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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Letter to the editor: What does the CREDO study show us?

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In response to: Brandon Brown’s article, “2022 CREDO study showcases the progress of Indy charter, innovation schools” (June 17, 2022)

I appreciate Brandon Brown’s efforts to demonstrate how Indianapolis may be on its way to ensuring that “all Indianapolis students receive an excellent education.” I sincerely believe that we all have this goal. At the same time, we should be very thoughtful regarding how we determine and compare student success as we strive to reach this ambitious goal.

Brown’s article focused on a recent Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study on academic performance across Indianapolis schools. This CREDO study “… once again found learning gains for students attending innovation network and charter schools compared to their peers in traditional schools,” according to Brown, the CEO of The Mind Trust. I’m glad Brown shared the link to the original report because it’s always helpful to read the original study when data are cited. After reading the study, I had more questions than answers. My list of questions is not aimed at criticizing charter schools. My aim is to take a critical examination of these study data and the methodology.

First, why were the “average days of (student) learning” used to compare schools? Are the “additional days of learning,” as mentioned in the report, correlated with student achievement? How are the differences in days of learning from year to year related to student growth or academic achievement? I found the terms and assumed correlations confusing.

Second, was the CREDO study peer reviewed? When a published research study is cited, it is a best practice to have the study peer reviewed. A peer review reassures the reader that the methodology and conclusions were scientifically sound.

Third, how were the many variables (e.g. suspension rates, inexperienced teachers and high student mobility rates) that impact learning factored into the comparison of different school structures? For example, if the suspension rate at a charter school is twice that of a traditional public school, does this disparity advantage the charter school over the public school regarding “days of learning” or, more importantly, student achievement? Relevant variables that have the potential to positively or negatively influence data should be controlled for in robust research studies.

Lastly, I love Brown’s optimism for Indianapolis’ potential ability to be the best in the country for educational outcomes. My last question is, what is the best way to compare schools or school structures (innovation, charter, traditional public, private) as we strive to be the best? According to Chalkbeat (Here’s why Indianapolis isn’t one of the U.S. cities that will get comparison national test data, by Scott Elliott and Laura Faith Kebede, March 09, 2016), most large city school districts in the U.S. are measured and compared using The National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is a rigorous decades-old exam used to evaluate and compare national academic progress by sample-testing fourth and eighth grade students across the country every other year. Currently, 27 cities participate in the NAEP. Indianapolis is not one of those cities. The controversial UniGov byproduct of 11 different school districts disqualifies Indianapolis from this robust system for comparing schools. So back to my last question, what is the best way to compare our schools to each other and to schools across the country? I’m not sure the CREDO report which cites non-peer reviewed data over a two-year period would pass the litmus test.

Like The Mind Trust CEO, I am hopeful for the future of our schools, and I want all students to have a successful school experience. If that is truly our ultimate goal, is the exercise of comparing Indianapolis schools to each other really meaningful? Thank you, Brandon Brown, for your thoughtful article, and yes! I join you “in continuing to push for that welcome day when all Indianapolis students receive an excellent education.”

Joy E. Mason

Founder, Six Sigma Racial Equity Institute, Inc

President, Optimist Business Solutions, Inc.

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