Wake leaders warm up to SAS assessment software

Staff WriterOctober 21, 2009 

— Wake County school leaders are rushing to get principals and teachers signed on to use a SAS Institute software program that had raised questions about how well the school district is educating low-income and minority students.

School leaders had found themselves on the defensive this year when SAS used its Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS) software program to produce a report that questioned the district's academic performance.

After initially being slow to use EVAAS, administrators said Tuesday they're moving to get schools signed on to the program. The state is paying SAS to provide school districts free access to EVAAS, which can tell how students are doing and predict their results.

"It will be an exciting learning tool," Chief Academic Officer Donna Hargens told school board members.

The newly elected school board members have been using the SAS report to back their claims that Wake's diversity policy is not helping low-income students.

School board candidate John Tedesco said they're going to make sure that EVAAS is used by schools. Tedesco's opponent, Cathy Truitt, is conceding the runoff to him, but he still needs to get the most votes on Nov. 3 to win.

"We want to make sure they have more than just passwords," Tedesco said. "It can create an early warning system against dropouts."

SAS had developed the report after Wake school administrators had presented a report questioning EVAAS compared to an in-house program.

SAS responded by saying Wake's program makes statistical adjustments based on poor students not being expected not to do as well as affluent students. The report found it can result in inequities in opportunities.

"You're not really treating the children as individuals," William Sanders, senior director of the SAS EVAAS division, told school board members on Tuesday. "You don't unwittingly want to be setting different expectations for students. That's what happens when you adjust for socioeconomic status."

The report noted that qualified black and Hispanic students were far less likely than their white peers to take Algebra I in eighth grade. Only 40 percent of black and Hispanic students who were ready to enroll in Algebra I in eighth grade were taking the course compared to nearly 60 percent of white students.

SAS identified access to eighth-grade algebra as a gatekeeper for college success.

The SAS report found that several other North Carolina school districts were doing a better job of enrolling students, overall and among the different ethnic groups, in eighth-grade algebra.

But supporters of the diversity policy took solace on Tuesday from Sanders agreeing with them that high-poverty schools tend to have newer, less effective teachers. Supporters of the diversity policy have argued that Wake's efforts to balance the percentage of low-income students at schools has helped the district recruit and retain good teachers.

"One of the biggest inequities in America is the distribution of teaching talent," Sanders said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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