My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Closing the Achievement Gap: Strategies That Work

It will be a slow news week in Amherst (with schools on vacation), so I thought I'd post two interesting articles on strategies for closing the achievement gap.

The first, from Newsweek, focuses on the effectiveness of reducing the achievement gap as a function of income of having low income students attend schools with higher income students, instead of clustering low income students at a single school (  This is precisely the research that led to the decision 2 years ago to redistrict our elementary schools, and I hope we see similar gains in terms of achievement in low income kids.

The second, from The New York Times, describes the work of Harvard professor Dr. Ronald Ferguson, who has been a leading expert in examining ways of decreasing the achievement gap as a function of race (  I had the opportunity to have dinner (at an event sponsored by Amherst College) a couple years ago with Dr. Ferguson, and I was extremely impressed by his rational, research-based perspective on how to address this very challenging (and seemingly pervasive) problem.

UPDATE:  Here is an example of a recent paper presented at a conference on reducing the achievement gap which examines data on the effectiveness of particular strategies for reducing the gap (I've pasted the abstract below - and have bolded the points I found most profound).  The gist is that this research showed smaller class sizes K to 3 (below 18) were very effective in leading to long-term improvements in achievement, and these effects were particularly beneficially for African-American students (I've pasted the paper's abstract below).  So, we could use the results of this research to make decisions about how to allocate resources in our district, and presumably that would help reduce our own achievement gap.  Last year, kindergarten classes at FR and CF were 20 and 21, and 2nd grade classes were 23 at WW.  In contrast, 6th grade classes in all three schools were 16 to 18.  The research reported here suggests that for the same money, we could have increased class sizes in 6th grade at all three schools and reduced class sizes in kindergarten (FR and CF) and 2nd grade (WW) and led to higher level of achievement for all students, and especially for African-American students.  This is research that Steve Rivkin (and others) has conducted, and in fact, Steve was asked by the Brookline SC to present his research on the benefits of small class sizes in particular grades earlier this spring.  Brookline seems to be a district that is interested in making research-based decisions;  Amherst is a district that has not shown this same interest (Steve's points during SC meetings on the benefits of particular educational approaches are typically ignored, although he is considered an expert on economics and education). 

"Would Smaller Classes Help Close the Black-White Achievement Gap?"Alan Krueger and Diane Whitmore, Princeton University

This paper examines the effect of reducing class-size on student achievement, with particular attention to differential effects by race. A review of the literature suggests that low-income and black students tend to benefit more from attending a smaller class than white students. We extend the literature by providing new results from a long-term follow-up of students who participated in Tennessee's Project STAR. Project STAR was an experiment that randomly assigned 11,600 elementary school students and their teachers to a small class (target of 13-17 students), regular-size class (22-25 students) or regular-size class with a teacher-aide. The experiment began with the wave of students who entered kindergarten in 1985, and lasted for four years. After third grade, all students returned to regular-size classes. We analyze the effect of past attendance in a small class on standardized test scores through the eighth grade, on whether students took the ACT or SAT college entrance exam, on performance on the ACT or SAT exam, on criminal conviction rates, and on teen birth rates. The results indicate that, while students are in small classes, average test scores increase by 7-10 percentile points for black students and by 3-4 percentile points for white students. After all students are returned to regular-size classes in 4th grade, the gains from having attended a small class fall to about 5 points for black students and 1.5 points for white students, and persist at around that level. If all students were in a small class in grades K-3, we estimate that the black-white test-score gap would fall by 38 percent in grades K-3, and by 15 percent thereafter. Combining estimates of the effect of small classes on 3rd grade test scores from the STAR experiment with national trends in the pupil-teacher ratio for black and white students since 1971, we find that historical movements in the pupil-teacher ratio can account for almost all of the narrowing of the black-white test score gap as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam. We also find that having attended a small class compared to regular-size class raises the likelihood that black students take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam from 31.8 to 41.3 percent, and raises the likelihood that white students take one of the exams from 44.7 to 46.4 percent. As a consequence, if all students were assigned to a small class, the black-white gap in taking a college entrance exam would fall by an estimated 60 percent. In addition, we find that past attendance in a small class raises the average score on the ACT or SAT exam by 0.15-0.20 standard deviation for black students, and by 0.04 standard deviation for white students.

Lastly, we find evidence that criminal conviction rates are 20 percent lower for black males who were assigned to a small class than for black males assigned to a regular-size class, and maximum sentence rates were 25 percent lower, although both of these effects are not statistically significant. The teen birth rate was one third less for white females who were assigned to a small class compared to those assigned to a regular-size class, and the fatherhood rate was 40 percent lower for black teenage males assigned to a small class than for those assigned to a regular-size class. The effect of class size on teenage births for other groups was not statistically significant.


Anonymous said...


After MCAS testing this year the state will examine results from each of our present 3 elementary schools vs. results the previous year, and make some judgments regarding which schools made adequate improvement or not.
Do you know if the state takes into consideration the
redistricting we did and the dramatic shifts in population,especially in Crocker Farm and Wildwood, before labeling schools as improving or
moving backwards (or whatever language they use0?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

That's a great question, and I don't know the answer to it - I will try to find out.

Anonymous said...

Quickest way to close the achievement gap?

Depress the achievement of those at the top.

Works every time. It's going to work in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

They've been doing it. That's why people leave.

Tom Porter said...

Raises a good question. I presume everyone who visits here agrees on the following:

That we want achievement to improve for all, and that if improvement among those "trailing" is more rapid, thus closing the gap, then overall we have a strong equitable system and no one is being shortchanged.

So to know if this outcome is occurring, in the Regional area we need regular (annual) metrics on achievement, analyzed by social, economic, and racial lines, yes?

Catherine, you've shared this in the past, but where is that data maintained? What is the quick way to find out which sub-groups are rising, falling, and by how much at latest assessment? When will the next assessment be made?

Anonymous said...

As to the question on the 3 elementary schools, also ask if they norm them to the district as a whole, and if the district is considered just Amherst, or Amherst & Pelham combined.

The latter is a very significant issue because Pelham is so far outside the norm in terms of race, income, family education and school size that it will badly skew the Amherst statistics if it is included.

The other question I have, as much as I don't like it as a poverty figure, is if they include the free/reduced lunch statistics in their evaluation of MCAS scores in a school -- what will going from one high and three low to three equal levels do to the schools' evaluation?

I could see how the one that used to have a high poverty level and now has a lower one could be defined as "failing" even if it maintained the exact same performance level if SES is included in the calculation.

And, politically, I really can't ask any of these questions of the folk I know - not on the record - so you gotta do it....

ken said...

These recent posts reflect the question I raised with Catherine a few days ago as the gorilla in the room. Do people see a contradiction between helping students at the bottom and challenging kids at the top? Apparently some do, and that's why it's the gorilla in the room because some parents at the high end leave the system because they think their kids needs aren't being met, while the fact of our achievement gap is undeniable. Reconciling this is the gorilla in the room.

Tom and others, the Department of Ed (DESE) website has all MCAS scores broken down by subgroups, going back to 2007 (when data first became available disaggregated). You can go to the "school/district profile" link, and pull up any district, even individual schools, and from there, the "assessment" link will take you to MCAS, etc. The data that Catherine and I often duel over is taken from there.

Finally, as to the question of whether DESE will take our redistricting into consideration when evaluating our MCAS scores. The short answer? No, they probably won't. I posted on this blog several months ago that the district should get ready for WW's scores to go down and get cited for not making AYP, and for Crocker's to go up. And as always, and as I keep reiterating over and over, it's not just the data, but how well it's interpreted, that needs to be the driving force in decisions.

Anonymous said...

From Anon 5:38 to Ken:

Thank you! You answered the question about how the MCAS results for the coming year might cause misleading and counterproductive impressions about individual schools. Now, we have to hope that the Gazette and Bulletin can objectively explain it to the community, without inflaming various groups, and that our SC and school administration can help that happen. I also hope you are preparing a letter to the editor in that regard, just in case.

Tom Porter said...

Really excellent - thank you!

Have been rummaging around in the data and there is much to digest. For others interested, a starting point is:

Also, find Progress Reports (not yet available at School and District level for 2010 but find details of 2009, and links to summary 2010), here:

To your good point Ken re: worries about how the elementary schools will fare in AYP measurement due to massive re-districting of the population, I did find this notation in the Amherst Elementary report:

In addition, only students enrolled in Massachusetts since October 2008 are included in state-level results; only students enrolled in the same district since October 2008 are included in district-level results; only students enrolled in the same school since October 2008 are included in school-level results.

Maybe those students who relocated will be excluded from the analysis in a "same-store sales" tracking fashion?

ken said...

Tom, thanks, As far as all the numbers go, there is SO much to digest and so many interlocking pieces of data, and so many ways to read trends, that I always plead with people NOT to pounce on one piece of it, NOT to compare demographically dissimilar districts (especially not on disaggregated numbers), etc.

I did not know there was that in-the-same-school-since-2008 clause! So maybe this concern will not come to pass! Maybe a phone call from the superintendent to the DESE powers-that-be is needed also?

I'll have to look at it to see if this is regarding just the SGP interpretation (Student Growth Percentile), which tracks MCAS score changes student-by-student, year-by-year. That's why 3rd graders don't get one, as you need at least 2 years of data. If it's more general, I have to scratch my head because first year ESL students have to take math, SS and science MCAS tests and I believe those scores count--yet a student who scores Advanced moves from Crocker to FR, say, the year before, and so their scores will NOT count for AYP?!

All this is to say, when bureaucrats get their fingers deep into the education pie, it we all get to live with Alice in Wonderland.

Anonymous said...

Ken, thank you for being more clear about what you meant by the gorilla in the room. This is something that parents have been bringing up for years, especially at Crocker Farm. Since you, like many, opted to take your kids out of Crocker to Fort River you probably missed how long that has been going on. I think Catherine was the first person to work hard to close that gap and press for kids at both ends to be served.
My kids were mostly in the middle. I'd love to know how they'd be doing if they had been challenged more, or if we could have afforded outside tutoring.

Anonymous said...

Why is it so hard to talk about concrete ways to close the achievement gap? We have real kids in our town who can do better! Thanks Catherine for posting this and please continue to post more.

Anonymous said...

Superintendent Geryk is implementing very concrete programs to address student learning across the board, which will at the same time narrow the achievement gap. But because Ms. Sanderson did not want Ms. Geryk to be our permanent Superintendent she never speaks about these programs on her blog or even acknowledge that they exist. That is why it is critically important that folks in this town look at more than this blog to find out what is going on in the schools. A good place to start would be where there is alot of material on these new programs.

ken said...

Anon 9:42, with all due respect, I object to both the tone and content of your email. I "took my child(ren)" out of Crocker because I worked at FR, and since my wife taught in Holyoke and had to leave very early, open enrollment was a way we could comfortably deal with busses, etc, not because I wanted to get my kid out of Dodge. And guess what, when my first son first went to FR, it had, overall, a MUCH more complex and challenging population of students to teach--by your implication of my motives, he would have been much better off staying at Crocker. And to say that Catherine is the "first person" to try to close the gap and deal with kids at both ends is copmpletely wrong, and if it weren't such a serious issue, laughable.

This kind of inaccurate, misinformed, blanket, and accusatory post sums up why conversation about the schools is so hard in Amherst these days.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:42 - thanks for your kind words about my efforts - I do believe redistricting was really essential in terms of creating a more equitable experience for all kids, especially those at CF, and I'm really glad that I was on the Amherst SC to work with my colleagues for a unanimous vote to see this happen. It is one of the parts of my SC service that I feel will have the most lasting positive impact on education in Amherst.

Anonymous 11:18 - Superintendent Geryk has instituted a number of programs. It isn't clear yet which of these will or will not reduce the achievement gap, and I haven't seen any data from the superintendent that provides research support showing that these programs will be effective (if you have some, please post links on my blog so we can all read and learn more about these evidence-based measures) or that there will be a plan to evaluate their effectiveness. We implement lots of things in Amherst - including very expensive programs and policies - because we think they will be good. But thinking that they will working and PROVING that they work are very different. I believe superintendent Geryk has instituted many programs - you can see a lengthy list of adds in our budget next year (meaning fewer resources for other things) that represent her additions. But again, I don't think we should be experimenting on our kids - I think we should be using evidence-based decision-making so that we are bringing programs and policies and curricula that have been shown to be effective in OTHER districts, and that we should be evaluating what we are doing. That is my concern about many things we do in our schools.

Anonymous said...


Ok, once and for all I am done with this blog. To accuse the Superintendent of experimenting with our students is just beyond the pale. There is alot of evidence that these new programs are effective. I have read alot of it. One of the new programs Ms. Geryk has instituted is universal screenings and then continual re-assessment to see if these programs are working. There is built into these programs the ability to evaluate their effectiveness in progress. It is one of the new things she has in her budget. Also one of the things that you and Steve don't want her to have.

I am not even going to bother to send you links to show you these programs work. Yu'll just dismiss them, as you dismiss everything that does not comport with your worldview.

My closing, and last comment ever on this blog, is to once again urge your readers to not rely soley on this blog to learn about what is going on in our schools. I would also add that if people want to learn about what is happening in our schools they might want to hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Go to the Superintendent's coffees. Here about what she is doing. Ask her questions. Put her to the test. Ask her to give you specifics about the programs and where they have worked. Ask her about her "experiments." Then decide for yourselves.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:57 - lots of things are done in the Amherst schools as experiments ... that is just factually true. You may think that is good (e.g., we are different, so we must be better); I don't. We have trimesters; most other districts don't. We've had "extensions" in 7th grade math; no other districts do. We require ecology and environmental science in 9th grade; no other districts do. Again, these things all pre-dated Ms. Geryk, so I'm not linking them with her - I'm just noting that we have a long tradition of doing different things. None of these things have been evaluated in a real and objective way.

I haven't read anything on the effectiveness of any of the programs Ms. Geryk has implemented. And I will repeat my request that you provide links to research showing these programs work.

Here is a simple example - Dr. Chen recommended content-based math knowledge for elementary and MS math teachers, based on his extensive observations of many math classrooms. I haven't seen any budget funds devoted to providing this type of professional development -- correct me if you believe this is the type of professional development we are adding. I have seen professional development funds being used for other funds, but not these.

Steve noted at the last meeting that many afterschool intervention programs don't actually work - he has read research using rigorous design and the effectiveness are poor. So, this is another example of a program that people BELIEVE will work (just like we believed trimesters would work or extensions would work or 9th grade ecology would work), but apparently if you actually examine the effectiveness, it doesn't.

One more thing - I agree that blog readers should ask Ms. Geryk questions. But I would ask that they not just listen to answers, but ask for actual objective data that supports the answer. It is very easy to claim things are working; it is much harder to demonstrate that things are working. I have yet to see any evaluation of anything we do in our schools - nor have I seen an interest in doing such evaluation (just re-watch the ACTV tape from the meeting in which Steve asked for an evaluation of the difference between IMP and traditional math and how this request for such an evaluation of a very important option we make students choose was received).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:57 (and others) - I have just updated this post to provide an example of research-based strategies for reducing the achievement gap. This is the type of decision-making that currently doesn't exist in the Amherst schools, and I believe would be very beneficial for us to try.

Abbie said...

to anon@11:57:
I have a huge number of questions about the new RTI program, none of which are addressed by any materials that I could find on the ARPS website. The information provided is pretty vague and no specifics are offered. I hope to find out more at the next coffee with the CF principal- not sure it will leave much time for Ms. Appy... oh well.
some of my questions:
1) How can an assessment offered biannually be considered 'real time'?
2) How is this assessment better than the in-classroom assessments that are offered after each unit? These much better approximate real-time.
3) How are these ‘universal’ assessments matched with the material taught (through Investigations?)? Did some staff craft the assessment to match what we teach?
4) These assessments could also be used to highlight weaknesses in curriculum/instruction, something that I have not heard discussed.
5) Most important- What exactly will be done with the data? I believe teachers already know where students are, they already know which students need more help, and which can be accelerated. So how will this new assessment change how these kids receive instruction? This is the most important question and I haven’t heard anything about it.
6) Will families be provided with their child’s assessment results? If not, why?
7) How is having a computerized data base better than teachers’ grade books?
8) My daughter spent 2 very grueling hours taking this exam on Friday. I would like the assurance that it actually means something other than just practice for MCAS.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie - great points. Thanks for sharing them, and I too would like more information on RTI (and the other programs) - and have found the info on the ARPS website quite vague. If you get answers at the CF coffee (or in other places), will you please post them?

anon 9:42 said...

Ken, I was not trying to be negative. I am well aware of why your kids went to FR, I implied nothing. I was only saying you missed out on alot at CF and the struggles we had trying to get the administration to help and that the gorilla has exhisted for a long time, without action.
Please don't automaticly assign me a "tone" and get defensive. Give people the benifit of the doubt.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:42/1:59 - I think your post also points to the reality that people who have kids in the schools experience the consequences of decisions about the schools more acutely ... I believe CF was ignored for a long time, and I think that is really unfortunate. In contrast, when we had 3 members of the SC with kids at Marks Meadow, these members worked to buy portable classrooms for this school because they recognized the problems associated with over-crowded classrooms. This isn't bad or good on the part of parents or SC members, current or past. But it is acknowledging that parents with kids at a particular school have a more acute sense of problems at that school, and presumably more urgency in trying to get them resolved. That is one reason why I believe SC members should have their kids in our schools - it seems really odd to me to have SC members whose kids currently attend schools other than our public schools making decisions that impact other people's kids, but not their own.

Anonymous said...

I think there is also a big difference between a SC member with grown kids or no kids, and a SC member that chooses to send their kids elsewhere. To me it is a vote of no confidence.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 2:34 - I agree. Yet for as long as I've been on the SC, there have been members with school-aged kids who have chosen to not send their kids to the public schools.

Anonymous said...

Just as curious are the ARPS administrators and teachers, within the system, whose children attend elsewhere.

I suppose they are free to choose just like the rest of us.

ken said...

Anon, if the accusatory tone was not intended, This particular phrase got to me: "Since you, like many, opted to take your kids out of Crocker to Fort River..." The "like many" implied some type of escape from a perceived difficult situation at the school. Having been in the system for many years and in my close connection with other district ELL teachers including those at CF, I know many things that have been done at the school. And having been a colleague of Mike Morris from his teacher days at FR I know how dedicated and firm-minded Mike is about making things work. Certainly at FR, we also tried hard to challenge kids at "the top" even while working hard to support kids who struggled, and, I think, were often quite successful.

Again, Anon, I do apologize!

Anonymous said...

Ken, Im sorry that phrase got to you. I wasn't implying anything, only stating the fact that many left CF, it went on for years actually. Im sure they didn't all leave for the same reason, nor would I begin to assume why for the ones I didn't know personally.
I agree that Mr. Morris has been fantastic and is good at communicating with families. I should have been clearer that the inaction was before his time and parents were unhappy on both ends of the spectrum.
I don't write posts with hidden meaning although I guess others do. I also try to read posts at face value and with a good tone in mind. If they didn't mean it that way so be it.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, must you continue to make statements that can easily be interpreted at slaps at others?

For example, the whole bit about 3 SC members at Marks Meadow feeling the urgency. It says, without saying it, that they had selfish motives. I know you are going to say that wasn't your meaning but, by now, you should be well aware of how your comments are construed.

What if someone was to point out that the students and families that took, by far, the least hit from the recent closure of MM and redistricting came from a school that had the greatest proportional representation on the SC?

I'm sure you could up with all sorts of numbers and maps, etc. to justify the decisions made, but couldn't some see selfish motives involved?

You've got only a few weeks left. Do yourself a favor and refrain from comments that raise questions about the motivations of others.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 5:51 - I certainly heard from families who left CF because of the concerns you describe, and I think that contributed to the increasing share of low income kids at that school (as other families choiced into the other schools). That is one reason we eliminated open enrollment as part of the redistricting. I know Mike Morris (a former student of mine) and Derek Shea (my son's soccer coach) well, and I hear they are both doing great work at CF.

Anonymous 6:04 - since I started doing this blog nearly 3 years ago, I've been totally honest and candid in my remarks ... and that is how I'm going to be for the last 5 weeks as well. I believe it is clear that the three MM representatives on the SC were hearing lots from families at their school about the crowded conditions, and that certainly impacted the decision to buy the portables. That isn't selfish - I have no idea whether any of their kids were or weren't in crowded classes and hence would benefit ... it is just reality that SC members would be more likely to be approached by members of their own community - I certainly hear more from FR parents than WW or CF parents, again because many people feel more comfortable approaching those they know.

In terms of the redistricting - two of the 5 members had kids at FR, 1 was from the MM district, and 2 were from the CF district (one with grandchildren at the school, another who'd served on the School Council for years). Could the lines be interpreted as being drawn to favor FR (fewest disruptions?) and CF (most improvement)? Of course. However, the MM district was clearly the closest to WW, so it is clear that WW was going to have much change ... and it is clear that one of the goals of redistricting was to increase equity on kids on free/reduced lunch - and since CF was the poorest (by far) school and WW was the richest (by far) school, it is pretty natural that these schools would be the most impacted.

Anonymous said...

I'm a proud CF parent- my kids excelled at CF in part because of the wonderful teachers ( some who have since retired). All three of my children were honor roll all though their Amherst school years, and are still excelling in college honors programs. Many of their CF classmates are also doing quite well in college as well as beyond-my oldest child's CF classmate was recently hired by the State Dept.
My husband and I were VERY satisfied with the education our children received at CF.

Anonymous said...

"I think we should be using evidence-based decision-making so that we are bringing programs and policies and curricula that have been shown to be effective in OTHER districts, and that we should be evaluating what we are doing." - C. Sanderson.
Admirable. Yet - if there is anything that is universally true about public education, it's that there is little agreement about the effectiveness of MOST educational policies or curricula. You can read studies that prove large schools are better for minorities and you can read studies that small schools are better for minorities. You can find data that rote learning is more effective, you can find data that experiential learning is more effective. And so on.
Making 'evidence-based decision-making' your pole star seems the wrong track, because those findings are usually so little agreed-upon, even by those in education policy. It's not like there's a set of Golden Rules out there.
Things aren't perfect here, and we must be thoughtful about what we do. Some home-grown Amherst ideas work well. If we couple those with the willingness to consider outside ideas and the notion that there's room for improvement, I think we'll do better with that approach than with your focus, with all respect.
I do think our teachers, by and large, want that too.

Anonymous said...

There you go again:

"WW was the richest (by far)"

Is it possible your definition of "richest"
is ambiguous and doesn't match the perception of others? And, how about "by far"? Isn't "far" a word open to much interpretation?

Go ahead, spend your last few weeks arguing that your point of view and the language you attach to it is the right way to see things.

I look forward to the lengthy justification for your use of these very vague and opinionated words. So, throw the numbers our way.

Here we go again!

P.S. - Somewhere in a recent thread there was mention of the dangers of speaking in absolutes.
"Richest" and "by far" seem to qualify.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:31 - well, there is certainly disagreement about some things in education ... but there is quite a lot of research on some things (e.g., the benefits of small class sizes in K to 3). If you consider high quality research (e.g., random assignment, peer-reviewed, published studies), there are certainly some consistent findings, and I believe those are important to pay attention to in considering what we do in Amherst.

I also find the idea of "some home-grown Amherst ideas work well" pretty concerning ... what "home-grown" ideas do we have that we have evidence showing work well? Often we consider things as "working well" if teachers who use them and have created them like them. That isn't necessarily working well on any type of objective measure.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:45 - my apologies - by far is very, very subjective. I should have said Wildwood had 22% kids on free/reduced lunch and Crocker Farm had over 50%. Both FR and MM were in the 30%. I think having one school have 10% fewer lower income kids than the other 3 and another have 10% more low income kids than the other 3 is "by far" but obviously you don't think this is really an important difference. But that is why I voted for the redistricting, because I did think it was an important difference - and now all three schools have a virtually identical % of low income kids (37/38%), which I think is a good thing. And at the risk of offending you, that result occurred because CF became less poor, WW became more poor, and FR basically didn't change at all (FR was already just about at the mean for the district prior to redistricting).

Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:31 and 9:45:

I can't believe the defensiveness (9:31) the pettiness & the snarkiness (9:45) of your inane comments. I fear that you trolls are school employees masquerading as concerned citizens.

This was an excellent thread until the heckling started to seep in. There is still much important content in the post and the links provided by Catherine, and by some of those who have commented. Are you really intent to hijack the conversation over "by far"?

Why so damned defensive, Anon.?

Anonymous said...

Wait a sec! (I'm 9:31 here.) I really just don't think the evidence-based search is the be-all and end-all, when there's very little agreement anywhere on findings. I thought that was useful to point out and I think I wrote that respectfully. Jeesh.
I'm not a teacher or town or school employee (aka troll :)) I am a voter, resident, parent, etc.
Good golly.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:31/10:31 - much of the research on education stuff isn't very good ... so of course we can't draw conclusions on that. But there are strong research studies on some topics, and I believe we should be taking advantage of this knowledge (I've just done a whole posting on 6 recent studies with clear relevance for Amherst). I also think doing what other districts do, if things are working well in those districts, is not a bad idea. For example, I remain puzzled about why ARHS decided to eliminate 9th grade biology precisely at the same time when many other schools (public and private) in MA were moving to a physics first model (ensuring kids got exposure to each of the three core scientific disciplines), why ARHS remains on a trimester system when virtually all other schools are on a semester system,and why ARHS has the lowest math and science graduation rates in the state.

curious observer said...

And the other side of the coin is having made different choices, what are their consequences? Who is looking at the actual impact of the trimester system, low science and math requirements in the high school, etc.? No one it seems.

Also, while we can think certain teachers and principals are doing an excellent job, is it true? How is this assessed? And why isn't it assessed by looking at students' performance? If the job of a teacher or administrator is to educate children, the performance of these students (however measured) should be the core criteria to evaluate that teacher or administrator.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:20 - unfortunately there haven't been any evaluations done in Amherst of the trimester, low math/science requirements, or 9th grade ecology. I've asked repeatedly for such evaluations, but a majority of the Regional SC hasn't been interested in such evaluations, nor has the administration.

The issue of evaluation of teachers/principals is actually in their contracts - and I don't believe student performance outcomes are allowed to be considered in the current contracts. Of course, that could change - there is certainly movement towards that as a requirement at both the federal and state level.

ken said...

I have mentioned this several times in the past, but for people looking at "what really works versus what just is claimed to work," the What Works Clearinghouse is the best place to look at any education studies. As far as I know, all published research studies about particular programs, techniques, etc, are flitered through their very vigorous validation process. Most ALL published research does not meet their certification criteria. Mostly they say, not enough evidence, and of what they do state specific things about, most of it is that the research does not really prove what it says it proves. Few things pass muster in a positive way--but one can be pretty sure that what does is good stuff. As it is a US Dept of Ed project, it does not have the political and/or philosophical and/or certainly economic agendas that the research itself would have, or a think tank, or a particular program/publisher would have.

Perdonally, I now believe no major claims research-wise that have not passed muster with the WWC, unless I myself have had experience with it as a teacher, and I encourage everyone who is interested in education to check out the site.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Ken - I whole-heartedly agree - and I've just done my most recent blog post on that site!

income question said...

Hi Catherine- when you refer to WW as "richest" (last year) are you referring to any other income data besides percentage of children who receive free/reduced lunch? If not, it seems to make more sense to specify percentage of FRL instead of using labels that aren't totally accurate.

Ed said...

Ken -- a rising tide lifts all boats. If you improve the overall quality of education the worst you will have happen is to make the status of the struggling students even more glaring, thus justifying the financial resources to help them.

And along a similar line, if DESE has a three-year lookback for tenure in the school/district/state and with the high mobility of students who are doing poorly (in part because of their high mobility and the related reasons for it) then our MCAS scores are actually far worse than they appear to be.....