Thursday, December 17, 2015


Last week the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Education News reported on a poll conducted by the Albertson's Foundation. Among other things, the survey results indicated that "58% of Idahoans with charter schools in their area believe charters offer a better education than regular public schools." Curiously, the majority of the survey questions have not been released to the public.

Foundation Executive Director Roger Quarles, said: “I don’t think it is just a perception problem,  I think it is a realistic, operational, performance problem."

But what do the data indicate? Do charters outperform "regular" public schools? Is it a "performance problem" as Quarles indicated? 

We took a look at the data for two charter schools in the Boise area - SAGE and the Village, comparing their performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test and Idaho Reading Indicator with that of demographically comparable Boise District elementary schools. Here are the results.


SAGE International School is located in southeast Boise on Parkcenter Boulevard. SAGE serves students in grades k-11, and will add 12th grade next year.. According to the most recent data from the State Department of Education, the percentage of Free/Reduced Lunch students at SAGE is 16.7% The most demographically similar elementary schools are Roosevelt (15.3%), Adams (14.7%), Longfellow(16.7%), and Collister (18.5%).

Here is more data about the demographics of the schools:

Then we looked at two measures of achievement among these schools - SBAC Achievement and IRI performance.

For the SBAC, we reviewed Math and English Language Arts at grades 3-6, since data were available to make grade by grade comparisons. First, SBAC math:

These data represent the percentage of students at each grade level scoring Proficient or Advanced on the SBAC Math test. The data for SAGE were taken directly from the State Department of Education's Assessment web page; for Boise District schools, they were either taken from the web page, or, when incomplete data were available there, from the District's SBAC database.

In this "apples to apples" comparison, we can see that there is not a "performance problem" in math.

How about in English Language Arts?

SAGE students did very well in Math and ELA on the SBAC, scoring well  above the state average in both. However, their performance is not better than demographically comparable Boise schools. No sign of the "performance problem" here.

And, finally, on the Idaho Reading Indicator, we examined Fall Kindergarten and Spring 3rd grade performance for the schools in the comparison. You'll see that, in each of the schools, the vast majority of students are prepared to read entering kindergarten, and that every school maintains or improves upon that high percentage through the Spring of 3rd grade.

The Village Charter 

The Village Charter operates in two facilities, one on Roosevelt Street and another on Orchard on the Boise Bench, and serves grades k-8. In the most recent State Department of Education data, The Village has a Free/Reduced lunch percentage of 28.9%. The most demographically comparable Boise schools are Amity, Liberty, and Maple Grove.

Here are the demographic characteristics for the four schools:

Grade-by-grade achievement data for the Village are partially redacted on the SBAC website because fewer than 10 students scored in particular categories on the test. However, the data for grades 3-8 combined are available. We thus have a comparison of the Village data for grades 3-8 and for grades 3-6 for Amity, Maple Grove, and Liberty. Not the greatest analytics, but it should give us an idea of relative achievement status at the schools.

Here's the information for the IRI:

The bottom line here is that we need to compare apples with apples in making achievement comparisons, and that, often, when we do so we find that the comparisons yield different results than we might have expected, considering the statement from Dr. Quarles.

As we go forward with assessment in the state of Idaho, we'll have chance to analyze growth in achievement from year to year as well as the status of school and district performance. Furthermore, we will continue to make appropriate comparisons and share them with our community.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Here are a few noteworthy stories from last month.

Hawthorne and Whitney Pre-K Up and Running!

Pre-kindergarten classes at Whitney and Hawthorne Elementary Schools began in November, with 60 students enrolled in this collaborative pilot project between the Boise School District and the City of Boise.

The teachers for the Pre-k program are Grace Ruddy, who teaches morning and afternoon sessions at Hawthorne, and Shelia Dengler-Shaw, who teaches a section at Whitney.

We are looking forward to seeing the progress our Pre-k students make this year, and into the future, and will monitor their reading readiness at regular intervals. It's exciting to once again have a Pre-k program in the Boise District!

Alphabet practice at Hawthorne

Hawthorne Principal Bright helps at the water table

CREDO Study of Online Charter Schools

CREDO (The Center for Research on Education Outcomes) is a research organization located at Stanford University. CREDO recently released a report of the results of its study of online charter schools. The intent of the report was to "present the findings about impacts of online charter enrollment on the academic progress of students. " Dr. James L. Woodworth was the lead analyst on the project, and Dr. Margaret E. Raymond was the Project Director.

The CREDO study looked at comparative math and reading growth data between online charter and "traditional" schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia. No online schools in Idaho were part of the study. 

 Among the findings in the CREDO study (page 23) "Compared to their VCRs (Virtual Control Records) in the TPS (Traditional Public Schools), online charter students have much weaker growth overall. Across all tested students in online charters, the typical academic gains for math are -0.25 standard deviations (equivalent to 180 fewer days of learning) and -0.10 (equivalent to 72 fewer days) for reading . This means that compared to their twin attending TPS, the sizes of the coefficients leave little doubt attending an online charter school leads to lessened academic growth for the average student. 

ISBA approves Boise Resolution

At the Idaho School Boards Association business meeting in November, the Boise School Board's resolution received a 91% approval vote from ISBA membership. Boise's resolution recommended 3 actions:
    • Eliminate the requirement that students pass a high stakes “college readiness” assessment prior to graduating from high school.
    • Ensure that students are not required to take NCLB assessments outside the grade levels required by the federal government.
    • Prior to the conclusion of the SBAC contract, create criteria for adoption of a test that satisfies federal standards, provides consistent, detailed feedback about academic strengths and weaknesses based on Idaho Core Standards to students, parents, and teachers, and can be administered in a reasonable amount of time.

Pictures of 15 classrooms

Here is a link to an article in the Washington Post which features photographs of classrooms around the world, taken in September, 2015. From Islamabad, Pakistan to Nairobi, Kenya to Boston Latin School, the photos of students, teachers, and classrooms are fascinating.

Students Who Have "Got to Go"

Kate Taylor, a reporter for the New York Times, filed this article about the Success Academy Charter System in New York City. Here's a quote from this interesting article:

"At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


The Idaho Reading Indicator

Idaho's assessment of student reading ability is known as the Idaho Reading Indicator. It's been around for 15 years now, and has been revised a couple of times. The IRI is a quick, fifteen to twenty minute assessment that was originally written to be consistent with reading research from the University of Oregon into the development of curriculum-based measurement systems.

The IRI was originally developed after a legislative interim committee met and IC-33-1614 was passed. The law called for the testing of children in kindergarten and in grades 1,2,and 3 at least twice a year. Recent IRI results for every district in the state by grade level are available, as are archived results of the fall and spring administrations of the IRI back to the 2001-02 school year.

Student IRI performance is classified in one of three scoring categories: "3" - Benchmark (at grade level), "2" - Strategic (near grade level), or "1" - Intensive (below grade level). Though many students score well above the cutoff for a score of "3", IRI scores are intended only to reflect grade level performance, and not to differentiate among students scoring above the cutoff.

IRI Outcomes

Idaho students have consistently shown growth in IRI reading performance over time in grades k-3. In fact, by using Fall kindergarten IRI and Spring 3rd grade IRI results, we can examine results for a cohort of Idaho students, as long as we understand that there is considerable mobility among the student population.

These data do not account for student mobility, since they are point-in-time indicators of Fall k and Spring 3rd IRI percentages, and would not account for student mobility between grade levels. However, here are the data for the 3rd grade class of 2015, for seven school districts and for the state of Idaho:

When the IRI was administered to the 3rd grade class of 2015 in the fall of their kindergarten year, 56% of the group scored a "3" on the test across the state of Idaho. Among the 7 districts we chose to compare, 42% of Filer kindergartners were at grade level, while 69% of the Moscow kindergartners were ready to read.

At the conclusion of 3rd grade, 74% of Idaho students read at grade level. 70% of Filer students scored a "3", while in Moscow the percentage was 82. Every district in the comparison made substantial growth in the percentage of "on-grade-level" readers - Filer and Twin Falls made the most growth, at 28% between Fall of kindergarten and the end of 3rd grade.

Here's the chart for the class of 2013:

And here is the same chart for the 3rd grade class of 2011:

Though percentages of "at grade level" students vary by district and by year, and are especially volatile in small districts (due to their small student populations), these data are clear for the state as a whole:
  • just over half of kindergarten students are ready to read when they enter school in Idaho
  • about 3/4 of Idaho students are reading at grade level at the end of 3rd grade
Conflicting Data

An upcoming Reading and Literacy Summit at Boise State University features a full agenda of interesting topics. However, in the summit description, there appears this quote:

"Unfortunately, two thirds of Idaho’s 4th grade students have only basic or below basic reading proficiency. Only a third of our students are proficient or advanced readers."

The IRI indicates that 3/4 of 3rd graders are reading at grade level. What's the source of the data in the quote? The answer: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a randomly administered national assessment of reading (and other subjects).

At issue: the meaning of "proficient" and "proficiency" as defined by the NAEP and in the IRI.

Here's an explanation from Dr. Diane Ravitch, famed educational historian, from a blog post entitled "What do NAEP Scores Mean?":

"Since I served on NAGB (National Assessment Governing Board) for seven years, I can explain what the board’s “achievement levels” mean. There are four levels. At the top is “advanced.” Then comes “proficient.” Then “basic.” And last, “below basic.”

Advanced is truly superb performance, which is like getting an A+. Among fourth graders, 8% were advanced readers in 2011; 3% of eighth graders were advanced. In reading, these numbers have changed little in the past twenty years. In math, there has been a pretty dramatic growth in national scores over these past twenty years: the proportion of students who scored advanced in fourth grade grew from 2% in 1992 to 7% in 2011. In eighth grade, the proportion who were advanced in math grew from 3% in 1992 to 8% in 2011.

Proficient is akin to a solid A. In reading, the proportion who were proficient in fourth grade reading rose from 29% in 1992 to 34% in 2011. The proportion proficient in eighth grade also rose from 29% to 34% in those years. In math, the proportion in fourth grade who were proficient rose from 18% to 40% in the past twenty years, an absolutely astonishing improvement. In eighth grade, the proportion proficient in math went from 21% in 1992 to an amazing 35% in 2011.

Basic is akin to a B or C level performance. Good but not good enough.

And below basic is where we really need to worry. These are the students who really don’t understand math or read well at all. The proportion who are below basic has dropped steadily in both reading and math in fourth and eighth grades since 1992."

As Ravitch sees it, the Basic level of performance on the NAEP is similar to "Proficient" on measures like the IRI.

And here's the definition of 4th grade "Basic:" reading performance from the NAEP website.

"Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level should be able to locate relevant information, make simple inferences, and use their understanding of the text to identify details that support a given interpretation or conclusion. Students should be able to interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in the text."

Dr. Bert Stoneberg, former NAEP Coordinator for the state of Idaho, shows in an article from his website, K-12 Research Idaho ,what happens when we look at the data in the manner described by Dr. Ravitch:

And he adds:

"On the NAEP 2013 reading test, 33 percent of Idaho fourth-graders scored at or above NAEP Proficient, while 34 percent of fourth-graders in the nation’s public schools scored at or above NAEP Proficient. However, 68 percent of Idaho fourth-graders and 67 percent of fourth-graders in the nation’s public schools demonstrated proficiency in reading on the NAEP 2013 reading test."

And, with that explanation, NAEP results match up very well with IRI results, at between 2/3 and 3/4 of students reading at grade level.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


The Idaho Department of Education and the College Board were gracious enough to provide district and school data for the 2015 Advanced Placement testing program. No student information was provided, and data were redacted for districts and schools with 10 or fewer participants in the AP testing program prior to providing the information.

Here are statewide data in terms of exams given (click the slide to enlarge):

Of the 9980 Advanced Placement exams given in Idaho in 2015, 3668 were given in the Boise School District. That’s about as many as the next five Districts (West Ada, CDA, Vallivue, Pocatello, and Bonneville) combined.

In fact, Boise District AP students took 37% of the statewide exams in 2015. though the Boise District's enrollment is about 8.5% of statewide enrollment. 

Of course, Districts in Idaho vary greatly in size. When student participation numbers are divided by the number of juniors and seniors in the District, the top 4 Districts are McCall (64%), Boise (50%), Blaine Cty (45%), and Vallivue (42%), all at over 40%. McCall had 131 juniors and seniors in 2015, and 84 students took at least 1 exam. Boise had 3552 juniors and seniors, and 1791 took at least 1 exam.

A few districts in Idaho have more than one high school. When we look at the same data by high school, 6 schools were above 40% - Boise High (65%) and McCall (64%) lead the pack, followed by Timberline at 55%, Borah (48%), Wood River in Blaine County (45%), and Century of Pocatello (44%). Vallivue of Caldwell was at 39% participation, and Capital at 33%.

Only 3 of the high schools above 30% AP participation have free/reduced lunch percentages above the statewide average - Borah, which also has the largest statewide population of Limited English students, Vallivue, and Capital.

Here are the percentages of juniors and seniors passing (“3”) at least one exam (more than 95 students taking 1 exam or more), by high school. 99 students took exams at Highland, and 106 at CDA Charter, while 402 took exams at Timberline and 623 at Boise.


From our perspective, Advanced Placement is the "gold standard" of Advanced Opportunities in the state of Idaho. We say this for several reasons:

  • Since AP features a common rigorous exam system for each of its courses, students who take AP exams can rest assured that students across the country have faced the same challenge in the exam system as have they.
  • Training opportunities for Advanced Placement courses provide for conversation and interaction among teachers of the same courses across the country, and allow for extensive learning opportunities for teachers from practitioners approved by the College Board.
  • Students can learn how the colleges in which they have interest, whether in Idaho or outside of the state, will treat the scores they earn on AP tests in providing college credit or waivers from college courses.
Students and parents can research credit policies for universities and colleges at this site. For example, here is the credit policy with a few example from the University of Utah:

Here's the University of Idaho's policy, with a few samples:

And here is the credit policy of the College of Idaho, again with a few examples of courses and credit:

So how did Idaho District s and high schools fare on this year's Advanced Placement testing? That's the subject of our next post.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Advanced Placement Data for the
Boise District Class of 2015

Finally!  The College Board has published a database of AP information for the past three years, allowing us to track test-taking patterns beginning with the class of 2015. We have completed the analysis for this group, and have found some intriguing data.

Test-Taking Patterns by Gender

Here's the overall AP test-taking pattern by gender.

55% of the test-takers (447 students) were female, while 378 (46%) were male. That's the overall pattern. However, we wanted to see if the pattern of more males taking Science exams and more females taking Language Arts exams had changed. It has not. For example, of the 163 AP Physics exams taken by this class, 64% (104) were taken by males, and 59 (36%) were taken by females. In English Language (the junior level AP English offering), 59% (294) of the exams were taken by females, and 41% (203)  by males.

Test-taking Patterns by  Ethnicity

The percentage of test-takers by ethnicity is remarkable similar to the overall ethnic breakdown in the District's high schools. 80% of exams were taken by White students; the overall high school percentage is 79%. 7% were taken by Asian students; about 5.5% of the high school population is Asian. About 8% of the test-takers were Hispanic/Latino; 10% of the overall population is Hispanic/Latino. 2% of the test-takers were Black; the overall Black population is about 4%.

Test-taking by School

Half of the population in the 4 Boise traditional high schools took one or more Advanced Placement exams. Boise High School led the way with 59% of the class taking at least one exam, with Timberline at 56%. In 2015, all students who took and AP class also took the associated exam, so almost half of Borah's class of 2015 students took an exam during their years as a Lion.

One of the reasons that Boise High gives many more exams than any school in the state is the number of students that take numerous exams. In the class of 2015, 28% (128) of Boise's students took 5 or more AP exams. In fact, a number of Boise High students took more than 15 exams during their years as Braves. Since most colleges around the country accept Advanced Placement test results and give credit or waive classes (as opposed to Dual Credit, which may or nor be accepted outside the state of Idaho), these students will likely start out as at least second semester sophomores at the college or university they attend.

Ar Timberline, almost one in 5 class of 2015 students took 5 or more Advanced Placement exams. In the District as a whole, the percentage was just over 16. 

Monday, October 19, 2015


The arrival of Limited English students in the Boise District in the past 30 years has a brought incredible cultural diversity to our schools and the community.  Students from around the world have contributed much to the academic, social, and extra-curricular environments of our schools.

Last week, ELL Consulting teacher Molly de Fuentealba put together some maps which provide a picture of the countries from which our Limited English students hail. Limited English students are those who have not yet demonstrated mastery of the written and spoken English language. This link will take you to the LEP map. If you click on the country label, the number of students speaking different native languages will appear.

Of the 1,756 current LEP students, 123 are from Iraq, 98 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 75 from Mexico, 64 from Thailand, 59 from Kenya, 44 from Nepal, and 41 from Tanzania.

Here's a screen shot showing numbers of LEP students from Africa:

Of the 328 Boise District LEP students from Africa, 292 hail from 7 countries; Somalia, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most prominent native languages of these students are Somali, Swahili, and Kinyarwanda, though the total number of native languages among these students is 13.

Here's the portion of the map portraying the LEP numbers from Southeast Asia:

Of these 184 students, 162 have come from 4 countries; Nepal, India, Thailand, and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The 2 most prevalent native languages among these students are Nepali and Karen, but there are 18 total native languages among these students.

Recently, many students have come from the Middle East to Boise, most frequently from Iraq. As you can see in the screen shot, 123 of the 194 middle eastern students are from Iraq. The most prevalent native language of these students, is, as you would expect, Arabic.

Over half of our LEP students (829) were born in the United States. 

These LEP students' native languages total 42, with Spanish being the native language for 625 of the students. 

In total, our Limited English students come from 61 countries around the world, and their native languages total 74.  Additionally, 379 District students are classified as LEPx 1 or 2, meaning they are former LEP students who have been exited for 1 or 2 years, and 964 are FLEP, former LEP students who are fluent English speakers who've been out of the LEP program for more than 2 years.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


The Idaho State Board of Education recently passed a "Direct Admission" standard which provides incentive-based criteria for automatic admission to Idaho's higher-ed institutions for Idaho students. The Direct Admission policy is a step in the right direction in achieving the Board's goal that 60% of Idaho's high school graduates garner a 2 or 4 year degree or a certificate from an institution of higher education.

The Direct Admission policy also provides another reason for the Board to drop its requirement that students pass the SBAC or an alternate indicator of college readiness in order to graduate from high school. The Boise School Board recently submitted a resolution for the ISBA Conference in November that addresses this issue, along with talking points.

State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, speaking in an Idaho Statesman article last week, indicated that  "this year’s sophomores should not have to take a high-stakes graduation test. She supports multiple measures of student ability, instead of wrapping measurement into a single test that is new to the state through Common Core." (article written by Bill Roberts, Statesman reporter).

Read more here:

Direct Admission

The State Board's Direct Admission policy, approved in August,  includes these criteria (page 19 of this document)::

  • "All students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher will be conditionally admitted to any of the state’s eight (8) public higher education institutions, regardless of the SAT score. 
  • For students with a GPA below 3.0, admission will be based on a multiple of their GPA and SAT score. Students with a multiple totaling 2835 or greater will be admitted to the state’s eight (8) public higher education institutions.
  •  An example is as follows: 
 GPA              SAT             Multiple 
 2.0                 1418            2835 
 2.7                 1050            2835 
 2.9                   990            2835

Students with a multiple below 2835 will be conditionally admitted to Idaho State University College of Technology and Lewis-Clark State College as part of their community college function, as well as Eastern Idaho Technical College and the three (3) community colleges."

The Direct Admission program has already been initiated, and students across the state who meet the criteria will receive letters of conditional admittance this fall for college entrance in 2016-17. The condition for full admittance is graduation from high school.

Direct Admission will forego the in-state public college admission process for over a third of Idaho's college-bound seniors. Though we'd like to see an increase in available scholarships for students who meet the criteria, we see Direct Admissions as a positive step toward achieving the Board's 60% goal.

SBAC Graduation Requirement

Unfortunately, under another current rule, a number of Idaho students, beginning with the class of 2018, will be eligible for Direct Admission, but will be taking remedial classes because they have not met the passing cut scores on the Math and Reading SBAC assessment and the Biology/Chemistry EOC.

Add that the other issues associated with the test-based graduation requirement, such as...

  • The SBAC is a "college readiness" test, not a basic skills test like the "old" ISAT was.
  • At least 70% of students who took the SBAC in 2014-15 would have fallen short of the cut scores required to meet the requirement, compared to 10-15% on the "old" ISAT.
  • In Boise, 35 sophomores who had passed an AP test failed to meet the cut score to pass the SBAC.
  • Of the 244 Boise sophomores who passed a Professional-Technical course in 2014-15, fewer than 20% met the cut score requirement of the graduation requirement.
    • Of the 82 students who passed the Heavy Duty Diesel course, 10 met the SBAC graduation criteria.
    • Of the 24 enrolled in Welding, 4 met the criteria
...and you have, in our opinion, a convincing rationale for dropping passage of the SBAC as a high school graduation requirement.

Some have said that, since students can meet the requirement by taking and passing a remedial course offered by the district, the test-based graduation requirement is not a big deal. Actually, it is, for these reasons:

  • Sophomores who fail to meet the SBAC cut scores this spring will be required to take the test again as juniors, despite the fact that many will have taken and passed AP, Dual Credit, and Professional-Technical classes in the meantime, thus garnering college credit or work-related experience while they are at risk for high school graduation.
  • In their senior year, those who fail the SBAC for a second time will take a "college readiness" class offered by the district, thereby jeopardizing their ability to take AP, Dual Credit, or Professional-Technical classes which will enhance their college and career readiness.
Direct Admission represents the "carrot" approach to motivating students to attend college, and it makes sense to us because of the reduced paperwork in and simplicity of the plan. The test-based high school graduation requirement? It's the "stick" approach, and it will send mixed messages to students across the state. Let's get rid of it.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Here are a few interesting and noteworthy posts from around the web in the past month.


Boise's City Club hosted a conversation about preschool on August 26 at the Grove Hotel. Discussion participants were Beth Oppenheimer, Executive Director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, and Representative Christy Perry, R-Nampa, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Discussion was lively and informative, and audience members asked many interesting questions. Here is a link to the audio of the discussion.


From The Upshot, a research feature of the New York Times, Dr. Susan Dynarski has written another interesting article about student debt.  Using information from and analysis of student debt published in Brookings, Dynarski writes that of the increase in defaults on students debt, 75% can be attributed to students at for profit and community colleges.

She notes that "Borrowers at for-profit and community colleges, by contrast, earn low salaries — a median of about $22,000 for those exiting school in 2010 — and have had difficulty paying their loans."

Here's a chart from the article detailing loan defaults among students attending different types of colleges.

In explaining the cohort increases, Dynarski indicates that "during the recession, millions of students poured out of a weak labor market and into college to improve their skills. Historically, these students would have gone to community colleges. But with state tax revenues taking a nose-dive, community colleges were starved for funds and unable to expand capacity to absorb all of the new students. Students took their Pell Grants and loans to for-profit colleges. Enrollments at these schools spiked, and so did borrowing."


Again from the New York Times comes the story of Florida's  IMG Academy and its foray into high school football. IMG is the preparatory academy founded in the late 70's which, at the time, was primarily a training ground for future tennis stars.

However, for the past several years, IMG has fielded a football team composed of players recruited from around the country. The players take a full array of academic courses and are often recruited by top colleges. Recently, IMG trounced Florida public school powerhouse Cocoa High School  49-7.

IMG's tuition can be as high as $71,000, though it does have need-based aid for students. Interestingly, the Florida legislature provides support for the school to the tune of $7 million, even though IMG is private.


Seattle teachers reached a tentative negotiations agreement with the Board of Trustees late last week, after staging a walkout just as as school was to start for the fall semester. Teachers will vote on the proposed contact on Sunday, September 20.

Though its important to understand that the cost of living in Seattle is about 45% higher than that of Boise (Bellevue is +67%) , it is interesting to see the range of salaries in the Seattle area (from the Seattle Community Schools Forum blog).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


There are a number of school ranking systems out there these days. Each has criteria upon which its rankings are based. Most school rating systems examine a small slice of a school's characteristics, namely standardized test scores. For example, Great Schools uses standardized test scores as their primary rating tool, as does Schooldigger, which also includes information about a school's free/reduced lunch percentage.

Two of the nation's most prominent school ranking systems focus on high schools, those of Newsweek magazine and U.S. News and World Reports. These two ranking systems use fairly complex systems which consider standardized test scores and a few other variables, including how well the schools serves its underprivileged population. A third, the Washington Post's "Most Challenging High Schools" list, relies on a much simpler formula for its rankings.

U.S. News High School Rankings

Kevin Welner, the Director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder, wrote a critique of the U.S. News high school rankings which was published in the Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss' blog for the Washington Post newspaper. The critique, which spanned two posts, can be found here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). In Part 1, Welner looks primarily at the methodology of the U.S. News rankings, and in Part 2 he examines the characteristics of some of the top-ranked schools.

From Welner's critique:

"There is an important lesson here about rankings in general—not just the U.S. News rankings. A disproportionate focus on outcomes will always reward those schools that excel at enrolling high-achievers. Perhaps this is more obvious when we look outside the school realm. For instance, University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari is such a fantastic recruiter that when looking at his success it’s almost impossible to disentangle his recruiting and coaching talents."


"This year, the nation’s top-ranked high schools are: (1) Dallas’ “School for the Talented and Gifted,” a magnet school; and (2) BASIS Scottsdale (AZ), a charter school. The Dallas school has an application process that begins with a GPA screen and a test score screen, then the applicant student must “design and carry out a school-related or other project that demonstrates extended effort and creativity,” and then the applicant student must attend an “application session.” At this session, the applicant student must complete a timed (1 ½ hours) hand-written, prompted essay; must complete a “30-minute timed logic and reasoning activity;” and finally is given a 15-minute scored interview. This highly competitive process yields an entering class of 65 students.

The Scottsdale charter school is not selective in the same way; admission is by lottery. But the selectivity is arguably just as potent as with the Dallas school. Parents are warned in no uncertain terms that only the most gifted and committed students will survive. Just a handful of students are admitted after the early grades (e.g., a parent was told that there would be a total of four slots open for entering eighth graders). Moreover, as described by the mother of a student in another BASIS charter, the warnings appear to understate the extremity of the BASIS approach."

U.S. News responded with a written statement about Welner's critique, which read in part:

"Mr. Welner’s overall argument is incorrect. Schools that do better and are awarded medals in the U.S. News rankings are the ones that are doing more (better than the average in the state or way better than the average in the state) than what is expected given their level of poverty or proportion of economic disadvantaged."

Newsweek Rankings

Newsweek ranks the top 500 high schools in the country, based on its own analysis. Westat, a Maryland research company, provided an accompanying document to the rankings, entitled "Identification of Newsweek's 2015 Public High School Rankings", which explained the methodology of the rankings. In the Section called "Limitations", the authors make the following remarks:

"There are limitations associated with conducting this analysis, many of which stem from the availability of data and their suitability for comparing schools in different states. We have no information about a range of school factors that may influence school performance, such as fiscal resources, teacher quality and effectiveness, school leadership, and school climate. These school factors could potentially contribute to student achievement and college readiness, but data are unavailable for a variety of reasons.

Additionally, the rankings are still dependent on self-reported data, which has implications for our sample and data collection standards. There are circumstances in which the variables may not have been reported consistently, and for 2015, this issue may be particularly problematic for the new dual enrollment items."

and this:

"We did not control for any other factor besides student socioeconomic status. Many of the top schools on the relative list are magnet and charter schools and may have an application process that allows them to select high achieving students. These types of schools would have an advantage in our ranking methodology over schools that do not have an application process."

So, Newsweek's rankings suffer from some of the flaws noted by Mr. Welner on the U.S. News rankings. Further, some of the magnet and charter schools he referenced are among the highest ranked schools on both lists.

Washington Post Most Challenging Schools Index

The Newsweek rankings were formerly the "Most Challenging High School Rankings" until the Washington Post Company sold Newsweek in 2010. Since then, Post education columnist Jay Mathews has continued with his rankings, using two simple factors for the evaluation of "Challenging High Schools" : If the number of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exams given in a particular year at the school divided by the number of school's graduating seniors that year is greater than 1.0, the school makes the list.

To be sure, the Post rankings suffer from some of the same shortcomings as the other ranking systems. The top-ranked schools are typically magnets or charter high schools. And, on the Post rankings, the number of exams and graduates are self-reported.

In Idaho last year, 10 high schools applied for and made the Washington Post list. Here they are, with their ratio (AP or IB/Grads) and free/reduced lunch percentages:

Especially impressive on the Post list are the achievements of Borah, Capital, Century, and Vallivue, which have successfully emphasized rigorous coursework and achievement with high numbers of disadvantaged students.

On balance, we prefer the Washington Post list to the others, since it is simple and understandable. It was a District goal in the early 2000's to have all 4 comprehensive high schools on the Post list, simply to prove to ourselves that we could do it. Now that all four have made the list for 6 straight years, our challenge is to expand opportunities for all students to access rigorous coursework and preparatory opportunities.

Clearly, it's extremely difficult to put together a ranking system that reflects all of the characteristics of a successful school.Witness the difficulty Idaho has had with the establishment of the "Five Star System", which relied only on achievement and produced school  rankings which were unstable and unreliable.

The combined value of school culture, achievement and depth of offerings such as music, art and athletics may be harder to quantify, but is perhaps more important to student success than any annual school ranking list can adequately portray.