CPS President O’Halloran’s MA BESE Testimony on Judging School Quality

Good Morning. My name is Ann O’Halloran. As a special and regular educator, I taught for 30 years in the public schools of Boston and Newton. Currently, I serve as President of Citizens for Public Schools. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you again.
What I want to say today is simple: A “high-performing” teacher, school, or school district is one that helps students make progress.
It’s not easy to tell from Malden whether a school is doing this. The MCAS metric is very limited. But to the extent that MCAS tells you anything about teacher, school, or district effectiveness in math and reading, that information is more likely to be found in growth scores than in absolute achievement scores. The latter scores are too closely linked to community wealth or poverty to be used to indicate anything meaningful about school quality.
And yet the department relies more heavily on absolute scores than on growth scores to rate school and district performance. Why is teacher impact judged by growth scores when school impact is not? This issue goes far beyond the charter school cap question, important as that is.
The department has been relying mostly on absolute MCAS measuresto label schools “Level 3” instead of 1 or 2. When a school gets that label, parents who can afford it may flee because they think the school is low-performing. Many Level 3 schools have good growth scores as Associate Commissioner Curtin showed in his presentation yesterday. 
In an extreme example, the department took control of the Parker School in New Bedford for being “chronically low-performing,” even though the students in that school are making better progress on their MCAS scores than similar students in the rest of the state.
In last night’s discussion, there was talk of making sure the department gives the level 3 designation to the schools that need the most help. The fact is, nobody wants that help. The stigma of the low-performing label far outweighs any state resources that come with it. 
Far from helping, the mislabeling of schools probably increases racial and social class segregation.That’s because a school district’s absolute MCAS scores correlate almost perfectly with the percentage of students who are poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunch.
Research over at least the past 40 years has shown that low-income children learn best when they go to school with children who have more opportunities. So when you frighten off middle-class parents, you probably increase the achievement gap.
         As board member David Roach said yesterday, this has become a political decision. We ask you to resist the pressure and do what is best for the children of the Commonwealth.–April 29, 2014