using a national test that allows for higher out-of-level scores. Do any of your districts allow re-routing?


kitmf said...

I worked as an aide for a bit in an elementary gifted center in VA. The same system was in effect there. The children - in third through fifth grade - were in full time self contained classes at the Center. They no longer attended their home schools. But the place was a "center", not a "school" and the test scores were credited to the neighborhood school they would have attended if not placed in the gifted center. It has been several years and I do not know if the same system is in effect now. I know their gifted ed director has left the system and moved on.

Alex said...

Another subtlety, but I think it would be better to count the scores at the school that 'found' the student (and packed him off to a magnet school), rather than necessarily the one that happens to be near his house.

Actually, in general I'd like to see junior schools rated on the *future* scores of their students as well as the current ones... to give them an incentive to consider their pupils' long-term interests as well as simply coaching them for the next exam.

Anonymous said...

I remember the Wall Street Journal doing a piece on this very dilemma five years ago.

There's one problem with having the scores re-routed back to the base school. Sure, if the home school wants to keep the student in order to keep her scores, they won't fight to keep the kid if the scores bounce back to them. the article pointed out, now the magnet principal doesn't have much of an incentive to nurture the gifted program since she won't benefit from the scores.

My daughter was in a Virginia gifted magnet program in elementary and middle, at which point it ended. The previous poster is talking about the same thing. My child actually never left her base school, she came from private school, and although her scores are way high, the base school never knew she existed. So no fights to keep her put.

Do bear in mind the GT center is in a school. It's not self contained, a school all by itself. It's a school within a school, if you will. With a principal. Who has other students to worry about besides the gifted ones. If the principal is scores-obsessed, which sadly so many are, and that is her main focus, forget about any attention for the gifted kids.

The center would skim off the top students of about six elementary schools and cluster the kids together in a center. Now the GT students are at the mercy of the new principal. I hate to think principals value students for their scores because if the new principal doesn't get the score, will he just blow off the gifted center?

Here's a novel idea. I don't think gifted students should even be part of NCLB and the test prep mania it has spawned. Just about every gifted kid I know could sit down in front of an SOL, never having seen one before in his life, and do just fine. I think GT kids should be exempt from these tests and the immense classroom time should be used to teach and learn with a reasonable homework amount sent home. But in our egalitarian culture, it's equal opportunity mediocrity, I'm afraid.

Alex said...

anon, but if the G&T kids weren't included at all, then schools would have an incentive not to identify them. Surely that's a step backwards?

There's nothing to stop two schools getting credit for the same pupil. That's sort of what I was suggesting... that both the kid's previous school, *and* his current magnet school get to benefit. &the same would go for every kid who changed schools.

Anonymous said...

Alex asks:

anon, but if the G&T kids weren't included at all, then schools would have an incentive not to identify them. Surely that's a step backwards?


Yes and no. When the schools treat these kids as bounty, valued for their high scores, we are already in big trouble. Schools should serve the student, not the other way around. Nothing will change if we just accept it, like the weather.

Making these kids take NCLB tests when they are often several grades above level, is a waste of their time. Prepping them endlessly to achieve those high scores is even more of a travesty.

Exhibit A on test prep: my daughter took a CTY geometry course on line during her lone homeschool year. Upon entering public high school, we were informed she had to take the geometry state standardized test. She was in camp the day the test was given and we weren't focused on it later in the year. Hence, my daughter took it this past spring, a good two years after she'd taken the course.

My daughter didn't even have time to crack open her old geometry textbook, so inundated with homework is she. She took the test cold, two years after the fact. She got a very high score. Had she studied, she might have gotten two more correct. So what's the big deal? Why all the prep?

Yea, I know. An extra few points is bounty. Let's ask ourselves if this is how we want our children to spend their day at school.

So back to your basic question. If no test scores means no incentive to identify and serve, the GT education is already corrupted.

Debbie said...

What about the traditional "special ed" kids? One elementary in our system has the self contained GT classes as well as all of the moderately and profoundly disabled. How are those scores counted?