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JEFF MEADORS: Fuzzy math creates distorted picture of school progress

Paying close attention to official facts, accuracy of data and truth in reporting are important. Releasing fabricated school scorecard data paints a picture of school performance and improvement that isn’t always easy to erase.

In the mid-week edition of The Covington News last Wednesday, April 23, a front page story on new school data begging the question “So How Did We Do?” led to what one system leader termed a “swell of emotion” for local educators as they reacted to a section created above the fold of that paper that reflected unofficial data on local schools.

The newspaper created these incorrect scores by averaging 2012 and 2013 stand-alone averages into new numbers. The new scores published by The Covington News were inaccurate, and commentary based on these numbers legitimately angered educators. They were found nowhere in official data reports.

Commenting on the phony scores Newton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey explained, “Our teachers, staff, students and community deserve to know accurate data that truly reflect the work of the students and system. We are keeping pace with the state … I am confident that we are doing the right work for our students … in spite of changing the rules of the game in the middle of play.”

My Citizen column published the same day contained accurate scores generated from official source data at the Department of Education. I can be counted on to report official, publicly-released, accurate scores. So while some official scores reported by me were unpopular, they were official. Laboratory math and manufactured data will never appear here. Count on it.

Even transparent, official recalculations applied to 2012 scores for apples-to-apples comparisons by the Department of Education lack parallel.

Math curriculum and EOCTs changed in Newton from 2012 to 2013 as they did across much of the state. Using Math I EOCT data to compare, even by way of recalculation, to Coordinate Algebra is still not apples-to-apples. Achievement weights changed also from 2012 to 2013.

So while evidentiary data exists that some schools performed better than others, as I shared through official data reporting last week, the publication of fake averages built on spurious math is a disservice to hard-working teachers.

Fuzzy math stymies comparative analysis and results in bogus conclusions, confusing the public and frustrating teachers — as it did last week.

By digging deeply into official 2013 data an authentic picture of NCSS is not a smattering of unofficial letter grades, rather a system proving growth in 12 elementary schools, five middle schools, and one high school.

In time, with the current central office leadership in place, numbers and facts indicating growth should continue to improve. But facts are stubborn things, as John Adams, Mark Twain and others argued, and we simply aren’t entitled to make them up as we go along.

Columnist Jeff Meadors may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com