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Were Midland ISD's Reported Data Legit or Grade Inflation?

Were Midland ISD's Reported Data Legit or Grade Inflation?

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As the school year winds down, high-stakes testing isn’t the only controversial classroom issue to shelve until the 2014-15 school year.  Grade inflation looms in the background.  It’s a huge problem from public to private school and colleges and universities. It has been enough of a concern that during last year’s 83rd Legislative session, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 132, co-authored by Jane Nelson (R-Grapevine) and Dan Patrick (R-Houston), the latter who has been Chair of the Texas state Senate education committee. Patrick is now the GOP nominee for Lieutenant Governor in the 2014 state elections in November.

The purpose of SB 132 is to better “define and combat grade inflation,” by clarifying how cumulative grades are calculated.  It would forbid “the misrepresentation of the grades deserved by a student, according to Watch Dog Wire who also reported that the bill sits in committee with the State House of Representative, awaiting the next legislative session in 2015 to move forward.

Hard to believe but the 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA) which was once the gold standard of academic excellence is now a relic.  Just last week, a Florida student’s high school GPA was reported as 10.03, opening the door for hyper-grade inflation jokes.

They certainly are crunching numbers differently in the 21st Century and in 2012, the Houston Chronicle followed a grade inflation scandal in Houston ISD where “students who earned the lowest possible score on the Advance Placement exams” also got “A” grades in the course.

Watch Dog Wire cautioned against “grade inflation” because it “harms students.”  The article also said, “While some may argue that it ‘spares’ students’ ‘feelings,’ it actually handicaps their successes later in life” because an inflated grade is a false reality of “ability and achievement.”

The article added that the practice of grade inflation also gives a student the false sense of “ability and achievement,” which can actually result in “heart-crushing failing grades at more challenging universities and colleges.”

Unfortunately, grade inflation has been a practice that sometimes is subliminally encouraged as it can lead to pay bonuses, according to the Watch Dog Wire, who also admonished any teachers, administrators and unions from supporting the practice.  They went so far to call grade inflation fraud.

Thus, when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released findings this Spring from the US Department of Education (DOE) in which they reported that Texas high school graduation rates ranked second in the nation to the state of Iowa, Breitbart Texas took a look at the statistics that ranked Texas tied with Nebraska, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

In fact, the First Look report was the DOE study that calculated these results. It was compiled by the Institute of Educational Sciences at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and Common Core of Data (CCD).  It introduced new nationwide high school graduation and dropout rates over school years 2010-11 and 2011-12.

The report breakdown showed that Texas posted a graduation rate of 88 percent for the class of 2012 in its four-state tie, which was well above the national average of 80 percent. The highest rate was Iowa’s graduation figure of 89 percent.

It also showed that the national high school graduation rate hit 79 percent for the class of 2011 and the Texas class of 2012 had the highest graduation rate in the country among African-American students and tied for the highest graduation rates for white and economically disadvantaged students.

Even Commissioner of Education Michael Williams noted that Texas’ overall graduation rate for both classes  exceeded the national averages. In the TEA release he commented, “Texas educators continue to be among the leaders in assuring students reach the finish line and are prepared for life after high school.”

He also said, “While these numbers reflect the hard work accomplished on campuses all across our state, I have no doubt teachers and counselors would agree there is more we can do to help every student earn their high school diploma.

This was the statistical breakdown of the report, according to the TEA:














































Class
of 2012



TEXAS



RANK



UNITED
STATES



All
Students



88%



2nd
(tie)



80%



White



93%



1st
(tie)



86%



Hispanic



84%



2nd



73%



African-American



84%



1st



69%



Economically
Disadvantaged



85%



1st
(tie)



72%



Students
with Disabilities



77%



3rd
(tie)



61%




Interestingly, Midland ISD ranked very highly in Texas 2012 graduation rates, coming in at 82.8 percent, according to the TEA data compiled to meet federal guidelines.  Midland ISD graduation rates have shot up by almost ten percent while drop-out rates decreased by six-plus percentage points since 2007. In total, Midland ISD reported 2014 district drop-out rates under ten percent. 

Given that graduation rates are on the rise across the U.S., and so are those allegations and incidences of grade inflation, Breitbart Texas contacted Elise Kail, Executive Director of Accountability and Information Management Services at Midland ISD for further clarification. Kail explained that what was happening in Midland ISD was not grade inflation.

She said that the reported graduation statistics were the two-fold results of a lot of hard work in the district devoted to the retention of students and corrections to coding errors in the PEIMS state reporting system.

Kail explained, “We found that when there is high poverty and if we are not developing relationships with the kids, we risk higher drop-out rates.” Then, she added, that the remedy was an active, district-wide campaign to bring students back to the classroom.  She told Breitbart Texas, “We knocked on doors to get kids back into school.”

Kail also cited a 2012 issued district report, attributing successes in a few key factors . She said, “Several initiatives which have contributed to the improvement include the annual RecoveryWalk, the expansion of the credit-recovery program, flexible scheduling, the placement of collegiate coaches at Midland and Lee high schools and the freshman schools, and staff training regarding student grief via the ‘Whole Child: A New Direction in Education,’ a grant provided in partnership with Communities in Schools, the Midland ISD Education Foundation, Rays of Hope Children’s Grief Centre, and the United Way of Midland.”

Breitbart Texas has reported on the problems with the Whole Child Initiative being packaged by such professional development groups as ASCD into the Common Core. 

Still, Kail told Breitbart Texas that they worked very hard to keep students engaged so they would continue onto high school graduation. Kail was very proud of the strides Midland ISD has made since 2007 in “re-engaging students to get them to commit through senior year.”

She also credited a lot of the district’s success to the drop-out prevention at-risk program, headed up by Dropout Prevention/Recovery & At-Risk Student Populations coordinator Deborah Acosta and her grassroots campaign that they likened to Houston ISD, another district that knocked on doors, despite that district’s past issues with grade inflation.

Breitbart Texas also spoke to Acosta, who added that although Midland ISD was pleased with their improvements, the district “strives toward excellence and ultimately toward achieving a zero percent dropout rate” as she had previously stated in the district’s 2012 report.

According to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, Midland ISD also added a special programs counselor in the 2013-14 school year to help guided “identified English Language Learners (ELL) students as well as Special Needs students towards completing the necessary requirements for graduation.”

In addition to their hands-on efforts with students, Acosta also told Breitbart Texas that another aspect of her role was to analyze the data and figure out where the student issues were in the first place. She said, “The problem wasn’t just retention.”

It was the data itself.

Some of the reported rate changes were really the result of human data input errors into the PEIMS system and not any grade inflation, she added.  In fact, Kail believed that the district’s biggest technological obstacle may have been system coding errors. That meant, the data was incorrectly input, or coded erroneously, which was not uncommon, according to Kail. She pointed out that the system was confusing.  Making input errors on coding was not uncommon, previously. 

PEIMS stands for Public Education Information Management System.  It is the statewide reporting system. The Texas Computer Cooperative described the PEIMS’ function as enabling school districts to provide information on district organization, finances, staff, and students to the TEA, which determines the specific data the districts must provide and the format that must be used when reporting the data. Data is collected by the TEA four times each year, and different requirements apply to each submissions.

Kail and Acosta provided Breitbart Texas with the graduation and drop-out rates from school years 2007 to 2012. Acosta also pointed out that longitudinal figures for this period were based on old state accountability guidelines previously in place under No Child Left Behind.






























Rate



Class of 2007



Class of 2008



Class of 2009



Class of 2010



Class of 2011



Class of 2012



Longitudinal Dropout



16.1%



13%



11.9%



11.6%



10.66%



9.9%



Graduation



74.1%



74.1%



75.8%



79.5%



83.3%



83.9%




While there is always a concern over grade inflation, Kail emphasized that since those errors were found and amended, “the data that has gone to the state from Midland ISD has been clean and correct.”  She reiterated, “If there is grade inflation, I am not aware of it.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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