Wednesday, February 25, 2015


As the city of Boise has grown, substantial changes in the demography of the Boise District have transpired. In this post, we explore a few of the changes that have occurred.

Free-Reduced Lunch Status

Though we have data that go further back, we'll look at the shifts that have taken place since 1990. Typically, we use free/reduced lunch (frl) status in the elementary schools to help us understand changes in the student population. Here is the overall District elementary free/reduced lunch trend since 1990, displayed in a line graph. 

So the free/reduced percentage has grown from just over 1/4 of students to almost half in 24 years. It's important to remember that the statewide 2013 1-6 free/reduced percentage was 54%. However, in the early 90's, Boise was far below the state average in frl percentage.

Here's a look at frl percentages over time, by elementary school in the District. First, 1990:

In 1990, there were 30 elementary schools in the Boise District, with 13,400 students. The explosion of enrollment in southeast Boise had just begun, and significant growth in northwest Boise was a few years away.Note that only two Boise elementary schools were over 50% frl, and the District average was just over 27%. Garfield School had 23% frl, and Jackson 22%. The largest district enrollment ever would occur in 1998, at just over 27,000.

Ten years later, the picture looked a little different. 

By 2000, enrollment had already dropped from the 1998 record high to 26,500, as residents sought cheaper housing in Meridian and other spots across the valley. Over a third of District students qualified for free/reduced lunch in 2000, and 12 schools had over 50% frl. Garfield and Jackson were over 50%. All of the southeast Boise schools were now on line, as was Shadow Hills, opened in northwest Boise in 1997 to relieve overcrowding at Cynthia Mann and Pierce Park.

Fast forward to 2014:

Free/reduced lunch rates stabilized from 2003-2008, then began moving up slightly at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. In 2014, District enrollment is just under 26,000, having recovered from the the low point of 24,700 in 2008 (though another phenomenon is now affecting enrollment). Sixteen schools are now above the 50% line, the District is at 47%, and Garfield stands at almost 80% free/reduced. Jackson School became the Boise Language Academy in 2008 when Grace Jordan came on line, and was torn down in 2013, after BLA students were moved to Hillside and Borah. 


The ethnic breakdown of District student has also changed over the years. The percentage of Caucasian students has declined from almost 95% in 1990 to just under 80% in 2013:

Meanwhile, the fastest growing ethnicity in terms of percentage is Hispanic/Latino:

though Asian and Black ethnicity percentages  have grown as well, primarily because of the growth in the Limited English refugee population in the Boise District.

Boise's student population has become much more diverse than it was 25 years ago. Students have many opportunities to learn about other cultures and traditions. Much of the added diversity has come because of Boise's status as a relocation center for refugees from around the world.

Limited English Population

The growth in the Limited English population is illustrated in the above chart. In the late 80's. one-fifth of a percent of the District student population was LEP; as of 2014, 6.5% of the student population qualifies in this category. We examined how these data compare to statewide data in an earlier post.

Limited English numbers declined from 2010-2014 because the flow of refugees slowed during this period of time and the SDE changed the qualifying criteria for the program. We have noticed an uptick in refugee enrollment during the current school year.

In 2011, we did a study of the progress of our Limited English students. We were interested in seeing, among other things, how our population of exited LEP students (LEPx) were doing compared to the general student population. The following charts show our findings in Reading and Math. 

Our findings? As students were learning the English language, fewer were proficient on the ISAT than were proficient in the general population. When they had met the criteria to exit the program (LEPx)and understood the language, the percentage that were proficient was comparable to that of the general population.

It's exciting to see our Limited English students become a part of the vibrant school culture in the Boise District, and gratifying to see the progress they make in academic programs.These kids will be an integral part of the future success of the Boise community.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


In the previous two Data Points posts, we've written that:

  • the SBAC will be given this spring to students grades 3-8 and 10, and schools are required to do the testing under the NCLB waiver. Science exams will be given in grades 5, 7, and 10.
  • Much lower percentage of students (30-40%) will meet the cut scores for proficiency on the SBAC/Science exams than did on the old ISAT (75-90%).
And now, the State Board of Education is proposing rules to the Legislature that will use those proficiency scores to determine eligibility for high school graduation.  The road ahead is littered with potential serious problems for students.

Here is the language in the proposed State Board of Education rule, introduced in the Senate Education Committee last week:

"IDAPA Rule 08.0203.1401.06 Proficiency. Each student must achieve a proficient or advanced score on the grade ten (10) Idaho Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) in math, reading and language usage in order to graduate...A student who does not attain at least a proficient score prior to graduation may appeal to the school district or LEA, and will be given an opportunity to demonstrate proficiency of the content standards through some other locally established plan...

g. Students who graduate in 2019 are required to pass the ISAT  (SBAC) in grade eleven (11) in mathematics 
and English language usage at a proficiency level set by the State Board of Education...

i. Students who graduate in 2019 will be required to pass an end of course assessment in biology or 
chemistry at a proficiency level set by the State Board of Education."

Students must pass all 3 assessments in order to graduate from high school, or demonstrate proficiency using some "alternate route" designed by districts. Using the proficiency percentages generated from the SBAC pilot in English Language Arts and Math, and adding in the unknown of the yet-to-be-administered Science EOC, it's not hard to imagine 60-70% of students statewide involved in retakes in junior year and pursuit of the "alternate path" to high school graduation.

In fact, to check our assumptions, we looked at members of the Boise District high school graduating class of 2009, and identified those class members who have graduated from college with a certificate, an Associate degree, or a Bachelor's degree. Then we used the SAT and ACT scores of those students as a proxy for the SBAC, and identified the students who did/did not meet the "college ready" standards of those exams.

We found that 40% of these college graduates did not meet at least one of the readiness standards of the College Entrance Exam they took in high school. Among those who obtained an Associate degree or a Certificate, the percentage not meeting the standard was 63%; among 4-year degree holders it was 39%. 25% of STEM majors did not meet the criteria, and over half of Business majors' scores fell  below the cutoff. In other words, if these students were held accountable to the proposed graduation standards, many of them would have been required to take remediation in high school and been told they were not "college and career ready".

And what of the students who are earning Professional-Technical licenses in areas such as Auto Body, Welding, or Heavy Duty Diesel, courses that will assure them of being career ready and employable right out of high school? They will also need to prove they are "college ready" by passing the SBAC.

The Individual Mandate for high school graduation will go into effect for the class of 2019, students currently in the 8th grade, if the proposed rule noted above is affirmed on February 18 at the State Board meeting in Boise, and is ultimately approved by either of the legislative Education Committees.


The District/School NCLB Accountability mandate begins this spring with the receipt of results from the statewide administration of the SBAC in English Language Arts and Math to all students in grades 3-8 and 10, of the ISAT Science Test in grades 5 and 7, and of End of Course Assessments in Biology or Chemistry in 10th grade.

Just as was the case for NCLB with the ISAT, districts and schools will be held accountable for results of the SBAC and Science tests under the NCLB waiver. And, to be sure, just as they did on the ISAT,  districts and schools will make improvements in the percentage of  "college-ready" or "on the path to college" students. 

But one thing is clear - the percentage of "proficient" students will be far lower on the SBAC than it was on the ISAT. Estimates from the pilot of the SBAC last spring are that, in the SBAC Consortium of 21 states,  between 38 and 41 percent of students were proficient in English Language Arts (depending on the grade level), and between 33 and 39 percent were proficient in Math.

It has been evident for several years that a "college-ready" standard is far higher than that of the old ISAT, on which, in 2013, 89% of students were "proficient" in Reading and 76% were proficient in math. So "proficient" performance on the ISAT is much different than "proficient" on the SBAC.

It's important to note that these new, lower percentages of proficiency will occur with any new assessment that is aligned to the Common Core standards. The "college ready" standard in assessment is part of the movement to upgrade rigor and preparation among students across the country.

In fact, school and district performance on the SBAC will likely be more comparable to performance on the SAT or the NAEP. On the 2013 Idaho statewide administration of the SAT (to juniors), 38% of students met the SAT "college-ready" standard in Reading, and 36% met the standard in math. The SAT "college-ready" standard is a score of 500 (total scale 200-800) on the Reading subtest and 500 on the Math subtest.

The SBAC cut scores would appear to have the potential of increasing the number of students missing the cut score for "college readiness". But the consequences for individual students will be even more concerning if  a proposed  high school graduation rule from the Idaho State Board of Education goes into effect with the class of 2019 (current 8th graders). More on the individual student accountability mandate in the next Data Points post.

Idaho schools are currently preparing for the statewide administration of the SBAC, due to begin in just six weeks. 

Over in Rexburg, Madison School District Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas has raised the idea of opting his district out of the SBAC administration, and in January sent a letter to Superintendent Ybarra requesting that Madison be allowed to use the Measures of Academic Progress instead of the SBAC to assess Madison students. Thomas' request, approved by the Madison Board, was reported in the Idaho State Journal of Pocatello.

On January 30, Idaho Ed News reporter Clark Corbin wrote that Rep. Ron Nate (R-Rexburg) was "pushing a bill designed to remove Idaho from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium."

Corbin also quoted Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, who noted that Idaho is required to administer the SBAC this year because of an agreement made by her predecessor that specifically requires Idaho to give the test.

Superintendent Ybarra is correct. Idaho is required to administer the SBAC beginning in March of this year under provisions of the No Child Left Behind waiver agreement with the federal government. Though we believe that the 7-8 hour test is far too long, has confusing directions and unwieldy reading passages, and will create logistical problems for Idaho schools, the test must be given this year. Next year? Well, that's another matter.

It is important to remember that Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents met with Ybarra's predecessor in December, 2013 and expressed many of the concerns Thomas wrote of in his letter. That was the time to make a change in the waiver for 2014-15 testing, but the former Superintendent wanted to hold the line on testing with the SBAC.

So beginning in March, schools statewide will administer the SBAC in grades 3-8 and 10. Next in Data Points is an analysis of the consequences of the testing for Districts, schools, and students.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


If we needed more evidence of the impact of poverty on educational attainment, a new study from the Pell Institute for Opportunity in Higher Education sheds more light on college completion rates among students of different economic backgrounds. The study is summarized in this article from

From the article, written by Libby Nelson: "This chart (from the article) shows the percentage of 24-year-olds with a bachelor's degree based on their family income. Of the top quartile, 77 percent eventually get a degree. In the bottom quartile, just 9 percent do".

The statistics in the Pell study are truly astonishing. For those students from the top quartile who actually enroll in college, 99% graduate. For those who enroll from the bottom quartile, the percentage graduating is 21%.

The importance of poverty in education continues to be illuminated, from preschool to college. Last year, we showed the correlation of free/reduced lunch with preparation for reading in a blog post.

In March, 2014, Zach Goldfarb of the Washington blogged about the relationship between SAT scores and income levels. The SAT is highly correlated with free/reduced lunch percentages in schools, as was shown in this post in Data Points.

Back in 2013, economists Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy reported on the website of the Economic Policy Institute about their investigation of the economic conditions underlying the performance of United States students compared with those of students from other participating countries, In their report, "What do international tests really show about U.S. student performance?, Rothstein and Carnoy wrote:

"Because social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared."

Of course, none of this means that students from poverty cannot achieve, nor does it mean they can't be successful in college. However, specific efforts undertaken by schools (AVID, for example) can help to shift the odds in favor of these students.