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The Brockton Miracle? Not.

I have been hearing a lot about the “Brockton” miracle. This is a supposed shining school on a hill for reformers. The NCTE recently published a paper about it with some bizarre connection to Common Core- even though the “core” did  not exist at the time of the supposed miracle.  I was expecting to read that the Catholic Church was sending someone to look into this “Miracle in Massachusetts.” Even some folks at Harvard looked at the school and could not laud it enough.

There is one little problem though. Not much, if any, of the miracle narrative is true.

How could Harvard and the NCTE miss this? Well friends, they missed it with eyes wide open. Let us now look at what really happened in Brockton. There was no miracle.

The story goes that once upon a time, long ago, Brockton High was a dismal place with only 25% of the students graduating. After the MCAS test scores came out in 1999 a group of teachers demanded a change and instituted a “Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum” program (RAWAC). A Harvard study concluded that this played a large role in the improvement of test scores and student retention. This claim was repeated by the NCTE in a 2011 paper. This all supposedly happened by 2001- just two years later and despite the fact that different cohorts were tested. Then, by 2009 and 2010 the school was getting all  kinds of awards. Milagro! Miracle! Wunder!

None of this is true.

The percentage of proficient students at Brockton High almost always lagged state averages from 1998 to 2010. The results were only higher once (2002) and usually much lower. The rise in proficiency rates mirrored the rise in rates around the state. There was some fluctuation but Brockton was at 22% proficient in 1998 and the state was at 38%. By 2010 Brockton was at 71% and the state at 78%. Interestingly in the “glory years” from 2008 to 2010 Brockton went from 74% down to 71% while the state moved from 74% to 78%. Yes these are different cohorts.  *All of my data is from the ELA results and includes those scoring proficient or higher.

What about the supposed jumps from 1999 to 2001? Well in 1999 Brockton was at 24% proficient and the state was at 34%. In 2001 Brockton shot up to 43% but the entire state mirrored the jump and went to 50%.  This was not the same cohort. Did The Brockton RAWAC program make the miracle? There appears to be no connection here. There is a general trend up from 1998 to 2010 around the state.

What about attrition? I found something very interesting about Brockton High.  The number of students in each graduation cohort for the last 15 years shrunk (massively) from 9th grade to 12th grade. The number of students who start out in 9th grade, for almost all cohorts in the last 15 years, also shrunk by the time they tested! Why are so many students “leaving” Brockton before testing in 10th grade and then before graduating?

What is stunning is that the decline in students testing started just after the teachers at Brockton supposedly demanded a RAWAC program. The decline has continued in a dramatic way- even today.

In 1999 1,242 students took the MCAS. This was an increase from the 9th grade class of 969. This is the same cohort. There were similar increases from 1996 to 1998. They tested everyone and the cohorts got bigger- not smaller. Now are you ready for this?

In each year from 2000 to 2009 the cohort numbers go down from 9th grade to the testing year in 10th grade and by 12th grade the loss of students continues. Information on the 2010 cohort will be available this June. Here are the numbers…

2000- 9th grade students 1,076   # tested in 10th grade 968     # senior class 846

2001- 9th grade students 1,1416   #tested in 10th grade 926      # senior class 810

2002- 9th grade students 1,487    #tested in 10th grade 1,120    #senior class 889

2003- 9th grade students 1,460    #tested in 10th grade 1,139    #senior class 963

2004- 9th grade students 1,357     #tested in 10th grade 1,1019  #senior class 810

2005- 9th grade students 1,389     #tested in 10th grade 1,082   #senior class 959

2006- 9th grade students 1,395     #tested in 10th grade 1,114     #senior class 903

2007- 9th grade students 1,317      #tested in 10th grade 1,034    #senior class 876

2008- 9th grade students 1,278     #tested in 10th grade 980      #senior class 859

2009- 9th grade students 1,279     #tested in 10th grade 1,010    #senior class 913

Anyone see a pattern here? What happens (each year) to several hundred students from 9th grade to testing time? Who are these students not being tested?  I have answers.

I wanted to know what kind of students “leave Brockton.” Here are the top groups of students leaving Brockton- which might explain why their scores mirror the state so often. Let’s look at the three years 2009-2011 when Brockton was getting all kinds of awards and recognition.

In each year- the five highest dropout groups were… (in no order)

ELL Students- 2009 (20%)  2010 (23%) 2011 (17%)

Students with Disabilities- 2009 (27%) 2010 (23%) 2011 (24%)

Poor Students- 2009 (15%) 2010 (14%) 2011 (12%)

Black Students- 2009 (13%) 2010 (13%) 2011 (11%)

Latino Students- 2009 (19%) 2010 (27%) 2011 (18%)

Do you see a problem here that affects test results?

*The DOE website did not have information on dropout groups going back too far

I welcome discussion on this post. It raises many questions. I do not see anything special about the results at Brockton when compared to the rest of the state. The report from NCTE was troubling as they, like Harvard, appear to connect the RAWAC program to improved test results and the  NCTE makes a further quaint connection to Common Core. This justification for Common core fails. I see other explanations for the “Incident at Brockton.”

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