School rankings -> data manipulation

Some call it accountability.

But public ranking of schools based on specific data points will always result in some lying, cheating and manipulation, especially if there’s a monetary incentive.

The latest scandal is that of the now former dean of admissions the University of Illinois law school, Paul Pless, who attempted to scam the U. S. News and World Report annual law school rankings by including a group of early-admissions students without using their LSAT (law school entrance exam) scores in the report.

As the Chicago Tribune reports,

By admitting high-achieving students in their junior years, without a law school entrance exam, the students’ high GPAs would be included in the class profile but no test scores could potentially drag down the class.”That way, I can trap about 20 of the little bastards with high GPA’s that count and no LSAT score to count against my median. It is quite ingenious,” Pless boasted in a 2008 e-mail exchange…

The college’s strategic plans and annual reports focused on that ranking. Pless’ salary increases were tied to it.

We have just gone through the annual school report card media orgy. Who’s on first? What’s the worst? Yet these media rankings are based on state standardized tests, the ISATs, which have long been exposed as “dumbed-down.” The state designed these tests to yield falsely inflated results to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act’s ridiculous adequate yearly progress targets.

Recently, Illinois identified 33 schools where there was significant test cheating.

So, why is it that so many civic and political leaders are so determined to make public school student data central to teacher and principal job evaluation?


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.