Defining the problem of low ELA scores of Buffalo’s English Language Learners presented several choices that our team needed to navigate in order to write a convincing argument for action. One of the first choices was to decide what age group to investigate. We knew different age groups take different kinds of assessments and their performance would likely vary based on other conditions in the district. Once we made that decision, we needed to consider the various options and units of analysis for capturing and presenting their performance. Finally, we had to make choices about how to elevate the issue of low scores from a neutral condition to a problem in need of policy intervention. In what follows, I reflect on these three choices, paying close attention to what our group decided, and where appropriate describe how we used course texts to aid in making those decisions.
When we first began the project, we were uncertain whether we wanted to focus on fourth through eighth grades or on ninth through twelfth grade. We soon found a great deal of information on low high school graduation rates in local newspapers, adding support for the idea of investigating high school scores. However, the most comprehensive report written on Buffalo Public School’s ELL programs gave new information that made us reconsider. The data included in that report showed a dramatic drop-off in scores from fourth grade to eighth grade. This made us wonder which years of schooling presented the larger challenge to Buffalo’s ELLs. We also questioned which age range policy makers might see as a more compelling issue, and which one would allow us to report more convincing data.
As we reviewed additional sources of information from newspapers, correspondence from state officials and even blog websites written about BPS, we realized that we could make a strong case for an issue at the High School level because given the current NCLB policy environment, these schools can face drastic consequences including registration revocation if they do not improve in performance. Finding information on accountability cohorts added additional support for the choice to focus on high schools. While performance data on all schools is available to the public, only in high school is data tracked by student cohorts over time. This allows an opportunity to describe student’s progress over multiple years of instruction in a way that we could not have done for earlier grades. According to Stone, “Numbers are used to tell stories, such as stories of decline (“We are approaching a crisis”)” (Stone, 196). Considering the current policy environment, consequences for low performance and data available, we knew that we were able to tell a more compelling story by using high school ELA scores.
Once we decided how that we would focus on high school, we needed to determine how to report the scores. We started by problematizing whether ELA scores were even the most important area on which to focus. Second,...