One Small CSAP Reading Step, One "Giant Leap" of Logic in Education Journalism

This week the state’s latest 3rd grade reading test scores came out. As the Denver Post‘s Jeremy Meyer points out, the results were disappointing:

Year after year, the number of proficient third-grade readers in Colorado stays mostly the same — hovering around the 70 percent mark — mirroring a trend occurring nationally.

On Tuesday, the state released unofficial and preliminary results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program third-grade reading test, showing 70 percent of the students proficient or advanced in reading, 3 points lower than in 2009.

Of course, the big picture sometimes clouds bright spots:

Among the DPS highlights is Beach Court Elementary School in north Denver. Although 96.3 percent of the students are considered economically disadvantaged, 85 percent of third-graders scored proficient or advanced on the English-version of the test, and 92 percent scored proficient or advanced on the Spanish version of the test.

“It’s a lot of dedication and patience and strategic planning on how to get the kids where they need to be,” said Principal Frank Roti, explaining how the school succeeds every year against the odds. “When you have a top-notch staff, results happen.”

Also in DPS, Smith Elementary and Pioneer Charter School both logged 24 percentage-point jumps in proficiency — the highest among all metro schools.

But at least in one case, you have to read the news a bit more carefully than the opening paragraph. Credit goes to my Independence Institute friend Amy Oliver Cooke for bringing this story from yesterday’s Greeley Tribune to my attention:

After slipping a bit last year, Greeley-Evans third-graders took a giant leap forward this year in closing the gap between their scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program reading test and the statewide average score.

The problem with that analysis? Taken from the state’s CSAP data, ere is a quick breakdown of the recent percentages of the district’s 3rd grade students reading with proficiency:

  • 2008 – 65 percent
  • 2009 – 63 percent
  • 2010 – 65 percent

So dropping two points is “slipping a bit” while gaining the two points back is “a giant leap.” Do you think the Tribune could do a better job of informing its readers about CSAP results without editorializing an exaggeration in the lede? There are plenty of other similar instances of journalistic distortion out there, and maybe even some related to the latest batch of CSAP scores. But I think the best way to sum this one up is by saying: That’s one small slip for a newspaper, one giant leap of logic for journalism.