The Data War

Blake Farmer of WPLN reported today on the “data war” between the state Achievement School District (ASD) and opponents of a plan to turn either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend Middle over to the ASD.

According to Farmer’s report, ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic suggests that supporters or opponents can make data show whatever they want, quoting Barbic as saying:

“We can go back and forth with folks who want to do the data war,” Barbic tells WPLN. “For every data point they have, we’ve got one. The bottom line is that the schools that we’re talking about are in the bottom five percent.”

Essentially, Barbic is saying that the debate doesn’t matter, the ASD is going to takeover one of these schools because they can. He admitted as much in an earlier discussion of ASD takeovers in Memphis.

But, opponents of the takeover point to data suggesting that the ASD overall doesn’t outperform district schools and the ASD’s model is flawed.

Here’s some more information on the specific schools slated for takeover, the ASD as a whole, and the schools operated by LEAD, the charter operator named to takevover either Madison Middle or Neely’s Bend.

We’ll look at the number of students testing proficient/advanced in both reading and math

2013 Reading

ASD Average:  13.6

Brick Church Prep (LEAD): 12.8

MNPS Average: 40

Brick Church Middle:  20

Madison MS:  23.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  21.6

For 2013 in reading, note that both Neely’s Bend and Madison scored higher than the ASD average AND the score at Brick Church Prep, run by LEAD, which is the model for the takeover.

2013 Math

ASD Average:  19.6

Brick Church Prep: 24.2

MNPS Average:  42.5

Brick Church MS: 7.7

Madison MS: 15.2

Neely’s Bend MS: 25.4

For 2013 in math, Madison was below the ASD average and below the Brick Church Prep scores. Neely’s Bend was above the ASD average and also outscored Brick Church Prep.

2014 Reading

ASD Average:  17

Brick Church Prep:  37.2

MNPS Average:  40.7

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  24

Neely’s Bend MS:  24.3

For 2014 in reading, Brick Church Prep saw a significant bump in reading scores. But, the TVAAS data actually indicates a -3.7 in growth year over year. Here’s what that means. Brick Church Prep’s reading proficiency score bump is a result of new students added to the overall score. Madison Middle and Neely’s Bend both showed growth year over year and the growth in reading is roughly equivalent to the growth demonstrated by ASD schools as a whole.

2014 Math

ASD Average:  21.8

Brick Church Prep:  41.2

MNPS Average:  44.6

Brick Church MS:  8.7

Madison MS:  18.6

Neely’s Bend MS:  26.2

Of note here, the ASD’s average gains are similar to MNPS overall — that is, the ASD is getting gains no better than would be expected of a district school.  And, Neely’s Bend is right at that average in growth. Madison falls slightly behind in this catetory.

The bottom line: The ASD performs no better than district schools overall. Even in the case of the model, Brick Church Prep, a statistical anomaly created by a growing student population (they are adding a grade each year) creates the perception of growth, but the reality is growth scores there are no more spectacular than typical MNPS schools. For the year before Brick Church Prep grew by adding students, Madison and Neely’s Bend were on par with its performance.

If taking schools over is also designed to result in improved performance, it seems the ASD model doesn’t meet this standard.

Data war aside, I found some other interesting notes in the existing reports about tonight’s meetings at both schools.

Chalkbeat reports:

ASD chief operating officer Elliot Smalley said that a desire to have parents dominate the discussion over which school will be taken over — rather than teachers, as has been the case in Memphis — caused ASD officials  to rebrand the meetings as “parent meetings” rather than “community meetings,” which is what they called the equivalent meetings in Memphis.

It seems the ASD isn’t interested in a broader community discussion or in hearing too much from teachers.

ASD’s Smalley went on to say that it wasn’t about how many people showed up, but about the substance of what they said, according to Chalkbeat:

it’s about the quality of feedback from parents, not the quantity. He said officials would be listening for what parents like about their current neighborhood school and want to maintain, and what they don’t like.

It’s not clear if Smalley or the ASD have crafted a rubric in order to evaluate the quality of individual and collective feedback provided at tonight’s meetings. Will points be deducted from speakers who are teachers at the schools, but not parents?

Finally, on why these two schools, instead of others in MNPS that are lower performing, the ASD’s Barbic notes:

The ASD had 15 schools to choose from in Nashville. Early on, Barbic made it clear that it would be a middle school and that LEAD would run it. He notes that the selection process is more involved than just evaluating test scores. For instance, Jere Baxter, which was an option, is only at half capacity. Barbic says LEAD didn’t think there were enough students to work with in the building.

“You just can’t run a full, robust middle school program if there aren’t enough kids in the building to be able to do that,” Barbic says. “And when a building is half empty, it’s tough to make the case to be able do that.”

Interesting that LEAD can’t run a full, robust middle school program at Jere Baxter but can run a full, robust high school program that just graduated 43 students.

Data wars and rhetoric aside, it seems clear the ASD will move forward after tonight’s meeting and take over one of these schools. Smalley admits as much:

Although Smalley said that parent feedback would be an important factor in the officials’ final decisions, he said that in the end, the fate of Madison and Neely’s Bend will be decided by ASD officials alone.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

2 thoughts on “The Data War

  1. When it comes to parent meetings, I think the ASD is saying they care about what the actual parents think, not the talking heads from other parts of Nashville that fill up the seats. If 1,000 people show up, but only 20 people from that actual school community, they should listen to the actual parents involved, not all the extra noise.

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