Every time I read statistics put forward by Superintendent Nancy McGinley of the Charleston County Schools I remember the title of a mathematical classic, How to Lie with Statistics. as true today as it was when first published in 1954. Its author states, "The secret language of statistics, so appealing to a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify."
One reason that such tactics are so successful is that the majority of Americans, and that includes reporters, by the way, are incapable of interpreting them.
Take the latest statistics to emerge from CCSD's mandated literacy interventions (a result of actual investigative reporting from the P&C). At least McGinley does state that the "overall" report is encouraging; the reporter apparently couldn't figure out where the weakness in the program endures.
You tell me: does the following statement make any sense? "49.6 scored in the lowest percentile in the fall." See what I mean? Perhaps quintile? I don't really know.
Putting aside the shambles the reporter made with the statistics, several aspects stand out.
- Focusing on literacy in the early grades does indeed pay off. That does raise the question of why it wasn't a focus previously, but whatever.
- Except for the Third Grade Academies, the large majority of students receiving special attention were not on the pre-fourth-grade level of reading (two-thirds of first grade; one-half of third grade; and three-fourths of sixth grade)
- Notice anything? Well, I did. The most successful programs had a larger percentage of students in the lowest category of reading! Someone could take a hint from this phenomenon!
Buried at the end of the article is the reality that the Sixth Grade Academy is failing to succeed in its mission--and it is the oldest of the bunch. To improve from 24.5 percent in the fall to 22.2 percent in the spring means that seven of the 298 students reached the fourth-grade level or better. While any advance is an improvement, this is something like an elephant laboring mightily and bringing forth a mouse!
Dare we ask what happened at the Sixth Grade Academy to the scores of the students who were already reading above the fourth-grade level? Why do I surmise that some of them regressed?
It should be obvious: to focus on the poorest readers means putting only the poorest readers together. Duh.