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Grading Schools


In a recent article, teacher Denise Pattiz Bogart describes why her "failing" school, according to NCLB standards, is actually a success. Test scores at Lift for Life Academy have increased exponentially, yet student performance lags behind NCLB's Adequate Yearly Progress standards. Many of the academy's students come from the now unaccredited St. Louis Public School District. Ninety-five percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch, and many come to the academy reading well below grade level. "It takes time to overcome such glaring deficits," Bogart says. "Unfortunately, the timeline for meeting NCLB standards does not take these challenges into account."

Does NCLB take student progress into account fairly? Do you think NCLB's AYP provision accurately assesses schools as successes or failures? NCLB's "safe harbor" provision allows for 10 percent annual improvement—is this adequate?


If those involved in education truly believe--as intuition and commonsense imply and a growing and compelling body of research shows--that kids have multiple learning styles and paces of learning, then having single, absolute assessment instruments and collective learning deadlines is stupidly, darkly ironic. To gauge truly and holistically what's happening with students' learning, there must be a bold, creative movement to incorporate multiple, logical, and relevant kinds of ipsative assessment into the current formative/summative formula. Summative assessments, such as standardized-test scores, provide useful data, but these should be only one part of an assessment package that includes various kinds of in-year formative assessments and a new emphasis on determining each individual student's growth from a point in time (beginning of the school year makes sense) to another point in time (end of year). The true indication of "success" for a school in any given year, thus, would be the extent to which it takes each individual student who walks through its doors in August a meaningful distance from where she or he started on the continuum of learning. And this distance will vary, to some extent, from kid to kid, based on who they have been, who they are now, what they know and can do when they arrive, and what constitutes their particular ways and rates of learning. NCLB simply is too rigid, too absolute, and too fixated on arbitrary timelines and on unrealistic notions of what defines "success" or "failure" in the real, messy, variegated world of kids and teachers and classrooms. The fact that it will be difficult to create and sustain assessment methodology that focuses much more on individual growth in no way should absolve us from working diligently to initiate such a change, which can bring much-needed sanity and clarity to our ways of determining how schools succeed or fail. For in the final analysis, in fact, schools are not monolithic entities that succeed or fail. Rather, schools are collections of individual kids either moving forward or not each day. No child left behind, indeed--

I would like to thank Denise Pattiz Bogard for her succinct commentary on the fairness (or lack thereof) of NCLB mandates as the sole measure of academic achievement for our students. As an urban educator, I have witnessed the same struggles of learners who have not had the cultural advantages of others with whom they are compared. Kudos to Ms. Bogard and her colleagues for their continuing efforts to motivate and teach students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I agree wholeheartedly that their success should be measured not solely by the yardstick of NCLB, but by the continuing improvement they see for their students as learners, individually and collectively.

Ms. Bogard is terribly disingenuous in her article. She complains that her charter school's low scores are due to the "distressed" public school system in St. Louis. In the very next breadth, however, she's quoting statistics of poor and minority students at her charter school along with a description of the "gangs, guns, drugs, homelessness and family members in prison." HELLO! News Flash! These are the same conditions that many of the students in St. Louis experience and from which Ms. Bogard wants us to know straight out that her students come from. My students scored low because they come from a failed public school system but don't label me as failed because look at the lives that these children have. It is the same backdoor logic that charter schools argue across the country. Charter schools cannot complain about the failures of public schools  and their promise to do better on the one hand, and then turn around and blame their low scores on the type of students they enroll. These are the very children for whom they promised improvement, not on a September to June basis but on bottom line scores.

No Child Left Behind is a cute slogan but it is no more meaningful than "Mission Accomplished". Charter schools and vouchers, a growth industry of NCLB, have done nothing to close the achievement gap in this country. Vouchers are overwhelmingly going to students who are already succeeding and charter schools are overwhelmingly failing as indicated by Ms. Bogard's school. Each and every individual state scores continue to rise to levels of proficiency while national tests (NAEP) remain flat. You do the math.

Ms. Bogard should continue to motivate her students and be proud of their growth from year to year. She should continue to criticize NCLB for all the right reasons she stated correctly in her article. But she needs to stop pointing fingers at a public school system whose children's lives mirror those of her school and whose teachers mirror the hard work, enthusiasm and motivation of her own.

Mr. Xavier

You sound very angry. I am teaching with Mrs. Bogard at Lift for Life but I have the math end. I wanted to respond to your comment regarding her complaining "about the failures of public schools and their promise to do better on the one hand, and then turn around and blame their low scores on the type of students they enroll."

I don't think we are a complaining school and "the very children for whom (we) promised improvement" have in fact improved a great deal.

Mrs. Bogard only gave the Language Arts results. My 8th grade math students met AYP for the last two years. We were one of only three schools in the city to do so. The other two are the gifted and talented - Metro High School (ranked #1 public school in St. Louis and #40 in the nation) and its feeder middle school (also gifted and talented) Kinnard Middle School.

I am shocked at the negative feedback we receive for being a charter school. It seems like people are missing the big picture. Our goal is to make a difference in a population that has not been successful in school. Shouldn't we all feel some sense of pride when we see such significant improvement?

I have to agree with Sammy Parker, "The true indication of "success" for a school in any given year, thus, would be the extent to which it takes each individual student who walks through its doors in August a meaningful distance from where she or he started on the continuum of learning." Middle school students in my 'double dose' language arts/reading classes advance an average of 2 years on the district required reading assessments each year, but still do not reach proficiency on the statewide testing. Moving from a 4th grade level to 6th grade is outstanding growth, but not enough for NCLB. No excuses. . . I'm proud of them for stepping up and working really hard. For some of them it is the first time they really believe they can be successful in school.

Mr. Xavier,

I appreciate your comments on my article. However, I believe you have misread the story. In no way do I mean to imply that I blame the "type of students we enroll." Nor do I believe the charter schools should be judged differently than the public schools. Rather, I find fault with NCLB because it does not adequately factor in the complex challenges that face so many of the children we serve.

As Mrs. Owens mentioned above, our 8th grade math scores have actually increased to meet AYP for two years--a huge accomplishment of which our school is very proud. In the areas of communications arts and in 6th and 7th grade math, we're also making large strides... just not large enough to satisfy the unrealistic, narrow standards of NCLB.

As for the charter school issue, I believe our school's successes come from our school's attitude. We provide a lot of nurturing and positive feedback, and we continue to measure "success" on an individual basis. The irony is that at our school, despite the NCLB stats, truly no child is left behind.

THAT's what I hope my article conveys.

Ms. Owens,

"Our goal is to make a difference in a population that has not been successful in school." This is what you wrote in response to my observations. Apparently, you and Ms. Bogard do not understand my objections(no anger intended). Your students, no doubt, have been successful at your school. Their growth during the year is one you should be proud of as should Ms. Bogard with her students. What you do not seem to understand is that this is the exact kind of growth and improvement and success that is happening in urban public schools every year across this country, including the city of St. Louis. How can you claim to " make a difference in a population that has not been successful" when your definition of success(which is correct ) is the same kind of success that we in the public schools encounter every day? Your mindset is that this population has not been successful because of the test scores and labels placed on these schools from where you get your children. Your argument(Ms. Bogard's argument) is the precise argument that we make. Your school and the low scoring urban public schools in the country are one and the same. They have the same kinds of children and fight the same kinds of battles every day to get them to succeed. 

Ms. Bogard's article would have been fine had she left out the following two senteces: Our students come to us from the St. Louis school district, which lost its accreditation on June 15th of this year because, according to The New York Times, of its “history of administrative, financial, and student performance failures.” As products of this distressed system, most children enter Lift For Life reading well below grade level. That kind of finger pointing and blame towards teachers who work every bit as hard as those at your school and achieve the same kinds of "success" as those at your school does is, I'm sorry to say, naive. 

The achievement gap, Ms. Owens, begins the first day of kindergarten for children like yours and mine. It is so for all the reasons that Ms. Bogard listed in her article. Teaching children who are "well below grade level" is not the exception to the rule, but the rule itself. Your charter school is not unique in that sense.


I find the discussion and the interchange between Ms. Bogart and her colleague and Mr. Xavier, extraordinary. I find it so because I believe that you are both right, in part, and both wrong, in part, in acknowledging the reality of the work and its requirements in the world we all live in. I live in Chicago, recruit, train and support teachers for "high need" schools and work with a charter school. In Illinois our charter requires that we meet certain performance expectations with the same children that populate the public schools. The theory is if you can't return better results, why exist? So, I agree that education is a process, that requires time to see improvement, but we do not have forever and so if you cannot get kids to a better place in seven years in the way that the system measures success, it may not matter how well meaning or dedicated you are as a teacher, because ultimately you have failed the child. At the same time to condemn charters and associate vouchers with charters, which are public schools, is unfair.
I believe we all need to acknowledge the enormity of the task, accept no excuses for not meeting the minimal standards that are the "coin of the realm" and cease attacks on each other about relative standards of excellence. The truth is that as Ms. Bogart points out, her own children could have and did pass the exam, through teaching, exposure and expectation. Her classroom children are entitled to no less. To Mr. Xavier, I say none of us are in a position to accept less than "absolute excellence" and it is just as disappointing to me to hear that traditional public school teachers are doing their best, when our children continue to be less than prepared.

Saint Louis Public Schools!!! Horrible!!! Thank God for NCLB and the state stepping in as the consultants they paid millions to made it worse. Remove the present administration, make the teachers reapply for jobs to prove competency and sue Alvarez and Marsel for the millons they ripped off as consultants. I worked in Saint Louis and what I saw was a joke and a complete loss to students and parents. Now Alvarez and Marsel are in NYC public schools, SAD!!

 Charter schools and vouchers have risen greatly since NCLB became law. That is there connection to this discussion. They are a direct response to the attacks on public schools by think tanks, politicians and certain so-called non-profits because of low scoring inner-city schools. Charter schools, although public schools, are often for profit schools. The same is true, of course, with vouchers and private schools. I do not condemn charter schools and vouchers, though, as Mr Alexander of Chicago has chosen to call my position. The fact is I have the upmost respect for teachers in the private schools, charter schools and the public schools. Until replying to Ms. Bogard's article I had never written or spoken negatively to the teachers in any of those settings. What I very strongly resent are comments from individuals and organizations who attack public schools and point to vouchers and charter schools as the answer. Ms. Bogard's experience plainly shows how ridiculous those ideas actually are. Her frustration with being labeled a failed school after seeing each and every day the growth that her students achieved is the same frustration we in the urban public schools feel as well. Compounded with my problem with those like Mr. Alexander is the fact that none of these pundits would know the inside of an inner-city classroom if it bit them on their nose( though I'm sure they have "visited" time and time again).

Mr. Alexander, as I stated, is a perfect example of why since A Nation at Risk came out nearly 25 years ago the achievement gap in this country has remained essentially flat. As I stated in a previous response, vouchers are going to students who are already succeeding and most charter schools, due not to the teachers at those schools, end up scoring as low as or lower than the public schools these "experts" promised they would better. The charter schools that do score well do so for obvious reasons that are apparent once a few layers are peeled back(can you say KIPP).  As well meaning as Mr. Alexander might be, he doesn't know the first thing about the difficulties teachers like Ms. Bogard, Ms. Owens and me face every day. He is an attorney managing a non-profit organization who has most likely never taught a day in his life, let alone a inner-city public school classroom(I'm sure he'll let me know if I am mistaken). In fact, according to his web-site, his "teaching corps" volunteers work only in private catholic schools. Their work in those schools is to be commended. The students in those schools, however, no matter what percent minority or what percent poor, have the most important factor in any child's education going for them; their family. 

There is not a charter school or private school within a hundred miles of Mr. Alexander who could bring in their staff and produce better results than the teachers at Lift for Life Academy  or any of the thousands of inner-city public schools in this country. The good teachers at those private schools know this themselves as a fact. It is only the "visitors" who are in denial.

Here's the core issue I see reflected in Ms. Bogart's article, the responses it brought, and my own experience as a public school educator: NCLB, in its current state, is the educational equivelent of "one size fits all." It's a Walmart answer to what are often "boutique" problems.

NCLB treats schools, as Sammy Parker points out,as "monolithic entities that succeed or fail," rather than "collections of individual kids" and, I might add, teachers, who do their utmost to move forward in whatever increments possible every single day, despite what are often daunting--and unique--challenges.

As a sound bite, the expression "No Child Left Behind" seems like a no-brainer. It is deplorable that no one in the current Administration is willing to go beyond the sound-bite and into the realm of real, live classrooms that exist in diverse educational communities all across this country.

As a parent, it is tiresome to witness this endless quibbling about whether private or public, charter or voucher schools produce better results. The research tends to indicate that none of the above are crucial factors.

We know that socio-economic status is a great predictor, yet so are a great many factors that are ought to be easier to impact. Greater even than parent factors are teacher factors (presence or absence of a degree in the course taught, college GPA, quality of the degree program, years of experience, even SAT scores). The alignment of the curriculum and tests to standards is likewise important (kids do better on tests when they are actually taught the same material that is tested).

I am not personally familiar with the St. Louis situation--but it is a good guess that St. Louis is ringed by suburbs with better performance, more experienced teachers, fewer management problems, fewer financial struggles and a greater level of community trust. Unless and until we stop accepting the exclusivity of access to educational inputs and outcomes we will continue to experience the inevitable economic results--decreased global competitiveness, increased poverty and crime, etc.

It is time to wake up and stop acting like we are all bobbing around in our own personal lifeboats, while the liner we escaped from goes down. We are all still a long way from shore.

Oh, my God! Somebody find me a soundproof room and a large mallet. " Greater even than parent factors are teacher factors" is what Mom Margo writes. It sure would be interesting to know what facts were present for her to make such a statement. 

Public school teachers, including urban public school teachers, have more of everything(discounting the obvious exceptions to the rule thing) with regards to teacher qualities than private school and charter schools. The National Center for Education Statistics and the Common Core of Data, both agencies of the pro voucher, pro charter school U.S. Department of Education, confirm this. Again, I'm not taking anything away from the good teachers at those schools. You'll notice, as I stated in a previous response, that they are not the ones making these claims but are being done so by those outside the classroom. To write that teacher factors are more important than a child's upbringing and everything that that entails is simply ludicrous. 

One could find a 1000 private schools tomorrow whose students are scoring through the roof yet whose teachers have nowhere near the dgrees, certification and experience as those of the local public school teachers. One could then track another 1000 teachers every year who, being fully certified, leave a private school where their scores were very high, and transfer to the local public school district only to find their scores plummet. If teacher characteristics are the most crucial factor in a child's education, scores would have remained constant from building to building.

I would love to hear the excuses people come up with for that kind of dramatic drop in scores from private school A to public school A. That single fact alone speaks volumes as to what is and what is not a crucial factor and what is worth "quibbling about" when it comes to closing the achievement gap.

Special education studies, which by definition focus on atypically developing learners, tend to come to the same conclusion: 3-5% of students with exceptionalities are non-responders, regardless of intervention. This includes regardless of who is teaching these students. We can talk best practice, but empirical studies demonstrate that we simply do not know how to effectively teach some students. Of course this does not mean we should stop trying, nor does it mean we should pretend to be omniscient and predict who the nonresponders will be. But it does mean we need to quit blaming teachers for students who we do not yet have the knowledge to reach. I suggest we place our energies on supporting students and teachers. Thank you.

For Mr. Xavier--I am aware of several studies that looked at a variety of teacher/school factors in examining diffierences between low and high performing schools with high percentages of low income students. One comes from the Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky. They identified eight factors (from a field of 88 studied) that distinguished high-performing from low-performing schools. These were:
-The belief that all students can succeed at high levels
-High expectations
-Collaborative decision making
-Teachers accept their role in student successor failure
-Strategic assignment of staff
-Regular teacher-parent communication
-Caring staff and faculty
-Dedication to diversity and equity

A similar study in California--sorry I cannot locate the citation--revealed that school factors outweighed parent factors in determining success in a comparison of low-income, high minority schools. I believe that there was a county in Tennessee that was able to bring about school improvement in some low performing schools by using TVAAS to identify high performing teachers and employing a variety of inducements (home down-payments, tuition reimbursement) to move them into lower performing schools. The effort was successful.

Numerous studies have looked at such things as teacher schooling and experience--we know that there is a large difference between teachers in their first and fifth years (and a disproportionate distribution amongst schools in communities based on income). We know that a teacher's degree in mathematics makes a significant difference in students' mathematics learning outcomes.

While I am certain that Mr. Xavier could locate 1000 private schools that are outperforming 1000 public schools--the plural of anecdote is not data. Whenever controlled studies have been conducted to determine the public vs private effect (separating out various selection effects), it generally comes out as a wash. Likewise in public vs charter.

Ok, I confess. I no longer have any idea what Mom Margo is talking about. "The plural of anecdote is not data?" What in the wide, wide world of sports does that mean? One study(and I use that term extremely lightly) comes up with a list of "essential factors" like a caring staff and high expectations and we're to believe that this is the crucial missing ingredient in closing the achievement gap? I'm shocked they didn't include wishes for world peace and says nightly prayers. This Pritchard committee, by the way, is a parent organization which believes it takes just good teaching to produce results. And they can prove it. They point to three schools in Kentucky(there are about 100,000 schools in the country) where scores are very high despite the poverty level. Of course, what they don't tell you is that these three schools have absolutely nothing in common with urban public schools, the very schools where the vast preponderance of the achievement gap is taking place. These three schools are 100 percent white/ non-hispanic. And anyway, who ever said that poor kids can't learn? Why do organizations like this and other anti- teacher organizations like that of Kati Haycock's Education Trust find it so necessary to find and report on 20 schools or so in the entire country where either poor kids or kids of color are scoring high? First of all, peel back a layer or two, as I stated, and you will find the reason is no mystery. Secondly, since when is one school out of every 20, 000 considered a success? 

Speaking of no mystery, the county in Tennessee that Margo is referring to is Hamilton. That district chose the eight lowest scoring schools and pumped millions of dollars into them. Teachers were given tuition, paid in full,  to get their master's degree among other incentives if they would transfer to one of these eight schools. Because of the millions of dollars awarded to these few schools, class sizes were reduced and extra tutors were hired. Was it successful as Margo claims? I am certain that the students progressed during the year. No doubt, the added teacher/student "face time" could not help but increase student learning. In fact, this is exactly(smaller class sizes and more tutors) the kind of help that every urban public school needs, not just eight in one county of one state in the union. How can you give eight low scoring schools millions of dollars that every other urban public school didn't get but badly needs, and then turn around and say, " Why can't the rest of you do as we did? And speaking of what they did and getting back to that "no mystery" thing, seven of those eight lowest performing schools are still, five years later, the lowest performing schools. Go figure.

Has anyone found that soundproof room, yet? How about that mallet?

I am a student at a high school in Minnesota and I was just wondering if anybody can answer a question. If a more advanced student gets all A's for the hard classes they are taking and a less advanced gets all A's for the not as challenging classes they are taking, why would they be close to the same in class rank? That just doesn't seem fair to me that even though one student isn't putting in as much effort as the other they are still getting really high in the class percentile

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Jeff Kleinert: I am a student at a high school in Minnesota read more
  • Response From: Michael Xavier/Urbanpublic school teacher: Ok, I confess. I no longer have any idea what read more
  • Margo/Mom: For Mr. Xavier--I am aware of several studies that looked read more
  • Kim, Teacher: Special education studies, which by definition focus on atypically developing read more
  • Michael Xavier/Urban public school teacher: Oh, my God! Somebody find me a soundproof room and read more




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