What Delaware’s Mid-year Race to the Top Evaluation Tells Us

March 16th, 2012

Category: News

This week, the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) released a mid-year “progress report” on Race to the Top reforms. The report includes statewide DCAS data, as well as highlights from the mid-year performance evaluations of the students in twelve districts (districts participated or not based on the size of their grant and/or their past performance).

The data can be interpreted in different ways. Some will point to gains and tout how Race to the Top reforms are “working.” Others will say the growth isn’t enough. But before making judgments, it’s important to recognize that the winter DCAS exam is not meant to be a summative evaluation, but a formative one.

We should be wary of drawing any conclusions from winter proficiency statistics. As DDOE notes, the figures refer to end of grade proficiency, not proficiency of the course material taught up until the winter exam administration.  These numbers represent the percent of students who at the time of the winter DCAS administration have already met the end-of-year proficiency standards. It’s like giving a final in the middle of the semester…you wouldn’t expect most of the class to pass.

That’s not to say the winter DCAS is not important. On the contrary, I can say from experience that for educators and school leaders, the winter DCAS is just as, if not more important, than the fall DCAS (and certainly more important than the spring DCAS) for improving student performance. It shows individual student growth and provides a wealth of data on individual, class-wide, and school-wide strengths and weaknesses that can be used to make mid-year corrections in curriculum and instruction.

As for judging Race to the Top? First, this test was taken in the first half of the first full year of implementation of the 4-year grant. I think it’s a little premature to judge.

Second, Race to the Top is not meant to be a magic bullet. Providing a high quality education to all kids is something our nation has never done successfully. Rather, the reforms are intended to shift the conversation to spur and support innovation.  This is exemplified perfectly in DDOE’s report—see what works and scale it; find what doesn’t and fix it.

So perhaps the most telling thing about our mid-year evaluations is that we did them. Educators have mid-year data to further improve what’s happening in the classroom, and DDOE is providing feedback and support. Delaware is monitoring and evaluating progress, learning from mistakes, course-correcting as needed, and pushing itself towards the top.

And that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.

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Brian Yin




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