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CREDO’s New Orleans “Learning Gains” a Sleight of Information

May 22, 2019

According to Emily Langhorne of Forbes, education reformers should “rejoice” because in May 2019, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released this summary and accompanying presentation of New Orleans charter school “learning gains.”

According to CREDO, New Orleans charter school “learning gains” are impressive when compared with those of the state:

In reading, New Orleans students experienced stronger learning gains in 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17 compared to the state average learning gains. In math, New Orleans students posted greater learning gains in 2014-15, similar progress in 2015-16, and stronger growth in 2016-17 compared to the state average.

Now, what CREDO has not released are actual average scores on the tests, nor do they offer any caution that greater “learning gains” are not synonymous with higher average test scores.

It is possible to have a fantastic “learning gain” and still fail a test.

It is also possible to do quite well on a pretest, with better pretest outcomes increasingly restricting how much of a “learning gain” a student can have on a post-test.

For example: A student scores a 42 out of 100 on a pretest and 60 on a post-test. That’s a “learning gain” of 18 points. Still an F (below 67), but an impressive “learning gain.”

Meanwhile, a second student scores an 89 out of 100 on the same pretest and a 95 out of 100 on the post-test, for a “learning gain” of six points. Note that the second student is well above passing on both pre- and post-test and actually improved from a B to an A (93 is the threshold). Note further that the highest “learning gain” this second student could achieve on a 100-point test is 11 (89 + 11 = 100), which means the second student could not possibly top the first student’s “learning gain.” However, in the likes of a CREDO report focused on “learning gains” and absent any specifics on actual scores, the first student becomes the one with (can you visualize the ad?) *three times stronger growth* (i.e., 18 points in “learning gains” for the first student compared to only 6 points in “learning gains” for the second).

And never mind poor Student Three, who scored a 99 on both pre- and post-test, thereby showing a zero “learning gain,” and who by CREDO’s limited-information advertising would be quite the loser to *at least it’s a higher F* Student One.

So, before I celebrate the awesomeness of “learning gains” in New Orleans charter schools compared to state average “learning gains,” I’d like to see “learning gains” contextualized using actual score averages.

sleight of hand 2


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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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From → Charters, RSD

  1. Maybe they should rebrand as CREDULOUS …

  2. Laura permalink

    I know it might be garbage in, garbage out but maybe you could also offer fresh insights..looking at the first few slides, it looked to me like gains actually went down from 2014 to 2017…but maybe I’m confused.

  3. Laura permalink

    I was also confused by comparison of TPS (public school) students to Charter students in New Orleans since there aren’t really any public schools students. So CREDO just uses other Louisiana schools as a substitute! Here’s a critique of that in a CREDO study in 2015…and they must be still doing it in 2019…

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