Saturday, February 14, 2015

Where’d That Number Come From?

Ken O’Brien

2/15 See UPDATE at conclusion.

Yesterday’s Southbridge News carried a letter from the Chairman of the Southbridge School Committee.

In the letter the Chairman railed against what she considered to be an affront to the hard-working staff dedicated to the education of the town’s students under trying circumstances.

She goes on to criticize the, “…relentless behind-the-scenes efforts of some to perpetuate chaos in the school district, simply so they can claim everything fell apart after Mrs. Donovan and I were elected. This is not unlike children who throw tantrums and try to break all the toys so no one else can use them.”

She then goes on to invoke the DESE’s Progress and Performance Index as proof of the District’s progress. “DESE’s presentation on Feb. 3, last year’s Progress and Performance Index (PPI) showed significant growth in the school district. In 2013, for example, the Department of Education awarded Southbridge 32 points on a scale of 0-100. Last year, Southbridge was awarded 68 points. This is more than double the year prior and the highest number of points Southbridge has received since this PPI scale was created.”

 The video below explains the PPI and how it is calculated. Most interesting to note is the observation at the very outset of the presentation. Here it is noted that the PPI was first reported in 2012. That constitutes very little of a basis upon which to measure any real progress in the district. In fact, the first year it was reported was the first year that McLoughlin and Donovan served on the school committee. It is also worth noting that, contrary to what the Chairman says in her letter, the annual PPI can exceed 100. (See

Also of interest is the Chairman’s observation regarding the number of points awarded to Southbridge under the PPI. According to the State’s website ( the PPI for the Southbridge School District is reported as follows:

For some reason the state is reporting Southbridge's PPI as 48 rather than the 68 quoted by the Chairman. (It is also less than the PPI of 49 reported in 2012). Reporting on individual schools within the district, the DESE website reports as follows (

I’m sure that the numbers cited by the Chairman were not just made up (right?). It would be nice however if she could explain their origin in light of the figures cited above. (See update below).

I think it is a grotesquely self-serving tactic on the part of the Chairman (and by inclusion the vice-chairman) to characterize their critics as undermining the entire teaching and administrative infrastructure.

In her letter the Chairman remarks, “I am confident Southbridge residents are shrewd enough to recognize the difference, even when those acts might be sheepishly disguised as genuine concern for the well-being of our community in general and our students in particular.”

I too am confident of the perspicacity of the bulk of Southbridge residents. I believe that they have seen this tactic of deflecting blame for failure on others more than once too often. The failure lies squarely with those who, in their overweening hubris, seized control of the school district. It lies with those who have steadily reduced the participation of interested citizens and relentlessly shrunk the circle of those involved in overseeing the progress of that district. And, with the latest debacle regarding the dismissal of another Superintendent and the last-minute concession to finally undertaking a community-wide search for a replacement, we are witnessing the prelude to ridding ourselves of this incompetence come June.
UPDATE: The 68 cited by the Chairman in her letter can be found at
The depth of data-mining required to isolate this particular number raises a reasonable question of the extent to which the Chairman is engaging in cherry-picking to justify her position. The State reports this number only as part of a four year aggregate (Cumulative PPI) recognizing the volatility and unreliability of any single annual data point. Also, due to the means of calculation, an annual PPI can exceed 100. However, this is not possible for the cumulative PPI.

1 comment:

  1. It is stunning that the school committee chair refuses to acknowledge the truth regarding our school district. She refuses to address the disastrous MCAS results, the 16% dropout rate, the decline in the graduation rate from 84% to 69%, and so on, and so on.

    Anyone who dare mention the shortcomings of our schools is assailed, ie., the student representative, members of the town council, parents, staff etc. Can we forget the smashing of the guidance staff on TV?

    The overall data speaks to a substantial decline in educational advancement since the chair and vice-chair were elected. And this data will most assuredly be presented during the upcoming campaign cycle. If these two won't leave voluntarily, then they will be voted out for sure.


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