I don’t normally buy the IR, but Valley Bank in a very clever PR stunt bought one for me yesterday. What do I read there? “Helena district fails in progress report.” I’ve already pointed out that saying ‘district fails’ is interesting, because I’ve never read a headline that said ‘military fails in Iraq’, merely because what we wanted to happen in Iraq did not happen. But I’ve said that before, and I’m not here to belabor the point.
I did a little research into the schools that failed and those that succeeded. Interestingly, even though these tests were supposed to teach us something or at least give parents some insight into where to send their children, no information was given about characteristics of schools that passed or failed. So using the school district website and this handy data base, I did a little research.
One of the interesting facts was that teacher-to-student ratio seemed to make little difference. Five elementary schools passed, six failed. (Both high schools failed, so there is little point in analyzing them without more data on their test scores). Those that passed had an average student:teacher ratio of 16.02, those that failed had an average 15.7 ratio.
Percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, on the other hand, had a significant effect. Those schools passing had an average eligibility of 27.6%, those failing, on the other hand, averaged 38%. A similar trend holds when looking at counties statewide; counties where most school districts failed also have higher levels of childhood poverty than the state average.
These averages aren’t perfect: some schools are unusually high or low, which has a big effect with a sample size of 11, and neither measure used is a perfect indicator of of student contact with teachers or student poverty. Nonetheless, we really need to look at what the results of these tests mean, and what they tell us about how we can improve them. That, however, is only possible if we get past the ‘schools are failing’ shrieking and look a bit deeper into the numbers.