A Fight - By Any Other Name...

Date 2010/6/10 1:20:00 | Topic: Lewisville ISD Notes

... might make us look better.

Texas school districts may keep two sets of books when it comes to recording disciplinary incidents.

Here is an interesting thing I've discovered while examining discipline data we obtained from Lewisville ISD. It seems that the State of Texas, through the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintains a set of data that it calls the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS), which encompasses all manner of student demographic and performance data.

Texas school districts are required to report information to PEIMS electronically each year by the end of June. By October, the data becomes available to the public. Part of the data reported relates to disciplinary incidents in the district. Each incident is reported to the state, using one of 57 disciplinary reason codes that give a brief explanation of the offense the student committed.

For example, 04 means "Possessed, sold, used, or was under the influence of marihuana or other controlled substance", and 41 means "Fighting/Mutual Combat"

Of particular interest to me in looking at this data is the safety of our school campuses, so I had looked at LISD's reports of the instances of code 41: "Fighting/Mutual Combat". Here's a brief rundown of numbers in LISD's reporting history:

School Year: # Fights Reported (District-wide)
2003 - 2004: 120
2004 - 2005: 119
2005 - 2006: 72
2006 - 2007: 26
2007 - 2008: 37
2008 - 2009: 0
2009 - 2010: Not yet available

OK, so if you were just casually looking at this, it would seem like the district had a downward trend in number of fights, even as our enrollment has climbed since 2003.

But, here's the monkey wrench in that:

Based on our examination of raw data from the district's student data system, there is more to the story. Here's what Code 41 looks like district-wide, as of April 19th, 2010:

2009 - 2010: 244 (What the ....?)

But wait, there's more. There are a couple of other categories that represent fighting, more broadly - and these reason codes are not PEIMS reason codes, since they are higher than 57:

58 - Fighting
2009 - 2010: 506

70 - Pushing, Shoving, "Scuffling"
2009 - 2010: 955

As you can see, we may be under-stating incidents of code 41 "Fighting/Mutual Combat" by pretty large amounts, depending on how you define it.

Now both LISD and the PEIMS system have codes for Assault and Aggravated assault. The numbers are thankfully low in both systems, but it leads me to wonder where all of the local code 41 and code 58s are ending up. If you have a fight, wouldn't it semantically at least either be mutual combat (both choosing to fight) or an assault (with or with out self-defense on the part of one party)?
Reaching out to the school and state for help
So at this point, I decided to contact LISD's Public Information Officer, Karen Permetti, as well as TEA's PEIMS Ad-hoc Report Manager Perry Weirich to see if they could clarify the discrepancy between the numbers.

First to respond was Permetti, for LISD who told us:
Discipline code 41 (mutual combat) was added to actions tracked by TEA last year. This year is the first year that we have data. Previously, fighting would have been listed under discipline code 21 (Student Code of Conduct Violation).

"But wait," you might be asking, "didn't LISD report code 41 as early as 2003?" Yes, they did. In fact, the email I had sent to Permetti listed the 2007/2008 number for code 41. I'm as puzzled as you are.

Luckily, I got a call from Weirich, who explained several concepts regarding the PEIMS data:

1. PEIMS data is reported directly by each district. Whatever is sent to PEIMS is what gets reported. Weirich says that TEA makes no judgement on whether any given data being submitted is correct or accurate.

2. Code 41 was first used by Texas districts for reporting in 2002-2003 school year, and it has always had the meaning of "Fighting/Mutual Combat".

3. Districts can call in to TEA for guidance on how to code various offenses in PEIMS, but there is nothing specifically requiring districts to code a certain type of incident in a certain way. Fights could be classified as code 21 - Violation of Local Code of Conduct, if a district desires to do it that way.

Weirich went on to give this example, which I paraphrase: Say you have a rural district in a community where everyone hunts deer, and that's the big thing there. Suppose a student inadvertantly drives to school in the pick-up, and that 30-30 is still hanging in the gun rack in the back window when they turn into the parking lot. Technically, the student has just brought a gun on campus, which would normally be coded as "11 - Used, exhibited, or possessed a firearm". Since the district doesn't consider it as serious an offense as others, it might be coded as a 21 - Violated Local Code of Conduct. The same incident happening on an urban campus might end up with a student being taken away by police.

What we think
Honestly, I'm not sure what to think yet. It does seem to me that there could be pressure for an administration to under-report certain types of incidents in order to avoid bad publicity, community scrutiny, or intervention by state and federal authorities. For instance, being labeled as an "unsafe school" under the No Child Left Behind Act.

On the other hand, it could also have something to do with avoiding mandatory punishments based on certain classifications under the education code.

And still another possibility is that there is some technical glitch or training issue that has caused either the schools or the PEIMS coordinator to get something mixed up.

In any case, I think it's important that we look at the real numbers and try to push our district to report these incidents in a way that both administrators and community stakeholders can examine with some confidence as to what is going on in the schools. Since we're already recording the incidents, and coding them, it should be very little extra burden to have a few more granular reporting categories, and work on some consistency between campuses.

In any case, like I've said before, you can't improve what you can't measure, so we'll keep poking around and will keep you apprised of anything else we find.

This article comes from The Lewisville Texan Journal

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