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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Washington State superintendent "spins" the data on education

When people “gloss over” bad news and “spin the data,” are they being deceitful? Is there a point at which “data spinning” turns into a “lie”?

In July, The Spokesman-Review noted the “tendency” of Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson to “gloss over bad news" and "spin" the data. This comment was tucked inside its endorsement of her re-election bid.

As a voter, you’re probably wondering about the details of that “glossing over and spinning.” Well, I’m up for the conversation. I’ll show you what Bergeson says versus what the data say, and you can decide for yourself. It’s democracy in action.

In February 2007, Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) said the state earned “high marks” from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (CoC) for “very strong” academics, as indicated on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Data: You’re expecting excellent skills, low dropout rates and low rates of remediation? Sorry, but no. The specific CoC data referred to Washington’s 8th graders having scored 8 percentage points above the national average for achieving “proficiency” or better in mathematics (in 2005, the national average was 29%), and 27% of 8th-grade black students having achieved “proficiency” or better in reading (in 2007, the national average was just 12%).

In February 2007, OSPI said Washington scored among the top four states for boosting the number of students scoring a 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams. Bergeson said Washington was “among the national leaders in creating a public education system that strives for excellence and equity.”
Data: By OSPI’s own accounting, the percentage of students in AP classes who scored a “3” or higher on the exams actually dropped from 2001 to 2006. What puts Washington in the top four was its increase from 2000 to 2006 in the percentage of students in the entire Class of 2006 who took an AP test and who scored a 3 or higher. In 2006, however, the Class of 2006 ranked behind at least 15 other states.

In March 2007, Bergeson said NAEP results showed black 8th-graders “going from 19th place to second.”
Data: The gains shown on the 2005 NAEP were lost in 2007. Additionally, when OSPI said 36% of black 4th graders and 26% of black 8th graders were “proficient” in math, NAEP said only 17% of black 4th graders and 16% of black 8th graders were proficient. (Similar gaps between OSPI and NAEP were found for all 4th and 8th graders in reading, for 4th- and 8th-grade Hispanic students in math, and for low-income 4th graders in reading.)

In March 2007, Bergeson said NAEP scores put Washington at “fourth in the nation.” Additionally, math achievement had supposedly “tripled,” reading had “doubled,” and Washington had the highest average SAT scores in America for four years straight. “No matter where you look, people across the country are saying ‘What is Washington doing?’” Bergeson said. “We have a revolution happening in our schools, but you don't hear the positive stuff. The yammerers out there complaining about what's not happening rule the day.”
Data: I’ve looked through NAEP scores from 2003, 2005 and 2007. I have no idea of how or when Washington was 4th in the nation. What does it mean to say that math achievement tripled when 40-60% of students can’t pass the WASL and up to half of all of the state's high-school graduates need remediation in math? Washington’s SAT scores aren’t the highest in the nation; they’re the highest among those states “in which more than half of the eligible students” took the test. And I am not a “yammerer.”

In her 2007 address, Bergeson said: “Our math and science standards and our curriculum and teaching approaches have brought us to new levels of excellence.”
Facts: Pass rates for the math and science WASL are consistently dismal. In 2007, an outside review found the math standards to be inadequate; they were rewritten at a cost of more than $1.65 million. The science standards are being reviewed. Legislators voted to not make the 10th-grade math WASL a graduation requirement; it will eventually be kicked out in favor of end-of-course tests.

In April 2008, Bergeson was “very excited” about 8th-grade writing scores on the 2007 NAEP: “Washington’s young writers are outpacing the nation. These students are not only prepared to meet the rigor of a high school curriculum, they are prepared to communicate well no matter what career they pursue.”
Data: Washington’s 8th-graders scored an average of 158, in the middle of the NAEP scale of 0-300. As a group, they scored at a “basic level of ability,” which is considered to be a “partial mastery of the skills needed for proficient work.”

In June 2008, Bergeson “celebrated” 91.4% of students in the Class of 2008 achieving the “new, more rigorous” graduation requirement: “I truly believe when we stop fighting about this and say we’re doing it, we’re capable of doing it.”
Data: The “new, more rigorous” requirement was solely in reading and writing and included WASL alternatives. The figure is cumulative, gathering data over several attempts. It doesn’t include students who dropped out or who fell way behind in credits.

In August 2008, OSPI said that for the fifth straight year, Washington students scored “far above” the national average on the ACT. Bergeson said, “It shows our students are more college ready than their peers around the nation.”
Data: Washington’s composite ACT score of 23.1 constitutes just 64.17% of the total possible score of 36. In terms of academic achievement, that’s a D grade.

There’s more to tell you, but this gives you the general idea. What say you? Are you feeling deceived?

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (September, 2008). "Washington State superintendent 'spins' the data on education." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

1 comment:

Apothem said...

Hear some of this in Bergeson's own voice.

Bergeson's Failures