Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Recently, the Idaho Department of Education produced a number of lists of "low performing" and "high performing" schools, based on measures such as SBAC Proficiency and Growth. Kevin Richert focused in an Idaho Ed News article on the strong relationship between the "low performing" list and poverty, and we followed up with a post on the robust connection between the "top performers" list and poverty. Then today, Devin Bodkin reported  that Bingham Academy, an eastern Idaho charter, had been reported as "high performing" by the SDE and as a "low performer by the Idaho Charter Commission.

The SDE also published a list of high performing high schools which is based on the number of students taking dual credit and Advanced Placement coursework (Advanced Opportunities).  So that got us to thinking...

The State Board of Education has an awesome site  which features data about actual college-going and persistence rates of students from high schools around the state. Presumably, if  participation in Advanced Opportunities is predictive of college attendance and persistence, then the "high flyers" in Advanced Opportunities should be prominent in the SBOE data.

So we put together a scattergram using the average percentage of students from the classes of 2011 and 2012 who were still enrolled in college after 4 years (y-variable) and free/reduced lunch percentage (x-variable). That way, we could get a glimpse of the role played by poverty in college persistence, and see which of the identified schools were truly top performers. And using 4-year persistence gets us to the point where church missions are much less a factor in college-going,  since most students have returned from their travels.

Here's a chart showing where the state's list of "top performers" came out:

As you can see, several of the schools identified by the state actually have good success with college persistence - CDA Charter, Meridian Medical. Hagerman, Grace, Genesee, for example. But others, including Marsh Valley, Grangeville, Kamiah, and Taylors Crossing Charter, are actually low performers.  And a number of others, including Ririe, New Plymouth, Malad, Victory Charter, Salmon, Compass Charter, Oakley and Mountain View, are about average.

For Bingham Charter, Vision Charter, and Idaho Fine Arts Academy, no data is yet available about persistence.

So, who are the true "high performers" based on actual persistence of students?

This chart shows that, along with Genesee, CDA Charter, and Meridian Medical, other schools with low poverty percentages with high persistence levels include Eagle, Boise, Madison, Moscow, Timberline, Twin Falls and Liberty Charter. However, among schools with FRL percentages above 40%, high flyers include Skyline (Idaho Falls), Parma, Hagerman, Aberdeen, and Garden Valley. So poverty does play a role in college persistence, as we knew it would. But there are a few high performers with high levels of poverty from whom we can perhaps learn, like Parma, for instance, which has a highly successful scholarship program for its graduates.

Also interesting is that among the lowest persistence rates are several virtual charters, including Richard McKenna, Inspire Connections, and ISucceed. Fewer than a quarter of graduates from these charters persist as college-goers after 4 years.

Friday, August 24, 2018


Last week, Kevin Richert wrote an interesting article in Idaho Education News entitled "Performance and Poverty: Looking at the State's School Rankings". In the article, Richert noted that, among Idaho's 29 lowest SBAC performers, 23 had free/reduced lunch qualification percentages above that of the state of Idaho. while only 6 had percentages below the state average of about 47%. So most of the "low performers" were high poverty schools.

At the time Richert was putting together his article, we were researching the free/reduced status of the "highest performing" schools in Math and ELA as identified by the state of Idaho.  We looked at schools identified for high achievement on the SBAC as well as those identified for high growth on the test.

Highest Achieving Schools (K-8)

Forty-one of the forty-seven "highest achieving" schools (87%) in ELA had free/reduced lunch percentages below the state average of 47%, while three had percentages higher than the state average, and three others were so small that no free/reduced lunch data were available.  In Math, the story was much the same - 41 of 47 had FRL percentages lower than the state. In fact, 28 of the schools on the ELA list and 25 on the Math list have FRL percentages below 25.

Just a very few schools that made the list were high poverty schools. Among those in Math were Chief Joseph Elementary in West Ada, Rulon Ellis Elementary in Pocatello, Sunrise and Riverview Elementaries in Shelley, and Harold B. Lee Elementary in West Side. In ELA, the awardees with high percentages of FRL were Ellis, Northside Elementary in Sandpoint, and Thatcher Elementary in Grace. Interestingly, Chief Joseph is the only school in the list with an LEP population significantly higher than the state average. That's impressive.

We have known since the first year of SBAC testing that the exam results were highly correlated with poverty. So these results are not a surprise. However, we thought that the new "growth" measures would provide opportunities for schools from every demographic level to demonstrate.

Highest Growth Schools (K-8)

Unfortunately, what we found was that the demographics of high growth schools were remarkably similar to high achieving schools - in other words, very few had free/reduced percentages above the state average. 

In fact, in many cases the high achieving schools and the high growth schools were the same schools. Thirty of the 44 ELA high achieving schools were also high growth schools, and all but 2 of those schools had lower FRL percentages than the state. In math, 30 of the 47 high achievement schools were also high growth schools,  and only 1 of those schools had an FRL percentage higher than the state average.

Among the high FRL percentage schools that showed high ELA growth were Westside Elementary in Idaho Falls, Chief Joseph and Meridian in West Ada, Thatcher in Grace, and Hope in Sandpoint (Hope is a small elementary school). In Math, high FRL growth schools were Ellis in Pocatello, Meridian, Paris in Bear Lake, Willow Creek in Nampa, and Paul Elementary in Minidoka County.

What the Lists Reveal - and What We Can Learn

It's clear that the vast majority of schools that have high SBAC achievement and/or growth have relatively low percentages of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, and that those with low achievement are primarily schools with high percentages of FRL students.  In most cases, then, the rankings/lists published by the State Department of Education just confirm that performance and growth on the SBAC are highly related to poverty. 

However, we do have a few examples of high poverty schools that have demonstrated excellent performance and growth, and we should be able to find out what they are doing to get past the barriers they face. The State Department might want to identify best practices and strategies from some of these schools that other schools might want to use. For our part, we will be contacting principals at a few of these high flyers to find the factors to which they attribute their growth and achievement.

Monday, August 20, 2018


As we have written before, it's important as we measure performance to assess the availability of rigorous coursework, and whether students take advantage of the opportunity afforded them to take the exams associated with those courses.

So, for 2018, which were the Idaho high schools that had the highest participation in rigorous coursework? We define "rigorous coursework"as the "gold standard" for rigor in Idaho, Advanced Placement exams. (We do not evaluate participation in International Baccalaureate exams, the other rigorous national exams offered in Idaho).

We deem AP to be the "gold standard" for a couple of reasons:

  • The Advanced Placement exams provide a national standard for particular content knowledge, from United States History to Biology, Calculus to French to Music Theory. Scores of "3" and above on AP exams are deemed "passing", and individual colleges and universities determine the specific credit or waiver to be granted for a particular score.
  • Over 90% of colleges nationwide grant credit or waivers for particular scores on AP exams.
We define exam participation as:

The number of students taking AP exams in 2018 in a high school
The number of 2018 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in the school*

*We used Fall 2018 enrollment numbers from the SDE for this calculation.

Here are the high schools with the highest percentage of exam participation in 2018 in Idaho:

Note that, even though most of the high schools are larger, CDA Charter and McCall-Donnelly, relatively small Idaho high schools,  are included on this list, as they have been in the past. Also, Wood River is a somewhat smaller high school that focuses on rigor, and the two Vallivue high schools have done an excellent job of providing rigor for their students. All four Boise District high schools provide excellent opportunity for rigorous coursework, featuring AVID and at least 24 different AP course offerings.

The next group of high participation schools includes mostly large urban high schools, but also highlights Sandpoint and Moscow, two northern Idaho schools with strong AP programs. Note that two West Ada schools are also included here, as the District has received achievement awards from the College Board for improvement of its AP program.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


2018 Advanced Placement testing took place in May, and the results were returned from the College Board in July. Here is a summary of the results for the Boise School District.

Exams and Participants

The number of exams taken by District students reached another all-time high, at 4,806. Boise High School again led the way with 1,688 exams taken, but Timberline's total surged to 1,381, with approximately 200 fewer students enrolled than Boise.

The number of participants in AP testing has also grown dramatically over the years, as the District has provided more opportunities and taken down barriers to participation.

In fact, District high schools have made remarkable progress in providing access to coursework and encouragement to take AP exams. Though Advanced Opportunities funds have certainly helped and contributed to the rapid growth of participants and exams recently, the District's efforts to expand access began well before significant funds became available.

Typically, as the percentage of student participation In Advanced Placement testing grows in a school or a district, the passing percentage (scores of "3" and above) declines. In Boise, our goal has been to provide access to rigorous coursework to as many students as possible. knowing that even taking an Advanced Placement test can contribute to success in post-secondary studies, since students have an understanding of the rigor at the next level.

"A 2013 study found that students who took one or more AP Exams, regardless of what score was earned, were more likely to graduate from college in four years compared to non-AP

You can see the pattern in Boise - we have been gratified that so many students who might not have participated in the past are now jumping in and taking those difficult AP exams. By way of reference, Idaho's passing percentage in 2017 was 59%  (57% without Boise) and the national percentage was 57%.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Here are a few articles of interest from the past month or so on the web.

Gates' Latest Education Project

"Here's How Not to Improve Public Schools" is an op-ed by Cathy O'Neil published in Bloomberg.  In the op-ed, O'Neil recounts the failures of Bill Gates' latest education project, Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching, which was designed to use Value-Added Measurement to reward good teachers and get rid of bad ones. Gates spent $575 million on the project.

We have repeatedly railed against VAM in this blog, but O'Neil writes of how Gates' experiment actually caused harm: 

"The approach that the Gates program epitomizes has actually done damage. It has unfairly ruined careers, driving teachers out of the profession amid a nationwide shortage."

A number of opinion pieces have recently been published about the failed Gates experiment. Here is another  from  the Stamford, Connecticut Advocate, and here's a link to the actual study evaluating the Gates experiment, conducted by the Rand Corporation.

Workers' Share of Growth Erodes

Patricia Cohen writes "Paychecks Lag as Profits Soar, and Prices Erode Wage Gains" in the Upshot, the New York Times Magazine. Cohen details the stagnation in worker pay and the increase in corporate profits, especially since the end of the Great Recession.

"Seven things research reveals — and doesn’t — about Advanced Placement" is from Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet blog.  If you have not exceeded your monthly quota you should be able to read the embedded guest article by Suneal Kolluri, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California. Kolluri has done a thorough review of the  research surrounding A.P., and has provided a summary in this article.

Here is one of Kolluri's summary findings:

"Access to Advanced Placement courses in high schools has been expanding, probably far more than the founders of the program could have imagined. The College Board’s efforts to encourage more low-income students and students of color to engage with the program have made meaningful inroads to diversifying Advanced Placement. A program initially confined to elite boarding schools now serves students from diverse communities across the United States. The past decades have seen particularly accelerated expansion of AP. While in 1994 only 14.9 percent of all U.S. high school students graduated with AP credit, by 2013 that number had risen to over 39 percent."

Though for most the summary will be sufficient, you can access the full research study here.

And finally, it's hard to resist providing a link to an article from Curmudgucation, our favorite blog. Peter Greene, an English teacher from Pennsylvania, has retired, but his blog lives on, and he has more time to write, it seems!

In "Another Merit Pay Failure", Greene writes about an Arizona charter school's effort to deny teachers performance pay and the battle that ensued. He also restates his argument that merit pay is simply not appropriate in education.

Monday, July 9, 2018

2017 COLLEGE GRADS (Part 3)

Here is the final post in this 3-part series about the Boise District alums who graduated from college in 2017. In this post, we are interested in what may or may not have changed with respect to our Engineering graduates.

Engineering Grads by Major Area

As we indicated in Part 2, the number of Computer Science/Engineering grads has skyrocketed since we last did this comparison. In fact, as you can see below, CS/E grads make up almost 40% of engineering grads compared with 17% in the last analysis.

It's also interesting to note that 61% of engineering graduates were in two areas, Computer Science/Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

Engineering Grads by College/Area

In our analysis of engineering grads the classes of 2010-14, we found that 54% of graduates came from in-state colleges, with the University of Idaho leading the way with 31% of the degree-earners.

In 2017, 49% of the grads came from in-state, but Boise State has surged ahead in terms of the number and percentage of in-state graduates. Interestingly, much of the change came in the area of Computer Science/Engineering, where BSU graduated 7 students and Idaho had only 2 graduates. Also of note is the fact that Utah and Utah State combined graduated 7 engineering students in 2017.

Where are They Working?

It's not difficult to find most of the engineering grads - they have landed in good jobs just a year after graduating from college with a Bachelor's degree. You can see from the chart above, though, that the pattern we found in 2014 still persists. If our kids go to school out of state, they tend to stay in the community in which their college is located. If they attend Boise State or Idaho, most remain in Idaho for work. One encouraging data point is that BSU is attracting more engineering/computer science students, and almost all of them are employed here in Idaho, tipping the balance slightly toward in-state employment.

Monday, June 25, 2018

2017 COLLEGE GRADS (Part 2)

In part 1 of this post, we wrote about the general characteristics of the 574 Boise District graduates who matriculated from college in 2017. In part 2, we will look at the majors of those who earned a BS/BA degree in 2017.

For comparative purposes, we will use the results of an analysis done in 2014 of college grads from the high school classes of 2007-2010, and compare that info with that of 2017 graduates.

Major Areas

Nearly a third of 2017 Boise Schools BS/BA degree earners graduated with a degree in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM). Social Science and Business degrees were a distant second and third, respectively.

Note in the chart below that STEM degrees as a percentage of the total have grown since we last measured the distribution back in 2014, from just over 26% to over 32%. Business majors have also increased, but Social Science majors decreased substantially between 2014 and 2017.

Specific Majors

So what has caused the change?  Why have STEM degrees increased so much in popularity? We can see the answer when we look at the top individual majors compared to 2014:

As you can see, Computer Engineering/Science degrees were among the most popular among 2017 college grads, after coming in at 26th among majors for the classes of 2007-2010. The 23 CS grads was within one of the total from the four classes we examined just a few years ago!

Clearly, the efforts of the Idaho Technology Council, Code.org and others in increasing Idaho students' exposure to computer science are paying dividends, as more and more students are gravitating toward the area.

But are they finding jobs? That is one topic of part 3 of our examination of 2017 Boise District college grads.