In Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell tells a story about a decision made by a New York politician who was attempting to address the homeless problem in New York City. The politician noticed that most of the people who were homeless were also not very wealthy. The politician moved forward with the idea that the apartment rent prices were simply too high for these people to afford a place to stay.
So, he decided to cap the rent prices… and the homeless problem got worse. How could this possibly be?
Well, according to Dr. Sowell, lowering rent prices, while making the apartments more affordable for those in need, did the same for everyone else. The suddenly cheaper rent prices decreased the rates of young folks sharing apartments. Also, people who have several places they call home throughout the year might not have found it reasonable to pay a high rent price to keep a NYC apartment that they might only stay in a few times throughout the year. Lower rent prices made that seem more reasonable.
Evidence also suggested that there was an increase in apartments being condemned. Lowering rent costs meant that landlords found themselves with fewer resources to maintain buildings, repair damages, pay for inspections, etc.
While the decision made the apartments more affordable, it also made them more scarce. There was a disconnect between a decision-maker’s perception of a situation and the reality. That disconnect led to a decision that ended-up being counterproductive.
I may have just done the same thing… maybe.
Sometimes things make so much sense. If we did this, it would HAVE to produce that. It make so much sense. How could it possibly not work?
This perception was in place among some in my community. It led me to decide to try The 70-70 Trial, which I’ve been at for about 10 weeks now. The perception in place goes like this:
a. Formative assessments prepare students for summative assessments.
b. Students who struggle on formative assessments are more likely to struggle on summative assessments (and the inverse is also true.)
It’s with these two perceptions in mind that we assume that the if we can ensure a student achieves success on each of the formative assessments (regardless of the timeline or the number of tries), we improve their chances of success on the summative assessment.
The 70-70 trial did what it could to ensure that at least 70% of the class achieved 70% or higher proficiency on each formative assessment. (There were four.) This included in-class reteach sessions and offering second (and in some cases third) versions of each assessment. With all of those students making “C-” or better on each formative assessment, how could they possibly struggle on the unit test? That was the perception.
50% of the students scored under 50% on the summative assessment. That was the reality.
Now, I am not an alarmist. I understand that one struggling class in one unit doesn’t discredit an entire education theory. But it sure was perplexing. I’ve never seen a test where, after 8 weeks of instruction on a single unit (Unit 4 from Geometry), half of an entire class unable to successfully complete even half of the unit test.
And when you consider that this class was the one class I had put the most effort into defeating just that kind of struggling, well it seems like the intersection of my perception and the reality wasn’t nearly big enough. I just got a better view.
And I’m having a hard time making sense of what I’m seeing.