Gather round my fellow citizens to hear the amazing tale of your faithful servant in his quest reminiscent of the great Greek King, Odysseus. As you recall, the story begins with my many consultations with students, parents, and community members across this great nation. We sought to answer the question: What do our children want from their schools? The children eloquently communicated that the they wanted their teachers to listen to them, to respect them, and to give them some voice in their learning. They also wanted their teachers to be experts in their content knowledge and teaching skills in order to prepare them for their future college and career aspirations.
Many of you reported to me that you were baffled by the way in which school districts reported student performance on state tests that are designed to measure the degree to which our children are on track to be college and career ready. The data presented to you within the LCAPs—which stands for Local Control and Accountability Plans—were minimal, cherry picked, and aligned with a state accountability gambit of spreading the scale score points around.
You also reported that the LCAPs themselves enveloped you in the fog of education with eclectic and bureaucratic solutions to address poorly defined student needs.
Thus, upon hearing your pleas for relief, I girded my loins and travelled to Mount Sacramento to do battle with the 32-headed Hydra of Santa Clara County school districts’ data. The battle that ensued was ferocious and engaged all of my computational and physical skills to overcome this voracious beast. I even had to consult the oracle of Python in order to develop a computer code that would visualize the data for each school district in ways that were truly open, transparent and interpretable.
The magnificent beauty and radiance of these data displays can be found at a website called The SIP Big Picture.
Some of you have reported to me that you have visited the site and have been enthralled by the elegance of these one-page displays and how they have helped you truly understand and interpret not only the overall performance of your school district by grade and by year but also the performance of a plethora of subgroups over time. I am overjoyed with your responses. Yet some have reported to me that after viewing the displays for a short time, they have become afflicted by the pernicious MERO effect (My Eyes Role Over). You beseech me: What are we to do? Fear not as I have consulted the Muse Madonna who exhorts us all to have Fun!
In the spirit of fun, I have resurrected the idea of the Academic Olympics in conjunction with the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea this month. I reorganized the data so that you can now view Academic Olympic events on my website. The first event that has been recently posted is the 11th grade overall math performance on the state math tests. Each event will have a compulsory component: the overall percentage of students who meet or exceed state math standards in 2017. The second component is the free style event that will be the three-year improvement in performance on the state math test.
Congratulations to the Fremont Union High School District who achieved a 77 percent meets-or-exceeds percentage for the 2017 state math test and won a gold medal for overall math performance. Congratulations also to the Gilroy Unified School District who won a gold medal for demonstrating an 8 percentage-point three-year improvement on the state math test from 24 percent of 11th grade students meeting or exceeding standards in 2015 to 32 percent in 2017.
Please go to the website where you can see if your school district received a medal for this event. You can also view the rankings of all of the school districts in the South Bay in case your jurisdiction did not win a medal. Have some fun! I will continue to add events daily in conjunction with the real Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang so return to the site often!
As you might imagine, the state, the county, and the school districts are averse to the idea of a competition. The sources of power would prefer that you continue to remain within the fog of education feeding upon the minuscule morsels of selected data that they provide to you. We must break out of these artificial bureaucratic chains of restraint and demand a full accounting of student performance. In fact, we should also demand a full accounting of the professional practices of teachers, principals, and district administrators from a system view and not just a special case view.
Being of advanced age, I could use some support in my ongoing quest to visualize data to meet your voracious needs. Please use the comments section on the website to let me know if I should pursue the many headed charter school hydra for Santa Clara County or if I should pursue student performance in English language arts. I am also available to support you in representing the student results through the Academic Olympics or the actual data visualizations to your parent groups or even to your school board.
Also, please let me know if you could spare a few drachmas to help me continue my quest as I occasionally need the sustenance of a gyro from Nick the Greek’s in San Jose to pursue the quest.
In conclusion, let us not become lost in the darkness of poorly conceived accountability, but let us instead light our Olympic torches and together ignite the Olympic flame of openness and transparency to the success of all of our students in achieving their college and career dreams.
Dr. Bill Conrad is an educator who has provided several decades of teaching, administrative, and consulting support to school districts and schools within Santa Clara County and throughout the nation. He specializes in strategic planning and implementation, accountability, assessment, and science education. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.