Data Points: Testing and Poverty, Teens Working, Pre-School Balance

By Dr. Don Coberly, Superintendent, Boise School District:

Even though school’s out and it’s the middle of summer (and so hot!), there’s still some interesting research on which we can report…

“Students’ Test Scores tell us more about the Community they Live in than what they Know”

In Phys.Org, Andrew Tienken writes about the relationship between test scores and poverty, and cites studies indicating the strength of the relationship:“We decided to see if we could predict standardized test scores based on demographic factors related to the community where a student lived. By looking at three to five community and family demographic variables from U.S. Census data, we have been able to accurately predict the percentages of students who score proficient or above on standardized test scores for grades three through 12. These predictions are made without looking at school district data factors such as school size, teacher experience or per pupil spending.”

And, on the measures of year-to-year “growth” which will be used to judge schools in Idaho on the SBAC:

“Though some proponents of standardized assessment claim that scores can be used to measure improvement, we’ve found that there’s simply too much noise. Changes in test scores from year to year can be attributed to normal growth over the school year, whether the student had a bad day or feels sick or tired, computer malfunctions, or other unrelated factors.”

Since, as Tienken says, standardized tests are used for everything from grade-to grade promotion, high school graduation decisions, evaluation of teachers and administrators, and decisions about tenure, Tienken concludes:

“If these standardized test results can be predicted with a high level of accuracy by community and family factors, it would have major policy implications. In my opinion, it suggests we should jettison the entire policy foundation that uses such test results to make important decisions about school personnel and students. After all, these factors are outside the control of students and school personnel.”

We’ve been railing against these measures, especially the SBAC and PARCC, and the obsession with testing students every year, for a while now. When the evidence tells us conclusively that they are just a reflection of poverty, shouldn’t we consider something different?

And this leads us to one of  Tienken’s final statements:

“Although some might not want to accept it, over time, assessments made by teachers are better indicators of student achievement than standardized tests. For example, high school GPA, which is based on classroom assessments, is a better predictor of student success in the first year of college than the SAT.”

“Teenagers Have Stopped Getting Summer Jobs – Why?”

This article in The Atlantic provides a glimpse into the phenomenon of the startling decrease in the percentage of teens working summer jobs – down from 60% in 1978 to 35% last summer.  The author, Derek Thompson, writes:

“A better answer (than laziness) is that teenagers aren’t spending more time on the couch, but rather spending more time in the classroom. Education is to blame, rather than indolence. Teens are remaining in high school longer, going to college more often, and taking more summer classes.”

Of course, the trend of going to college more often doesn’t apply to Idaho high school grads, but the national evidence is interesting. Thompson provides plenty of charts and graphs to illustrate his points, and looks at several reasons for the decline in teen summer jobs.

“Building a Better Pre-School: Finding the Right Balance”

Russ on Reading  is a popular blog written by Russ Walsh, a literacy expert and educator from  Pennsylvania. As he writes on his title page, his blog exists for the purposes of  “discussing sound literacy instruction, supporting teachers and defending public education”

In this post, Walsh examines two studies, one that argues for more academics in pre-school, and another that states that the purpose of pre-school is to “promote school readiness, preschools need to focus strategically on social-emotional development.”

Walsh writes about the balance that must be achieved between structured play and academics (not dissimilar to the old phonics/sight vocabulary discussion in reading instruction) in the appropriate pre-school environment, and quotes a statement from the first study that gets to the heart of the issue:

“Indeed, as publicly funded pre-K expands, the division may be not between academics and play, but between programs with well-trained and well-paid teachers and those without.”

Luckily, we have two of the most qualified, well-trained preschool teachers in the state in the Whitney and Hawthorne pre-k programs.

For more, please visit Dr. Coberly’s blog,  Data Points.