Wednesday, January 17, 2018


You may remember that Boise's class of National Merit Semi-finalists was a special group. First off, there were 45 semi-finalists, half of the total in the state of Idaho (Boise has 9% of the state's students). The group also posted some impressive results as they graduated from high school.

Clearly, this is a motivated and hard-working group of students. That average SAT score is in the 99th percentile. All of these students were in the top 10% of their high school classes; most were in the top 5%. Over half of the Advanced Placement tests taken by these students were scored a "5", the top performance level possible; 97% received a passing score of "3" or better.

With this kind of achievement, students have their choice of colleges across the country, and access to multiple scholarships. here's where they are attending school.

Nine of the 45 students are attending the most selective colleges in the country. You may have read last year that Ivan Vazquez, a Capital student and one of the school's valedictorians, was accepted at all 8 Ivy League schools. He is currently attending Harvard University.

Many others in this group are attending some of the top state universities in the country. It's interesting to note that 4 of the NMSF students are in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah, which we have noted before is becoming a top choice for Boise District students. This is the first time ever that 3 or more students in one graduating class have attended the University of Oklahoma.

Also, a few students in this group are attending well-known "national" private universities, which draw their student bodies from around the country. A number of District students have attended Gonzaga and BYU, but it's unusual for Boise District students to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, or the University of Notre Dame.

It's not unusual for District students to attend private colleges in the northwest, such as College of Idaho and Pacific.  Colby, Santa Clara, and Westminster, are destinations for a few Boise students. 

Four other students are attending Boise State and the University of Idaho, and, if past trends continue, will likely stay in Idaho after college. However, most of the students attending out of state colleges will find internships and jobs outside of Idaho, at least initially.

Monday, January 8, 2018


Idaho Education News recently posted an op-ed by a Coeur d'Alene counselor questioning the wisdom of administering the College Board exam (the SAT) to juniors across the state of Idaho. In his article, entitled "Are College Classes and Entrance Exams Worth the Money?", the counselor also questioned the worth of dual-credit courses for some students.

Here's why we should continue with the SAT as a statewide exam for juniors.

  • The SAT, and the PSAT, its 10th grade counterpart, provide valuable information for students and parents about preparedness levels. And SAT results are almost universally accepted at higher learning institutions as part of the admissions process.
  • The SAT takes significantly less time than the SBAC, the required 10th grade exam in Idaho, because it is a paper-pencil exam. Particularly at the junior and senior high school levels, the computer-administered SBAC is a logistical nightmare, taking weeks out of the daily schedule and compromising preparation efforts for Advanced Placement exams, the results of which have earned Boise District students thousands of college credits. And the school and district scores for the SAT have actually been released in a timely fashion, unlike those from the SBAC.
  • The SBAC and PARCC consortia, the states using the tests created to assess Common Core standards under The Race to the Top legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind, have diminished severely over the past few years:

In an article in Education Next, authors Ashley Jochim and Patrick McGuinn detail the decline of the consortia:

"State participation in the consortia declined just as implementation of the new standards and tests was set to begin. The pace of withdrawals quickened over time, particularly for PARCC, which five or six states left every year between 2013 and 2015 (see Figure 1). As of May 2016, just six states planned to implement the PARCC-designed assessment in the 2016-17 academic year. SBAC also faced attrition but fared better and still retains 14 states that plan to use the full test. (That figure includes Iowa, where a legislative task force has overwhelmingly recommended the SBAC assessment, though as of early 2016 state officials had yet to formally accept the recommendation.) By early 2016, 38 states had left one or both consortia, short-circuiting the state-by-state comparability that the tests were designed to deliver (see Figure 2)."

Oregon has also decided to discontinue administration of the high school SBAC.

Conversely, administration of the statewide junior SAT exam has expanded. The 11th grade statewide SAT exam is now administered in Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island

  • Prominent researchers are now questioning the 2017 SBAC results, which declined in all 14 consortia states in English Language Arts. In an op-ed in Real Clear Politics written by Douglas McRae and Williamson Evers, the authors note:

"Across the country, 14 states used the federally-funded Smarter Balanced tests as part of their statewide K-12 testing programs in spring 2017. But the results for this year have an integrity problem...

...Smarter Balanced is stonewalling efforts to figure out what has occurred. It refuses to acknowledge that the 2017 scores are highly unusual and, instead, claims the scores are just normal year-to-year fluctuations of gain scores. That argument is hogwash. It is totally inconsistent with the actual 2017 consortium-wide gain data."

  • The SAT releases its test each year, and provides an item analysis for the exam, giving educators access to student response patterns and comparisons with school, state and national item data. We detailed the potential uses of SAT data in a post from 2016. Here's the example we used from 2016 and the rationale for using the data to improve instruction:

How does the distribution of student answers help us to improve instruction?

Well, 28% of District juniors answered "D". While we might speculate as to why they chose that answer, the fact is that 55+9 does not equate to √55+√9. Can we improve instruction so that more students understand this principle? Sure. And the item analysis gives us the tools to improve instruction and student performance.

College and university personnel can also use the statewide item analysis to isolate performance on each question and then use performance on a series of questions to determine placement in Math or Language Arts courses.

We sincerely hope that the state will renew the College Board contract for the PSAT and SAT when it comes up for review. In fact, with the decline in the numbers for the SBAC consortia, we ought to be looking at replacing the SBAC with the SAT as the state's Accountability Measure for high schools.

Saturday, December 30, 2017


Here's an update on the newest graduating class of AVID students, and on all of the students who are enrolled in college or who have graduated.

Class of 2017

Here's the college enrollment information for the class of 2017, compared with data from the Idaho Board of Education's High School Feedback Reports, which contain data for every school and district in the state.

The District's AVID "direct-to-college" percentage has remained high across all classes, averaging just under 80%. The highest "direct-to-college rate was for the class of 2012 at 90%, and the lowest was for the class of 2016 at 71%.

Typically, most AVID graduates go to school in state (about 3/4 enroll at one of three colleges, Boise State, the University of Idaho, and the College of Western Idaho.

Total Graduation/Retention Percentages - All AVID Classes

The graduation figures for AVID students are growing - 40 students have graduated with a diploma or a certificate. Of the graduates, 8 have degrees from BSU, 7 from the College of Idaho, and 6 each from CWI and the University of Idaho. Others have earned degrees or certificates from Pepperdine University, the University of Utah, Idaho State University (2), Northern Arizona University, Austin Peay University (TN), South Puget Sound CC (WA), Northwest Nazarene University, College of Southern Idaho, and Carrington College (2), North Idaho College, and the University of Minnesota, Crookston.

Interestingly, two students from the class of 2011 and 11 from the class of 2012 are still enrolled in college. Typically, these students started late or took a stop out during their college careers, but a few have been attending since high school graduation, six or even seven years after high school graduation.

Monday, December 18, 2017


Recently, Terry Ryan, CEO of the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum and of the Idaho Charter School Network, wrote an article in Idaho Education News decrying an Associated Press article which criticized charters as being among the most segregated schools in the country. Ryan noted that there have been criticisms leveled at the authors of the article.

But this is only one of a number of charter critiques that's been published lately. 

Since these are just a few of the recent articles about charters, it's curious that Ryan opted to respond to the Associated Press article.  However, his claim is that Idaho charters are different:

From his op-ed: "In Idaho, critics have accused public charter schools of pulling the highest performing students out of their traditional public-school classrooms and creating student populations that do not reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. In 2015, a Boise-based organization, Centro de Communidad y Justicia, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s (US DOE) Office of Civil Rights. According to that complaint, “Idaho’s charter school system has evolved into an unequal public-school system that discriminates against students of color, LEP students, students with disabilities (many of whom are Latino), and students from low-income families.” The hard charging US DOE’s Office of Civil Rights under President Obama never acted on this complaint apparently finding little merit in it."

To prove his point, Ryan cites Idaho State Department data to show that Idaho's charters as a whole, while not matching Idaho demographics, come very close to the demographics of the Boise and West Ada districts.

There are a few problems with Ryan's arguments:
  • First and foremost, Idaho's charters as a whole are not a school district; they are a bunch of disparate schools which are spread across the state of Idaho.
  • Idaho charters are mostly k-8 or k-6 schools, so comparing to k-12 systems is an apples-to-oranges measure.
  • Selecting certain demographics and ignoring others is cherry-picking -- it's important to note that Idaho has a large number of Limited English students, and the charter system has almost none.
Here are the data with regard to Boise's charters and the District as a whole.

If we really want to look at how Idaho's charters are doing, we should follow the example set by Anser, a Boise charter that is sponsored by the Boise School District. Each year, Anser's staff and their Board chair appear before the Boise Board of Trustees and present their annual report. As part of the report, they compare school performance with demographically similar schools in the District. Since Anser's free/reduced percentage is in the teens, they compare their performance with Roosevelt and Washington Schools in the Boise District. At some levels, Anser has superior achievement to the District schools; in others, they have lower achievement. But Anser makes an appropriate comparison and uses the data to set goals and improve performance. 

For the most part, we would agree that we have not seen the widespread problems that have occurred elsewhere with charters in Idaho. However, charters in general do not reflect the demographics of the school districts in which they reside.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


We often look to other states for ideas about effective programs that may work for our students here in Boise. For example, the Vancouver, Washington School District, which has very similar demographics to Boise, pioneered a Community Schools program a number of years ago. Several district staff traveled to Vancouver to see the program, and we have since adopted much of its structure in our first Community Schools, at Garfield, Whittier, Morley Nelson, Whitney, and Frank Church. 

We also attempt to compare our results in Boise with demographically similar districts and schools in other states. However, it's often difficult to find the data to make valid comparisons. But, in the case of Advanced Placement, we were able to find information we needed, such as Free/Reduced Lunch %ages, AP Exams Given and Passed, and Enrollment numbers, to look at high schools in both states and make an apples-to-apples comparison.

AP Participation

We found a great deal of relevant data on the Washington Department of Education website, including enrollment reports , free/reduced lunch percentages, and AP exam participation and passing exam numbersby district and school, that assisted us in our analysis. Some Washington high schools focus on the International Baccalaureate program and gave very few AP exams; we tried to take them out of the comparison if we could. Others use dual credit opportunities as their primary method for acquiring college credit, as do many Idaho schools - we believe Advanced Placement is the "gold standard" because it allows students to apply credits at some many colleges around the country.

However, some Washington high schools gave tremendous number of AP exams, so we were able to make a comparison between them and Idaho schools. Following is a chart showing the number of AP exams given on the y-axis, and the percentage of free/reduced lunch on the x-axis, for larger Idaho and Washington high schools.

As you can see, the Bellevue District high schools gave a huge number of AP exams. Newport, Bellevue, and Interlake high schools are annually among the top schools in the Washington Post's Challenging Schools Index. After that, you'll see 20-30 high schools that far exceed the average of what might be expected in terms of exams, including the 4 comprehensive Boise District high schools.

Note that there are relatively few high schools in the chart that have higher percentages (>40%) of free/reduced students and gave a large number of exams. Those include Borah, Capital, Lincoln High School in Tacoma, North Central and Rogers High School in Spokane, and Mt. Vernon High School on northwest Washington state.

Success Ratio

In order to look at the success high schools are having with their AP programs, we use a  ratio to determine the number of passing exams at the school in a given year (times 100) divided by the number of juniors and seniors enrolled. Using this ratio allows us to consider program success on the y-axis and free/reduced lunch percentage on the y-axis. Schools that allow only their top students to take AP classes will typically do poorly in this comparison, as do schools that have a very low passing percentage on the exams.

Bellevue's schools knock it out of the park in this comparison as well, because they give huge numbers of exams and have high passing percentages. However, several other districts fare very well in this comparison - Spokane's high schools offer significant AP opportunities and have large numbers of passing exams - Lewis and Clark, North Central, Ferris, and Rogers are all in the Spokane District. Boise, Borah, Capital, and Timberline all fare well in the comparison. Two Seattle high schools, Garfield and Roosevelt, and two schools in the Evergreen District, in southwest Washington, Mt. View and Union. did very well, as did Issaquah and Liberty High Schools east of Seattle. Wood River and McCall were not large enough for inclusion, but we wanted to see how they fared, and they match up well, as does Century in Pocatello.

This analysis allows us to look at high schools in Washington from which we can learn about how they are providing AP opportunities, or unique preparatory programs they may be offering. We have visited Bellevue, and adopted a "just in time" math seminars that provide remediation of student math understandings the same day as a concept is introduced or the day after.

But other districts have clearly done some things from which we can learn and get better. We'll find out what North Central High School in Spokane and Everett High School are doing to encourage student participation in AP courses, along with several other high schools in the comparison.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


The past month has seen some really interesting writing about education. Here is a sampling of articles from November.

Higher Education

There have been several articles this month about colleges and universities in general that have been interesting.

In "The Myth of American Universities as Inequality Fighters"a research-based article from The Atlantic, Derek Thompson  argues that the top universities in the country are basically just helping students from wealthy families stay wealthy. He cites research from respected economists Raj Chetty, John Friedmann, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, and Danny Yagan. It's an interesting read.

From the author: "Poor students who graduate from Ivy League universities (and their equivalents like Stanford, Duke, and MIT) have a much better shot at entering the top 1 percent than low-income graduates of other colleges. But these hyper-selective schools are also hyper-elite. A child from the richest 1 percent of families is 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy (or an equally selective college) than a child from a family in the poorest quintile."

Echoing the tone of the Atlantic article is Benjamin Wermund in Politico. His article, In Trump Country, a University Confronts its Skeptics, is written about the University of Michigan, its credo of providing "an uncommon education for the common man", and the reality that 10% of the population the University serves comes from the top 1% of wage earners, while only 16% comes from the bottom 60%.

Wermund writes, “It’s ingrained at an early age — ‘You’re not going to go there,’” explained Benjamin Edmondson, the superintendent of one school district in nearby Ypsilanti, Michigan, where almost every student is poor enough to qualify for a subsidized lunch. “Why? It’s expensive. Why? It’s not attainable.”

On a brighter note, John Gramlich writes in the Pew Research Center blog that the Hispanic Dropout Rate Hits New Low, College Enrollment Reaches New High. Using data from the Census Bureau, the author notes that, even as the Hispanic K-12 population has grown, the dropout rates has plummeted from 34% to just 10%. 

Gramlich writes, "As the Hispanic dropout rate has declined, the share of Hispanic high school graduates who enroll in college has risen. In 2016, 47% of Hispanic high school graduates ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college, up from 32% in 1999."

K-12 Enrollment

In a September, 2016 post, we wrote about declining kindergarten enrollment around the state of Idaho, and the portent for future statewide k-12 enrollment. Sure enough, Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin wrote in an early November article, "Student Enrollment Levels Off for First Time in Years", that enrollment in Idaho's public schools increased by only 459 in 2018-19, after increases of 4300 and 3300 the two previous years. We'll do some analysis of the data in a future post.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

ESSA is the successor to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTP), the accountability plans required of states for receipt of federal dollars for programs such as Title I. Frederick Hess and Brendan Bell of the American Enterprise Institute are frequent commentators on education reform from the conservative side. In "Frivolous Ambition", published in U.S. News and World Report, they argue that the new act has caused states to set absurd goals for academic progress.

"...the state's (New Jersey's) new plan requires steady gains between now and 2030 that are about 500 percent a year larger than those under its previous accountability system."


"... Kansas' reading scores would have to increase more than 16 times faster than they did during the No Child Left Behind era, and math scores would have to increase, well, infinitely faster."

Here are the academic goals from Idaho's plan:

The goals for Students with Disabilities and English Language Proficiency (Limited English students) are, at best, very ambitious!

Refugee Destinations

Jynnah Radford of the Pew Research Center posted this interesting timeline of refugee resettlement patterns by state since 2002. The article title is "How U.S. refugee resettlement in each state has shifted since 2002". Here are Idaho's top resettlement country patterns since then:

2002 - Bosnia/Herzegovina (141)
2003 - Afghanistan (79)
2004 - Somalia (137)
2005 - Russia (362)
2006 - Russia (306)
2007 - Burundi (194)
2008 - Burma (264)
2009 - Bhutan (312)
2010 - Bhutan (335)
2011 - Burma (227)
2012 - Burma (189)
2013 - Burma (203)
2014 - Iraq - (292)
2015 - Democratic Republic of Congo (258)
2016 - Democratic Republic of Congo (528)
2017 - Democratic Republic of Congo (299)

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Recently, we used data from the College Board and from the National Student Clearinghouse to do an analysis of college-going rates among our students who took one or more Advanced Placement exams. We looked at the high school graduating class of 2016, and used NSC data to ascertain the percentage of students who were enrolled in college a year after their high school graduation.

Here's what we found:

The "Go-on" rate for students taking one or more AP tests was 81%; interestingly, that's just a bit higher than the overall "Go-on" rate for AVID graduates (77%). The rate for graduates who took no AP tests was 47%; that's just a percentage point higher than the one-year percentage of students statewide in 2015 (46%).

Now, you might wonder, aren't these the same students who would have gone on to college anyway? Well, some of them are, for sure. But the percentage of students taking AP classes has increased by almost 200%, even since the turn of the century, so many more students are taking AP classes.

These data also include a number of students who went on missions for their church straight out of high school. Additionally, some colleges don't participate in the Clearinghouse, most notably the service academies. We found a number of these students and included their colleges, but a few that we are certain are in college are still missing.

The "Go on" rates for AP test-takers vary a bit by high school, but the rates are much higher than the District and Idaho "Go on" percentages.

So, what does the destination pattern look like for students who participate in AP? 

So, the percentage of students going on to Idaho schools was just a bit lower than for the general population (about 2/3 to Idaho schools). Just under 40% of AP test-takers go out of state for college.

5 or More AP Tests

We were also able to look at the students who took 5 or more Advanced Placement tests during their high school careers. typically these students would obtain credit or waivers for at least 15 credits; some would be granted many more.  This was a group of 210 students.

Note that among this group, fewer than half went to school in the state of Idaho. Of those that did 45 attended BSU, 34 went to the University of Idaho, and 7 to The College of Idaho. The most popular out-of-state destination was the University of Utah, with 19, followed by Gonzaga University (5) and BYU (5).

Otherwise, the destinations of these students were widespread. 3 went to each of the University of Puget Sound (WA), Whitman College (WA), California Polytechnic, and Westminster College (UT). 2 attended each of the University of Colorado, USC, Colorado State, Lewis and Clark (OR), University of Portland, University of Washington, Washington University (MO), Princeton (NJ), the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Among the other noteworthy colleges attended by a District student who took 5 or more AP tests were Cal-Berkeley, Stanford, Santa Clara (CA), Northwestern (IL), Purdue, Harvard, Wellesley (MA), MIT, University of Michigan, Duke, Brown (RI), Smith (MA), and Emerson (MA), an impressive assortment of top-notch colleges.

Of course, we know that many District students choose options other than 4-year colleges. The Dennis Career Technical Center offers a a large number of courses designed to prepare students for good-paying jobs in the local economy, from Auto Body, Heavy Diesel and Welding to Electrical, CNA and HVAC. Many Boise students choose to enroll in these programs and earn licenses in one of these career fields, and the District is expanding offerings at the Dennis Center to provide more choices for students.