Letters to the Editor

School district should report scores differently

To document progress, the Beaufort County school board's strategic plan focuses on instances wherein the district's achievement tests' passing rates exceed the state rates. However, the board authorizes reports that treat numerically higher passing rates as if they are statistically higher passing rates. Lacking statistical evidence (e.g., the margin of error), the district's reports of one passing rate being "higher" than (i.e., exceeding) another are indefensible. Using numerical evidence alone to imply greater progress is misleading. Numerically larger rates do not equal statistically higher rates. The reason for this is that, when numerical differences fall within the margin of error, they are attributable to chance, but statistically higher differences fall outside the margin of error and thus are not attributable to chance. My analysis of 2009 PASS tests results, for example, finds that of the seven of 30 instances where the district passing rates numerically exceed the state rates, none are statistically higher than the state rates. Analyzing the 2010 PASS results, I found 12 of 30 instances wherein the district's passing rates numerically exceed the state averages, but only one, the 7th grade science rate, is statistically higher. This evidence suggests that progress is neither as wide nor as deep as the district reported. The school board's fiduciary responsibility is to require its administration to use the most rigorous scientific methods to execute reports that accurately portray progress. The hard effort to develop the community's intellectual potential, our economy's most abundant and precious resource, demands nothing less. Anthony G. Baxter St. Helena Island