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.