Education Letter to the Editor

Manipulating Data to Make Bad Results Look Good

January 22, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

A savvy businessman like former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts knows how easily data can be manipulated to make a bad situation look good. And that goes for pass rates on his state’s high school exit exam (“Governors Cite Education Records,” Dec. 19, 2007).

It certainly seems impressive that the pass rate for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System jumped from 55 percent of 10th graders in 2000 to 85 percent in 2004. But those numbers hide some very important information. First, one reason the rate was only 55 percent in 2000 was that students knew the test did not count toward graduation. Second, Mr. Romney neglects to mention the more than 10,000 high school students who dropped out in 2003-04. That was an increase of 13.5 percent from the previous year, the year the MCAS became a high school graduation requirement.

For the class of 2005, the state reported a 94 percent pass rate, but when student attrition was taken into account, the real pass rate was only 76.6 percent. Real pass rates for black and Hispanic students were even lower, at 62 percent and 51 percent, respectively. These numbers reflect similar problems and disinformation found in other states.

Massachusetts’ cities and towns will be dealing with the societal costs of the state’s dropout crisis, exacerbated by the high-stakes test, for years to come, whoever becomes president.

Sheila Decter

Executive Director

Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action

Boston, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Education Week as Manipulating Data to Make Bad Results Look Good