Steven Adamowski, Governor Malloy and Perfecting the Art of Inflating Test Scores

The “moment” of Education Reform is upon us.

The biggest “Education Reform” groups in the nation are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of advertising and lobbying into Connecticut in support of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.  Maybe you’ve seen their ads or received a phone call from one of their paid phone banks asking you to contact your legislators.

Even Michelle Rhee, the controversial anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-parent spokesperson for those who want to turn America’s schools over to corporations, showed up in Hartford last week. The claim is that business minded people, using standard business practices, will do better job for our children than educators will because they know how to “run things.” Rhee’s performance at a rally supporting Malloy’s legislation was to inform us that “the whole nation is watching what Connecticut does.”

Hartford was their backdrop, not only because it’s the home of the State Capitol, but it is also where Hartford’s former superintendent of schools, Steven Adamowski, instituted some of the “reforms” that Malloy and Rhee claim successfully elevated Hartford’s standardized test scores.

ConnCAN, the “Education Reform” lobby group likes to claim that Hartford has had the “greatest gains on state assessments of any Connecticut City.”

So let’s take a real look at what happened to test scores in Hartford and how Steven Adamowski’s fame was achieved.

First let’s start with an analogy.  Imagine opening up a new deck of 52 cards.

  1. Count the face cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings)
  2. Face cards = 12.  Divide the # of face cards by the # of cards.
  3. 12/52 = 23 percent… So face cards make up 23 percent of the deck of cards
  4. Now, with Aces low, take out the cards with the two lowest numbers (Aces and Twos)
  5. How many cards are left  52-8 = 44
  6. Now what is the percent of face cards in your deck?
  7. Divide # face cards by the # of cards
  8. 12/44 cards = 27 percent… take out 8 cards and face cards now make up 27 percent of the deck.

Lesson:  As you take non-face cards out of a deck of cards, the percentage of face cards left in the remaining deck goes up.

Now let’s head to Hartford and see what Steven Adamowski and the education reformers have done there with the Connecticut Masterly Test (CMT).

Adamowski was named Hartford’s Superintendent in November 2006, so the baseline for assessing his success is the 2006-2007 school year. We’ll use the 8th grade CMT Mathematics test to see what happened.

School Year % of students taking standard CMT % Moved to the Modified Assessment Test % at or above proficient % at or above goal
2006-2007 91.7   0 47.8 22.7
2010-2011 84.6 9.8 60.1          +12.3 31.8          +9.1

Adamowski’s and his supporters claim that during his years in Hartford, the percent of students testing at or above the proficient level went up 12.3 (Column 4: 60.1 – 47.8 percent) and that there was a 9.1 percent increase in number who scored at or above goal (Column 5: 31.8-22.7 percent).

But hold on just a minute.

The year after Adamowski became superintendent, the State Department of Education began to roll out its new Modified Assessment Test – an alternative test for those whose skills were so deficient that they couldn’t succeed with the CMT.

As Adamowski left Hartford in 2011, 9.8 percent of Hartford’s lowest performing students had been removed from the CMTs and were now taking the Modified Assessment Test.

(Actually just over 13 percent were now exempt either because they were taking the Modified Assessment Test, their lack of proficiency in English is so great that they didn’t take the test, they were part of another very small program called “Check List” or they handed in a CMT test that had “no valid score.”)

While Adamowski and ConnCAN applaud the “growth” in Hartford’s test scores they fail to explain that 10 percent of the entire student body was moved out of the CMT’s and to a remedial test during the period Adamowski was superintendent.

In two different studies (a state-wide study conducted by the CT Voices for Children and another in West Hartford), researchers proved that by simply eliminating 10 percent of its lowest performing students, a city or town will see a statistically very significant increase in its average test score.

It may look like the number of Hartford students who reached the proficient level “increased” by 12.3 percent and those at goal by 9.1 percent —- but the overwhelming majority of that growth – perhaps as much as 70 percent or more – was as a result of dropping 10 percent of the lowest performing students.

What they fail to explain is that the vast majority of the “growth” was nothing more than a shell game.

And with the state and school administrators so obsessively focused on “teaching to the tests” what growth there was occurred because teachers were able to push a subset of students over the target scores.

Recently, Governor Dan Malloy responded to a question at his Windham Education Town Hall Meeting.  He told a Windham parent that while he wasn’t up on the details of what Adamowski was doing as Special Master in Windham, he had complete confidence in Adamowski because he had done “a great job” getting test scores up in Hartford.

That in turn raises one of the most interesting questions of all.

Does Connecticut’s governor understand the shell game that was being played in Hartford and simply won’t explain what actually happened, or does the champion of “Education Reform” really not understand that when you take low numbered cards out of a deck, the percentage of face cards in the deck goes up?

  • JM

    More people need to read these articles.  Hopefully this one makes it on Rick Green’s, or News Junkie.  I’d love to see a special report on the news about this topic.  Brian Williams???

    • jonpelto

      thanks so much! of course if it makes to Rick Green it will begin and end with some demeaning attack on my politics or mental health – but I do try to send these things around to reporters and also offer the back-up data.

      • JM

        At least he gave you mention today is his article about Adamowski – his line in the bill about getting his a pension.  Not looking like that’s going to happen for him.  Funny ending though – Rick Green called the state and no one knew who put the line in the bill anyways.

        • jonpelto

          Wow – where was I – green did that?

          Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

        • Msavage51

          I went to the Courant trying to find Green’s article about Adamowski’s pension–it didn’t come up. Then I found it on his blog. His anonymous sources say the provision will never see the light of day. We’ll see.

        • jonpelto

          Yeah, I finally read it too. Nice of him to mention it without calling me unstable. But we’ll see it alright…. they may have to pull it from the Education Reform Bill but they will tack it on to another bill – and not to play “mind games” but just wait till you hear about the other piece of this “deal” tomorrow… Is it the sense of entitlement, is it the feeling that rich and powerful people just don’t need to play by the rules like the rest of us — or do they really think we are so incredibly stupid we won’t realize what they are up to. This one becomes uglier and dirtier with each piece of information that is bubbling to the surface.

        • Msavage51

          My guess is that they feel if they deny knowledge of who authorized the inclusion of the provision in the first place, and promise that they will not include it, we will just forget about it. I just wonder why Green decided to mention it at all. Was he encouraged to do it by Roy O., so that he could then reassure his readers that the provision is a dead issue? Don’t know. What I DO know is that the reassurance of the Malloy admin. (or Rick Green) that this issue is dead is no reassurance at all. There’s probably too much heat on it now to include it with the “education reform” bill–it’ll probably get tacked on somewhere far less visible. Feelings of entitlement, and that the rest of the world is just too stupid to compete with their own superior intellect–I think they both factor into it.

  • brutus2011

    You explained how statistics can be misleading perfectly.
    Question is: will our readers take the time to understand?
    I think not, and this is what the governor is counting on.
    Another case for critical thinking skills vs. standardized testing.

  • jonpelto

    Alas you touch upon the most important point. Take the easy concept of a “10% gain in a standardized test” or the argument that the earth is indeed flat and articulate that in an era when many believe that intellectual thought is – by its very nature – suspicious and unappealing – and pretty soon you believe in trickle down economic, that it is good not to ask the super rich to pay their fair share because they are “job creators” or that it is immoral to fund planned parenthood because they use 96% of their funds for abortions when in fact the number is closer to 3%. If our Nero’s can stay on note we should be able to get the whole burning thing done within a pretty short period of time.

  • Buygoldandprosper

    Three Card Monty,Hartford style.
    Dan knows exactly what is going on and does not care as long as he stays in the limelight.
    His agenda includes smashing organized labor wherever it rears its ugly head.
    I found it ironic that The New York Post,yesterday,had an job ad for Ct.State Troopers. 
    Everything about this administration is hinky and is all about Dan and his next campaign,no matter the harm left in his wake.
    And how about that budget deficit? 
    Another excellent article Jon!

    • jonpelto

      Wait there is a budget deficit? I thought there was a surplus…. I read it someplace 🙂 Oh year now I remember – from OPM…. Adding the deficit story to my to do list – darn why is this list getting longer and longer.

    • guest

      Another disturbing element in the Hartford “turnaround” is how little it had to do with relieving racial and economic isolation.  Why bother with that? 

  • guest

    Actually, in Windham Governor Malloy said that what Adamowski did in Hartford was “spectacular”–this is after Malloy had more candidly stated that Hartford was still far behind where it should be.  “Spectacular” is etymologically related to “spectacle”, which, as we know can be a “striking, impressive, or ridiculous sight.”  Maybe the Governor had the “ridiculous” in mind?  Hartford’s performance, at the moment Adamowski was resigning, was 24 points or more below the state average (and this after the manipulation of test takers that Jonathan Pelto outlines).
    It is importnant to note that Achievement First Hartford Academy, the school run by the charter management firm on whose Board of Directors Stefan Pryor sat previous to becoming Education Commissioner, has not been included in much of the state aggegated data for Hartford. 
    I’d say the most alarming gap in this state is the Credibility Gap, and Malloy is tottering on its precipice… 

    • jonpelto

      definitely a contender for best comment of the day…. credibility gap!

  • Ron

    Unions should start endorsing candidates that are from parties other than reupublican and democrat (the other republican).

  • Pelto–keep it coming—-so right again-
    The cheating in New York,DC,Florida,Texas and on and on is embarrassing and Governor Malloy wants to copy them——-sickening–Tom

  • 2rosegirls

    I am also wondering if, when analyzing data-honestly, if the children’s scores will be compared to themselves from the previous year.  See if Little Johnny has improved his own math and reading skills….?

  • Doolinpup

    Excellent, excellent article.  Hope it makes the Courant and the tv news.  People need to know this…

  • guest

    I knew there had been some manipulation of test scores while Adamowski was in Hartford, but I wasn’t sure of the exact mechanism behind it. Thanks for explaining that, Jon.

  • Vpotus

    I just got a call from the “Students First” poll. They asked if I supported Governor Malloy’s plan. I said “No.” The person on the other end said “Thank you.” and hung up. I’m guessing that my answer WILL NOT be included in their survey. 

  • jonpelto

    They call it a survey but it isn’t – if you had said you supported it they would have offered to contact you to your legislator right there. It is a very costly paid phone calling message – only michelle rhee and her studentsfirst would have the money to do that.
    Sent from my BlackBerry please excuss typos

  • flutetoot

    Has anyone had a chance to read the new editorial by Malloy?  It was in today’s Journal-Inquirer, in response to his education reform. 

  • Mookalaboona

    Thanks for keeping us informed.  Malloy is a bully and a liar.  Thanks

  • Follow the Money

    Excellent post. Here’s another little known fact about CMT that most do not realize. In non-Adamowski controlled districts, the number of students taking the modified assessment must be closely monitored. Too many, and bad things happen to the district. There are also no exemptions in non-Adamowski controlled districts, every student MUST comply– or else.

    Clearly, the rules only apply to some.

  • guest

    I suppose there’s a chance it might make mainstream media sources, but I think chances are slim it’ll happen anytime soon. It’s important for people who ARE aware of what is going on to tell other people. Talk to your friends. Suggest this blog.

  • Buygoldandprosper

    Can’t wait for more Jon!
    On the job training,by Dan, would be a charitable description of what has been going on in Hartford,but the man worked like a dog to get in the hot seat and relishes every moment. Innocence lost? Hardly. One just has to look at the resume “embellishments”,his past in Stamford,the treatment his family received and still does (how is that job going Kathy?) and the creepiness practically overwhelms!  Adamowski will get his ill-gotten gains one way or another. In the meantime,keep up the great work that the mainstream press is failing to do,for a variety of reasons. Call ME crazy,but you just might be the last hardworking reporter giving us what we need. The real story!

    • sharewhut

       More like ‘training’ is the job. Dan and his cohorts lined up on the platform for their shot at the taxpayer….

  • I think you know why Adamowski was hired to raise test scores in Windham :).

    Malloy was Mayor long enough to know a good Superintendent knows how to cover his butt and make his Mayor look good. That’s the real reason Adamowski was hired. All this “Juking the Stats” info was already known but Adamowski still went out  on top and got the Special Masters gig. No one really wanted to know and frying Eddie Perez was the big thing.

    It’s a shame to say that Federal funding and national prestige is based on Superintendents who know their way around the block and know what they can get away with and what they can’t. Nothing worse for a Mayor than an uncreative Superintendent. I dounbt Vince and Linda McMahon take their IRS forms to the local H&R Block too. You want someone with good experience making some of the judgement calls as to what is ‘in’ and ‘out’ as a deduction and someone who keeps up on the bleeding edge IRS decisions.

    I am confident Malloy will get what he wanted: a professional audit of the Windham books and testing methodology and a corresponding increase in scores

    —–personal anecdote——-.

     One of the first things I learned as a teacher is that there are two or three sets of attendance books (Fortunately the office handles it now).  There’s the initial count which is used for per capita revenue distributions. Motto: “The more the merrier”.

    The first week of school is like Open House. The neighbor’s dog could sign an attendance sheet and do the basic paperwork at the office while the administrators smile from ear-to-ear.

    20% never make past the first 10 days. Doesn’t matter. They count for financial purposes. 

    By January the class size is about half and 20% are infrequent guests (usualy due to social welfare requirements). Sign their paperwork and they come back next month.

    Then there’s the testing and graduation and testing cohort that count for school performance metrics. That’s the 35% of the starting class that is there regularly. Just before the counts the rolls are adjusted downwards. Radically.