A closer look at Merrill
Note: a special thank you to Ms. P.K., who corrected my grammar in the original title of this post! Suggestion duly noted and embraced!
We had a lot of presentations at last night’s board meeting about the prospect of collocating the Creativity Challenge Community (C3) at Merrill Middle School. It’s starting to be very clear that the community didn’t know much about this prospect, and while they like the program (as I do), they don’t want it collocated in the middle school.
They talked a lot about how Merrill has been improving, even though it has an English-language acquisition (ELA) magnet as part of its program. It’s clear that the parents embrace the ELA program and celebrate the diversity it brings to this relatively-affluent, low-minority p0cket of Denver.
I did a little analysis of the rates of kids that score at or above proficiency in the various subjects, compared to the district averages. First, I like to look at how a group of kids moves through the grades, instead of comparing, say, one 6th grade class against next year’s 6th grade class. To me, it’s more important to see how we move the same kids along. We don’t learn anything meaningful comparing one group of kids to a different group of kids, because then the discussion becomes more about teaching than about how kids are LEARNING, which is the point.
Anyway, I digress.
The graph below looks at how DPS’ middle schoolers moved from 6th grade to 8th grade, across the district. It examines reading, math and writing.
Percentages of DPS middle schoolers at/above proficiency
There’s a lot to take in here, so I’ll break it down.
- When DPS’ 6th graders started in 2008-2009, less than 50% of them were scoring at or above proficiency in reading. The actual number is 48%
- When that same group moved to 7th grade in 2009-2010, about 50% of them were scoring at/above proficiency in reading. This was an increase of two percentage points.
- When they reached 8th grade and the end of middle school, 51% of them were scoring at/above proficiency in reading, or an increase of one percentage point.
- Now, 47% of the same group of 6th graders scored at/above proficiency in math.
- As 7th graders, only 33% of these students scored at/above proficiency in math. This was a decrease of 14%, which is pretty steep.
- As 8th graders, 36% of them scored at/above proficiency in math. They climbed three percentage points.
What can we attribute to this shakiness in 7th grade math? I don’t have a good answer right now, but I’ll be asking. I do know that many of our students have problems with the Connected Mathematics Project curriculum used in our public middle schools. I’m told we have aligned our math curriculum with the state standards for math.
- 42% of DPS’ 6th graders scored at/above proficiency in writing in 2008-2009.
- As 7th graders, only 40% scored at/above proficiency in writing.
- As 8th graders, 37% of them scored at/above proficiency in writing.
Now I’ll turn my gaze toward Merrill. As I said before, they’re an interesting mix of socioeconomic levels, cultures and languages. They have a large group of kids in the ELA program, but not all of them are Spanish speakers, which of course is somewhat different than southwest Denver.
I’m looking at the data in three different Merrill-specific slices: Anglo students, “exited” ELLs (remember, these are kids that have become proficient enough to take CSAP in English) and regular ELLs (those that haven’t transitioned out yet). Try to compare these graphs with the overall district averages in the graph above.
Merrill's 2009-2011 Anglo cohort, at/above proficiency
Merrill's 2009-2011 Exited ELL cohort
Merrill's "regular" ELL cohort, 2009-2011
So there are a few things here. First, with the exception of the 7th grade year, Merrill’s exited ELLs and Anglos have large numbers of students scoring at/above proficiency in reading throughout their middle-school career. This shows the same trend I have indicated for ELLs in the entire district. Across the board, we are doing a great job of moving non-English speaking kids into solid English proficiency within the state law’s three-year timeline, and this is no different at Merrill.
Now, there seems to be some indicators for concern when both these populations get to 7th and 8th grade in math and writing. but this is true for ALL DPS kids. Merrill’s kids, while losing some ground in those subjects in 7th and 8th grade, are still outperforming all the other DPS kids at the same points in their middle-school careers.
I also have some concern for the “regular” ELL population at Merrill. Frankly, not many are scoring at/above proficiency in any subject. What’s more, the needle is either dropping or not moving at all for these kids. However, I’m going to look into this more, and I suspect that there are more non-Spanish speaking ELLs at Merrill. This could mean that we need more specific supports for these kids in their native tongues, which means that we have to look more closely at who we’re recruiting for these positions. It’s clear that district-wide, we do a great job with moving Spanish-speaking students to academic proficiency in English.
This all bears more analysis. I wonder what the Merrill community has to say.