Another Look at Math Data

Statements in Jay Mathews's article "Parents Put School Systems to the Test" [Anne Arundel Extra, Sept. 16] made by Kitty Porterfield, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County public schools, leave an unsubstantiated claim.

Ms. Porterfield claimed that if Fairfax's data were arranged the same way as Anne Arundel County's, Fairfax's students also would show "an impressive gain."

I have addressed her claim with two new charts that I have compiled with available data. The first, a school-based chart, shows Anne Arundel rocketing from the 21st percentile to the 93rd percentile in one short year. The second, a student-based chart, shows Arundel jumping from the 42nd percentile to the 62nd percentile in one year. In both cases they are compared with data from Fairfax, which moved from the 46th percentile in 1999 to the 54th in 2002 -- after four years and an extra $60 million in taxpayer money.

If Fairfax's data are school based, the appropriate chart for comparison would be the one titled "Percent of Schools Above National Norm." If Ms. Porterfield meant that the data were school based and then weighted so that the analysis was at the student level, then the appropriate comparison would be the chart titled "Percent of Students Above National Norm."

One of these two charts now compares the schools on the same basis. These new charts and those referred to in the original story can be viewed at Fairfax does not look remotely "impressive" to anyone who can read a simple bar chart. Ms. Porterfield's comments are misleading at best.

April Hattori of McGraw-Hill talked of the Dallas schools, where, the article said, the "percentage of students passing the state math test rose in all elementary schools after Everyday Math was introduced, with the biggest gain in the fourth grade, from 65 percent passing in 2000 to 75 percent passing in 2001."

Note that the statistic is for the children who merely passed the test. These are minimum competency scores. The 2001 passing criterion for the fourth-grade Texas students was only at the 9th percentile.

What happened in Anne Arundel County's 14 lowest-performing schools is far more meaningful than the impressive statistics. If these kids stay on this track with a proven curriculum like Saxon, they will not only close the achievement gap in mathematics, they will have options thought impossible for the majority of children with their socioeconomic status. These kids will be able to achieve success in algebra and advanced math beyond what is necessary for careers in medicine, mathematics, engineering and economics. That would have been a remote possibility, at best, before Saxon was introduced.

Karen Budd


[Budd's challenge of a decision by Fairfax to use the Everyday Mathematics program in some county schools was the subject of Jay Mathews's article.]